History

Clarence Beavers was the last surviving original member of the first all African-American parachute unit

A secluded Kings Park trail was dedicated to honor a Huntington veteran, who is remembered as “humble” and yet “a trailblazer” by his family and friends.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation unveiled a plaque April 20 dedicating the walking path of the Kings Park Unique Area off Meadow Road to Sgt. Clarence Beavers. He was the last surviving original member of the first class of African-American paratroopers from the 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion, known better as the Triple Nickles. He died Dec. 4, 2017. “This is a long overdue honor to someone who obviously was a great American and a hometown hero here in Suffolk County,” said Peter Scully, the county’s deputy executive.

During World War II, Beavers and his fellow paratroopers worked jointly with the U.S. military and United States Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service on Operation Firefly in 1945. Their mission, as smokejumpers, was to respond to any threat or fires caused by the Japanese incendiary bomb attacks on the nation’s western forests.

“My father would be honored, very honored. It was very important to him that the 555th [battalion] and what they did be remembered.”
– Charlotta Beavers

In the summer of 1945, the Triple Nickle paratroopers responded to 36 fires and made more than 1,200 jumps, according to Deidra McGee, the U.S. Forest Services’ liaison for the Triple Nickles. McGee said the unit also led the way in the racial desegregation of the military starting in 1948.

“As people come and enjoy this beautiful trail, they can think of Sgt. Beavers and what he worked so hard to protect for all of us, the beautiful forests of the United States, particularly the west coast,” said state Assemblyman Michael Fitzpatrick (R-St. James). “It’s an appropriate tribute.”

The Kings Park Unique Area is a 69-acre green space where residents can hike, bow hunt and go wildlife watching. The 0.3-mile trail dedicated to Beavers is handicapped accessible and features an interpretive kiosk that tells the story of the Triple Nickles. The site was chosen because it’s the closest state-owned woodlands to his home, according to DEC spokesman Bill Fonda.

“My father would be honored, very honored,” his daughter Charlotta Beavers said. “It was very important to him that the 555th [battalion] and what they did be remembered.”

Lelena Beavers said she and her husband, Clarence, moved to Huntington in the late 1980s, after he finished his military service, to raise their five daughters and son. He continued to work for the federal government in the Department of Veterans Affairs and Department of Defense working as a computer systems analyst and programmer.

“He was a man of faith, a man of courage, and a true leader in his community.”
– Rev. James Rea, Jr.

“Wherever he went, he would always get involved in the community,” his daughter Charlotta Beavers said.

Rev. James Rea,Jr., of Bethany Presbyterian Church in Huntington Station, recalled how Beavers played a pivotal role in helping the church after fire approximately 25 years ago when it was without a pastor.

“Clarence Beavers stepped up out of the ashes, not afraid of the fire or the smoke, and had the leadership that was necessary to have the church restored,” the pastor said. “He was a man of faith, a man of courage, and a true leader in his community.”

Beavers was also a member of the American Legion Greenlawn Post 1244, involved in the Wyandanch Reserve Officers’ Training Corps., and helped found the 555th Parachute Infantry Association, Inc. and traveled nationally speaking about the unit.

“We owe a great deal of gratitude to Mr. Beavers that those who served in a secret war, jumping into fires in near impossible conditions while fighting racism at every turn,” said Smithtown Councilwoman Lisa Inzerillo (R). “Everyone here tell his story, tell their story to everyone you meet, and let it be known that courage has no color

Photo by Heidi Sutton
Photo by Heidi Sutton

The historic Stony Brook Grist Mill officially opens for the season on April 21 and will be open on weekends from noon to 4:30 p.m. through October. Located just off Main Street in Stony Brook at 100 Harbor Road, the mill features a charming country store as well as a “miller” dressed in period clothing offering a demonstration of corn being ground into cornmeal just as it was in 1751. Admission is $2 for adults and $1 for children under 12. For full information visit www.stonybrookvillage.com or call 631-751-2244.

By Nomi Dayan

Nomi Dayan

Whaling was a risky business, physically and financially. Life at sea was hazardous. Fortunes were made or lost. Whale hunts were perilous, as was the processing of the whale. Injuries were rampant and death was common, sometimes on nearly every voyage. In some instances, the deceased was none other than the captain.

Captain Sluman Lothrop Gray met his untimely end on a whaleship. Born in 1813, very little is known of his past, his family or his early experiences at sea. In 1838, he married Sarah A. Frisbie of Pennsylvania in the rural town of Columbia, Connecticut. His whaling and navigational skills must have been precocious, because in 1842, in his late 20s, Gray became a whaling captain — and a highly successful one. 

His wife Sarah joined him in his achievements, living with him at sea for 20 years. Three of their eight children were born during global whaling voyages. Gray commanded a string of vessels: the Jefferson and Hannibal of New London, Connecticut, to the Indian and North Pacific oceans; the Mercury and Newburyport of Stonington, Connecticut, to the South Atlantic, Chile, and Northwest Pacific oceans; and the Montreal of New Bedford, Massachusetts, to the North Pacific Ocean.  

While financially successful, Gray’s crew felt his harsh personality left much to be desired. Some of his blasphemies were recorded by a cabin boy on the Hannibal in 1843. Gray did not hesitate to flog crew members for minor mistakes. Unsurprisingly, when Sarah once reported her husband had taken ill, the crew rejoiced. To their chagrin, he recovered.

As Gray aged, he attempted to retire from maritime living and shift into the life of a country gentleman. He bought 10 acres of land in Lebanon, Connecticut, and lived there for seven years, where his house still stands. 

This bucolic life did not last, and Gray returned to whaling. With his wife and three children — 16-year-old Katie, 10-year-old Sluman Jr. and 2-year-old Nellie, he sailed out of New Bedford on June 1, 1864, on the James Maury. Built in Boston in 1825 and sold to New Bedford owners in 1845, the James Maury was a hefty ship at 394 tons. Gray steered the course toward hunting grounds in the South Pacific. 

Unexpectedly, after nine months at sea in March 1865, he suddenly became ill. The closest land was Guam, 400 miles away. Sarah described his sickness as an “inflammation of the bowels.” After two days, Gray was dead. The first mate reported in the ship’s logbook: “Light winds and pleasant weather. At 2 p.m. our Captain expired after an illness of two days.”  He was 51 years old.

Sarah had endured death five times before this, having to bury five of her children who sadly died in infancy. She could not bear to bury her husband at sea. Considering how typical grand-scale mourning was in Victorian times, a burial at sea was anything but romantic. It was not unheard of for a whaling wife to attempt to preserve her husband’s body for a home burial. But how would Sarah embalm the body?

Two things aboard the whaleship helped: a barrel and alcohol. Sarah asked the ship’s cooper, or barrel maker, to fashion a cask for the captain. He did so, and Gray was placed inside. The cask was  filled with “spirits,” likely rum. The log for that day records: “Light winds from the Eastward and pleasant weather; made a cask and put the Capt. in with spirits.”

The voyage continued on to the Bering Sea in the Arctic; death and a marinating body did not stop the intentions of the crew from missing out on the summer hunting season. 

However, there was another unexpected surprise that June: the ship was attacked by the feared and ruthless Confederate raider Shenandoah, who prowled the ocean burning Union vessels, especially whalers (with crews taken as prisoners). The captain, James Waddell, had not heard — or refused to believe —that the South had already surrendered. 

When the first mate of the Shenandoah, Lt. Chew, came aboard the James Maury, he found Sarah panic stricken. The James Maury was spared because of the presence of her and her children — and presumably the presence of her barreled husband. Waddell assured her that the “men of the South did not make war on women and children.” Instead, he considered them prisoners and ransomed the ship. Before the ship was sent to Honolulu, he dumped 222 other Union prisoners on board. One can imagine how cramped this voyage was since whaleships were known for anything but free space.

A year after the captain’s death, the remaining Gray family made it home in March 1866. The preserved captain himself was shipped home from New Bedford for $11. 

Captain Gray was finally buried in Liberty Hill Cemetery in Connecticut. His resting place has a tall marker with an anchor and two inscriptions: “My Husband” and “Captain S. L. Gray died on board ship James Maury near the island of Guam, March 24, 1865.” Sarah died 20 years later and was buried next to her husband.

It is unknown if Gray was buried “as is” or in a casket. There are no records of Sarah purchasing a coffin. Legend has it that he was buried barrel and all.

Nomi Dayan is the executive director at The Whaling Museum & Education Center of Cold Spring Harbor.

‘Dance of the Haymakers’ by William Sydney Mount, 1845

By Heidi Sutton

Now through Sept. 3, The Long Island Museum in Stony Brook presents a delightful treat: a special exhibit titled Perfect Harmony: The Musical Life and Art of William Sidney Mount.

William Sidney Mount (1807-1868) was a renowned artist best known for his genre paintings, although he also painted landscapes and portraits. Born in Setauket, Mount lived in Stony Brook and painted many local scenes. A man of many talents, Mount was also a musician (he played the fiddle and fife), composer and inventor, designing a hollow-back violin that he named the Cradle of Harmony.

‘The Banjo Player,’ 1856, by William Sidney Mount, oil on canvas, gift of Ward and Dorothy Melville. Image from LIM

So many of Mount’s paintings incorporate music into the scene, whether it is dancing or playing a musical instrument so it was only natural to “connect his two major passions in life,” according to the exhibit’s curator, Joshua Ruff, director of collections and interpretations and chief curator at The LIM.

Currently on view in the Victoria V. Costigan Gallery in the Art Museum on the hill, the fascinating exhibit links Mount’s music and art with more than 20 oil paintings, pencil drawings, musical instruments, original compositions and more.

Of course, it is the incredible oil paintings, drawn from the museum’s unsurpassed collection, that take center stage. “Catching the Tune,” “Dancing on the Barn Floor,” “Just in Tune” and the famous “Dance of the Haymakers,” among others, are displayed in all their glory.

The portraits, some of which are over 160 years old, are as colorful and vibrant as ever. “Both William and his brother, Shepard Alonzo Mount, were really great at painting eyes and giving one the feeling like they are sitting in a room across from you,” commented Ruff, who has a fondness for “The Banjo Player.”

‘Just in Tune,’ 1849, oil on canvas, by William Sidney Mount, gift of Ward and Dorothy Melville. Image from LIM

Situated toward the center of the room is a unique music stand that Mount illustrated with sheet music of early American folk tunes including “Dearest Ellen” and a patriotic Fourth of July song. “These musical pieces were popular in the 19th century,” explained Ruff during a recent tour. The stand was designed to accommodate four musicians at a time and Ruff said that Mount most likely used it. “I would be surprised if he didn’t,” said the curator.

Also on display are some of Mount’s compositions including “In the Cars on the Long Island Railroad” and “The Musings of an Old Bachelor,” as well as musical instruments — a tin whistle, hornpipe, tuning fork — which belonged to the Mount family. A piano owned by Mount’s uncle Micah Hawkins sits in the corner. A General Store owner at Catherine’s Market in lower Manhattan, Hawkins composed music and to some extent was an influence to Mount “but his whole family was passionate about music,” said Ruff.

Along with Mount’s personal violin and initialed case, three prototypes of Mount’s Cradle of Harmony are also on view. “It’s nice that we were able to have all three examples of the violin that he designed and we have the 1852 patent design drawing for the first one,” the curator said.

In the background, a video plays several of Mount’s compositions, initially recorded by violinist Gilbert Ross for the Smithsonian in 1976 on its own Cradle of Harmony, tying the exhibit together perfectly.

“It is amazing how Mount was just able to bring music and art together and combine it. Until you have all [these items] gathered in a gallery you don’t necessarily appreciate just how much he was setting a violin down and picking up a paintbrush,” reflected Ruff. “Where one started and one finished is not always clear … nor should it be. It was just this continuing, constant influence and important part of his life.”

Related programs

Art & Music lecture

The Atelier at Flowerfield, 2 Flowerfield, St. James will present a lecture on the Perfect Harmony exhibit with guest speaker, curator Joshua Ruff, on Thursday, April 12 from 7 to 8:30 p.m. in Atelier Hall featuring an early American fiddle performance by Director Kevin McEvoy. Suggested donation is $10. For more information, call 631-250-9009.

Mount tribute concert

On Saturday, April 14, The LIM will host a concert by the Manhattan-based Red Skies Music Ensemble at 2 p.m. The group will bring Mount’s music and art to life through visual imagery and theatrical interpretation of songs from the artist’s own collection. One of the musicians will play Mount’s Cradle of Harmony. Followed by a Q&A. Admission is $20 adults, $18 seniors, $15 members and students. To register, call 631-751-0066, ext. 212.

Hands-On Art

Students in grades K through 4 can take part in an after school program, Hands-On Art, on Thursday, May 3 from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. by visiting the Perfect Harmony exhibit and taking inspiration from William Sidney Mount to combine music and art. $10 per child. To register, call 631-751-0066, ext. 212.

The Long Island Museum, 1200 Route 25A, Stony Brook will present Perfect Harmony: The Musical Life and Art of William Sidney Mount through Sept. 3. The museum is open Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. Admission is $10 adults, $7 seniors, $5 students, children 5 and under free. For further information, call 631-751-0066 or visit www.longislandmuseum.org.

 

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The gravestones of William and Martha Smith in St. George’s Manor cemetery, Strong’s Neck. Photo by Beverly C. Tyler

By Beverly C. Tyler

Part two of a two-part series

William “Tangier” Smith and his wife Martha who lived in St. George’s Manor in Strong’s Neck became known locally as the lord and lady of the manor in the late 1600s.

As detailed by historian Kate Strong in her Long Island Forum columns, “In 1675 [in Tangier, Morocco], Colonel William Smith … bought a great book, sometimes called ‘The Tangier Book’ and sometimes ‘The First Pigskin Book.’ The first entry was a statement of his marriage. After that he recorded the baptism [including minister and godparents], and some deaths, of his numerous children. As he only wrote on one side of the page, his wife, Martha, turned the book upside down and wrote in her recipes — in some cases telling the name of the person giving her the recipe.”

Local historian Kate Strong wrote extensively about William and Martha Smith in her Long Island Forum columns. Photo from the Three Village Historical Society

The recipes and notes Martha Smith made in the pigskin book were most likely all entered during her years on Long Island.

“She sometimes added a few bits of news,” Strong wrote. “As when she told that she felt that Colonel Williams’ sickness came from a strain he had incurred in lifting her off the horse … later she recorded that her dear Billy was better.”

Strong listed just a few of the recipes from the pigskin book, including “To make pancakes — take the yokes of six eggs, add ye one white and one pint of cream and half a pint of sacke & nutmeg and a little salt and some sugar. Make the batter of a reasonable thickness, work in some flower (sic) & fry them. Mrs. Osborn.”

Martha also included recipes for medicinal purposes, including one from her daughter. “For a sore throat or Quinsey — take Rue & pound it pretty fine & make a poultice & plaster, must be an inch thick & lay it on ye side of ye throat. It is a sure cure. You may sprinkle it with brandy. Mrs. Strod.”

“She was not too busy to enjoy riding with her husband,” Strong wrote. “I imagine they had fine horses. I know their saddles were covered with velvet. (Hers a side saddle of course). They went to the South Shore not only to enjoy the ocean breezes in the summer but on business.”

When Martha’s husband died in 1705, the Smith children included Henry, later second lord of the manor, age 26; Mrs. Martha Heathcote, age 23; Jeane, age 17; William Henry, later to inherit the South Shore manor house and estate, age 15; Gloryana, later to marry the Rev. George Muirson, age 14; and Charles Jeffery, who would die of smallpox in 1715, age 11. Martha was now faced with raising her young family and running her late husband’s vast holdings and business interest.

Entries in the pigskin book had been started by Smith in 1697 as an estate account book of farm transactions and also referred to the Native American whaling crews, as detailed by historian John Strong in “The Unkechaug Indians of Eastern Long Island: A History.” “From 1696 until 1721, the Smiths used the book to keep the accounts of Native Americans working for their whaling company,” Strong wrote. … “Lady Martha Smith, for the 1706-07 whaling season made a net profit of 120 barrels of whale oil out of 180 barrels, a sizable profit.”

“She sometimes added a few bits of news. As when she told that she felt that Colonel Williams’ sickness came from a strain he had incurred in lifting her off the horse.”

— Kate Strong

“Offshore whaling was a fine business in those days, and Madam Martha had her own whaleboat,” Strong added. “The crew was mostly Indians. She kept her records in a second pigskin book, which was almost lost in the San Francisco fire. A member of the family had taken it West. During the fire, a gentleman saw a trunk which had fallen from a truck and examined the contents. Finding the pigskin book he restored it to its owner.”

As detailed in “Bellport and Brookhaven: A Saga of the Sibling Hamlets at Old Purchase South” by Stephanie Bigelow, published in 1968, “The Lady Martha was a remarkable woman … managing not only the vast estate, but carrying on the whaling business successfully.”

Also as noted by Kate Strong, “Fifteen Indians, the whaling crew, are listed by name; their wages, and the charges made against them, for shot, powder, rum, ‘cotes,’ ‘britches,’ etc. … She must have had trouble controlling them, for there are quite a few complaints. ‘He [Will Bene] got nothing this season, stayed away 10 days at a time, when he went to see his Shua. Was a great loss to me.’ But there were more cheerful entries too. ‘I thanks God, my company killed a yearling whale. Maid 27 barrels ogle.’ Listed was the weight in pounds of whalebone from each whale, as well as the number of barrels of oil.”

In addition to being successful, Martha Smith was well respected in the area.

“As to what the early settlers thought of Martha in their plans for the meeting house church, they wrote that at the table was to sit no woman of any kind except Madam Martha Smith,” wrote Kate Strong. “She died five years after her husband on September 1, 1709, and was buried beside him on the spot he had chosen overlooking the little bay on the neck, now called Strong’s Neck, but we old-timers think of it by its real name: St. George’s Manor, part of the Manor of St. George.”

Beverly C. Tyler is Three Village Historical Society historian and author of books available from the society at 93 North Country Road, Setauket. For more information, call 631-751-3730 or visit www.tvhs.org.

Travel back in time to the glitz and glamour of Long Island in the 1920s with a party Gatsby himself would be jealous of! The Smithtown Historical Society will host a Roaring 20s Party at the Elks Lodge, 120 Edgewood Ave., Smithtown on Saturday, April 7 at 7 p.m Enjoy dinner and dancing — period appropriate costumes encouraged!  $75 per person, $140 couple. To RSVP, call 631-265-6768.

*For costumes, contact Nan Guzzetta at 631-331-2261.

Pastor Gideon Pollach, of St. John's Church, and Denice Evans-Sheppard at Jones Cemetery. Photo from Town of Huntington

Huntington Town officials are seeking the public’s help in putting back together forgotten pieces of African-American history in Cold Spring Harbor.

Located off the east side of Harbor Road, there is a small plot of town-owned land that’s only known as Jones Cemetery. Huntington Town Historian Robert Hughes said it is named after the Jones family that owned extensive pieces of land in the area in both the current towns of Huntington and Oyster Bay through the 20th century. They’re also famous for starting Cold Spring Harbor Whaling Company.

“We knew he was most likely buried at that cemetery. We could not find it. There was a lot of brush covering up the graves and headstones.”

—Denice Evans-Shepard

Hughes said he believes most, if not all of those buried in the cemetery are African-Americans who once worked for the Jones family — some as slaves.

“The Jones Cemetery is one of 56 historic cemeteries located throughout the Town of Huntington,” Hughes said. “Unfortunately, many have become overgrown over the years. Other priorities often take precedence over cemetery cleanups.”

Hughes, Huntington’s director of minority affairs Kevin Thorbourne and volunteers from St. John’s Church in Cold Spring Harbor cleaned up the cemetery grounds March 3. Their work revealed about three dozen graves marked only by simple field stones and two traditional marble headstones.

One of the marked headstone is for Alfred Thorn, an African-American who worked for Charles Jones, and then Oliver Jones as a coachman. Thorn died Feb. 3, 1900, at age 55. The other marble headstone is for Patience Thorn, who is believed to be Alfred’s mother, according to Hughes. The identities of the three dozen others buried in the cemetery are unknown.

Denice Evans-Sheppard, the new director of the Oyster Bay Historic Society, said she has reason to believe one of her ancestors is buried in Jones Cemetery.

“It’s like finding the missing piece to the puzzle,” she said.

Evans-Sheppard said growing up she was told her family originally worked on the Jones family estate. Her great-great-great-grandfather, Lewis Carll, once worked as one of the coachman for the Jones family. He’s the only member of her family not buried in Oyster Bay, according to Evans-Sheppard.

“To to learn who was buried at Jones Cemetery will help us put the missing pieces of Huntington’s history back together.”

— Chad Lupinacci

“We knew he was most likely buried at that cemetery,” she said. “We could not find it. There was a lot of brush covering up the graves and headstones.”

She was invited to tour the grounds with Gideon Pollach, pastor of St. John’s Church; Hughes and Thorbourne after the cleanup March 7.

“It was beautiful to finally make that connection,” she said.

Evans-Sheppard said she knows some descendants of other African-American families who worked for the Jones, including the Jacksons, the Seamans and her own, the Carlls. Many related individuals still live in nearby areas of Huntington, Oyster Bay and Amityville, she said. 

Along with Huntington Town officials, Evans-Sheppard is hoping families will step forward to help identify their remains.

“The Town of Huntington has a rich history of contributions from the African-American community, and to learn who was buried at Jones Cemetery will help us put the missing pieces of Huntington’s history back together,” said Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) in a statement.

Anyone with information on individuals who may be interred in the cemetery is encouraged to contact Hughes at 631-351-3244 or email at rhughes@huntingtonny.gov

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Artwork of St. George’s Manor, published in the October 1792 issue of New York Magazine. Drawing from the Society for the Preservation of Long Island Antiquities

By Beverly C. Tyler

Martha Tunstall was baptized July 2, 1652, the daughter of Henry Tunstall of Putney, County of Surrey, England. She moved with her family to Morocco, where she married Col. William “Tangier” Smith. From her marriage Nov. 26, 1675, until her death in Setauket in 1709 at the age of 57, Martha led a life dedicated to her husband, family, business interests and community.

She gave birth to 13 children and buried seven of them. The mother journeyed in a time of discomfiting and perilous travel from the city of Tangier, back to England, to Ireland for the birth of a child and finally to America. She raised her family and assisted her husband in his businesses which often involved his traveling from home over long periods of time. Martha became well respected and loved in her lifetime as “lady of the manor.”

Martha became well respected and loved in her lifetime as “lady of the manor.”

Madam Martha Smith, as historian Kate Strong referred to her, or Lady Martha Smith, as she is referred to in many documents is not listed in “The Encyclopedia of Women’s History in America,” nor in “Long Island Women: Activists and Innovators.” But Martha was a woman of wealth and stature on Long Island and especially in the communities of Setauket and Mastic where she and her husband maintained their residences.

Tangier Smith was born in February of 1654 in Higham Ferrers, Northamptonshire, England, to a lady-in-waiting to Queen Charlotte of Braganza at the court of her husband, King Charles II. According to family folklore, Smith was a son of Charles II, however, there is no indication that the king had any natural children.

The city of Tangier, which had been ceded to England as part of Queen Charlotte’s dowry, was an important port, or so it was thought, until evacuated and burned by England in 1683, after both Spain and Portugal refused to take it off the English. As detailed by Chester Osborne, Smith went to the crown city of Tangier when he was 20 years old. A year later he married Martha, and was elected to the post of mayor Nov. 11, 1682. The young couple returned to England in 1683 after the city was abandoned and, in 1686, sailed from Ireland for America.

The Smiths arrived in New York in the fall of 1686 with their children, 7-year-old Henry and 5-year-old Martha. A third child, Hibernia, had been born in Cork, Ireland, in June before they left for America on the ship Thomas, but she died at sea at the end of August. Hibernia was the couple’s eighth child and the fifth to die. Three of their children, Elizabeth, John and William Jr. died in Tangier. Their second son also named William Jr., just a month old, died in London in February 1684, and Mary passed in the same year.

“During these early years in Setauket, the Smiths moved from their first house near the Woodhull homestead to Little Neck, now known as Strong’s Neck, where they built a larger house that became known as St. George’s Manor.”

During their time in New York, Martha gave birth to a daughter Jeane Dec. 8, 1687. After her birth, Tangier Smith quickly purchased land in Setauket, “Ye Little Neck,” and on the South Shore as well. By 1689, the family had moved permanently to the young settlement of Setauket. In March, Martha gave birth to William. The following year, in June of 1690, their daughter Gloryana was born. Eighteen months later another daughter, Theodocia, was born Dec. 14 and died Dec. 29. Two years later, Dec. 20, 1693, Martha gave birth to the couple’s last child, Charles Jeffery.

During these early years in Setauket, the Smiths moved from their first house near the Woodhull homestead to Little Neck, now known as Strong’s Neck, where they built a larger house that became known as St. George’s Manor. While Martha kept busy at home, her husband increased the land holdings. On Oct. 9, 1693, he received a patent from Gov. Benjamin Fletcher that included all the land bounded roughly by Carmans and Forge rivers — then called Connecticut and Mastic rivers respectively — between today’s Middle Country Road and the Atlantic Ocean. This combined with his previous purchase created the Manor of St. George. In 1697, Smith added another portion of land, running to the western boundaries of the towns of Southampton and Southold. He then built a second manor house on Smith’s Point. Here the family spent summers, returning to the manor house in Setauket for the rest of the year.

With the acquisition of the patent land in 1693, William and Martha became the lord and lady of the manor. Much of the couple’s Long Island property was given to them in recompense after the crown’s short-lived experiment with its North African colony was discarded in 1683.

Widowed at the age of 52, Martha successfully continued her husband’s business interests, including offshore whaling, and was an acknowledged community leader. Learn more about Martha in an upcoming edition of The Village Times Herald.

Beverly C. Tyler is Three Village Historical Society historian and author of books available from the society at 93 North Country Road, Setauket. For more information, call 631-751-3730 or visit www.tvhs.org.

 

Kevin McEvoy will discuss the works of Leonardo da Vinci including ‘The Last Supper.’

The Atelier at Flowerfield, 2 Flowerfield, St. James continues its art history lecture series with Leonardo da Vinci, Part II on Thursday, March 29 from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Director Kevin McEvoy will discuss the life and work of Leonardo da Vinci as a scientist, experimenter, poet and artist and his role in the progression of naturalism from Giotto to Sargent.

Enjoy snacks, refreshments, good company and stimulating discussion. Suggested donation is $10. No reservation needed. For further details, call 631-250-9009 or visit www.atelierflowerfield.org.

New owner hopes to have property tracing its roots back to town's founder restored in a year

Ebo Hill mansion on Edgewood Avenue in Smithtown. Photo from Facebook.

A Commack pizzeria owner has purchased one of Smithtown’s historic mansions in the hopes of lovingly restoring it with his own two hands.

Richard Albano, owner of Richie’s Pizza in both Commack and Deer Park, became the landowner of Ebo Hill mansion on Edgewood Road March 8. Albano began renovating the three-story house nearly a month ago, unable to wait until the sale of the property was finalized.

“I feel a lot of passion for this home,” he said. “I’m working on it every day, restoring it. My goal is to make it look as it was when it was brand new.”

Richard Albano, on left, in front of Ebo Hill mansion. Photo from Facebook.

Albano, of Deer Park, said he stumbled upon the nearly 175-year-old mansion once owned by descendants of Smithtown’s founder, Richard Smythe, while hunting for a larger home for himself. Upon seeing it, he reached out to prior owner, RichardLongobardi, to inquire if it was for sale. Albano said he flipped eight houses in 10 months to raise funds necessary to purchase the property, then set up a tour.

“It’s so majestic,” he said. “Walking through the house on a 20-degree day with two flashlights in hand, you would expect it to be eerie. The house still had this warm, homey feeling to it.”

Albano declined to share the final sale price he negotiated with Longobardi for the historic property.

Albano admitted that despite flipping houses, or purchasing properties and reselling for profit since 1984, he has never taken on a project of this size or magnitude before. The more than 11,000-square-foot mansion, which he heard was last inhabited in 2001, contains 16 bedrooms, two kitchens, a master ballroom, and numerous bathrooms that have many of the building’s original fixtures.

According to “Colonel Rockwell’s Scrap-book” published by the Smithtown Historical Society in 1968, the house was built around 1846. It once belonged to Obadiah Smith, a great-grandson of Richard Smythe, before eventually becoming the homestead to Ethelbert Marshall Smith, another Smythe descendent, in 1877.

Albano said as he’s started renovating he’s found items spanning back through the centuries dating as far back as Ethelbert Smith’s years of ownership. A steel beam supporting the house’s structure is clearly marked “E.M. Smith” while the main staircase still has “Smith” written on it in pencil.

Beam inside Ebo Hill house with “E.M. Smith” written on it. Photo from Facebook.

“Nobody at any point in time ripped anything apart to go replace it with something new,” Albano said. “They kept the original things working. I appreciate it very much.”

Other recent discoveries include the home’s original weather vane, a pogo stick, and a stitched needlepoint piece bearing the title of the Christian hymn “Nearer, My God, to Thee” found under the floorboards in the attic. Albano said it wasn’t until he tore the boards off the windows that he found the location of the refrigerated walk-in box, which he said was believed to be the first of its kind on Long Island.

One change made to the original house that its new owner wishes to undo is its location. The house was once moved from the northeast corner of Edgewood and Landing to sit further back on the property by Smith, according to “Colonel Rockwell’s Scrap-book.” Albano said he will be hiring a moving company to lift and move the house forward, setting it on a new foundation to improve stability and create a backyard.

The new owner said there have been a few issues with people trespassing in the home as work has been underway, but said it’s been largely out of curiosity rather than malicious intent.

“Once it’s presentable, I intend to open it up to the public for a day,” he said. “It’s part of Smithtown’s history.”

Albano said he hopes to move in and take up residency as soon as possible. If everything goes smoothly, he hopes to have the mansion renovated in about a year.

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