History

The Philip Groia Memorial Global Studies Collection on display at the Emma S. Clark Memorial Library. Photo from Emma S. Clark Memorial Library

By Susan Risoli

A teacher can change lives. With a $50,000 bequest to Emma S. Clark Memorial Library, former teacher Philip Groia funded a permanent global studies collection. Those who remember Groia, who died in 2014 at age 73, will appreciate the fact that his gift will enrich lives for years to come.

Groia taught social studies and global studies to ninth-graders at Paul J. Gelinas Junior High School and was advisor to the student government. He was “an internationalist,” agreed retired fellow teachers and friends John Deus and Judy Albano in a recent interview. He had an abiding curiosity about people and their lives, they said.

Groia never married and had no children, but he thought of his students as his kids and “they adored him,” said Deus. “He was a ‘kids first’ kind of teacher.”

Albano said relating with his students was one of Groia’s strengths, “[He was] ‘Mr. Cool.’ He was very relaxed with the kids, very easy with them.”

Former student Amy Cohas remembered being taken aback on the first day of social studies class, when she found her teacher sitting in the back of the classroom instead of in the customary spot up front. For Groia, it was just another way to connect with kids.

“He was really unusual,” Cohas said in a phone interview. “He had a lot of authority, but he was low-key and funny and affectionate.”

Former Three Village teacher Philip Groia funded a Global Studies collection at the Emma S. Clark Memorial Library. Photo from Tony Calleja.
Former Three Village teacher Philip Groia funded a Global Studies collection at the Emma S. Clark Memorial Library. Photo from Tony Calleja

Groia called his tests “practical everyday applications,” Cohas recalled, and he delivered them verbally to encourage students to think about the material.

His own worldwide travels were often part of class discussions.

“He was trying to expose us to a wider world,” Cohas said. “It raised our expectations as to what teachers could be.”

The bond between students and their teacher was especially strong, Cohas said, the day some kids baked Groia a birthday cake and brought it to school.

“I remember he looked up as he was slicing the cake and said, ‘I don’t want this to go to your heads, but I really love you guys,’” she recalled.

Groia sent his students to Emma Clark to work on their school assignments, and did his own research there too. He had a special interest in early rhythm and blues music, especially the street corner groups that filled 1950s and ‘60s New York City with their vocal harmonies.

His book on the topic, “They All Sang on the Corner,” is part of the library’s holdings. Still, said library director Ted Gutmann, it came as a surprise that Groia’s will provided for Emma Clark.

“I think I did a little bit of a double take, when I saw the figure of $50,000,” Gutmann said. Though Groia’s gift is the first bequest to Emma Clark in Gutmann’s tenure as director, there have been other benefactors in the library’s 125-year history, he said.

The Philip Groia Memorial Global Studies Collection was started last year and includes 100 items on current events and cultures throughout the world.

“Right now it’s basically books,” Gutmann said. “But there are really no strings attached to the gift.” Eventually it may include DVDs or other media.

Gutmann said having a well-curated global studies collection available for all is important to keep people informed, “Especially because so much of what’s happening now is, people group together with their own political beliefs and they don’t listen to what the other side is saying,” he said.

Emma Clark is a natural home for learning about people, their cultures and their governments, Gutmann continued, because “a library is one of the few places these days, it seems, where you can still come and get information without a bias.”

Tony Calleja was a friend.

“He came from a strict household,” Calleja said of his friend. “They expected him to be something different than what he felt. But he was his own man and went through life his own way.”

A view of the Setauket Presbyterian Cemetery. Photo by Susan Nolan

By Heidi Sutton

‘How glorious it is to paint in the open fields, to hear the birds singing around you, to draw in the fresh air – how thankful it makes one.’William Sidney Mount, May 1848

The cooler weather, shorter days and leaves of autumn reds, oranges and gold signal the arrival of the Three Village Historical Society’s annual Spirits Tour. Now in its 22nd year, this year’s event, with the theme “William Sidney Mount: Family, Friends & Ideas,” will be held on Saturday, Oct. 22 with tours starting at 5 p.m.

‘Self-Portrait,’ oil on canvas, 1832 by William Sidney Mount. File photo
‘Self-Portrait,’ oil on canvas, 1832 by William Sidney Mount. File photo

Born in Setauket in 1807, William Sidney Mount was an incredible artist best known for his genre paintings (portraits and scenes from everyday life) of Long Island, most notably “Dance of the Haymakers,” (1845) “Farmers Nooning” (1836) and “Dancing on the Barn Floor” (1831). His paintings often commented on American social and political issues and by the middle of the nineteenth century, he was one of the most renowned artists in America. He is buried at the Setauket Presbyterian Church across from the Village Green. The Long Island Museum in Stony Brook boasts the largest collection of Mount’s paintings, thanks to gifts by philanthropists Ward and Dorothy Melville, along with his diaries.

Guided walking tours will lead guests through the historic cemeteries of the Setauket Presbyterian Church and the Caroline Church of Brookhaven. The “spirit” of William Sidney Mount with his family and friends will greet visitors along the way. Actors in period costumes supplied by Antiques Costume & Prop Rental by Nan Guzzetta will play the parts of Mount’s mother, brothers Henry and Shepard, his sister Ruth along with people who commissioned paintings from him, including Lumen Reed, his principal sponsor in New York. Reed would eventually donate his collection of the artist’s paintings to the New York Historical Society. Rachel Holland Hart, played by Bonnie Duvall, who is featured in Mount’s classic painting, “Eel Spearing at Setauket,” will also make an appearance. As a special treat, the tour will include a visit with members of the Setalcott Nation, Helen “Morningstar” Sells and Nellie Edwards, on the Village Green.

'Farmers Nooning' (1836) by William Sidney Mount. File photo
‘Farmers Nooning’ (1836) by William Sidney Mount. File photo

Frank Turano, co-chair of the committee and Historical Society Trustee, wrote the script for this year’s event. According to Turano, the Spirits Tour serves as both an educational event for the community and a fundraiser for the Three Village Historical Society. Previous tours have explored themes such as the Culper Spy Ring and Service to Country and Community as well as featuring prominent families in the area such as the Strongs.

The decision to celebrate William Sidney Mount this year was an easy one. “Mount is a significant artist from mid-19th century,” said Turano. “His work … leads into the Hudson River School … as a significant art movement. Long Island was used extensively by artists, both in [Mount’s] time and later times. We had all the big guns here at one point in the 19th century: the Moran Brothers, Winslow Homer, William Merritt Chase — they all followed Mount.” Aside from having been born here, Turano said one of Mount’s attractions to the area was the high quality of the light. “He often commented on the high clarity of the atmosphere and true colors.”

“Mount painted the [local] community, the people he saw, the people he grew up with. The end result was that you have a good representation of the life of the people here,” said Turano, adding, “Mount also came from an enormously talented family. He was taught sign painting by his older brother Henry, his younger brother Shepard Alonzo was an unbelievable portrait painter and they were all musicians.”

“Mount was a man for all seasons in the 19th century,” said Turano. Along with being very influential in the art world, with sponsors in New York, “he invented a violin named the Cradle of Harmony, which was designed to be louder than the typical fiddle of the day.” Turano said Mount’s paintings also give us good insight into the manner and dress of the people in Setauket in the early 1800s as a rural farming settlement. “How did the common people dress? What did they look like? He’s a character bigger than the community and that’s why he’s the focal point here,” said Turano.

Tours will leave from the Setauket Presbyterian Church, 5 Caroline Ave., Setauket every 15 minutes starting at 5 p.m. and last for approximately 1 1/2 to 2 hours. The last tour departs at 7:45 p.m. It is advised to dress warmly, wear comfortable shoes and bring a flashlight. Tickets in advance are $18 adults, $15 members; $10 children under 12, $8 members. Tickets on the night of the event are $25 adults, $20 members; $12 children under 12, $10 members. Copies of the Three Village Historical Society’s book, “William Sidney Mount: Family, Friends and Ideas” will be available for purchase for $3 on the night of the event. Rain date is Sunday, Oct. 23. To order tickets, call 631-751-3730 or visit www.tvhs.org.

In conjunction with the tour, the Long Island Museum, 1200 Route 25A, Stony Brook will showcase its current exhibit in the Art Museum on the hill: “Drawn from Life: Objects and Stories from William Sidney Mount’s Paintings” and Mora’s Fine Wines will host a wine and spirit tasting event with hors d’ouevres at Madiran the Wine Bar, 209 Main St., E. Setauket on Oct. 22 from 1 to 4 p.m. Tickets for the wine tasting are $39.99. To order, please visit www.moraswines.com.

Members of the Third NY Regiment, 22nd Regiment of Foot, and the cast of ‘A Tale of Gold’. Photo by Jameson Wessels

By Ed Randolph

It was a hot but beautiful afternoon when a regiment of British soldiers and loyalists arrived to harass Coram local and former patriot minuteman, Gold Smith Davis. Spectators stood in surprise and suspense awaiting his fate as the infamous “Long Island Lobsterback” and members of the 22nd Regiment of Foot tied Mr. Davis to a wooden column on the porch, beating him with the butt end of a musket and stabbing him with a disjointed bayonet.

Though blood was splattered on Mrs. Davis’s pristine white porch, Mr. Davis survived the ordeal and was rescued by Setauket local and hometown hero Colonel Benjamin Tallmadge. Accompanied by members of the Third NY Regiment, he surrounded the British forces in a tactical ambush.

Musket fire was exchanged between the rivaling forces. Outgunned and cornered, the lobsterbacks were forced to retreat in haste as the patriots secured an unlikely victory in the heart of Long Island. Other eyewitness reports suggest Mr. Davis was hung upside down over a well, but these claims remain unconfirmed. Both reports suggest he was reunited with his wife Elizabeth.

Unsuspecting visitors found themselves thrust into the middle of an 18th-century reenactment battlefield as a volley of musket fire echoed through the crisp summer air. After the spectacle, those in attendance enjoyed the Davis Meeting House Society’s outdoor Yard Sale and Craft Fair. Numerous vendors and visitors were in attendance and enjoyed the splendid sound of fife and drum. This event was hosted by the Davis Meeting House Society on Sept. 10 and was made possible by the Robert D.L. Gardiner Foundation.

For more information on Gold Smith Davis visit www.davistownmeetinghouse.org.

For more information on becoming a Revolutionary War reenactor visit www.3rdny.com.

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Courtesy of the Erie Canal Museum An 1852 Abbot map of the Erie Canal.

By Beverly C. Tyler

Farming on Long Island has changed significantly over the past 350 years. The early settlers in Brookhaven used horses and oxen, raised cows, pigs and sheep and grew a wide variety of crops including wheat, Indian corn, barley, rye, flax, grasses, apple and pear trees. As wheat and Indian corn were the largest and most important crops, the local gristmill became the vital connection between the farm field and table.

For farmers, the miller and the blacksmith were the vital craftsmen. Brookhaven’s colonial blacksmiths worked in iron to produce farm tools and hardware. They made horseshoes and shod horses, oxen and occasionally cows. In 1681, John Thompson, Brookhaven’s blacksmith, made all the iron and steel work for a new Setauket gristmill run by John Wade.

By the end of the 18th century, increased agricultural productivity was becoming vital to Long Island farmers. By enriching the soil with seaweed, shells and manure, Suffolk County farmers increased the yield of each acre of wheat and other grains by two to three times. However, the dominance of wheat in Long Island agriculture was soon to change.

At the start of the 19th century, New York City had a number of tidal gristmills along the East River to grind grain. Grain and flour came from Long Island and as far away as Ohio. Grain from the west, transported by wagon, was more expensive than Long Island grain. This, however, was also soon to change.

With the end of the War of 1812, trade with Europe and Great Britain resumed. Europeans remained willing to pay high prices for American cotton and wheat. Great Britain passed the “Corn Law of 1815,” placing a tax on the import of grains. This was to keep the price of grains up and preserve the profits of the “landed gentry” (the British noblemen who owned most of the land).

In 1812 the United States exported 1.3 million barrels of flour to Britain. In 1816 that fell to about half (620,000 barrels). Long Island farmers still earned their living by raising grain and herding livestock, as they had since the 17th century. Now they began to have a wider market through New York City.

The Erie Canal forever changed Long Island’s relationship with New York City. Begun in 1817, the Erie Canal was fully completed in 1825 from Buffalo to Albany — a distance of 363 miles — establishing a water commerce route between the Hudson River and the Great Lakes.

The effect of the canal on Long Island and New York City population and commerce was dramatic. By 1826, 42 barges a day carried 1,000 passengers, 221,000 barrels of flour, 435,000 gallons of whiskey and 562,000 bushels of wheat. Shipping costs from Lake Erie to Manhattan plummeted from $100 a ton to less than $9.00.

By 1830, due largely to the Erie Canal, New York, which had always been behind Philadelphia and Boston in exports, was exporting four times as much as Philadelphia. By 1850, New York’s exports had grown another 160 percent.

On Long Island, wheat, barley, corn and rye proved unable to compete with cereal grains from the West. By 1836, with a population that more than doubled to over 275,000 since 1820 and shipping that tripled over the same period, Long Island farmers, seeing their market disappear, switched to raising potatoes, cabbage, peas, beans, asparagus and tomatoes for booming Manhattan and Brooklyn.

To be continued next time: A trip on the Erie Canal.

Beverly Tyler is the Three Village Historical Society historian and author of books available from the Three Village Historical Society, 93 North Country Road, Setauket, NY 11733. Tel: 631-751-3730. WWW.TVHS.org.

Firemen salute the American flag during the East Northport Fire Department's 9/11 memorial on Sunday, Sept. 11. Photo by Kevin Redding

By Rich Acritelli

It was 15 years ago this week, Sept. 11, 2001, that Americans were putting their children on school buses and going about their daily routines when our nation was attacked. Terrorists boarded and later commandeered passenger planes that were fully loaded with fuel and flew them into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and the fields of Shanksville, Pennsylvania. The terrorists that took over Flight 93 originally planned to strike the Capital building or the White House, but cries of “Let’s roll” rang out, and the passengers fought back against the perpetrators.

While Mike Piazza of the New York Mets was an exceptional baseball player, he also served as a leader for his team and the community, and even helped with a humanitarian drive that was based out of Shea Stadium to aid the recovery workers. He spoke about that day during his Baseball Hall of Fame induction speech in July.

“To witness the darkest evil of the human heart and how it tore many loved ones from their families will forever be burned in my soul.”

— Mike Piazza

“Sept. 11, 2001 is a day that forever changed our lives. To witness the darkest evil of the human heart and how it tore many loved ones from their families will forever be burned in my soul,” the transplanted New Yorker, who was born in Philadelphia, said. “But from tragedy and sorrow came bravery, love, compassion, character and, eventually, healing. Many of you give me praise for the two-run home run on the first game back on Sept. 21 to push us ahead of the rival Braves. But the true praise belongs to police, firefighters, first responders, who knew they were going to die, but went forward anyway.”

The New York Yankees, who were in pursuit of another World Series title, visited firehouses, and players had tears in their eyes moments before they played in games.

Today, Americans are watching a hotly contested election. It was 15 years ago that many citizens put aside their political beliefs to be unified against a common enemy. Rescue crews traveled from all over the nation to head toward the remains of the World Trade Center, yellow ribbons were tied on trees across the United States and the undeniable will of our people was quickly demonstrated to the world. While it seems like yesterday that we watched these horrific events occur, there are current high school students that may have lost a parent that day. It is these boys and girls who were so young that they do not easily recollect their loved ones that were amongst the almost three thousand Americans killed tragically. This is not just another historic day to briefly remember — it is still with our citizens on a daily basis. Our children have lived under the heightened security at our airports, infrastructure centers like Pennsylvania Station and the George Washington Bridge, and during major sporting events. During every home game since 9/11, the New York Yankees invite veterans and rescue workers to be honored, as both teams line up to listen to “God Bless America.”

Our North Shore communities were a considerable distance from the destruction of the World Trade Center towers. But unflinchingly, local rescue and support workers from these towns traveled every day and spent hours away from their families to be at ground zero. May we never forget the sacrifices of members of these numerous agencies that are currently suffering from 9/11-related illnesses. It should also be remembered that while our North Shore towns are miles from the city, these communities and schools lost residents and graduates as a result of these acts of terrorism. Thank you to all our rescue workers and military branches that continue to protect the security and values of the United States, at home and abroad.

A Rocky Point Middle School student draws symbols associated with 9/11 during class. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

By Alex Petroski & Victoria Espinoza

The world changed Sept. 11, 2001. For those who were alive and old enough to grasp the enormity of the event, what happened that day is very complicated and difficult to comprehend, even 15 years later. For those who weren’t born yet or were too young to remember the events, it’s even more challenging to comprehend. That is the task facing North Shore global and American history teachers welcoming eighth- and ninth-graders into their classrooms for the 2016 school year.

Student artwork done after a 9/11 lesson. Photo by Victoria Espinoza
Student artwork done after a 9/11 lesson. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

Wendy Blair-Braxton, an eighth-grade history teacher at Elwood Middle School, planned several days worth of lessons to help her students get an in-depth understanding of the events that transpired on 9/11.

Blair-Braxton started her lesson Sept. 9 by showing her students photos of 9/11, without telling students what the photos depicted.

“They had different reactions, some students said terrorism, some didn’t even realize we were talking about 9/11,” she said in a phone interview.

Blair-Braxton said after the students realized what the subject was, she showed videos about 9/11, to help put the students in the shoes of those at Ground Zero.

“I tried to teach the emotional aspects of 9/11,” she said. “It really did hit home for a lot of the students. I also explained to the kids, once you live through this type of history, all the emotions come back every time you revisit it. You get the chills, and the goosebumps down your spine.”

She said many of her students became emotional after seeing the video and photos of the Twin Towers falling, and the classroom became “dead silent.”

The eighth-grade teacher said many students didn’t realize just how many aspects of their lives were affected by the attacks.

“They didn’t realize added security now at airports was because of this,” she said.

The Elwood students’ lessons eventually went into further detail about the Patriot Act, terrorism and the Department of Homeland Security, as Blair-Braxton said she tried to show the students how 9/11 was a turning point in the United States.

Students were asked to write reflections on index cards, as Blair-Braxton played songs like “My City of Ruins” by Bruce Springsteen, a popular ballad that took on new meaning after 9/11 and helped raised funds for first responders.

After the lesson, students wrote down their thoughts on reflection cards.

“We had a child who was actually questioning if there were people in the building when it went down. So a lot of them really don’t have any clue.”

— Erica Alemaghides

“I feel like I shouldn’t be that affected by what happened on 9/11, since I had no personal connection to anything that happened,” one student wrote. “Then why do I feel like it does affect me? It’s probably because of a mixture of shock and sadness realizing that it affected our country and everyone inside of the country is the country.”

Grasping the subject wasn’t any easier for a classmate.

“I feel that I can’t describe 9/11 in detail,” the student wrote. “I know all the videos, and people’s stories of how they reacted, but I wasn’t there. I don’t have any personal experience with the incident. I think 9/11 had the largest negative impact in the history of the U.S. New York City is known as the city that never sleeps, but for long after the incident the city slept. The whole city was silent. I feel horrible for all the people who lost their lives, and the people who lived on, carrying the crestfallen emotions of the deceased. 9/11 will never be lost in history.”

Erica Alemaghides, a social studies teacher at Rocky Point Middle School, said she tried to approach the lesson from a different perspective this year compared to years past.

“I feel it’s important to teach them about everything, all the facts having to do with it, because they really don’t know anything,” she said. “We had a child who was actually questioning if there were people in the building when it went down. So a lot of them really don’t have any clue. They’ve heard of it, but a lot of them didn’t even really know what terrorism is, or they just don’t understand it.”

She said some students didn’t realize how many planes were hijacked that day, and weren’t aware of the attack on the Pentagon and the plane crash in Pennsylvania.

Alemaghides’ new lesson plan required students to choose an artifact that might have been found in the rubble, which they then replicated and explained in a personal reflection.

She said she wanted students to understand how the nation changed after the deadly attacks, and what was done to make America safe.

“You don’t want everyone thinking every time you go into a building you have to worry about that happening,” she said.

A Rocky Point Middle School student draws symbols associated with 9/11 during class. Photo by Victoria Espinoza
A Rocky Point Middle School student draws symbols associated with 9/11 during class. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

Port Jefferson high school global history teacher Jesse Rosen, who teaches ninth grade, said in a phone interview that his goal in teaching about 9/11 hasn’t changed much over the years. He prefers to approach the subject from a humanistic point of view, with minimal discussion of the global implications.

“I feel like it’s still so close and people still know someone who was affected that the humanistic aspect of it is where I want to stick,” he said in a phone interview.

Rosen teaches the lesson around a story originally revealed in an ESPN piece for the show “Outside the Lines” about “the man in the red bandana.” The piece tells the story of Welles Crowther, a former lacrosse player at Boston College, who carried a red bandana with him everywhere he went. Crowther died in the attacks, and his family later learned of his heroism on that day when they heard stories about a man with a red bandana helping to save people trapped in the building.

“I feel strongly that positive can come out of negative,” he said.

Rosen shared student responses following the lesson.

“Everything we have learned about Welles shares a common theme: he was a hero,” ninth-grader Katelynn Righi wrote. “For someone to risk their life to help other people shows a lot about that person. It shows their courage, bravery and that they will do anything to make sure others are alright. He decided to be a hero because that’s who he was.”

The wedding of Marcia Lawrence, a descendant of Richard Smythe to Verne LaSalle Rockwell, an army colonel in the 11th U.S. Calvary during World War I, in 1910. Photo courtesy of Smithtown Historical Society

By Rita J. Egan

Benjamin Newton’s wedding vest and his wife’s slippers, 1854. Photo courtesy of Smithtown Historical Society
Benjamin Newton’s wedding vest and his wife’s slippers, 1854. Photo courtesy of Smithtown Historical Society

Romance is in the air at the Smithtown Historical Society. The organization is currently hosting the exhibit Smithtown Gets Married: Weddings Past and Present at the Caleb Smith II House.

Curator Joshua Ruff said the exhibit, which examines the changes in wedding traditions throughout the centuries, presents a universal theme that provides the historical society the perfect opportunity to display some of its collection pieces that the public may not have seen before.

“The story and topic is one thing, but if you have the objects and the photos and the clothing that really can do justice to the story, then you have the making of a good exhibit,” the curator said. Ruff said the society has a great number of wedding-oriented artifacts in its collection, and among the pieces on display are items that date back to the 18th and 19th centuries. Items from 1854 include a wedding vest of Benjamin Newton, who ran a livery service, and wedding slippers worn by his wife Ellen.

A wedding slipper from 1755 belonging to Martha Smith. Photo courtesy of Smithtown Historical Society
A wedding slipper from 1755 belonging to Martha Smith. Photo courtesy of Smithtown Historical Society

A wedding slipper from 1755 belonging to Martha Smith, who was married to Caleb Smith I, the original owner of the home located on the property of Caleb Smith State Park Preserve in Smithtown, is also featured. “It’s pretty amazing that it survived,” the curator said.

Ruff said the historical society borrowed a couple of artifacts from the Smithtown Library including the wedding invitation of Bessie Smith and architect Stanford White, who designed the second Madison Square Garden as well as local structures including All Souls’ Episcopal Church in Stony Brook and Nikola Tesla’s Wardenclyffe Tower in Shoreham.

“It’s a small gallery, a small space, so I think it’s always good for us to have a little gem of an exhibition, something that has a few really great artifacts. You also have to realize that you can’t do a great, huge elaborate exhibition in the space,” Ruff said.

Marianne Howard, the historical society’s executive director said, “I think the exhibit is beautiful. One of the reasons why we were excited about the exhibit is because we wanted to have those partnerships with community members and with other organizations like the library who have a collection that is deep in this history, in this topic in particular,” she said.

In addition to the small artifacts, the exhibit features seven dresses from different periods. Gayle Hessel of Kings Park donated a 1980s wedding dress worn by her daughter Mary in 1985. “This is the kind of thing that people save and at a certain point after handing it down generation after generation, they start to think, ‘Well, what do I do with it now?’” Ruff said.

Two of the wedding dresses on display at the exhibit. Photo courtesy of Smithtown Historical Society
Two of the wedding dresses on display at the exhibit. Photo courtesy of Smithtown Historical Society

The curator said the gown by Laura Ashley has the princess style that was popular during the era due to Prince Charles and Princess Diana’s wedding. “It’s timeless. You can tell it’s modern because of the material, and the overall look, and how low cut it is, but at the same time it really is this throwback, and it just looks great,” he said.

On the same side of the room as Hessel’s dress is one from 1882 worn by a Julia Strong. Ruff said it features a lace filigree neckline, and the dress is so small, it looks a child wore it even though the bride was 23 years old when she married. Ruff said he first attempted to put the dress on a regular mannequin, then a child’s mannequin, but finally had to carve a form for it. Ruff said it’s a perfect example of how people were smaller in the past, and the tight bodices and corseted waistlines worn in those days, too.

While at the museum, visitors can watch a 2½-minute video featuring wedding announcements of Smithtown residents in 1961. Ruff said it’s interesting to see the choices couples made as far as venues before the big catering halls of today. He said he chose 1961 because “the video is just a good way of returning to one moment in time, a moment that’s both long ago to feel like history, and maybe modern enough also to have some relevance and connection to people that come to see the exhibit.”

Howard hopes with the exhibit that attendees will not only learn about local history but also realize they can contribute to future exhibits, when they see the artifacts that are on loan. “I want people to learn about the history of Smithtown and the history of Long Island as well. And, I also want people to know that this is a place where they can have a say and have an impact and be a part of something bigger, and that’s what we’re really trying to do,” she said.

With the historical society’s museum located at the Caleb Smith II House on North Country Road slightly north of the Smithtown Library, Ruff said he hopes library patrons will take a few minutes to visit the museum adding, “They can step right next door and see a wonderful little exhibit with really unique little treasures that they’re not going to see anywhere else.”

The Caleb Smith II House, 5 North Country Road, Smithtown will present Smithtown Gets Married: Weddings Past and Present through Nov. 29. Hours are Tuesdays and Thursdays from noon to 4 p.m. and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Admission to the exhibit is free. For more information, call 631-265-6768 or visit www.smithtownhistorical.org.

With a new school year around the corner, look back at Port Jefferson alumni through the years

Richard Olson taught U.S. History in the Port Jefferson school district from 1967-2002. He also served as the yearbook advisor from 1988-2014.

During that time, he amassed a collection of photos from events like homecoming, prom and class trips. With a new school year set to begin, take a look back at alumni from eras gone by.

What is left of the foundation of the Brookhaven Sand and Gravel Company in Mount Sinai. Photo by Edna Giffen

By Edna Giffen

When doing a project to benefit present and future generations, a municipality uncovered an item from the past.

As part of a stormwater mitigation project, the Town of Brookhaven has cleared a large area on the northeast corner of Mount Sinai Harbor adjacent to Shore Road. During this clearing, a cement structure was uncovered: the last remnants of the Brookhaven Sand and Gravel Company.

During the early 1900s, cities were expanding and cement was needed in ever-increasing amounts, with Long Island sand being considered the highest quality.

Companies looked all over Long Island for easily accessible quantities of sand, and in February of 1909, The Port Jefferson Echo, the local newspaper at the time, started reporting on activities concerning mining in Mount Sinai.

On Feb. 6, 1909, New York parties purchased a small piece of bayfront for a dock in the northeast corner of the harbor. This group had already purchased a total of 64 acres of sandy hills across Shore Road, and the American Sand and Gravel Company brought in a pile driver to build a 200-foot dock. A mud digger was brought in to dig a channel to the harbor entrance on the northwest side of the harbor to permit barges to come and go as needed. A railroad trestle was started near the mining area.

In 1910, the American Sand and Gravel Company, which had started this process, sold everything to the newly formed Brookhaven Sand and Gravel Company.

The company moved quickly. The railroad trestle was torn down and rebuilt in a more substantial manner to stand 16 feet above Shore Road, and a building for refining the sand was built on the property. The original plan was for the refining plant to help with housing development, but it became apparent that it’s real purpose was a full-scale mining operation.

Equipment was brought in, including a steam shovel, a donkey engine train and cars to carry the sand over the trestle. Crews of men were brought to work on the construction and the sand mining. By 1912, everything was ready to start the mining operation.

While the work was being done, there were concerns as to the benefits of the operation to the village, as evidenced by an item of Mount Sinai news in the Echo dated April 17, 1909.

A piece in the paper read: “The question whether the sand pile operation at Mount Sinai will bring into the village more money than would the desirable resident community, which they may drive away, is still being canvassed by the inhabitants. There is, however, no doubt of the dismay which has been created in the minds of some of those residing near the proposed sand dump, whose property is already seriously depreciated. On the other hand, it is claimed that if the talk of dredging of the harbor should prove to be of such a character as to be of benefit to the public, as well as to the sand company, the villagers will have cause to be grateful.”

Despite this, sand mining finally began in August 1912.

During the night of Sept. 3, 1912, the plant and part of the trestle were destroyed by fire. The cause was never discovered, the company did not rebuild and everything was left as is.

In 1913, local and summer residents petitioned the Town of Brookhaven to have the lease of the Brookhaven Sand and Gravel Company cancelled as the company was no longer in operation.

The steam shovel, donkey engine and cars were taken to the Miller Place Railroad Station and sent to Canada in July 1916.

Finally, in November 1917, the trestle over Shore Road was removed.

Up until a few years ago, the wooden pylons from the dock were visible and the cement was recently exposed. The foundation of the refining plant is all that is left of this once controversial episode in Mount Sinai history.

Edna Giffen is a 12th-generation Miller Place resident now living in Mount Sinai. She is a local historian, archivist and current president of Miller Place-Mount Sinai Historical Society.

Port Jefferson’s annual Heritage Weekend celebration took place Aug. 20 and 21 at 19 locations throughout the village. Visitors made stops at the Village Center, Drowned Meadow Cottage Museum, Port Jefferson Village Chamber of Commerce and more to take in historical sights and sounds during the two-day event. Funding for the event was provided in part by a grant from the Robert David Lion Gardiner Foundation.

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