History

The home of one of Bethel AME Church’s first pastors has been recently added to SPLIA’s List of Endangered Historic Places. Photo from SPLIA

By Rita J. Egan

The Eato House located in Setauket’s Bethel-Christian Avenue-Laurel Hill Historic District has a chance to be restored and put to public use. The structure that is currently owned by the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Setauket was recently added to the Society for the Preservation of Long Island Antiquities List of Endangered Historic Places.

The house was once home to the Rev. David Eato, one of the church’s first pastors, and his wife Mary Baker, a freed slave. Bethel AME historian, Carlton “Hub” Edwards, said when Mary moved to the North after being freed from slavery she settled in Port Washington where she was an organist at a church. It was there that she met Eato and, after marrying, the couple moved to Setauket and the reverend became one of the first ministers of Setauket’s Bethel AME in the early 1900s. Mary took on the role of superintendent of the Sunday school and held the position until the late 1930s.

Edwards said the members of the Eato family owned the house until the church purchased it a few years ago. The historian would like to see the structure utilized to educate people about local African-American history and the influence of the Setalcott Native Americans in the area.

“I think they should do something with it because it’s one of the oldest houses here in the historical district, and I hate to see old buildings torn down,” Edwards said.

For the past few years, the church has been working with Higher Ground Intercultural and Heritage Association, a nonprofit historical group, to have the Eato House restored, according to Robert Lewis, president of the association.

“Higher Ground has a preservation interest and an intercultural interest,” Lewis said. “There is the Native American culture and African-American culture, so we were looking to create a portion of the structure for a historic interpretation study center.”

Rev. David Eato, circa 1910, was one of the first pastors of Bethel AME Setauket. Photo from SPLIA

He said the plot of land originally belonged to Richard Hawkins, who was known for setting up private sales for prospective buyers who were unable to get a loan from the bank during the Jim Crow era when African-Americans couldn’t borrow money. However, Lewis said he’s not sure if Baker had to buy the house privately from Hawkins or did obtain a loan.

Lewis said a preliminary sketch has been drawn to present to the Town of Brookhaven’s Historic District Advisory Committee, and the church had completed some work on the inside before running out of money for restoration. He said the recognition by SPLIA will help with plans to move forward.

Sarah Kautz, SPLIA preservation director, said many structures added to previous lists, which has been published every other year since 2010, have been saved and renovated. Among the success stories are the Roslyn Grist Mill and the John Coltrane Home in Dix Hills. She said the mission of the list is to raise awareness with the hope that community members will initiate conversations about what problems a structure might face and come up with ideas on how to save it.

“Each [structure] shares a broad story that is important for historic reasons, architectural reasons, and they lend an aesthetic value to communities,” Kautz said. “They’re great for tourism and a sense of place. Other than that, they really need the community to embrace them.”

Kautz said one of the reasons the home was added to the list is because it’s a significant representation of the story of African-Americans as well as freed slaves in the area.

“It’s a really important early story of home ownership of people of color, especially African-Americans in the Jim Crow era,” Kautz said. “This is before civil rights.”

She said another interesting factor is there are memories and photos that will make renovation easier.

“It has great potential to be restored,” the preservation director said. “We know a lot about it, we have a lot of photos. There is a lot of great oral history from within the community. People remember, people who spent time in the house or with their grandparents.”

She said many times buildings such as the Eato House are torn down or altered extensively, and the list can serve another purpose to those involved with older homes.

“[It shows] how homeowners and property owners can celebrate and recognize that part of their value,” Kautz said. “Rather than demolish or do inappropriate renovations that completely erase the historic character they can, instead, celebrate and recognize it.”

by -
0 893
Robert Townsend was one of the main spies of the Culper Spy Ring that received help from auxiliary spies who lived on Long Island and in Manhattan. Photo from Beverly Tyler

By Beverly Tyler

General George Washington’s Culper Spy Ring, based in Setauket, with spies operating in Manhattan, on Long Island and in many other locations in the theater of the Revolutionary War, was unusual for a number of reasons. These were the only spies to have an organization specifically organized by Washington and the only long-term operation provided with a specific purpose — to keep Washington informed on British activities in the city and on Long Island.

Members of the Culper Spy Ring were also the only spies with an extensive code list, a specific invisible ink formula and procedures for their use outlined by Washington and the head of the spy ring in Setauket Abraham Woodhull.

The Culper Spy Ring, a name that was given to the group’s operations because the two main spies, farmer Abraham Woodhull in Setauket and shop owner Robert Townsend in New York City, were given the identities Samuel Culper Sr. and Samuel Culper Jr. Townsend gathered intelligence in New York City and sent it to Woodhull in Setauket who coordinated the efforts of the other members of the spy ring.

Austin Roe, a Setauket tavern owner, was the courier who traveled to Manhattan on a regular basis to order supplies for his tavern and brought back written and verbal intelligence he delivered to Woodhull. Captain Caleb Brewster then carried the spy information across Long Island Sound to Fairfield, Connecticut.

The grave of spy Abraham Woodhull can be found in the cemetery of the Setauket Presbyterian Church. Photo by Beverly Tyler

Since Woodhull could not meet openly with Brewster, it fell to Anna Smith Strong to let him know where Brewster was hiding with his whaleboats and crews. This was the group of spies known as the Culper Spy Ring; however, they did not operate without a large number of auxiliary spies, both in New York City and on Long Island, who provided them with intelligence as well as information that supported their efforts and helped to keep them safe.

Spies in New York City who assisted the Culper Spy Ring included James Rivington, a New York City businessman and editor of Rivington’s Royalist Gazette, and Amos and Mary Underhill, who ran a boarding house in Manhattan where Abraham Woodhull stayed on his trips to New York to gather intelligence.

Mary was Woodhull’s sister and her husband Amos was from Oyster Bay. He was also a second cousin to Robert Townsend.

Hercules Mulligan ran a New York City tailoring business and was a good friend of Alexander Hamilton. He was an effective spy for Washington and communicated intelligence through Robert Townsend.

Cato was an African American slave and spy courier for Hercules Mulligan, while Haym Salomon was a New York City shop owner and spy who was a suspected Patriot.

Hugh Mulligan, brother of Hercules, ran Kortright & Co. that had contracts with the British Army. He provided valuable intelligence.

Daniel Bissell was a spy for Washington who infiltrated into New York City and joined Benedict Arnold’s American Legion to provide intelligence on their movements and to seek a way to bring Arnold to justice.

Lewis Costigin worked as a spy for Washington in New York City in 1778 and 1779.

There was also Abraham Patten who unfortunately was hung as a spy in New York City in 1777, before the Culper Spy Ring was organized.

Nathan Hale was the Continental Army captain who was the best friend of Benjamin Tallmadge at Yale. They both graduated in 1773 and became school teachers in Connecticut. As a member of Knowlton’s Rangers in 1776, Hale volunteered to go to Long Island for Washington, as a spy, to find out British plans for attacking and capturing Manhattan. He was unfortunately captured before he could complete his mission. He was hanged in Manhattan as a spy. His death and the words attributed to him, “I regret that I have but one life to give for my country,” inspired many to join the Patriot cause and others to remain in the Continental Army.

In October, 1780, intelligence chief Benjamin Tallmadge wrote to Washington concerning the former Continental Army general and then traitor Benedict Arnold who had joined the British in New York City and was rounding up suspected Patriots to locate the members of the Culper Spy Ring. “The conduct of Arnold, since his arrival at N.Y. has been such, that though he know not a single link in the chain of my correspondence, still those who have assisted us in this way, are at present too apprehensive of danger to give their immediate useful intelligence. I hope as the tumult subsides matters will go on in their old channels.”

Austin Roe was the courier who traveled to Manhattan to order supplies for his tavern and bring back written and verbal intelligence. Photo from Beverly Tyler

Spies on Long Island who assisted the Culper Spy Ring included Joshua Davis, known in spy letter correspondence as J.D., was Brewster’s deputy, and Captain Nathan Woodhull, a second cousin of Abraham Woodhull, who provided intelligence to his cousin in Setauket and to Brewster from his location in Old Man’s (Mount Sinai).

Nathaniel Ruggles was placed at Old Man’s by Benjamin Tallmadge to gather intelligence and was saved from exposure as a spy by the efforts of Selah Strong, husband of Culper spy Anna Smith Strong.

Nathaniel Roe and Phillips Roe were both cousins of Culper Spy Ring courier Austin Roe. They provided intelligence through Culper spy Brewster from their home in Drowned Meadow (now Port Jefferson).

Samuel Townsend, the father of Robert Townsend and an Oyster Bay town leader, was often in conflict with the other town leaders of Oyster Bay who suspected him of Patriot leaning. 

George Smith, a resident of Smithtown, was noted in spy letters and correspondence as S.G. Selah Strong, a Brookhaven Town leader and husband of Culper spy Anna Smith Strong, is listed as executor of the will of Nathaniel Ruggles and as having saved Ruggles’ life by his effort he, “hath snatched me from the jaws of my adversaries and befriended me in every difficulty as far as was consistant with his duty as an honest man.” Strong was also a good friend and cousin of both Abraham Woodhull and Brewster.

Isaac Thompson remained at his home and estate during the Revolutionary War. His home (now Sagtikos Manor) was visited by President Washington in April, 1790, and was one of four places Washington stayed to thank the Culper spies for their help. Thompson’s mother was Abraham Woodhull’s aunt. He grew up in Setauket and both his father and brother were active as captains in the Long Island militias and all three served with Selah Strong on the Brookhaven Town Board at one time or another.

Benjamin Havens was an innkeeper in Center Moriches who married Selah Strong’s sister Abigail in 1754. Another sister, Submit, married Phillips Roe of Drowned Meadow, and yet another sister, Zipporah, married Rev. Benjamin Tallmadge, father of Washington’s Chief of Intelligence Benjamin Tallmadge.

There are many other family connections. Haven’s was also a member of the Patriot Committee of Safety in Brookhaven together with Abraham Woodhull of Setauket and his cousin General Nathaniel Woodhull of Mastic. In addition, Rivington’s Royalist Gazette reported in July 1779, “Last week a party of Rebels had a feast at the home of Benj. Havens at Moriches (a most pernicious caitiff), and several of the inhabitants attended at this frolic. Wm. Phillips, Benajah Strong and  Brewster gave this entertainment.” Havens is also believed to have provided intelligence to Major Benjamin Tallmadge that assisted his successful raid on Fort St. George in Mastic in November of 1780.

Lieutenant Henry Scudder, a resident of Crab Meadow (Northport area), was a spy for the Continental Army. Scudder often penetrated enemy lines sending back important information on troop movements. Scudder and Bryant Scidmore drew a plan of Fort Slongo, which led to a successful attack on the fort.

Beverly 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.

York Hall, formerly the recreational center of Kings Park Psychiatric Center, has deteriorated after years of vandalism and disuse. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

By Sara-Megan Walsh

A historical society is holding out hope that a unique piece of Kings Park community history can be preserved for future generations to enjoy.

The Society for Preservation of Long Island Antiquities has placed York Hall, the auditorium and community center of the former Kings Park Psychiatric Center, on its 2017 List of Endangered Historic Places.

Sarah Kautz, director of preservation for SPLIA, said the historic building located at the entrance of Nissequogue River State Park is in critical need of preventative maintenance and security to preserve it for future community use.

York Hall, built in 1930, was used by the psychiatric patients for recreational activities and later as a community civic center and public meeting place.

“In a place where there are some darker stories to tell, it was a place where people came together to celebrate and enjoy life,” Kautz said.

When the hospital was decommissioned in the 1990s, the property was transferred to New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. Since then the building has been vacant, with the exception of trespassing ghost hunters and graffiti artists, and has fallen into disrepair.

Kautz said York Hall has signs of advanced deterioration over time. The roof is damaged, allowing rainwater to leak inside, and many of the windows and doors are damaged and spray painted.

“The interior is in very poor condition due to roof leaking, copper stripping and extensive vandalism over an extensive period of time” Kautz said. “It’s been the same cyclical and recurring concern with all the buildings of Kings Park Psychiatric Center.”

SPLIA is advocating for York Hall to be secured by sealing off the building, including boarding up the roof, and mothballed. The group is seeking a public-private partnership to rehabilitate the building. Kautz said she has reached out to the Kings Park Civic Association and Kings Park Chamber of Commerce to open avenues for collaborative discussions.

“The community still wants it to be used as a theater and civic center,” Kautz said. “It’s a great mid-sized performance space that is rare to find in this area. I think because of its history and why it was built, the community would like to see it returned to that role.”

The state launched a remediation initiative in 2012 to transform the former psychiatric center into Nissequogue River State Park. Phase one of the project, which was started in 2013, focused on demolition of 19 buildings, removal of the steam tunnels and asphalt, site restoration and reconstruction of the north boat launch to improve access to the Nissequogue River. In April 2016, phase two was announced and is currently underway to remove nine additional buildings and a segment of a 10th building, according to the state parks department’s spokesperson Randy Simons.

“We have our concerns about the wider context of the former Kings Park Psychiatric Center,”  Kautz said “There’s no master plan. There’s never been a master plan which would include the former psychiatric center.”

Simons said that two former psychiatric center buildings, Buildings 130 and 132, which both served as medical staff housing, have been preserved for future adaptive reuse as the development of the park progresses.

Above, Beverly C. Tyler, Lindsey Steward and Donna Smith stand next to the Samuel H. West Blacksmith Shop on the grounds of The Long Island Museum, which will be open for blacksmith demonstrations on Culper Spy Day from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Photo by Heidi Sutton
Organizations team up for island-wide event

On Saturday, Sept. 16 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., The Long Island Museum and the Ward Melville Heritage Organization in Stony Brook and the Three Village Historical Society and Tri-Spy Tours in Setauket will host a day of spy-related tours and activities for the third annual Culper Spy Day, named for the Culper Spy Ring founded by Benjamin Tallmadge, George Washington’s chief intelligence officer during the Revolutionary War.

The Three Village area, which includes Stony Brook, Setauket and Old Field, is full of hidden intrigue and stories of how America’s first spy ring came together secretly to provide General George Washington the information he needed to turn the tide of the American Revolution.

The 3rd New York Regiment demonstrates musket firing on the Village Green in Setauket at last year’s event.

This year’s event has expanded to include other areas that played key roles in the Culper Spy Ring. Fans of the AMC hit series “Turn,” which has completed its final season, are familiar with Hollywood’s version of the Long Island-based spy group. On Sept. 16 visitors can learn what really happened while enjoying tours, Colonial cooking demonstrations, reenactments and many more family-friendly activities in the Three Villages and across Long Island.

The Long Island Museum will host a lecture at 2 p.m. with John Staudt, adjunct assistant professor of history at Hofstra University. Staudt will present “The Terrible Force of War: Eastern Long Island in the American Revolution.” In addition, blacksmith demonstrations will be ongoing from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and a special display of Revolutionary War artifacts will be on display.

Among other Culper Spy Day activities, the Three Village Historical Society hosts an interactive Culper SPIES! exhibit and a book signing with award-winning novelist and nonfiction author Selene Castrovilla. Visitors will also enjoy invisible ink demonstrations and Anna Strong’s famed clothesline, used for sending signals to Culper spies working off Long Island’s shores.

Above, living historian Diane Fish will give a Colonial cooking demonstration at the Brewster House during the event. Photo by Heidi Sutton

Ward Melville Heritage Organization will host Colonial cooking demonstrations and tours of historic structures that served as home bases for several spy ring members. Stony Brook University’s Special Collections department will display original letters written to Benjamin Tallmadge from George Washington, and the 3rd New York Regiment will demonstrate musket firing and marching drills on Setauket’s Village Green. The Country House Restaurant will offer a spy-themed lunch and the Ketcham Inn of the Moriches will host a guided tour and dinner at the home of noted spy Benjamin Havens.

Organizations participating in the Culper Spy Day event include The Long Island Museum, the Three Village Historical Society, the Ward Melville Heritage Organization, Tri-Spy Tours, Stony Brook University Special Collections, Emma S. Clark Memorial Library, Frank Melville Memorial Park, Three Village Community Trust, Caroline Church of Brookhaven, Setauket Presbyterian Church, Incorporated Village of Port Jefferson (Drowned Meadow Cottage), History Close at Hand, the Country House Restaurant, Times Beacon Record News Media, Raynham Hall, the Smithtown Historical Society, Discover Long Island, Ketcham Inn of the Moriches, and Sagtikos Manor in Bay Shore.

Tickets, which are available at www.tvhs.org, are $25 for adults and $5 for children ages 6 to 12. Children under the age of 6 and veterans will receive free admission. Tickets may be picked up at the Three Village Historical Society, 93 North Country Road, Setauket from Sept. 11 to 15. At that time, visitors will receive a bracelet and a copy of the Culper Spy Day map with all event listings. Tickets are good for admission to participating organizations for Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 16 and 17. Additional fees may apply for meals. For a full list of Culper Spy Day activities please visit www.culperspyday.com.

Tennis players participating in a mixed doubles game in 1967 including Andy Kevey, second from left, and Linwood Lee, right. Photo from Susan Falvey

By Rita J. Egan

The first tournament of the U.S. Open is scheduled for Aug. 28, but Flushing Meadows isn’t the only place in New York filled with tennis history. Since 1959, the Three Village Tennis Club on Main Street in Setauket has provided lifelong memories for its members.

Susan Falvey’s parents, Marta and Andy Kevey, were founding members of the club. She said the women would organize bake sales, fashion shows and dances to raise money, while the men helped maintain the property and the original court. In 1959, yearly dues were $15 for children, $25 for adults and $50 for families.

Marta and Andy Kevey after a tournament at the club in 1967. Photo from Ann Fossan

To her, the spot is a hidden treasure.

“The club is still very active today,” Falvey said. “It’s very simple — we don’t have a clubhouse or anything, but the courts are still in good condition.”

Falvey has fond memories playing as a child at the club and then afterwards riding bikes with friends along Main Street to go to the Jack in the Box near where the Setauket Fire Department firehouse is located today.

In an essay about the club, Andy Kevey wrote of the founding members securing a single tennis court, donated by The Setauket Neighborhood House located behind a barn.

“That old cracked asphalt court went through three metamorphosis each year: tennis court, to basketball court, to ice skating rink,” he wrote. “It had a net for tennis, two baskets for practicing shooting and 6-inch raised borders that allowed it to be flooded in the winter.”

The club hasn’t changed much through the decades, except for the number of courts and who can join. As the population in the area grew in the 1960s, the club limited its membership to residents of the Three Village Central School District.

As the club evolved, six green clay Har-Tru courts were added, and the original asphalt-based court was eventually converted to clay in the 1980s, as water doesn’t drain properly on a harder court. Once the asphalt court was converted to clay, interested players were able to join quicker. Before that, there was a five-year wait.

Wayne Mercer, who joined the club in the late 1980s and has served various positions on the board, remembers due to spacing issues that affected play, court four was moved away from court three and seven away from six. Improvements were also made so the courts would drain better.

“Courts that no one wanted to play on became very playable,” he said.

Current board member Randy Conard’s mother Marion was the first president, and one of the organization’s co-founders. He said the founding of the club was a community effort, where the original board members were trying to expand the popularity of tennis in the area.

Conard said his mother, who died in 2008 at 86, played tennis for decades at the club. His mother’s involvement, he said, “was all for the love of the community and tennis.”

Conard said members would take vacations together, going to resorts and playing tennis. Through the decades, families gathered on the club grounds for barbecues and picnics.

“It was a very tight-knit community,” he said.

Joe McDonnell playing tennis on court two at the club in 1967. Photo from Joe McDonnell

Joe McDonnell moved to Setauket with his family in 1964. A preteen at the time, McDonnell said he could walk to the club by cutting through his neighbor’s backyard. He played at the Three Village Tennis Club for years and as a young man would help maintain the courts. He said his years at the club led to him teaching tennis at Harbor Hills and the Old Field Club during his time in college and graduate school, and in the late 1980s he became a member of the Three Village Tennis Club board.

“It was a club with extraordinary spirit,” McDonnell said. “Like many organizations are when they are first founded, there’s that entrepreneurial spirit.”

McDonnell said he looked up to and learned a great deal about tennis from founding member Bob Pereira, who was also his dentist.

Among the many Stony Brook University professors who were members of the club was Linwood Lee, who still teaches at the college. He said as soon as he found a home in Stony Brook he looked for a tennis club for his family to play at, and enjoyed the camaraderie at the local club.

“It’s been a wonderful place to play tennis and a wonderful place to meet friends,” Lee said.

McDonnell said the club has always helped younger players improve and employed great tennis pros. He recalled Ineke Fisher, who lived in Florida with her husband. During the summers, the couple would come to New York, and Ineke would teach at the Three Village Tennis Club while her husband taught at the Old Field Club. McDonnell said Ineke’s instructions were a mixture of technique and court etiquette.

Once a year the club holds a Wimbledon Woody social event using old wooden rackets like it used to in years past.

“It was a far more finessed game,” McDonnell said, recalling the days he used to only swing a wooden racket. “It was a slower game, but it required you to move a player around a court and not just overpower them.”

Another annual competition at the club is the mixed doubles Van Slyke Tournament. McDonnell said he still remembers Dr. Don Van Slyke, for whom the tournament was named. Van Slyke was a biochemist at Brookhaven National Laboratory, who played well into his 80s.

McDonnell moved to Maine six years ago, but said when he visits Long Island, he makes sure to stop and play at the club. He is considered an honorary member.

“This is a wonderful asset to the community,” he said. “It’s into another generation at this point, but it’s become very much established.”

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

by Beverly C. Tyler

Second in a two-part series.

In mid-1775, while British forces, headquartered in Boston, were facing General George Washington and the Continental Army for the first time, Patriot regiments on Long Island were gearing up to defend the island from Great Britain’s large, well-trained army. Colonel Josiah Smith’s Brookhaven Regiment of 12 companies included Captain Selah Strong’s 7th Company with First Lieutenant Caleb Brewster, seven additional officers and 59 nonrated soldiers.

In the spring of 1776, after forcing the British Army to abandon Boston, Washington moved his army to New York City. The British army and naval forces followed soon after and entered New York Harbor at the end of June with 40 warships, supply ships and troop ships with more than 7,000 British and Hessian soldiers. Washington split his army, placing half on Long Island at Brooklyn Heights as he did not know if the British intended to attack Manhattan or Long Island.

By the end of August, when they attacked Washington’s Continental Army on Long Island, British forces had swelled to more than 20,000 troops. It was to be the largest battle of the Revolutionary War and a major defeat for Washington who lost more than a thousand troops killed or captured.

In early August Smith’s regiment was ordered to join the Continental Army defending Long Island. The regiment, including Strong’s 7th Company marched west to General Nathanael Greene’s camp in Flatbush. In his diary, during the battle, Smith wrote, “August ye 27 we wors alarmed aboute 2 in the morning, and we had many scurmishes and thay atemted to forse our Lines & they kild 1 of my men & we Suppose that we kild a number of them & we Drove them Back & Laie in the trenches all nite.”

It rained all day and night on Aug. 28 and Smith noted, “… thar wors a continual fire kep up between us and the Regulars (British)…” The next day, with continuous rain, thunder and lightning they crossed onto Manhattan. Smith with some members of the regiment marched into Connecticut and finally back onto Long Island at Smithtown. At this point the officers and soldiers with Smith dispersed and went home, many moving their families to Connecticut and the rest, including Strong staying on Long Island.

Strong could easily have moved to Connecticut as he owned land in Middletown, but he stayed and even attended, as a trustee, meetings of the Brookhaven Town Board. Strong was one of many Long Islanders to own property in Middletown or to move there as refugees. One refugee who owned property and spent time in Middletown was William Floyd of Mastic, Long Island’s signer of the Declaration of Independence. Floyd’s first wife died in 1781. Three years later he married Joanna Strong, Strong’s paternal first cousin. Joanna’s brother Benajah served as a captain in Colonel William Floyd’s regiment in 1776 and participated in Benjamin Tallmadge’s successful raid on Fort St. George in Mastic in 1780.

After his imprisonment in New York City in 1778 and his subsequent release, Strong became a refugee in Connecticut, probably based in Middletown. In 1780, following his election as president of the Brookhaven town trustees, a position equal to today’s town supervisor, Strong returned to Long Island, despite the continued presence of British and Loyalist troops, and joined his wife on Little Neck, her family’s ancestral home in Setauket (now Strong’s Neck).

Living on Little Neck with British forces still in control of Long Island, Strong had to be aware of the dangers. Kate Wheeler Strong wrote that, during this period her great-great-grandfather, Strong, saved the life of a British officer. “Not that he was fond of the British, but he had a good reason for saving this man’s life. While walking one day with Caleb Brewster … on the neck on which I now live, they saw a British officer on the shore below. Brewster aimed his gun, but my ancestor stopped him, explaining that while Caleb could flee in his boat, he himself lived here and would have to bear the brunt of the shooting. So Brewster lowered his gun, and the British officer passed on safely …”

Strong wrote a will in 1775, which he later voided, when the war was becoming more certain and he needed to put something, at least temporarily on paper. Kate Strong wrote, “He evidently thought in the event of his death it would not be safe for his wife and children to remain there for he ordered all his land to be sold including tracts on the south side of the island. His wife was to have any furniture she desired …”

His wife was made executrix, and with the help of three other executors, she was to manage the estate until their eldest son Thomas became 21. The names of his executors were Benjamin Havens, Phillips Roe and Samuel Thompson.

The historic Terrill-Havens-Terry-Ketcham Inn during the Revolutionary War was the home and tavern of Benjamin Havens, a spy for the Culper Spy Ring. He married Abigail Strong of Setauket, sister of Strong and related to Abraham Woodhull through their mother, Suzanna Thompson, sister of Jonathan Thompson and aunt of Samuel Thompson. Abigail’s sister Submit married Phillips Roe of Port Jefferson. In April, 1776, both Benjamin Havens and Abraham Woodhull were members of the Committee of Safety, the purpose of which was to keep an eye on Tories in the town. Other members included William Smith (Manor of St. George, Mastic), William Floyd (signer of the Declaration of Independence), Brigadier General Nathaniel Woodhull (Floyd’s brother-in-law and second cousin of Abraham Woodhull), Strong (husband of Anna Smith Strong and brother-in-law of Benjamin Havens), Phillips Roe (Abigail Haven’s brother-in-law) and Phillip’s brother Nathaniel.

In June, 1779, Abraham Woodhull, writing as Samuel Culper, reported that all but two mills in Suffolk County served the needs of the British. Benjamin Havens operated one of those two mills. The same month Rivington’s Royal Gazette reported on a plundering party feast at the house of Benjamin Havens at Moriches that included three Long Island refugees, William Phillips, Benajah Strong, and Caleb Brewster.

These extended family members and Brookhaven town leaders were also Patriot spies. The Culper Spy Ring was more than just five names on Benjamin Tallmadge’s code list, it was a large number of Patriots willing to risk their lives to rid Long Island and America from Great Britain’s continuing presence.

Beverly 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.

The Rocky Point Drive-In sign in 1988, the year it closed. The marquee announces the screening of ‘Crocodile Dundee 2’ when it reopens on May 25. Photo courtesy of Cinema Treasures

By Kyle Barr

For almost three decades on summer nights North Shore residents gathered together on lawn chairs, blankets or in the comfortable seats of their cars while a speaker hooked into the car’s window played action, romance or comedy into their expecting ears. It was a scene played out practically every summer night at the Rocky Point Drive-In, and while undeveloped Rocky Point was a dark, wooded area, the brightest light for miles around was the movie projector and the big, bright screen.

Above, what’s left today of the old sign that welcomed families to the movies from 1961 to 1988. Photo by Kyle Barr

The Rocky Point Drive-In was just one in a multitude of drive-ins on Long Island. There was one in Smithtown, Brentwood, Coram, Nesconset, Patchogue and Riverhead, to a name a few, but now every one of them is gone. The only remnants of the one in Rocky Point is the marquee sign surrounded by shrubs and weeds on the side of Route 25A.

The Mammina brothers, Joe and his younger brother, Wayne, had both worked at the drive-in as teenagers during the early years and remember both the comfortable and weird aspects of working at such a place.

“We used to call it the passion pit,” Joe said and then laughed. “It was a real lovers’ lane.” “You never went to the cars in the back rows at the drive-in because the windows were always steamed up,” Wayne said.

The Rocky Point Drive-In opened on June 16, 1961 with a capacity for 750 cars that would drive up onto small ramps to better see the movie over the cars in front of them. It was built and owned by Prudential Theaters but was later sold to United Artist Theaters, which operated it until it closed in 1988.

The theater existed in a time when Route 25A was a two-lane road bordered by woods, and nearby there were only a few houses and places with rural sensibilities like horse barns. “This was the sticks,” Joe said.

The site was a large field surrounded by a fence. To the side sat the concession stand next to a playground that the children used during intermission. Opening on Memorial Day weekend and then closing on Labor Day, the drive-in would play a feature film, a B-movie, then the feature again on a 110-foot screen. The first two films they showed were the 1960 movie “The Alamo” starring John Wayne and the 1961 flick “Ole Rex.”

“By the time it was over, you didn’t get out of there until 1 or 1:30 in the morning,” said Wayne.

Joe worked at the drive-in first in the concession stand, then as a ramp man — the title for the people who were guards of the drive-in. Dressed up in white suits they were in charge of making sure nobody snuck into the venue without paying and corral the people and children back to their seats after intermission.

“The ladies who worked at the ticket booth in the front would say ‘the car coming in is kind of low in the back,’ and there would be five kids in the trunk,” Joe said and then chuckled. “And quite a few times they would be friends of mine.”

Above, an ad placed in the Port Jefferson Record in 1961 announcing the drive-in’s grand opening

The memories of the drive-in are bundled like candy wrappers in nostalgia. It was a time of optimism, said Joan La Manno, who, along with her husband Charles Peter, founded C.P. La Manno’s family restaurant in Miller Place. La Manno was the manager of the drive-in concession stand through the 1960s. “Hot dogs, hamburgers, Dixie Cup ice cream, popcorn galore. The popcorn machine was going constantly. It was a lot of fun. All our workers were in sync,” she said.

“She would take her kids to work with her,” added Joan’s daughter, Michele. “My father opened the pizza shop while she was still working there, and people would rush up, get a pizza, and then go and wait on line at the drive-in, and there would lines of cars waiting to get into the movie,” she said. “It kept the community going and the community together.”

Joe agreed, saying, “Everything was a family affair, everybody was sort of related. Anyone who talks about the Rocky Point Drive-In talks about my dad, Joe.”

Joe Sr. started as a ramp man but then became manager of the whole property.

“He was such a fabulous manager, really sweet, really kind, very generous. He was a good man,” Joan said.

The films were played on two big carbon-loaded projectors, each the size of a grand piano, that glowed like a welding torch from the carbon rods that helped it work. Some film reels were as wide as a grown man’s outstretched arms. The projectionist had to time it perfectly, first listening for the bell and then looking for the six dots that would tell him when to switch from one string of film to the other.

“We did the same thing in the Navy,” Joe said. “I used to show movies on the aircraft carrier, and they would always ask me ‘how did you know how to change that?’ and I would say, ‘I’m not telling you.’”

Above, a photo of the Rocky Point Driving Range marquee sign, taken in November 2009. Photo courtesy of Cinema Treasures

The titles of each week’s films were displayed on the marquee on Route 25A and the letters were laid out every week by ramp men standing on rickety ladders. The old sign for the drive-in is still there, though now surrounded by trees and overgrowth. For a while the sign read Rocky Point Driving Range after the property was bought and used for practicing golf swings. After the range closed the sign became progressively dilapidated, as the words were slowly peeled off to reveal the “Drive-In” words underneath.

The current property owners, Heidenberg Properties Group, have been trying to build a big box store, first a Lowe’s and later a Target, on the property for several years. The Town of Brookhaven changed the zoning of the area from retail to recreational in order to restrict such a large store the town said would be inappropriate for the area.

New York State courts have upheld the decision even after the properties group brought a lawsuit and then an appeal against the town. The Mammina brothers don’t go to too many cinemas anymore, not with the advent of Netflix and on-demand movies.

The La Manno family might go to see the occasional movie, but they still say it is not the same feel as pulling your car up, setting up your blankets on the grass, as the sun goes down and the movies play under the stars. Said Joan, “The drive-in brought people together. It was just a happy, family time.”

Children sit in one of the carriages at The Long Island Museum during a school program. Photo from The Long Island Museum

The planning process for a new gallery is about to begin at The Long Island Museum of American Art, History and Carriages in Stony Brook thanks to a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) announced Aug. 3 the museum was awarded $40,000 through NEH’s competitive grant program. The new interactive gallery will be called “A World Before Cars” and plans include developing a simulation ride where visitors can experience how it felt to ride in a carriage.

“The Long Island Museum has continued to do amazing work in preserving this great heritage.”

— Lee Zeldin

Zeldin thanked the NEH for recognizing the museum’s contributions of providing a source of art, history and culture to the community.

“Our local history and culture is so important to us here on Long Island, and The Long Island Museum has continued to do amazing work in preserving this great heritage,” Zeldin said in an email. “The Long Island Museum presented a strong application for this grant when compared with other applicants, and as such were able to get through the rigorous NEH selection process.”

The NEH is an independent federal agency that was established in 1965 and provides grant funding for museums, archives and libraries to promote excellence in the humanities in the country. Zeldin was among the congressmen who voted to fund the agency at $149.8 million this year, which was an increase of $1.9 million from 2016.

Funding organizations such as this is important to Zeldin.

“Our museums, libraries, art galleries, archives, and other related venues serve an incredibly important purpose, and it is imperative that they remain supported through initiatives like these,” the congressman said. “Long Island has a unique and cherished history unlike any other, and securing grants like this for our local institutions is integral in preserving our distinct heritage and attracting visitors to help our local tourism economy.”

Neil Watson, executive director of The Long Island Museum, said in a phone interview he feels the future gallery is the missing element at the museum.

The director said they submitted a proposal in 2016, and while they weren’t awarded a grant last year, they were able to rework and resubmit the proposal for 2017. He said the grant was awarded for the planning necessary to construct the gallery, and the museum will apply for another grant through the NEH to implement the plans. Additional funds will be raised to supplement both grants.

“We don’t know what’s possible yet and that’s what we want to discuss [in] the next nine months to a year.”

— Neil Watson

Watson said the proposal was one that needed time to be honed as the new gallery will incorporate history, interactive features and is object-driven.

The director said the concept for interactive elements was a result of requests from visitors to the museum, which features carriages from various eras. 

“What visitors have told us often … is they want to know what it’s like to ride in a carriage,” Watson said.

The director said the planning period will take approximately a year and the gallery will be located on the lower level in a 2,500 square foot space. While they have held preliminary meetings with the architecture company Lee H. Skolnick Architecture + Design Partnership, future meetings will include historians, curators, and they will also approach the plans from the educational and public access angles.

“We don’t know what’s possible yet and that’s what we want to discuss [in] the next nine months to a year,” Watson said.

Joshua Ruff, director of collections and chief curator, will be part of the planning process and said he was pleased when he heard the news about the grant.

“I think it’s a terrific thing,” he said. “NEH has been very instrumental in the process to renovate the carriage museum.”

The curator said the planning committee will be taking a long, meticulous look at the proposed plans for the gallery that he said will be rich in content. He said a simulation ride will give museum guests the opportunity to choose the type of horse, carriage and ride they would like to experience and feels it will add a new dimension to the museum.

“I think it will help us to connect with a new, larger audience,” Ruff said. 

Watson and Ruff said the gallery will incorporate displays to show the direct correlation between cars and carriages, too.

“[A carriage] was the car before there were cars,” Watson said. “Everybody used it for industry, for everyday life, to get to one place to another. It was like a car. So we want to make that connection through a variety of activities.”

For more information about The Long Island Museum of American Art, History and Carriages, visit www.longislandmuseum.org.

by -
0 1034

How a utopian Christian community started an elder care center

William Augustus Muhlenberg, c. 1860. Photo from the Smithtown Historical Society

By Marianne Howard

Kings Park was once home to the Society of St. Johnland, a utopian Christian community founded in 1865. It was once described by authors Bradley L. Harris and King Pedlar as a “forgotten utopia,” founded as a safe haven, orphanage and school for impoverished boys from Manhattan and Brooklyn. William Augustus Muhlenberg, (1796-1877) a Philadelphia native, ordained an Episcopalian priest in the 1820s, found himself with international accolades after founding St. Paul’s, a private college near Flushing, Queens.

He began to think about creating a refuge for members of the Protestant working-class poor and thus purchased 500 acres of woodland in 1866 for $14,000, which grew into a campus built a stone’s throw from the picturesque mouth of the Nissequogue River to the Long Island Sound. It included a camp, an additional home for girls, an infirmary, a baby shelter and a living facility for seniors. Patients, their families and employees from the campus as well as nearby hospitals were excellent customers for the abundance of farmers in the area at that time. The Long Island Sound became such a draw for the families and children, providing beach access for summer education through the late 1940s.

Notable New York society philanthropists contributed to the growth of St. Johnland. Mr. and Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt paid for the Sunbeam Cottage, built in 1881 for the educational training of orphan girls. The cottage had a sitting room, a playroom, dining room, kitchen and dormitory space for 20 girls. The babies’ shelter, known as the Lawrence House, provided care for children ages 2 through 8, was established the following year.

In 1911, Alice Page Thomson became superintendent and arranged for 150 impoverished boys from Manhattan and Brooklyn to travel to the beaches of St. Johnland. She spent 35 years in the position. Under her leadership, the construction of the Robert Louis Harrison Infirmary opened in 1913. She also created the Women’s Auxiliary for St. Johnland in 1915, a group of women who provided philanthropic and physical support to the residents. During World War I, St. Johnland contributed not only its alumni who entered the service but also increased crop production for over 200 people throughout the war.

During the 1950s, the trustees of St. Johnland had to decide upon which community they would focus their resources — children or the elderly, and the board voted to specialize in care for the elderly population. In 2016, St. Johnland celebrated its 150th anniversary and it is now a premiere nursing home with specialties in dementia care, adult day health care and rehabilitation services.

Bradley L. Harris, Town of Smithtown historian, Joshua Ruff, consulting curator for the Smithtown Historical Society, and I were invited by Arcadia Publishing to author a book on the history of Kings Park in 2015. The book, “Kings Park,” was published last month and is for sale at the Smithtown Historical Society.

Marianne Howard is the executive director of the Smithtown Historical Society. For more information on the society, its events or programs or on becoming a member, visit www.smithtownhistorical.org or call 631-265-6768.

by -
0 810
Copy of drawing of the Strong house in Mount Misery. This house, circa 1796, replaced the original house, which burned. Photo from Long Island Forum

By Beverly Tyler

First in a two-part series.

May 1, 1790, Selah Strong of Setauket shared his Patriot views with Robert Heaton of London.

“Almost every one is partial in favour of their own government, and perhaps you will charge me with being prejudiced in favour of ours, but it is my opinion, that this government is much better calculated for the enjoyment of our Civil Rights, than the Constitution of Great Britain.”

Strong was born Dec. 25, 1737, in a house built by his father Thomas at Mount Misery, now Belle Terre, Long Island. His mother Susannah was the daughter of Samuel Thompson, a family connection that extended from the community of Setauket to the Town of Brookhaven where Jonathan Thompson and his sons Samuel and Isaac, and Selah Strong served as town trustees before and after the Revolutionary War. Strong was elected a trustee of the Town of Brookhaven each year from 1767 to 1777, and as a representative to the first Provincial Congress of New York in 1775.

Samuel and Susannah Thompson’s son Jonathan and his son Dr. Samuel Thompson served in Long Island militia companies in 1775, and most likely as captains in the Continental Army in Connecticut during the Revolutionary War, as they were refugees to Connecticut following the British occupation of Long Island in August 1776. Strong was a captain in Colonel Josiah Smith’s regiment in 1775 and Captain of the Brookhaven minutemen in 1776. A refugee as well, Strong also most likely served as a captain in the Continental Army in Connecticut.

Jonathan Thompson was married to Mary Woodhull, Revolutionary war spy Abraham Woodhull’s aunt. To add more intrigue to the extended family lines, Jonathan Thompson’s second son Isaac, who lived in what is now Sagtikos Manor in Bay Shore, remained on Long Island during the war and is believed to have been a spy for the Culper Spy Ring in Setauket. President George Washington spent the second night of his Long Island trip in 1790, at “the home of Squire Thompson,” to thank the spies who had provided much needed intelligence during the war.

In 1760, Strong married Anna Smith, great-granddaughter of the Lord of the Manor William “Tangier” Smith. The Smith homestead was on Little Neck, now Strong’s Neck, in Setauket. After the British took control of Long Island in 1776, many Long Island patriots became refugees in Connecticut. The couple remained on Long Island with their five children, probably at Strong’s family home at Mount Misery. Strong was still a town trustee. However, in the election of 1777 he and Jonathan Thompson were replaced by more Loyalist-leaning Brookhaven Town residents.

In January of 1778, Strong was arrested and imprisoned in a sugarhouse prison in Manhattan “for surreptitious correspondence with the enemy.” Strong’s position as a Patriot captain and outspoken town leader probably made it easy for someone, possibly a Loyalist Brookhaven town trustee, to suggest that Strong might be a person of interest to the British authorities. At some point his wife Anna, known to her family and friends as “Nancy,” obtained his release by appealing to her Loyalist relative in Manhattan. Strong did not then return to his home on Long Island but became a refugee in Connecticut and probably a great help to the soon to be developed Culper Spy Ring in Setauket.

It is easy to connect Strong with the Culper Spy Ring as one of the known spies was Nathaniel Ruggles. Ruggles was placed as a spy at Old Man’s (Mt. Sinai) by Benjamin Tallmadge, General Washington’s chief of intelligence.

Long Island Historian Kate Wheeler Strong, great-great-granddaughter of Anna Smith Strong, wrote the following article in her 1941 “True Tales,” published by the Long Island Forum. “It is evident that my great-great-grandfather (Selah Strong) must have helped Nathaniel Ruggles, one of Washington’s Spies. This is shown by an abstract from a will of Ruggles dated 1793, left in my great-great-grandfather’s keeping. In appointing him one of his executors Ruggles wrote: ‘I appoint my worthy patron Selah Strong Esq. Late judge of the COUNTY of Suffolk who hath snatched me from the jaws of my adversaries and befriended me in every difficulty as far as was consistant with his duty as an honest man.’”

Beverly 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.

Social

9,388FansLike
0FollowersFollow
1,154FollowersFollow
33SubscribersSubscribe