Historian shares memories of Three Village Christmas past

Historian shares memories of Three Village Christmas past

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The Christmas party at the Setauket Neighborhood House was held every year through approximately 1957. Photo from the Three Village Historical Society

By Beverly C. Tyler

“Whitman’s chocolates offered exclusively in the Three Villages by Meister’s Pharmacy, East Setauket — The Woodbox, Stony Brook,” was how the advertisement read in December 1957. Preparations for Christmas and the holiday season were much like today in many ways. The traditions and ceremonies have not changed much over the past 61 years, but many of the images are different.

In Stony Brook, Santa arrived at the post office on Saturday morning, Dec. 14, and set up his workshop in the firehouse from Wednesday through the following Monday, Dec. 23. A party was held for the children of the community on Saturday the 21, sponsored by the fire department and the Stony Brook Teenagers Club. Children’s parties were also held at the East Setauket Fire House on Friday, Dec. 20, and at the Setauket Neighborhood House on Monday the 23. For the adults, there was a Home Outside Decorating Contest with the judging on Dec. 30 conducted by members of the Three Village Garden Club.

Christmas shopping in 1957 often included a train trip to New York City to visit Macy’s Department Store or a drive to Garden City to shop in one of the many stores there. A shorter trip might have included shopping in Swezey’s Department Store or the Bee Hive in Patchogue or a drive to Smithtown with its many shops along Main Street.

There were, of course, stores closer to home such as Moffett’s Department Store in Port Jefferson, with branches in Setauket and Stony Brook. The Stony Brook Apothecary and Meister’s in East Setauket included a soda fountain and a variety of gift items and greeting cards.

The Redfern Shop in Port Jefferson was once the place to go for gift giving during the holiday season. Photo from the Three Village Historical Society

For gift giving there was the Redfern Shop in Port Jefferson, which had a branch store in the shopping center in Stony Brook, and Woodfields, “For the best in Men’s Wear,” in Port Jefferson. The Redfern Shop, exclusively women’s wear, advertised, “P.S. to men … the Port Jefferson Redfern Shop (only) is setting aside Wednesday and Thursday evenings, December 18 and 19, as stag nights. Open each evening until 9 p.m. Let our sales girls help you in your selections. And everything will be beautifully gift wrapped.”

A purchase of jewelry, silverware, china, or watches could be made at Davis Jewelers in Port Jefferson or a piece of jewelry could be bought at Franz Kauffman and Co. also in Port Jefferson. In Stony Brook John Pastorelli advertised, “Village Barber — watch repairing — ship’s clocks — watches — jewelry.”

For a youngster, no Christmas season was complete without a trip to Port Jefferson to look around Oettinger’s Department Store with its table after table of toys, games, mittens, shoes and every imaginable gift for mother, sister or dad. In Port Jefferson, at the Gem Stores, you could see the Lionel and American Flyer trains and the new bicycles that were so much a part of Christmas. The Gem Stores always had a train set running and a large selection of new freight cars and accessories.

Remote-controlled toys were popular in 1957 as were dolls, stuffed animals, hobby kits and scale model airplanes, boats and cars. Popular children’s books that year included the new book by Dr. Seuss, “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” and “Bed-knob and Broomstick” by Mary Norton. Books on the bestseller list included “By Love Possessed” by James Cozzens, “On the Beach” by Nevil Shute and “Peyton Place” by Grace Metalious.

Not everything connected with the holidays required one leaving home to purchase it. Eggnog could be ordered from Randall Farms, Evans Amityville or Branglebrink Dairy and delivered to the doorstep along with milk, eggs, butter and cream. Grocery shopping was not as convenient as today except for “Community Grocer — Charles Wackenheim” and P.W. Smith and Son in Stony Brook, which advertised, “Choice meats of all kinds — Grocers — Fresh and frozen vegetables. Fresh fish on Friday — home-made sausage — orders delivered.” A fresh turkey could be picked up at Rudi Fischer’s Turkey Farm in Port Jefferson Station. To buy from a supermarket, residents had to travel to Port Jefferson for H.C. Bohack and Co. or A & P or to the National Food Market in Port Jefferson Station.

The images of the way we prepared for the holidays fade into the past especially as the landscape changes form. We tend to forget that where a solid area of asphalt now covers the ground alongside Route 25A between Old Town Road and Ridgeway Avenue were once open fields and woods. It seems as if there must always have been a road running past the East Setauket Post Office and down the hill to the west. Is Stony Brook University just another part of the landscape that was always there? Even the southern part of the Stony Brook Village Shopping Center must have always been there. Yet, decades ago none of these existed. Near where the Village Market stands in Stony Brook was a magnificent three-story Victorian home, the Whitford house. Where the state university rises through the trees were only woods and trails.

Some parts of our landscape have existed longer — 50 years, 100, some even over 200 — and they help us to remember our past and especially the traditions and ceremonies that are so important in our lives.

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.