History in full view at William Miller house

History in full view at William Miller house

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Inspired by Setauket’s Anna Smith Strong, clothes hanging at the William Miller house act as clues for the community. Photo by Erin Dueñas

By Erin Dueñas

As the Miller Place-Mount Sinai Historical Society gears up for another season of events showcasing what life was like hundreds of years ago, beginning this Saturday at its headquarters in the historic William Miller house, visitors will now have the chance to learn some Revolutionary War history just by checking out what is hanging from the clothesline on the grounds of the home.

According to Ann Donato, vice president of the society, different items will be hung from the clothesline to serve as clues the community can decipher. The idea stems from the Revolutionary War-era activities of Setauket’s Anna Smith Strong, who hung clothes on a clothesline to send messages about the activities of the British, which then made their way to George Washington — then a general — as part of the famed Culper Spy Ring.

“Our clothesline is a copycat to what Anna did on Long Island,” Donato said. “We want to use the laundry to convey contemporary messages to the community.”

So far the society has hung plastic bags on the line as a message to stop littering and overalls hung upside down to indicate that the house is closed.

“It’s drumming up curiosity about the house,” Donato said.

The William Miller house now serves as the historical society’s headquarters. Photo by Erin Dueñas
The William Miller house now serves as the historical society’s headquarters. Photo by Erin Dueñas

The society will also host a birthday party on July 12 in preparation for the Miller home’s 300th anniversary, which will be in 2020. Originally built in 1720, the house had sections added on in 1750 and again in 1816. It underwent renovations after being acquired by the society in 1979, but much of the interior has been left unchanged and the home is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The home is once again in need of updates, including a new roof, windows, plasterwork and painting — all of which needs to be done by experts in historic homes, according to Donato.

“We need to respect the fabric of the house; we can’t just go to Home Depot for supplies,” Donato said. “We can’t call in a regular carpenter ­— we need people well versed in historic homes.”

Repairs done to the house are costly for the society, which is a nonprofit run completely by volunteers. To help raise funds, a car show fundraiser by the Long Island Street Rod Association is planned for June 28.

LISRA member Dennis Manfredo, of Miller Place, said the group brings as many cars of all different makes and models onto the grounds of the Miller house. He called the event a “very learned day for the community.”

“It’s a marriage between historians and hot-rodders,” Manfredo said. “We hope to bring people looking at hot rods to appreciate history and to show those that are only interested in history what we do to cars.”

“When you see the house being restored and then cars that have been restored, it’s a different realm but a really nice connection.”

Miller Place resident Erin McCarthy said she has visited the William Miller house numerous times, and she looks forward to another season. She said she learned about antique medical and farm equipment and how candles used to be made during visits to the house.

“They offer coloring books for the kids, with the history of Miller Place woven in,” she said. “It’s such a gem for our community.”

Donato said the society is open to the public and is always looking for help and input. She added that, as a new season opens, she wants people to realize what the Miller house offers to the community.

“There is so much to learn and appreciate at the house,” Donato said. “We have to take care of what we have or it will be lost and it can’t be replicated. We have a treasure here in Miller Place.”

The William Miller house, located at 75 North Country Road, is open for tours on Saturdays, from noon-2 p.m., or by appointment for groups. For more information, call 631-476-5742.

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