Reboli Wet Paint Festival adds historical walking tour of West Meadow

Reboli Wet Paint Festival adds historical walking tour of West Meadow

Historian Bev Tyler recounts the story of the Fischetti dig. Right, An osprey watches the tour. Photo by Lloyd Newman

To celebrate the history of the West Meadow Beach peninsula and its well-known cottage, Historians Barbara Russell and Bev Tyler led a walking tour along Trustees Road on Saturday, July 16. Park Ranger Molly Hastings shared information about indigenous plants and animals. A small group started out, but it grew as more and more people gathered to listen and learn.

Ranger Molly Hastings shows a leaf sometimes called elephant’s ear
Ranger Molly Hastings shows a leaf sometimes called elephant’s ear

First stop on the tour was the Old Field farm, which has been a horse show arena since 1930. That was the year Ward Melville offered it as a substitute venue to replace one that was no longer available in Smithtown. Brookhaven Town Historian Barbara Russell said that the farm became famous on the North Shore horse show circuit.

From the horse show grounds, Historian Bev Tyler pointed out the Fischetti excavation site on the far side of the creek. Named for the builder whose bulldozer uncovered Indian artifacts, it became the site of an archaeological dig in the 1980s that lasted two years. Tyler said the dig produced evidence of a manufacturing area used by Native Americans 13,000 years ago to create stone implements and tools. The manufacturing site sits 800 yards from the village that was discovered during a dig in 1955, led by New York State Archaeologist William Ritchie.

Russell provided an overview of West Meadow’s history. Despite the fact that access to the water and the peninsula was repeatedly reinforced in deeds, she said, it eventually fell into private hands. In 1908, the

Town of Brookhaven purchased the whole strip for use as a public beach. It was divided into 110 lots, and

the tour approaches the Ernst Marine Conservation Center to hear about its history and to fill water bottles with spring water from the aquifer behind the building.
the tour approaches the Ernst Marine Conservation Center to hear about its history and to fill water bottles with spring water from the aquifer behind the building.

eventually cottages were erected on the lots, which were leased as summer bungalows. In the middle was a group of lots that formed a beach association for use by Brookhaven Town residents. The cottages — except for five — were removed in 2005, after 75 years of negotiations, Russell said.

Another stop on the tour was the Dr. Erwin J. Ernst Marine Conservation Center. The structure that eventually housed the center, said Russell, was one of the “temporary” buildings at Setauket School, added to

accommodate high school students as the school population grew.

It was moved to the beach to house the program which had been taught out in the open by Ernst. Behind the center is the outlet of an aquifer that has been there for eons. The spring water is cool, even on a hot summer day.

Aunt Amy’s creek is the name of a natural curve in the lagoon’s water flow. Its shore was the site of a 1955 archaeological dig, financed by Ward Melville and conducted by Ritchie.

Barbara Russell talks about vegetation near the creek
Barbara Russell talks about vegetation near the creek

The dig unearthed the tools, weapons and kitchen implements of a village. All materials collected in that process may be found in the New York State Museum in Albany. When the Fischetti dig was undertaken, Melville’s wife agreed to finance it — but only if all the material found remained in the Three Village area.

The tour ended at the Gamecock Cottage, which Russell said was built as a hunting and fishing cabin by a man named William Shipman somewhere between 1873 and 1876. An avid sailor, he came from Brooklyn. The cottage has recently been raised up, and is being restored and structurally reinforced. Visitors were allowed to enter and view artifacts produced by the Fischetti dig, as well as historical photos and maps of the area.

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