Long before there were the Gates and the Zuckerbergs of the world, there was Ward Melville.
A major Long Island philanthropist and national business leader, the scope of Ward Melville’s generosity and vision included significant restoration of historic structures, purchase and preservation of environmental and commercial properties, education and countless other endeavors.
Ward Melville’s dream was to create a “living Williamsburg,” a place where history and culture would blend with natural beauty. Along with architect Richard Haviland Smythe, he designed what was to become the first planned business community in America, the Stony Brook Village Center. The Three Village area — Stony Brook, Setauket and Old Field — has been forever changed because of this forward-thinking benefactor.
Melville was president of Melville Corporation, the third largest retailer in the United States with some 10,000 stores, which owned Thom McAn Shoes, Marshall’s, CVS Pharmacies, Kay-Bee Toys, Wilson’s Leather and Suede and more. He also donated the very land that today houses one of our nation’s leading research institutions, Stony Brook University.
The Stony Brook Community Fund, now the Ward Melville Heritage Organization (WMHO), was founded in 1939. On Jan. 19, 1940, Ward Melville hosted a dinner at the Three Village Inn to present his plan for the future of Stony Brook Village. On Jan. 19, 2016, this milestone will be commemorated at the Three Village Inn where it all began to “Celebrate What Was … Be Part of What’s To Come.”
Starting at 6 p.m. with live music by The Tom Manuel Trio, cocktails, hors d’oeuvres, dinner, dessert and coffee, guests will enjoy the same menu from 1940, hear Melville’s original speech and see the original model of the village. There will even be chocolate cigars in place of real ones enjoyed in the day.
The evening continues with an 8 p.m. sneak preview of The Jazz Loft next door, which will soon showcase a historic collection of over 10,000 items of jazz memorabilia and serve as an education and jazz performance venue as well. This 6,000-square-foot structure, formerly the site of the Suffolk Museum, now the Long Island Museum, was another of Melville’s philanthropic works. Bringing this culture to Stony Brook Village is a case of history repeating itself while looking toward the future.
During the ‘50s and ‘60s, the likes of Tony Bennett and Lionel Hampton performed at the Dogwood Hollow Amphitheatre in the very spot where WMHO’s Educational & Cultural Center now stands in Stony Brook Village. The vision that Ward Melville had over 75 years ago still resonates today and the results of his efforts on behalf of the citizens of Stony Brook and beyond, both economically and culturally, will continue to touch generations for many years to come.
Tickets are $125 per person and seating is limited. Proceeds will benefit The Jazz Loft. For further information call 631-751-2244 or register online at www.wmho.org.