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Beverly C. Tyler

File photo

By Elizabeth Kahn Kaplan

It’s been quite a journey since sea captain Edward Reginald Rhodes and others launched the Three Village Historical Society in the mid-1960s — a time when this community was undergoing rapid change and expansion. “It was important to the founders that the area’s rich history be recognized, honored and preserved,” said Brookhaven Town Historian Barbara Russell, and for 50 years the Society, with its hundreds of volunteers, has done just that.

“The Society has, from its beginning, regarded the Three Village area as its museum; the homes, people and natural environment as its collection; and the home owners as its curators. One of the primary goals of the Society has been to actively work together with other community organizations to preserve and maintain the historic fabric of our Three Village community,” added Beverly C. Tyler, historian for the TVHS.

Annual events that pay tribute to our rich history include the Long Island Apple Festival each September at the Sherwood-Jayne Farm in Setauket, in cooperation with Homestead Arts and the Society for the Preservation of Long Island Antiquities; the Spirits Tour during the third weekend in October, and the Candlelight House Tour during the first weekend of December.

The Society’s educational programs include frequent walking tours conducted by trained volunteers, in-school educational programs and Sunday afternoon docent-led tours at the Society’s headquarters — the c. 1800 Bayles-Swezey House at 93 North Country Road, Setauket — that was funded in large part by a state grant obtained by Assemblyman Steve Englebright in 1998.

Two current exhibits are: Spies! How A Group of Long Island Patriots Helped George Washington Win the Revolution, and Chicken Hill: A Community Lost to Time, for which the Society received an award of merit from the American Association for State and Local History.

A primary objective since the Society’s founding was the collection and preservation of documents and artifacts that would otherwise be lost. Housed in the Society’s Rhodes Collection in a separate area at the Emma S. Clark Memorial Library, they are shared with researchers and overseen by the Society’s professional archivist.

Fifty years of distinguished contributions to this community is cause for celebration and what better way than at the Three Village Historical Society’s 50th Anniversary Spy Gala at St. George’s Golf and Country Club, 134 Lower Sheep Pasture Road, in E. Setauket this Saturday evening, Sept. 12 from 7 to 11 p.m. You are invited to the party; come join the fun. Delicious tapas, an open bar, music and a champagne toast await. Come dressed as your favorite spy if you wish.

Celebrate the contributions of 17 past presidents and Boards of Trustees — dedicated men and women determined to preserve Three Village history while expanding the Society’s offerings, from its origins in 1964 to the present day. It’s time to recognize the Society’s achievements and contributions to our community. Tickets are $125 per person and may be purchased in advance by calling 631-751-3730, online at www.tvhs.org or at the door.

A night heron sits at Frank Melville Memorial Park. Photo from Beverly Tyler

By Beverly C. Tyler

The intersection of Main Street and Old Field Road in Setauket marks the entrance to the Frank Melville Memorial Park. The horseshoe-shaped park, completed in 1937 includes extensive plantings, a simulated gristmill, a magnificent view of Conscience Bay and the cottage of the last Setauket miller Everett Hawkins. From the park there is an entrance to the Frank Melville Memorial Foundation Sanctuary grounds with its extensive nature paths.

This past month the park and sanctuary suffered a great deal of damage from the storm that devastated a narrow area on the North Shore from Smithtown to Port Jefferson. The park has worked hard to clear debris and bring the park back to its beautiful condition. Please explore the park this month and consider becoming a member of the Friends of the Park. 

The Setauket Millpond was a center of commerce for the community from the time it was settled in 1655 until early in the 20th century. It is easy to imagine almost any time in Setauket history while in the park. Looking out over the milldam, Conscience Bay reflects the 8,000 years the Native Americans lived here before the English settlers came to Setauket. The mill tells the story of the farmer grinding grain in the 1700s. The restored barn remembers the horse “Smokey” and speaks of a 19th-century horse and carriage. The stone bridge relates how an immigrant great-grandson came to Setauket and gave it an image of the countryside of rural England and Europe with a park.

Just after dawn the Setauket Mill Pond shimmers with morning mist and reflects the early morning sky and the trees that partly surround it. Walking along the path in the Frank Melville Memorial Park, the only sounds, except for the occasional car going by, are the birds in the trees and the ducks in the pond. They contrast with the greens, browns and grays of early morning. The contemplative surroundings start the day with the beauty of God’s creation and give perspective to the rest of the day.

The following prose was written by the author:

Birdsong
Spring, the park at morning.
Woodpeckers rat-a-tat, the woosh of wings — Canadian geese, a soft grouse call is heard.
Birdsong, first near and then far, across the pond.
Birdsong left and right.
A gentle breeze turns the pond to silver, moving patterns of dark and light.
The background sound of water flowing over the milldam and into the bay.
Pairs of mallards glide slowly across the pond.
The trumpet call of geese announces flight as they rise from the pond and fly across the milldam, across the march and into the bay.
Trees surround the pond with patterns of greens of every shade.
Dark evergreens and climbing vines.
Bright green beech and silver-green sycamore.
Patches of white dogwood adding depth and contrast.
A heron glides effortlessly across the surface of the pond, rises and disappears into the cover of a black birch tree.
I am overwhelmed by gentle sounds and contrasting scenery, by muted colors in every shade and texture.
Blue-white sky and blue-green water.

Beverly Tyler is the Three Village Historical Society historian.

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Yacht Wanderer flying New York Yacht Club flag. Photo of original Greene postcard from Beverly Tyler

by Beverly C. Tyler

Joseph Rowland’s home and shipyard is in East Setauket at the intersection of Shore Road and Bayview Avenue.

Rowland built the schooner-yacht Wanderer in 1857 for Colonel John D. Johnson who was a member of the New York Yacht Club, a wealthy sugar planter from New Orleans and had a home in the Islips. The Wanderer was designed by Captain Thomas B. Hawkins, who supervised construction.

The sails for the Wanderer were made in Port Jefferson in the Wilson Sail Loft. Wilson also made the first suit of sails for the schooner-yacht America, which captured the cup that still bears the name of that first winner.

That summer of 1857, the Wanderer sailed Long Island Sound with Captain Hawkins as its sailing master.

The ship’s owner, Johnson, sailed it with the New York Yacht Club Squadron. It was said to have been the fastest schooner ever built, too big and too fast so the yacht club wouldn’t let it compete.

That fall, Wanderer voyaged to Havana, via Charleston and Savannah, and it was very widely acclaimed.

However, Johnson sold the Wanderer in 1858 to William C. Corey and soon after it reappeared in Port Jefferson. It was fitted out for the slave trade, probably at the yard of J.J. Harris. Numerous large water tanks were installed. All the people looked the other way, except S.S. Norton, surveyor of the port. He became suspicious and notified federal officials in New York. The revenue cutter Harriet Lane intercepted the Wanderer off Old Field Point and took it in tow to New York over Corey’s loud protests.

Corey glibly talked himself free and the Wanderer was allowed to leave for Charleston, where the real owner Charles Augustus Lafayette Lamar surfaced. Actually he probably crawled out from under a rock. Lamar, staying in the background because of his previous connection with slavers, obtained customs clearance for it.

They completed fitting out for the slave trade and sailed for Africa. Its captain was John E. Farnum, a mean looking cuss.

Slavers were rigged to outrun the slave squadrons of Great Britain and America, both of which were trying to stop the now illegal slave trade. Wanderer took aboard some 600 “negroes” and sailed for America. The slaves were laid down side-by-side alternating head and feet and chained, wrist to ankle. They were kept lying there for days and there was no sanitation. Even worse, if a ship was overtaken by one of the slave squadrons, it was not uncommon to bend an anchor to the last man on the chain and let it go overboard, taking the whole cargo of slaves and destroying the evidence.

On the evening of Nov. 28, 1858, the ship landed 465 Africans on Jekyll Island, Georgia. The rest died during the voyage and were unceremoniously tossed over the side. The ship was seized by federal authorities; however, the Africans, now on Georgia soil, a slave state, were sold at auction.

There was outrage in the U.S. Congress; but little, if anything, was done, less than two years before the start of the Civil War. Wanderer was sold at auction and Lamar bought it. In the spring of 1861 it was seized by the federal government and used as a gunboat in the Civil War. It was credited with capturing four prizes. After the war, the U.S. Navy sold it to private owners who ran it aground on Cape Maisi, east out of Cuba, on Jan. 21, 1871, and she was a total loss. The mess kettle that was used to feed the slaves on Jekyll Island still existed in the 1970s but has since disappeared.

There was even a sign beside it that explained the history of the kettle and said that the Wanderer was built at East Setauket. In 2008, the Jekyll Island History Museum opened an exhibit on The Last Slaver.

A walking tour of the maritime and wooden shipbuilding area along Shore Road in East Setauket will be conducted this Saturday, June 13, beginning at 2 p.m. Meet at the Brookhaven Town Dock for a tour of the homes and shipyards that built ships that sailed around the world. The tour includes the home of the Wanderer shipbuilder and his story.

Beverly Tyler is the Three Village Historical Society historian.

Village historian shares story of walk through nature, delivers tips on how to navigate Old Post Road terrain

The Sherwood-Jayne Farm’s nature trails offer an abundance of scenic North Shore spots. Photo from Beverly Tyler

by Beverly C. Tyler

Walking the nature trails at the 80-acre Sherwood-Jayne Farm on Old Post Road in East Setauket is a delight.

My wife, Barbara, and I walked the three trails this past Friday about 10 a.m. It had rained Thursday night, however the trails were completely dry and the soft covering of well-trodden leaves made the walk easy and pleasant underfoot.

A kiosk marks the start of the trails and identifies the route and color markings of each trail. The start of the walk is slightly uphill and slightly narrower than the rest of the trails. Stay to the left throughout and you will go from the white trail to the blue trail and then the red trail.

The morning of our walk the sun was shining through the trees and the birds were singing their various calls.

There are red-tailed hawks and great horned owls nesting in the trees.

We saw them earlier in the spring but on this day the tree cover was sufficient to hide their nests and the circling of the hawks. The singing of the birds and the rat-a-tat-tat of the woodpeckers continued throughout our walk.

The mid point is also the low point of the walk and ferns dominate. We were at the closest part to Route 25A but we couldn’t hear any traffic noise, just the wind through the tops of the trees and the birds.

The walk descended gently from a height of 125 feet to the low point of 70 feet above sea level. It curves through the area behind Sherwood-Jayne House. It took us about 45 minutes to complete the walk on all three trails, arriving back where we started.

This Sunday, May 31, come and enjoy a family day at the farm, from 12:30 to 3:30 p.m. The occasion is the Third Annual Sheep Shearing Festival at Sherwood-Jayne Farm, 55 Old Post Road, East Setauket. Admission is $5 per person or $20 per family, and car parking is free.

At 1 p.m., take a walk on the nature trails with the Seatuck Environmental Association, the group that designed and built the trails. At 2 p.m., watch Tabbethia Haubold of the Long Island Livestock Co. shear the sheep and talk about the secrets of wool gathering.

Beverly Tyler is the Three Village Historical Society historian.

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North Shore-based Founder’s Day Committee opens fourth-graders up to Setauket’s original settlement

Students with guide Donna Smith at the Amos Smith house (circa 1740). Photo from Beverly Tyler

By Beverly C. Tyler

The goals of the Founder’s Day Committee are to introduce the Vance Locke murals on the early history of the Town of Brookhaven to all the 4th grade students in the Three Village school district, and to introduce the students to Brookhaven’s Original Settlement in Setauket.

The Town of Brookhaven was founded in Setauket on April 14, 1655. In 2006, following the successful 350th Town of Brookhaven anniversary celebration in 2005, a group of local residents, Setauket PTA members and the Setauket School principal met and decided to invite fourth grade students from all Three Village Schools to spend a day at the Setauket School to see the recently restored murals and learn about their history.

The murals, in the Setauket School auditorium, were painted in 1951 by artist Vance Locke.

From 2006 through 2013, fourth- grade students from Three Village schools came to the Setauket School auditorium, learned about the murals and the history they portray, and viewed artifacts connected with the murals and their various themes.

Students were also treated to monologues by Setauket School sixth-grade students, dressed in period costumes, about the murals and the people in them.

In 2014, a change was made to provide students with a more direct and hands-on experience. Three Village fourth-graders were introduced to the murals and their history and then taken on a walking tour of the Setauket Original Settlement area. In 2015, the walking tour was improved, providing each class with a guide and adding visual details to the tour.

Evaluations by teachers have led to various improvements in the student experience. To date, teachers have been enthusiastic about the tour and the changes and improvements made over the years.

The mural talk and tour, on April 29 and 30, guided 20 fourth grade classes around the Town of Brookhaven Original Settlement area. The days were perfect, weather-wise, and the sight of more than 400 students learning about the history of the area brought it to life.

The Founder’s Day Committee, Barbara Russell, Brookhaven Town Historian; Donna Smith, Three Village historical Society director of education; Katherine Downs Reuter, Three Village Community Trust; and Beverly Tyler, who works as Three Village Historical Society historian.

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Robert Reuter shares photos of historic homes

Beverly Swift Tyler House, 114 Main St., Setauket, built 1881. Photo from Beverly Tyler

By Beverly C. Tyler

“A historic district is an area containing buildings, structures or places which have a special character and ambiance based on historical value … of such significance to warrant its conservation, preservation and protection,” according to the Town of Brookhaven’s definition.

The town’s historic districts in the Three Village area was the subject of a talk on the evening of April 23 by Robert Reuter sponsored by the Three Village Community Trust. Reuter — a member of the town’s historic district advisory committee, president of the Frank Melville Memorial Foundation and vice president of the community trust — showed pictures of some of the most interesting homes, buildings and businesses in the historic districts and how many owners in the historic districts have benefited from the consultation and advice provided by members of the advisory committee.

This was one opportunity for residents to learn about the five historic districts in the Three Village area and the structures and environment of some of the most beautiful and significant areas of our community. A number of members of the advisory committee were on hand to provide additional information and examples of the many success stories locally.

The real beauty and significance of the historic districts is not just in the buildings themselves, nor their architecture but in the stories of the people who have lived in these homes over the past three centuries or so.

In 2002, Ward Melville senior Stacy Braverman wrote about a house in the Old Setauket Historic District: “From a very early age, I have loved 114 Main St., albeit from a distance. It has a perfect location — close to the park, post office, library and village green. Its distinctive color and stained glass windows make it unusual, but it still fits in perfectly with the area.”

In researching the house, Braverman found out the house was built for my grandfather. She also discovered that one owner was the first woman and the first Catholic elected to the Setauket School Board of Education.

In an interview, Braverman said she discovered that one of the most recent owners painted the house blue because a “helpful” neighbor told him that all houses in Setauket had to be white with black shutters at that point in time.

This is just one of many stories surrounding the people, architecture, setting and history of the homes and structures in the town’s five Three Village historic districts, which are located at Stony Brook, Old Setauket, East Setauket, Bethel Christian Avenue Laurel Hill and Dyers Neck.

With the town having 15 historic districts all told, it means that the Three Village area has one-third of the designations.

The community trust’s spring lecture series, “Keeping a Sense of Place in the Three Villages,” will continue with a Thursday, May 28, talk, “The Marion Lake Story: Defeating the Mighty Phragmites” and will conclude on Thursday, June 25, with a look at “Patriots Hollow State Forest.” All programs are 7:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Setauket Neighborhood House.

For more information, see the website at www.threevillagecommunitytrust.org/programs.

Details of the town’s historic districts, guidelines and other documents are available at the Town of Brookhaven website www. brookhaven.org/committees/historicdistrictadvisory.aspx.

Books, booklets and pamphlets on the homes and environment of the Three Village area as well as walking tour guides are available from the Three Village Historical Society, 93 North Country Road, Setauket. The society office and gift shop is open Monday through Friday 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Sunday 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.

Beverly Tyler is the Three Village Historical Society historian.

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Vance Locke’s 1655 scene, showing the purchase of all the land from “Stony Brook to ye Wading River,” includes some of the trade items that were actually delivered one month later.

by Beverly C. Tyler

April 14 will be the 360th anniversary of the establishment of the town of Brookhaven at Setauket.
From 1 to 6 p.m., the public is invited to view the Vance Locke murals in the Woodhull Auditorium of the Setauket School, Main Street, Setauket. Costumed historians will be available to detail many of the features of the murals. This is the only day of the year that the murals are open to public view.

“In this project, where historical background was so important, a great amount of research had to be done by Vance Locke, so much that the actual painting took up only one-fifth of the time spent on the murals,”  local historian William B. Minuse said in 1974.

In 1951, artist Vance Locke painted the series of murals in the Setauket School auditorium to commemorate the opening of the school and the founding of the town. The murals represent the history of the early days of Setauket and Brookhaven. The murals, completed in 1952, were a gift to the community by Ward and Dorothy Melville.

The murals begin with “Setalcott Native American Village” circa 1600. The next mural in time depicts the “Purchase of Land of the Setalcotts” by the agents for the English settlers in 1655. Five mural scenes picture important industries in Brookhaven, including “Colonial Farming,” the “Grist Mill,” the “Blacksmith,” “Shipbuilding” and “Cutting Ice.”

These murals depict the time periods from 1700 to 1900. The remaining five murals represent the Revolutionary War period on Long Island from 1776 to 1780.

Painted more than 60 years ago, Vance Locke’s wonderful murals, now completely restored to their original color and brightness, offer a realistic, visual look back at the history of our community and town.

Beverly Tyler is the Three Village Historical Society historian.