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Caroline Church of Brookhaven

Victim of Shelter Island home invasion laid to rest in Setauket

Mourners fill the small cemetery of Caroline Church of Brookhaven to lay to rest the Rev. Canon Paul Wancura. The church’s former rector was left tied up in his Shelter Island home after a burglary in March and died April 16 due to his injuries. Photo by Rita J. Egan

The Caroline Church of Brookhaven was filled to capacity with mourners saying their last goodbyes to the Rev. Canon Paul Wancura April 24.

The Rev. Canon Paul Wancura visited Caroline Church for his 85th birthday in 2015. Photo from Caroline Church of Brookhaven

The Caroline Church of Brookhaven was filled to capacity with mourners saying their last goodbyes to the Rev. Canon Paul Wancura April 24.

Wancura, a former rector of the church, died of injuries sustained during a home invasion on Shelter Island last month. The local town police discovered the injured 87-year-old March 19 when they responded to a call to check on the welfare of the reverend, according to a statement from the Suffolk County Police Department. The officers found the residence was burglarized and jewelry was stolen. Wancura was transported by helicopter to Stony Brook University Hospital, but died April 16 after a 29-day battle to recover from his injuries.

Wancura arrived at Caroline Church as rector in 1974 and served for 26 years.

Former vestry member Michael Russell said the reverend married him and his wife, Brookhaven Town Historian Barbara Russell, in 1978. He said Wancura was the reason many began bringing their families to the Episcopal church due to his vibrancy, intellect and wit.

“There was just something about him,” Russell said. “You’d love talking to him, and you’d love being with him. So not only was he our rector, but he was a friend to a lot of us.”

Russell said he and many other church members kept in touch with Wancura after he left the church. He became the interim rector for 10 years at Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Greenport and then spent seven months at Episcopal Church of the Messiah in Central Islip.

“You’d love talking to him, and you’d love being with him. So not only was he our rector, but he was a friend to a lot of us.”

— Michael Russell

Before his tenure with Caroline Church, Wancura worked for IBM and served in the military. When he returned from Europe serving in counterintelligence, he received his Master of Divinity from The General Theological Seminary of the Episcopal Church and served as rector of his first parish in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. He was also appointed the archdeacon of Suffolk County before becoming rector of Caroline Church, according to his obituary.

Visiting Wancura at the hospital after the attack, Russell said the reverend seemed to be on the road to recovery and returning to his usual sharp, witty self. He and others were shocked to hear of his death and are still coming to terms with the attack.

During the funeral Mass, the Rev. Lawrence Provenzano, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island, said a friend suggested he pray through the anguish he felt after hearing the news of Wancura’s death.

“Every one of us has been horrified by what has happened,” Provenzano said. “We have each in our own way expressed disbelief that such a thing could happen to one whom we have known, whom we have loved.”

After the Mass, Wancura was buried in the churchyard next to his wife, Helen.

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Caroline Church is hosting an exhibit exploring the early history of the church, the Three Village area and the country, Oct. 7 through 9. Photo from Beverly C. Tyler

By Beverly C. Tyler

A new exhibit, “The 1800s, Growth and Change: The Church, The Community, The Country,” will be open to the public  Oct. 7 through  9 from 1 to 4 p.m. in the history center of  Caroline  Church of Brookhaven, located at 1 Dyke Road, Setauket.

The exhibit details how Caroline Church recovered and prospered following the decades after the Revolutionary War. It also features the 1887 Caroline Church carriage shed which is one of the structures listed along with the church on the National Register of Historic Places in America and is currently being restored to its original state.

Caroline Church at the turn of the 20th century. Photo from Beverly C. Tyler

The exhibit section on the community illustrates, on various panels, how the Three Village area moved from an agricultural base to an industrial community with shipbuilding, a piano factory, a rubber factory and other industries. Featured photographs in the exhibit include two 4-foot long overlapping images of the Setauket area photographed on site in 1878 by George Bradford Brainerd (1845-1887). The photos, taken when there were few trees to hide the view, show the entire area from the Setauket Mill Pond to Route 25A. A series of questions then asks the viewer to identify various structures. Barbara Russell, Brookhaven Town historian and a member of the Caroline Church Historical Commission said, “We thought it would be more interesting to give a background on the photos, and then let the viewer find things, rather than point everything out.”

The section on the country features women’s work in both home and community, some of the local effects of the Civil War, the expansion of the public school system and other events that defined community life in the 19th century.

The exhibit opening is scheduled as part of  New York State’s Path Through History weekends, when many events are scheduled to celebrate the state’s rich heritage. In addition to the exhibit at the  1729 Caroline Church, the Three Village Historical Society walking tour “Abraham Woodhull: Farmer and Revolutionary War Spy” will be held on Saturday, Oct. 7, starting at 2 p.m. from the Caroline Church front parking lot. The tour will include locations where the Revolutionary War Culper Spy Ring operated.

Beverly 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.

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In 1985 members of a crane company removed the Caroline Church’s steeple bell to protect it from Hurricane Gloria. Photo from Caroline Church archives

By Beverly Tyler

In the archives of Setauket’s Caroline Church of Brookhaven is a beautifully written receipt dated September 17, 1729, written with a quill pen in elegantly flowing script. Addressed to Colonel Benjamin Floyd, senior warden at the church, the receipt details the purchase of the 132½-pound bell that still rings the call to Sunday church services at the historic white colonial building at the Setauket Village Green.

In 1936, the church began a restoration including a return to a colonial appearance. The restoration was financed by local philanthropist and businessman Ward Melville and was carried out by his architect Richard Haviland Smythe. During the restoration, a musket ball was discovered embedded in one of the white oak beams in the tower that holds the bell. During the Battle of Setauket on August 22, 1777, it seems likely that one of the Patriots, firing from about the location of Patriot’s Rock, was trying to ring the bell and missed. At the time the bell was visible in the tower as there were no louvers around the bell as there are today.

In September 1985, with the path of Hurricane Gloria expected to take it directly across the middle of Long Island, it was decided to remove the 30-foot steeple and bell. According to a 1985 article in Newsday, “The Rev. Paul Wancura, church rector, said, ‘We were concerned that with the storm coming, it might blow away and cause some real damage.’” Near the end of the hurricane season the bell and steeple were returned to their exalted positions atop the church tower.

Beverly 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.

Caroline Church’s Carriage Shed has been fenced in and will receive much-needed repairs. Photo by Rita J. Egan

Two historical structures in Setauket are slated to get much-needed makeovers.

Recently Frank Melville Memorial Park and Caroline Church of Brookhaven were notified that they were awarded grants from the Robert David Lion Gardiner Foundation to offset the costs of upcoming restoration projects. The park will receive $44,330 to restore the Bates Barn, better known as the Red Barn, and the church will be awarded $23,700 to stabilize the Carriage Shed. Both are matching grants, which means the organizations had to raise funds to cover half of each project before requesting the other half in funds from the foundation.

Kathryn Curran, executive director of the Robert David Lion Gardiner Foundation, shed some light on what made the organizations appealing options to receive the grants.

“The organization has to be truly historically significant to the community, have a great outreach educationally, and they also have to have the capacity to fulfill the request, meaning that they have to have money in place if it’s a restoration project,” Curran said.

The executive director said the Red Barn and Carriage Shed not only met the requirements but also were ideal choices.

Frank Melville Memorial Park’s Red Barn, the site of many of the park’s programs, is slated to be restored this fall. Photo by Rita J. Egan

“[Setauket] is such a historically significant community to Long Island so it was an easy understanding of the needs for the projects to move forward,” Curran said. “And, they have a proven record to being historic stewards of these sites.”

Robert Reuter, president of the Frank Melville Memorial Foundation, said the Red Barn is one of the structures that supports the park being on the National Register of Historic Places and is a transplant from Camp Upton in Yaphank, which was used by the U.S. Army during World War I. After the camp was closed, barns were recycled and the timber was used at various locations on Long Island. The Setauket barn was restyled as an English barn from the timbers and serves as the backdrop for the park’s concerts and programs and is also used for storage.

“After we get it restored, we’re going to use it even more,” Reuter said.

The foundation president said the 1,056 square-foot barn needs structural restoration, which includes straightening, and the building up of the existing foundation to a level where it will be protected from flooding, which Reuter said the park has experienced more frequently of late. The siding also needs to be replaced.

He said the restoration of the barn began as a proposal five years ago but during the last year and a half the trustees have worked in earnest obtaining architectural drawings, securing inspections and working on applying for the grant. Reuter said the Gardiner foundation is very explicit about having everything in order before submitting a grant proposal, including having permits in place, quotes and bids.

“It’s a great deal of work leading up to the point where you can make an acceptable application,” Reuter said.

He said park foundation trustee Linda Sanders worked on the grant and did a great job in compiling all the information about the barn that is “used as a touch point in talks and walks by the historical society.”

“[The grant] is a very compelling story about the importance of this building not only in its own right but as an integral part of the diverse story of our history,” Reuter said.

Reuter said some work can begin immediately but the bulk of the restoration will be done in the fall. First the roof will be pulled off to relieve the weight, and it will be a slow process to straighten and stabilize the barn, because “it’s starting to deform as buildings do.”

Sanders said it was Reuter and Barbara Russell, Brookhaven town historian, who originally envisioned the project. She said Reuter conceptualized the project and scoped out the work needed, while Russell researched the history. She said she was delighted that the foundation recognized the historical significance of the park and barn.

“This is really in the center of the Setauket historical crescent, as I call it, that stretches from the Village Green to down Main Street to the historical society,” Sanders said.

The foundation trustee said she sees the barn as an example of not only local history but also the “reuse, recycle and repurpose” sentiment.

“When we tour the Red Barn structure, children particularly are exposed to all of the individuals who have come before them that have participated in stewarding our community assets into the present,” she said. 

Sanders said the park was able to match the Gardiner grant due to the original endowment fund from the Melville family. However, due to the fact that the funds are usually needed for maintenance work such as landscaping and tree work the FMMF will make an appeal to the community to publicly raise the park’s $44,330 half of the project in the near future as it’s the board’s responsibility to raise money for larger projects.

The Caroline Church’s Carriage Shed circa 1956 before structural damage. Photo from Caroline Church of Brookhaven

Russell, who is a member of Caroline Church’s vestry, said the Carriage Shed, built in 1887, is located on the east side of Bates Road on the church’s property and is one of the four contributing structures to the church being on the National Register of Historic Places.

The $23,700 from the Gardiner Foundation was matched by funds raised by the church from parishioners and community members and will cover the cost of stabilizing the shed that once was a place for church members to park their carriages while attending services and in later years even cars. Currently the internal framework needs replacing, as the supporting locust posts are sinking into the ground, according to Russell.

The historian said the work should be completed in the fall. After the stabilization is done, another fundraiser will be organized to repair the cedar-shingled roof.

“We have a responsibility to keep these structures in good repair,” Russell said.

The Three Village Historical Society has used the shed for its Spirits Tour, and the church has held its annual blessing of the animals there as well.

Russell said grants like the one from the Gardiner Foundation are a big help to churches and she encouraged others to apply.

“For any older churches in Suffolk County, this is a prayer answered,” Russell said.

For more information on the Robert David Lion Gardiner Foundation and the grants they offer, visit www.rdlgfoundation.org.

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The Setauket Presbyterian Church, pictured above after the turn of the 20th century. Photo from Beverly C. Tyler

By Beverly C. Tyler

The two churches at the Setauket Village Green are joining forces to present a joint country fair on the green June 3 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

For many years the Setauket Presbyterian Church and the Caroline Church of Brookhaven, who own the Setauket Village Green jointly, have coordinated their efforts to present individual fairs on separate weekends. This year the two churches have planned and worked together to bring a larger fair filling the entire village green with food, games, appropriate vendors and other activities designed to interest families, adults and children of all ages.

For more than a century there have been fairs on the Setauket Village Green. Just west of the village green, where Main Street turns south, was the general store belonging to Charles B. Tyler. In 1899, the store provided the Caroline Episcopal Church fair with two loaves of bread, four pounds of butter, ten pounds of sugar, 100 lemons, paper bags and one bunch of bananas at a total cost of $4.57. As the fair was in the heat of the summer, most likely Saturday, August 12, the lemonade was probably very popular. We can only guess what delicious treats they made with the bread, butter and bananas. So far we have not discovered what other food or activities were going on at the August fair.

Beverly Tyler is the Three Village Historical Society historian and author of books available from the society, 93 North Country Road, Setauket. For more information visit www.tvhs.org or call 631-751-3730.

An illustration by artist John Rhein is part of the church’s new exhibit. Photo from Barbara Russell

By Barbara M. Russell

The Caroline Church of Brookhaven (Episcopal), One Dyke Road, Setauket, recently unveiled a new exhibit in its History Center.

Titled “Caroline Church in the 1700s,” it is the third exhibit curated by the Historical and Cultural Arts Commission. A self-guided tour takes the visitor through five areas illustrating the church and the community in the 18th century: Settler, Missionary, Clergy, Builder and Patriot/Loyalist. The narrative and artifacts presented in each area assist the viewer to understand the church’s role in a new and growing community.

A feature of the exhibit is a whimsical frog, which greets visitors at the start, and reappears, in colorful illustrations by artist John Rhein.

The Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts brought Anglican missionaries to Long Island and by 1723, a congregation was formed in Setauket. Five clergy are highlighted in the exhibit; those who led the congregation from its inception, to the building of the church in 1729, through the American Revolution, and into the next century. Some architectural artifacts are on display including a round-top door and early nails.

The Patriot/Loyalist section includes biographies of two parishioners, Dr. George Muirson and his son, Heathcote. Dr Muirson, a local physician, was an ardent Loyalist, and his son, a Patriot. Also featured within the Patriot/Loyalist section is local resident, Benjamin Floyd. The viewer can decide which “side” he favored.

Two permanent exhibits, a timeline of Caroline Church and the Rector’s Gallery can also be seen.

The History Center is located in the lower level of the Parish House and is open Sundays from 8 a.m. to noon. Arrangements can be made to view the exhibit at other times by calling the Parish Office at 631-941-4245.

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