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Caroline Church

Holly Griesel as Etta Sherry talks about the Old Stone Jug in Stony Brook — now The Jazz Loft — during the spirits tour Oct. 21. Photo by Beverly C. Tyler

By Beverly C. Tyler

The Spirits of the Prohibition: Setauket in the Roaring 20s provided the overall theme for the Three Village Historical Society’s 23rd Annual Spirits Tour in the graveyards of the Setauket Presbyterian Church and Caroline Episcopal Church Oct. 21.

“My family was traditionally Episcopalian but my father Melville Havens Bryant had become a rabid prohibitionist, and the Methodist Church embraced temperance so we changed affiliation,” George Overin, playing William Washington Bryant (1859-1937), said. “Father was so committed to the cause that he would cross the street rather than walk in front of a saloon.”

George Overin as William Washington Bryant talks about the Prohibition during the spirits tour. Photo by Beverly C. Tyler

More than 300 attendees followed guides that took them on a walk to meet 14 colorful but deceased local residents who entertained them with stories of their lives and the people in the Three Village communities. Guided tours began at 5 p.m. and a new group stepped out from the Setauket Presbyterian Church social hall every 15 minutes through 7:45 p.m.

In addition to the tours through the cemeteries, tour participants were treated to an exhibit on Prohibition with many artifacts and visuals from The Long Island Museum’s Prohibition exhibit, Midnight Rum, on view in the Setauket Presbyterian Church social hall. The exhibit featured a 1933 beer keg from Trommer’s Brewery, which Trommer’s rebranded and pressed this pre-Prohibition keg into service to help satisfy its large number of beer orders.

Tour groups were also treated to an evening of jazz in the hall by the Ward Melville Honors Jazztet with Andrew Cavese, Max Liueberman, Miles Bruno and Jared Gozinsky providing the delightful jazz on bass, sax, guitar and drums.

“It was a court room, meeting hall, lecture hall, but most notably what it was used for was square dancing and late at night, if the spirit got my papa, you would see some fancy footwork at the Stone Jug,” Holly Griesel as Etta Sherry (1855-1956) said, talking about the Old Stone Jug in Stony Brook — now The Jazz Loft.

Donna Smith as Kate Wheeler Strong talks to tour participants about her “True Tales.” Photo by Beverly C. Tyler

Stony Brook was also celebrated with stories about Robert Cushman Murphy. He and his wife Grace Barstow Murphy are buried in Rhode Island, but Robert Murphy was here as a visiting spirit along with lifelong Stony Brook resident Etta Sherry, who is buried in Oak Hill Cemetery in Stony Brook.

“Suffolk County, right here where you are, was the very first county in the entire world to have DDT banned in 1956, and Grace and I spearheaded that effort with some other people,” Art Billadello, playing Robert Cushman Murphy (1887-1973), said.

Setauket’s Kate Wheeler Strong (1879-1977), historian, teacher and storyteller, who is buried in the Smith-Strong cemetery on Strong’s Neck, wrote articles on Long Island local history for the Long Island Forum from 1938 until 1976. She also put her articles into a series of booklets she called “True Tales.”

“My love of history came from my father who knew every story about the family and the local people living here,” Donna Smith as Kate Wheeler Strong said. “He’s the one who inspired me to write about ‘True Tales.’”

Participants, especially those who took the early tours before dark, were treated to a view of the restored Caroline Church Carriage Shed adjacent to the church parking lot. Built in 1887, it is a unique example of a seven-bay carriage shed that was an important feature in the community during the era of the horse and buggy.

This year’s Spirits Tour was also special for the beautiful weather and starry skies that made for a pleasant, fun and informative event for everyone who participated.

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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Three Village fourth-grade students hear about the carriage shed and about the horse and carriage days during a Founder’s Day program. Photo from Beverly Tyler

By Beverly C. Tyler

Photographers have been taking pictures of the Caroline Church Carriage Shed in all seasons for many years. Since it was completed in the spring of 1887 at a cost of $273, this simple open building has aged gracefully, becoming more beautiful as the roof took on a natural wave shape that added to its special appeal. In addition, its utilitarian construction of white oak beams, white pine boards, cedar shingles and black locust posts allows us to see the construction methods that date back beyond when the shed was constructed, to the beginnings of our community when our homes, barns and out-buildings were built using these same local materials.

The shed’s seven bays for horses and carriages were funded by Mary Smith, Thomas Hodgkins, Margaret Dickenson and Sarah Dominick, General Francis Spinola, Shepard Jones, Mrs. Frank Norton and William Edwards, local residents who wanted shelter for their horses and carriages. A painted family name board was attached to the rear wall of each stall or bay.

In November of 1892, Thomas Hodgkins, who built the Emma Clark Library for the community in memory of his niece, wrote a note to library trustee Israel Tyler, “It has just occurred to me that my horse shed at the Episcopal Church may be of some use to yourself and family, and as I shall never again have any use for it, I hereby offer it to you as a free gift. Very Truly Yours, Thomas G. Hodgkins.”

Hodgkins died in December 1892 and is buried along the entrance walk in the Caroline Church graveyard. Israel Tyler’s name is still there on shed bay number three.

Barbara Russell, a member of the Caroline Church Historical Committee wrote, “What appears to some as a building that outgrew its original use about 100 years ago is … a rather unique parking place, the vehicles just changed. I always preferred it on rainy Sundays, as I could exit my car and open my umbrella without getting wet. In summer months, my car stayed cool in the shade. Those Victorians knew what they were doing when they planned and built a simple structure to make life a little more pleasant. The sliding windows on the west wall just gave the horses a little air and a view … Horses like to see what is going on around them.

“What does it look like to residents who travel Main Street or Dyke Road, and pass it everyday? What does it look like to a newcomer, maybe shopping for a home in Setauket? What does it look like to a child who sees it for the first time? To know the answers, you will have to ask your friends, your new neighbors, and the seven-year-old who lives down the street. But most important: What does it look like to you?

“Is it a humble structure that reminds you of a simpler life? Life may have been simple, but it wasn’t easy. We can rush through the morning, jump into the car and drive to church in a temperature-controlled car. In 1887, in addition to getting ourselves ready, we would have fed, groomed and harnessed the horse to our carriage. Then we made our way to church, rain or shine, hot or cold.”

In 1991, the church and cemetery, including the carriage shed, were listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The criteria include age, integrity and significance. The carriage shed, still in its original location, easily meets all of these.

In April, 2016, 450 fourth-grade students from the Three Village Central School District toured Setauket’s original settlement area including the carriage shed. They learned about the shed and about the horses and carriages that were a part of life here for more than 300 years. They also discovered that before the carriage shed was built, a colonial one-room schoolhouse stood on the site. From 1700, until a new school was built in the center of the Setauket Village Green in 1869, all of the children from Setauket, East Setauket and Drowned Meadow (now Port Jefferson) attended school here, including all the local children who later became members of the Revolutionary War Culper Spy Ring.

Tours of Caroline Church and the churchyard, as well as tours by the Three Village Historical Society include the historic Caroline Church Carriage Shed and speak to the many centuries when horses and carriages were essential to our lives.

Today the carriage shed needs extensive restoration. Caroline Church has hired an architect for plans to restore the shed to its original condition and has applied for grant funding to help offset the cost of restoration. “We believe the 1887 carriage shed, as the 1729 Caroline Church building, are historic parts of the Three Village community,” reported Don Muffly, senior warden at Caroline Church. “We need the community’s financial support as the cost of restoration is beyond the resources of the church alone.” If you can help, please send your tax deductible contribution to Save the Carriage Shed, C/O Caroline Church, 1 Dyke Road, Setauket, NY 11733. For further information call 631-941-4245.

Beverly Tyler is the Three Village Historical Society historian and author of books available from the Three Village Historical Society.

Gen. George Washington (John Galla) with his headquarter’s flag. Photo by Heidi Sutton
Gen. Benedict Arnold (Brian Cea). Photo by Heidi Sutton
Gen. Benedict Arnold (Brian Cea). Photo by Heidi Sutton

The chilly 45-degree weather did not deter almost 300 brave souls who came out for a special walk through local history last Saturday night as the Three Village Historical Society held its 21st annual Spirits Tour, “The Culper Spy Ring: From Secrecy to Victory.”

“The Culper Spy Ring has really been making news lately,” Carolyn Benson, one of the tour guides, said. This tour shows “how many people from this area were involved.”

The host of the tour, Emma S. Clark, whose name graces the library in Setauket and was portrayed by Karin Lynch, set the scene for what was to come.

“The Culper Spy Ring was a group of men known as the Secret Six who helped George Washington win the war. … Their identity was so secretive that Gen. Washington never knew their true identity. Their messages were written in code and their letters were in invisible ink,” she said. “Tonight you will meet with these patriots and some loyalists who will share their stories with you about what it was like during and after the war.”

Helen ‘Morningstar’ Sells and Nellie Edwards of the Setalcott Nation. Photo by Heidi Sutton
Helen ‘Morningstar’ Sells and Nellie Edwards of the Setalcott Nation. Photo by Heidi Sutton

The 1.5-hour tours ran throughout the evening, beginning with the Young Historian tours. Each group, carrying flashlights and lanterns, was led through the cemeteries of the Setauket Presbyterian Church [established in the late 17th century] and the Caroline Church of Brookhaven [established in 1729].

All the key players were present, from the ring’s most active operatives — Maj. Benjamin Tallmadge, Caleb Brewster, Austin Roe, Anna Smith Strong, James Rivington and Robert Townsend — to Gen. George Washington and Abraham Woodhull, the leader of the Culper Spy Ring, to Gen. Benedict Arnold, the infamous traitor. Woodhull, portrayed by Dennis O’Connor, appeared at the foot of his own grave in the Presbyterian cemetery during the tour.

Lesser-known community spirits made appearances as well, including Bette Harmon, born into slavery to the Strong family; Maj. John Andre, a British spy whose capture exposed Benedict Arnold as a traitor; loyalist Col. Benjamin Floyd; patriot Rev. Zachariah Greene; and a special appearance by  Setalcott Nation members Helen “Morning Star” Sells and Nellie Edwards. In total, 20 spirits were conjured to provide an insight into their lives during the Revolutionary War. The period costumes, provided by Nan Guzzetta, gave the entire event an eerily authentic feel.

Private David Williams (George Monez), Major John Andre (Pat DiVisconti), Private Isaac Van Wart (Sage Hardy). Photo by Heidi Sutton
Private David Williams (George Monez), Major John Andre (Pat DiVisconti), Private Isaac Van Wart (Sage Hardy). Photo by Heidi Sutton

At each stop, the spirits gave out secret codes that, when compiled and decoded, formed a secret letter for Gen. Washington, who was the last stop of the night.

Nine-year-old Alex Perrone, of Stony Brook, was experiencing the tour for the first time with his mother, Lauren, but came well prepared.

“My mom and I read a book called ‘Redcoats and Petticoats,’” he said.

Alex enjoyed the tour, especially meeting Washington and learning about the Setalcott tribe and their longhouses, and said he would definitely do it again. His mom agreed, adding, “I just thought it was really informative and I thought the actors were wonderful and I think it was a great way to learn about local history and this special place.”

In all, the 21st annual Spirits Tour was a rare historical treat. For more information, visit the historical society at www.tvhs.org.