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Edna Davis Giffen

The William Miller House had a new roof installed to protect the historic building. The renovation was made possible with local donations. Photo by Kevin Redding

When it comes to saving the oldest existing house in Miller Place, the community has it covered.

In its 298th year, the William Miller House on North Country Road stands stronger than ever thanks to a brand new, $18,300 roof made possible by donations from residents, local businesses and community groups. The roof’s installation, by Patchogue-based Ultimate Exteriors, began Dec. 26, 2017, and was completed the following week.

Miller Place-Mount Sinai Hisotrical Society Vice President Antoinette Donate and
historian Edna Davis Giffen show off some of the old shingles. Photo by Kevin Redding

Replacing the historic structure’s dilapidated roof has been a top priority for the Miller Place-Mount Sinai Historical Society members since 2015, when a campaign was launched to complete all needed repairs in time for the house’s 300th anniversary in 2020.

“The roof was open partially — you could see the sky when you were in the attic,” said Antoinette Donato, vice president of the historical society. “It’s so nice to know that the community supports us and understands the importance of this house, because it’s not just Mount Sinai and Miller Place history, it’s American history.”

Built in 1720, the house is the ancestral residence of the family the town was named after, and is on the National Register of Historic Places, significant for its lack of interior changes over the centuries.

Historical society members said they saw a spike in community donations in May 2017 after their goal was reported by local news outlets. On the day the story got out, a resident who wished to remain anonymous approached the society and promised to donate a dollar for every two dollars it raised. Local residents pitched in, as well as large contributors,including the Suffolk Federal Credit Union and PSEG Long Island.

“It’s so nice to know that the community supports us and understands the importance of this house, because it’s not just Mount Sinai and Miller Place history, it’s American history.”

—Antoinette Donato

According to members, the most memorable donor was 12-year-old Jack Soldano, who rushed to the society’s rescue by selling 1,000 comic books over the summer at Heritage Park in Mount Sinai. In the end, he raised more than $1,220 for the project, which, at the time he presented the check, brought the repair fund to $7,500. He said he did so because of his strong connection to the town landmark, as he and his family were regulars at its annual Postman Pete and Spooky Lantern Tour events.

“I remember when I was younger and having so much fun” he said. “I want the younger kids to be able to experience that too.”

Gerard Mannarino, treasurer of the historical society, announced the historical society reached its $18,300 goal in December, and shingles were delivered right before Christmas.

Society board member Edna Davis Giffen said she couldn’t believe her eyes as construction crews began the repair.

“We’d been talking about this for years — wanting to get this roof done — and never had the money to do it,” Giffen said. “Now, all of a sudden, here it was. And now it’s all done. It’s just so wonderful.”

The historical society hopes to tackle its second priority, restoring the house’s 16 windows, as soon as possible.

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Ann Becker and Edna Davis Giffen, Mount Sinai and Miller Place community members and historians, recently published a pictorial book showing past and present views of the area. Photo from Ann Becker

“I am one of those believers that if you don’t know your history, your life is not complete,” Miller Place-Mount Sinai Historical Society Archivist Edna Davis Giffen said. “I believe that you need to not just look forward, but you need to look backward to appreciate what was done before, so that you can carry on into the future.”

That’s why she and Mount Sinai Civic Association President Ann Becker decided to collaborate on a single book about the history of the neighboring hamlets that would serve as a continuation of both of the individual books they each previously published.

Becker published a book on the history of Mount Sinai in 2003, while Giffen completed one on Miller Place in 2010. Their latest effort is called “Miller Place and Mount Sinai Through Time” and was released in November.

“I’ve always had a love of history, especially local history,” Becker said. “There wasn’t a lot available for young students to learn about their local community, and the books were provided for the curriculum to look at the documented history of our community and help people understand the rich history here.”

Becker, who received a doctorate in American history from Stony Brook University, is a Long Island history professor at Empire State College who has lived in Mount Sinai since 1982, and has been a member of the civic on and off since 1984, becoming its president four years ago. She was involved in the creation of the Heritage Trust board that was instrumental in creating Mount Sinai Heritage Park.

Ann Becker and Edna Davis Giffen, Mount Sinai and Miller Place community members and historians, recently published a pictorial book, above, showing past and present views of the area. Photo from Ann Becker
Ann Becker and Edna Davis Giffen, Mount Sinai and Miller Place community members and historians, recently published a pictorial book, above, showing past and present views of the area. Photo from Ann Becker

“I love local history,” she said. “History has always been important to me. It’s nice for people to realize that there are dedicated volunteers working hard presently to maintain the quality of life here.”

Community members like Brad Arrington, the civic vice president and corresponding secretary, have noticed Becker’s passion.

“She’s very civic-oriented and I think that’s not a term that people really use or appreciate anymore, in the sense that she really wants to do the best she can for the Mount Sinai community,” he said. “All the work she does, including the book, shows how much she cares about the community and how much she wants to help preserve our heritage.”

He said being civic-minded shapes how she addresses local problems and informs her opinions about the future growth and development of the town.

“I think the book is wonderful,” he said. “I think particularly for folks that might not have lived in Mount Sinai for decades to see the character of Mount Sinai. It also helps show people what’s left from the past and can help galvanize community members to help preserve those pieces of history that remain in our community.”

Giffen, who is a 12th-generation Miller Place resident now living in Mount Sinai, has been a member of the historical society since 1980 and became president when the restoration of the William Miller House was first beginning in that decade.

“I enjoy being part of the history,” she said. “We’ve developed so much since the 1960s that people don’t realize how much country there was here.”

Sharing this information with residents was something that drove her to work on her books.

“It needed to be done,” she said. “Lots of people don’t know what this place was like before the major settlement. I thought it was quite interesting working on the books, because when you see [the area] every day, you don’t pay attention to how much has changed.”

Becker said with the new book, the idea is to have an old picture and a new one side-by-side, to compare what the area used to look like and what it is now.

“We had fun taking the pictures to compare to the old ones that we had in the archives,” Becker said. “It’s a new look at Mount Sinai and Miller Place through time. It gives you that historical context, but it’s bringing us up to modern time. We thought it was important for the community to understand that being involved can have some really good results.”

The two authors received information and pictures from various people to help construct the book and Ann Donato, who has been on the historical society board for 15 years, said the book holds substantial importance.

“This area is so rich in history, going back pre-Revolutionary War,” she said. “We really need to let people know our past so we can understand the present and also the travels that we have taken as a nation.”

She believes Giffen is important to the community as well.

“Edna is so knowledgeable,” she said. “If anyone ever calls me with a question about the area or about a house, Edna has it at the tip of her fingertips. Edna is a treasure to our society.”

Although the two are experts and important in preserving and spreading the history of the area, they do it simply because they believe it’s vital.

“People should know about where they live,” Giffen said. “Everything in the future is based on the past.”

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