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Frank Brush Barn

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The Smithtown Historical Society celebrated the holidays the old fashioned way Dec. 7 with its annual Heritage Country Christmas.

The society’s historic homes were adorned for the festivities, and visitors were able to tour the houses as well as the Frank Brush Barn. Attendees found live music, carolers, costumed volunteers, crafts, a shadow puppet show, raffles and more. Santa was also on hand to take children’s gift requests which included bikes, toy cars and trucks and dolls.

 

Join the Smithtown Historical Society at the Frank Brush Barn, 211 East Main St., Smithtown for an evening of Supermarket BINGO on Friday, March 22 at 7 p.m. This is not your grandmother’s BINGO! Come for the fun and leave with a bag or two of groceries. Entry fee of $15, $10 members, $5 kids 12 and under and includes two sets of game cards, daubers, snacks and refreshments. Additional cards are available at $1 each. Reservations are suggested. Call 631-265-6768.

Celebrate Irish heritage with Irish Night at the Smithtown Historical Society’s Frank Brush Barn, 211 East Main St., Smithtown on March 11 at 7 p.m. Featuring corned beef and cabbage from Faraday’s of Smithtown, dancing by the Mulvihill-Lynch Studio of Irish Dance, live traditional Irish music by John Corr, raffles and a limerick contest. Tickets are $30, $25 members. Call 631-265-6768 for more information or to RSVP.

The Smithtown Historical Society will host its first Victorian Tea Party on Sunday, April 14. Photo from Smithtown Historical Society

By Melissa Arnold

Whether it’s a holiday celebration or a football party, a rite of passage or a family outing, there’s something about food and drink that brings people together. In families, shared meals can be the perfect setting for passing down traditions, memories and personal history.

Cienna Rizza knows this intimately. A self-described “dyed-in-the-wool Long Islander,” some of Rizza’s fondest memories involve sharing tea with her mother and British grandmother. 

Rizza valued those experiences so much that she began to share them, hosting tea parties for friends that eventually grew to include their friends and even strangers. Armed with a deep knowledge of tea party symbolism and rituals, she created the Mad Harlot Tea Society, an organization seeking to empower and connect people from all walks of life. Taking on the persona of Miss Penelope Proper — a whimsical, rabble-rousing British authority on all things tea — she has shared her message of joyful, unapologetic confidence with women of all ages.

“Penelope is a free spirit, a leader for women who want to get out of the box. Although she is a character, she brings out the best in people and is still very ‘me,’” Rizza said. “While every tea party is a bit different, you can always expect a warm, loving atmosphere.”

On April 14, the Smithtown Historical Society will welcome Miss Penelope as she hosts a Victorian-style royal tea for ladies in the beautiful Frank Brush Barn. Proceeds from the afternoon will benefit the historical society.

“The Smithtown Historical Society works to preserve the historic properties in our town, and we seek to expand and improve upon programs for both adults and children,” said Executive Director Priya Kapoor. “All these activities require funding, and we have been fortunate enough to have the support of our wonderful friends and neighbors in Smithtown.”

The historical society holds a variety of fundraising events throughout the year, but this is its first tea party, Kapoor said. The idea was suggested by Myra Naseem, co-owner of Elegant Eating caterers in Smithtown.

“As a Smithtown resident since 1960, I feel that it is my town and I want to help it to be the best it can be. In the past, we’ve catered tea parties for bridal and baby showers and occasionally a Red Hat party — occasions when someone is looking for a dainty experience,” said Naseem. “I met Penelope Proper some time ago at a tea party where she was seated at our table. You can’t just sit next to that lady without totally enjoying her character.”

Naseem and Miss Penelope have carefully crafted the menu for tea time, which includes traditional fare — fresh-baked scones, tea sandwiches, berries and clotted cream, minicakes, tarts and more. Each guest will have her own individual teapot with a variety of teas to sample and enjoy, along with sparkling water or cider.

Miss Penelope loves revelry, so she’ll lead the group in some games and raffles throughout the afternoon, as well as the opportunity for pictures on the grounds. In addition to the food and frivolity, guests will be treated to a brief lesson on the history of tea and tea parties on Long Island, which grew in popularity following World War I. 

The Royal Victorian Tea fundraiser will be held at the Smithtown Historical Society’s Frank Brush Barn, 211 E. Main St., Smithtown on April 14 at 1:30 p.m. Please note, this event is limited to 30 people and is for women only.  Hats, gloves and costumes are encouraged (though not required) and prizes will be awarded for the fanciest hat and most historic costume. Tickets are $50. To reserve your seat or for further information, please call the society at 631-265-6768.

Priya Kapoor. Photo by Heidi Sutton

By Heidi Sutton

Priya Kapoor came to the Smithtown Historical Society in 2016 as the director of development and public relations. This January she was made interim executive director and was confirmed as the permanent executive director of the society in March. Her responsibilities include overseeing the 22-acre property and the buildings on the campus, as well as organizing and managing over 100 fundraising and community events held by the society each year. I recently had the opportunity to interview Ms. Kapoor about her new position.

How is Smithtown rich with history? 

Smithtown is one of the oldest towns on Long Island, and we’re very fortunate to have a lot of that history still available to us. 

The founding of Smithtown can be dated back to 1665; Richard Smith, town founder, was said to have made a deal with a local Native-American chief that any land Smith could encircle while riding a bull in one day would be his. By choosing the longest day of the year, Smith acquired the land known today as Smithtown. He was also granted land patents by the English government in 1665 and 1675.

Over 20 buildings throughout the Town of Smithtown are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It’s a rare treat to be able to walk down the street and see the same buildings your grandparents and great grandparents grew up with!

What are some things the historical society does?

The historical society puts on 100 events a year — everything from adult education classes (cooking and crafting, for example) to summer camp programs, annual fairs like the Heritage Fair every September, and we host a monthly Historical Book Club as well. Not to mention our Farm Program, maintaining our historical buildings, etc.

What kind of events does the society offer to the community?

Each event is a little different. We host events like the President’s Valentine Brunch and the Holiday Luncheon — opportunities for our members and the community at large to celebrate holidays with us. And, of course, our annual fairs: the Spring Farm Festival, the Heritage Fair and the Heritage Country Christmas Fair. Again, it’s all about bringing our community together in a way that honors our history — we try to have traditional craftspeople like spinners, weavers, blacksmiths, etc. at all our fairs.

What types of programs does the society offer?

Our adult education classes often focus on crafting (we had a felt dryer ball making class, for example) or cooking (I taught two Indian cooking classes) — something educational in nature that our community might not have a lot of experience in. These go hand in hand with our annual lecture series, in March and September/October, and exhibit openings at the Caleb Smith House Museum in March.

What event do you look forward to every year?

I’m fond of the Spring Farm Festival, an annual event that happens in late April-early May. Our sheep get sheared, we have lots of traditional craft demonstrations (wool dying, wood carving, cheese making, etc.), as well as a robust vendor area. It’s really the first sign that spring has come back, and what’s better than that!

What programs have you implemented?

We try to come up with new and exciting events each year. For example, in July 2018 we started the Water Festival, which was attended by over 100 people. The festival included sprinklers and water games for children, and we hope to grow this event in the coming years.

This past year we also hosted the Nesconset Chamber of Commerce’s Project Haunt in our Rockwell Barn Complex. Local high schoolers transformed our space into a spooky museum of horror-themed attractions, as well as gave kids a safe space to trick or treat.

We are currently in the process of restoring the Obadiah Smith House, ca. 1700, which is the oldest of our properties. We have received a grant from the Preservation League of New York State for the initial assessment, and we hope to take this project further in the coming years.

The other newest program implemented is our Patch Partnership with the Girl Scouts — available in both an online format and one where the Scout comes to the historical society. Through this program Girl Scouts learn about life on the farm and women in Long Island’s history.

What is your vision for the future in terms of new events?

We have adult education classes, we have children’s programming — I’d like to see more events that focus on families. We’ve run a few in the past where the parents help their kids build or create something, but those programs are definitely few in number compared to our other programming. In addition to new events, we also hope to come up with new initiatives to help the local community and give back to others.

Do you have a strong support system?

We couldn’t operate without one! Between our dedicated volunteers and staff, the community at large and our local government officials, we’ve got a very strong support system. We are especially thankful to our board members, for their guidance and support.

Are you looking for volunteers?

We are very fortunate to have a dedicated and hardworking volunteer base, and we express utmost gratitude to them for their efforts. But we are always looking for more volunteers to help us with our farms, grounds and events. We’re always on the lookout for volunteers. Our needs vary from mass mailings to grounds work, decorating for the holidays to manning an admissions table at one of our fairs. We’re also in the process of creating a volunteer orientation to help ease interested folks into the society. 

What historic buildings are on the property? 

We have four historic buildings on our main campus: the Roseneath Cottage (ca. 1918), the Judge John Lawrence Smith Homestead (ca. 1750), the Franklin O. Arthur Farm (ca. 1740) and the Epenetus Smith Tavern (ca. 1740). We also have the Caleb Smith House (ca. 1819) and the Obadiah Smith House (ca. 1700) under our care, though they are off-campus. 

The Roseneath Cottage, our youngest building, serves as our main office; this arts and crafts bungalow underwent a complete restoration (and renovation!) when it became our headquarters. The homestead, while originally built by the Blyndenburgh family, became the family home and office of Judge John Lawrence Smith in the 1800s. As his health declined and he got older, court was moved from Riverhead to be tried in his personal chambers. It’s currently set up as it would have been during his life, complete with his study and parlor. 

The farm and the farmhouse have undergone some change throughout their lives; while the oldest part dates from the early 18th century, additions were made throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. The complex also includes a 19th-century barn (home to our sheep, pony and chickens!) and carriage house. 

The final historic home on the property would be the tavern; the pre-Revolutionary War structure was originally found on the corner of Middle Country and North Country roads in 1972, after having been moved twice before. It was a popular stop on the Brooklyn to Sag Harbor stagecoach route in the 1770s, and was used often by British soldiers during the Revolutionary War. Much like the farmhouse, the tavern has undergone some alterations throughout the centuries; the oldest bit dates to the 17th century, the main portion circa 1740; there were additions and alterations in the 19th and 20th centuries.

What is so special about Smithtown?

Smithtown is a town that really cares about its history and celebrates it. We have community members come to our events and say that it’s a tradition in their family to attend; they came as a kid with their parents and are excited to bring their own children today. The support we get from the town government also speaks to this — they’re very aware that one of the most special things about Smithtown is its history, and they go to every length to help preserve that. 

What do you love about your job?

I love that my job allows me to stay connected with the Smithtown community, while being able to add to it in a positive and impactful way.

Why is it so important to preserve our local
history?

Smithtown, up until 50 years or so ago, was pretty rural. It can be hard for today’s kids to imagine the open space, farms, etc. that used to make up their towns, especially when they get a look at Main Street today! Knowing where you come from is important; acknowledging those who came before you adds meaning to where you are now. For us to see clearly where we came from, that’s how we appreciate everything we have today.

Eric Powers shows participants a bat specimen.

By Heidi Sutton

The Smithtown Historical Society (SHS) teamed up with Ranger Eric Powers last Friday night to give our local bats a much needed helping hand. The North Shore community was invited to the historic Frank Brush Barn to learn about our mosquito-eating friends, build a bat house to take home and then stroll the grounds in hopes of catching a glimpse of these fascinating mammals.

David and Susan Henderson with their bat house

And the turnout was impressive as residents of all ages embraced the batty subject and enjoyed a wonderful educational evening. Participants were able to ask questions, had the opportunity to see a bat specimen up close and learned about the different styles of bat houses before assembling one of their own using plywood, screws and wood stain.

Powers was invited to present this program by Melissa Clements, the director of education at the SHS, who attended a bat workshop led by Powers a few months ago at Sands Point Preserve in Port Washington. “I had such a great time and enjoyed it so much,” she said, and couldn’t wait to bring Powers to Smithtown.

An ardent nature lover, Powers moved from Greeley, Colorado, to Long Island 20 years ago partially because “we live in this cool sweet spot where we have northern species and our own species and also southern species that come up — so there is this awesome convergence right here.”

Accompanied by his trusty sidekick, Gangsta, a 100-pound mush of a therapy dog, the wildlife biologist passionately spoke about one of his favorite animals, bats, and his mission to help them. “I’m focusing on bringing back nature, helping to restore the balance of nature, and a lot of that means supporting our natural ecosystem,” he said. And what better way to do that than with bats?

According to Powers, bats are important in so many ways. The only mammals that can fly, bats eat tons of flying insects including beetles, flies, moths, hatching termites and, most importantly, mosquitoes. “They’re out there eating bugs that are bugging us,” he laughed. They also play an important role as pollinators and seed dispersers.

Children stain their bat houses under the watchful eye of mom.

Aside from cats that are allowed to roam free, humans are the bat’s biggest threat. On top of dealing with habitat loss, “Everyone is spraying their property. There is such a chemical soup happening right now, all for killing bugs, killing beneficial insects,” he said sadly, continuing, “The bat’s food, flying bugs, is way down. The vast numbers of bugs are just not there anymore. And now, because we’re so out of balance with our ecosystem, the one thing that is surviving very well are mosquitoes.”

Before they got their hands dirty, Powers showed participants how to assemble a bat house, stressing that, when completed, it should be positioned at least 15 feet high on a tree or post and should be placed where the yard gets full sun from around noon to sunset. “Bats need a safe, warm place to hang out all day long.” Each bat house can accommodate up to 50 bats.

Dominick Domino of St. James decided to bring his daughter Hannah to the event. “It’s an activity we can do together,” he said. Hannah, who will attending summer camp at the historical society this summer, “is always interested about bats. She loves them.” The Dominos will be putting their new bat house in their garden.

Dominick and Hannah Domino show off their completed bat house.

David and Susan Henderson of Kings Park learned of the program on Instagram and decided to attend. “We love bats, they are just cute” said Susan, who received a bat house for Christmas. “We put it in our yard but we haven’t had bats yet so we were hoping to learn what we need to fix [to attract them].”

“We are looking forward to getting bats,” said David optimistically, as the couple finished assembling their second bat house.

For SHS Office Manager Victoria DelVento, the program was a great way to dispel any stigmas people have about bats and she was pleased with the wonderful and enthusiastic turnout. “Bats aren’t just for Halloween and they don’t suck your blood,” she laughed. “That was the point of this event.”

All photos by Heidi Sutton