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Frank Melville Memorial Foundation

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The Frank Melville Memorial Foundation board is set to begin an appeal to raise funds for the park’s mill. Photo by Rita J. Egan

Friends of Frank Melville Memorial Park will be invited to help restore an FMMP staple.

The trustees of the park’s Frank Melville Memorial Foundation are set to send out a letter in September announcing a fundraising campaign asking the community for financial assistance to help restore the mill located on the north side of the park. The restoration, which will include shingling the roof and sides, is estimated to cost more than $60,000, according to Robert Reuter, foundation president.

A closeup of the shingles used on the structure. Photo by Rita J. Egan

Reuter said the shingles that cover the roof and sides are the originals and are thicker than the average shingle. They also have irregular cuts on the ends, so rather than lining up in a straight line they have staggered bottoms. This effect will be reproduced during the restoration, according to Reuter. Restorations will also include necessary repairs to the mill’s wheel and trim elements.

“It’s a building in great need of repair,” he said.

Reuter explained that one thing that won’t be repaired is the ridge of the structure that has a noticeable swayback as it was designed to look that way, giving it an old mill feel.

Richard Haviland Smythe designed the simulated mill in the mid-1930s to represent a series of grist mills that once existed along waterways in Setauket, including one that was constructed in 1665 and located in the park, Reuter said. Smythe was the go-to architect for philanthropist Ward Melville and designed many local buildings, including structures in Old Field Farm and stores in the Stony Brook Village Center.

“It was meant to be a place marker and a reference to the mills of the past,” he said.

Reuter added the mill is sometimes called a landmark folly, and it was included in the original design of the park, which is loosely based on English garden principles.

“It’s a very important building in the park, and maybe the most photographed element in the park,” Reuter said. “I would say it’s one of those iconic images that everyone takes a photo of.”

He believes it also serves a purpose beyond aesthetics, because even though it’s not an operating mill, it has a working wheel and the building is used for the Frank Melville Memorial Foundation’s office. The mill is also used for tours and is a stop during the annual Culper Spy Day held in September.

“It allows us to tell the story of that part of our history,” Reuter said. “How the mills moved as the ponds filled in and the mills had to move down, and this represented the last position for a mill that [was in Setauket].”

Three Village Historical Society historian Beverly Tyler said the mill is a stop on the Founders Day tour that the society conducts every spring for fourth graders. It’s also featured on the Woodhull tour that the TVHS offers and he leads.

Tyler said the mill serves as a learning tool to teach participants about millers and craftsmen who worked in the area throughout the centuries, especially during the Colonial period. He explained millers did more than grind grains — often acting as a storekeeper and banker in town because they had the resources to loan money.

“Without the mill, we wouldn’t have the ability to teach it as easily and dramatically as we can by having the mill there and explaining how the mill pond works and why there is a mill pond,” Tyler said, adding the pond exists because water was backed up by a dam to enable milling.

Reuter said the board hopes to begin the restoration project this year, and two FMMF trustees already have made a combined pledge of up to $10,000 to match donations for the restoration. Those who donate $50 or more will receive the 2020 Four Harbors Audubon Society Calendar, which features selected photographs from the recent A Valentine to Whitman’s Paumanok photography exhibition held at the Bates House.

Renovations on the Red Barn in the Frank Melville Memorial Park, including straightening the building, were recently completed. Photo by Rita J. Egan

The weather was finally ideal for Frank Melville Memorial Park trustees, volunteers and friends to celebrate the completion of much-needed repairs to a historic structure.

Workers began restoring the park’s Red Barn at the beginning of September and completed the project a few months later. The 1,056 square-foot barn needed structural restoration, which included straightening, and the building up of the existing foundation to a level where it will be protected from flooding.

“The Melville Park is a historic oasis that now has an improved focal point, the Red Barn, to use to serve a larger population and build a new audience.”

— Kathryn Curran

On May 20 guests of the trustees enjoyed a reception complete with wine, hors d’oeuvres, dinner and desserts from Farm to Table Catering, as well as music from a few of The Jazz Loft performers.

Robert Reuter, president of the Frank Melville Memorial Foundation, thanked those who played a part in restoring the barn including Kathryn Curran, executive director of the Robert David Lion Gardiner Foundation, who helped to secure a $44,330 matching grant for the park.

“Kathryn Curran and the trustees of the foundation saw the real community value in what we’re doing here,” Reuter said. “I think they understood when they saw the application that this really is one of the centers of our community. It’s part of a large area that is rich in history, and it’s often interpreted as that by the historical society and some of the others who celebrate that history.”

He said in addition to the foundation’s endowment, the community’s support also played a big part in the restoration. Trustee Greg Ferguson’s family foundation and another trustee who wished to remain anonymous created a $10,000 matching challenge. Reuter said the trustees’ friends exceeded the goal and came close to matching the Gardiner grant. He said the balance needed for the barn came from park funds that were budgeted for park repairs.

Curran said the Gardiner Foundation seeks out projects through community outreach that advance regional history.

“The Melville Park is a historic oasis that now has an improved focal point, the Red Barn, to use to serve a larger population and build a new audience,” she said.

Curran said she and the foundation board members were pleased with the completed project. Scott Brown was chosen to work on the renovations by the FMMF board and has worked on other Gardiner projects including the Ketcham Inn in Center Moriches, the Modern Times Schoolhouse in Brentwood and the Caroline Church of Brookhaven’s Carriage Shed in Setauket.

“As a restoration carpenter Scott’s empathy to our historic sites is rooted in respect for their traditional construction,” Curran said. “His work helps bring these buildings back to life for their newly designated purposes.”

Results from a Brookhaven Town preliminary assessment show that two of four cottages at West Meadow Beach are structurally unsound. Photo from Herb Mones

Attendees at the June 5 Three Village Civic Association had the beach on their mind, but this time in terms of preservation, instead of recreation.

Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) addressed the meeting to update the civic association members about current town projects in the area. While the councilwoman covered a number of topics, the town’s recent preliminary assessment of four cottages at West Meadow Beach along with other concerns at the location produced a number of comments and questions from those in attendance.

Cartright said after an internal evaluation it appears two cottages are dilapidated and have been found structurally unsound, and possibly not salvageable. However, there is the potential to save a third one and use the fourth as an outdoor interpretive kiosk.

The councilwoman said in order to save a cottage a huge expense is incurred. When the ranger home was renovated it cost $500,000 to get it to a point where it was stable. Any costs to renovate a cottage would have to be funded by taxpayer money because West Meadow Beach is town-owned property. While an endowment fund was set up after the sale of former cottages at the beach, the town can only use the interest from that fund. According to Cartright, from 2011 to 2016 the account has averaged only $2,500 per year in comparison to $36,000 a year from 2004 to 2010.

“I wanted to make sure if these cottages are coming down that we have a report from someone outside of the town telling us that is necessary.”

— Valerie Cartright

“As you can expect there’s a lot of reluctance from people in the town as to putting in a certain amount of money into all of the different cottages that are in between the Gamecock Cottage and the ranger home,” she said.

Cartright said she is following standard operating procedure and has asked for an independent engineer to assess the cottages, and the town has complied with her request.

“I wanted to make sure if these cottages are coming down that we have a report from someone outside of the town telling us that is necessary,” she said.

She has also enlisted the help of state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) to secure funds from the state to help with restoring the cottages, if necessary.

The councilwoman said many residents have voiced their concerns to her about the dilapidated cottages.

Robert Reuter, president of the Frank Melville Memorial Foundation, said he believes the town hasn’t done their part in properly restoring and maintaining the cottages. He also said while he applauded Cartright and the town for their past attempts at preserving the Gamecock Cottage, some of the renovations were not up to par and appendages were added to the structure without consulting historic experts. He reminded those in attendance that West Meadow Beach is a historic district and that any money would be better spent preserving them for the time being and avoiding any possible demolition.

“We’re going to spend a great deal of money to tear them down and restore those sites,” Reuter said. “We can spend that money to preserve them for smarter people to think about it in the future.”

The councilwoman agreed with Reuter that the matter should be referred to the town’s historic district advisory committee, of which Reuter is a member, before a community meeting is held and the town makes a final decision.

Cartright feels West Meadow Beach has come a long way over the last few years despite problems in the past, including the appointment of a new ranger and consultant.

“When I came into office, I think we were at the point of where it just started to transition where people started to look at the beach as a beautiful preserve, whereas we should now be trying to preserve everything that is there and make it so that the community could actually enjoy this treasure,” she said.

Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn joined residents at the Setauket Neighborhood House for a conversation about pedestrian and cyclist safety. Photo by Rita J. Egan

One of the goals of the Three Village Community Trust is to identify the needs of local residents. Since March, with that objective in mind, the trust has been inviting residents to their Join the Conversation events at the Setauket Neighborhood House the fourth Thursday of every month.

At a May 25 meeting, led by Cynthia Barnes, president of the trust, the third of these conversations was held, this one about sharing the road safely. It was co-sponsored by Sidewalks for Safety, a grassroots organization dedicated to making the Three Village roads safer. Local residents were encouraged to discuss concerns about the safety of pedestrians and bicyclists both young and old in the area.

While Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), Dr. Nancy McLinksey and David Calone, former chair of the Suffolk County Planning Commission, were on hand for brief presentations about proposed enhancements for walkers and bikers as well as the health benefits of walking, the main event was the conversation of concerned residents.

A few attendees said they have witnessed many young people, especially Stony Brook University students who live off campus, not walking against traffic along Quaker Path and Christian Avenue. Many said they have seen children distracted while walking with headphones on, or texting. Another concern was expressed about cyclists who do not travel in the same direction as traffic, or have no rear lights on their bicycles.

Another attendee said the newly-paved Quaker Path, with 11-foot-wide lanes, has seemed to become an invitation for drivers to speed. He said the lines along the side of the road are very close to the edges, which pushes pedestrians and bicyclists into the grass at certain spots. He suggested that narrower lines be painted to create a protective space.

Robert Reuter, president of the Frank Melville Memorial Foundation, suggested in addition to restriping wide roads such as Quaker Path, that crosswalk graphics be painted as a better alternative to traditional signs on poles that can sometimes add to the dangers of the road by causing an obstruction.

“There is something, to me, very physical and powerful about graphics on the road, and in the case of Quaker Path, there are numerous key intersections where a crosswalk or a cross-street could be fine,” Reuter said. “Now this probably runs counter to all kinds of engineering sensibility about keeping traffic moving, but with paint, one can signal that there is something going on here that you should be aware of.”

Sidewalks were another issue of concern that had residents in support and against the idea in particular places. Jennifer Martin, Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Valerie Cartright’s (D-Port Jefferson Station) chief of staff, said having feedback from the community could help the town decide where to add them.

“There seems to be a general consensus about the need for sidewalks along 25A, but as of yet,  there’s not a community consensus about sidewalks in other parts of the community, especially when you get deeper into the residential areas,” she said.

One woman in attendance asked if there was a way for legislators to persuade residents to be more open to sidewalks, especially since the town owns six feet in front of each piece of property and can do whatever they want with it.

Another resident said while she respected the opinions of those who wanted sidewalks, she felt they needed to look at the historic reasons for not having them. 

Barnes diffused the debate though, saying there is more than one solution to the problem.

“Sidewalks are one of several solutions; it’s not the only solution,” Barnes said. “Some of it is the people who are driving in cars not paying attention. When you get behind the wheel you are a driving a huge weighty tank that can kill people if you’re not careful and paying attention.”

The Three Village Community Trust’s next Join the Conversation meeting is June 22 at 7 p.m. The talk will focus on Plum Island and will include a virtual tour by Louise Harrison, a conservation biologist and the New York natural areas coordinator for Save the Sound.