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Frank Melville Memorial Park

It’s time to garden!

Join the staff at Frank Melville Memorial Park, 1 Old Field Road, Setauket for a free gardening class at the Red Barn on Saturday, May 25 from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Come share garden success stories and Master Gardener Haig Seferian will answer your questions. And, no one will go home empty-handed. For more info, call 631-689-6146.

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Cormorant and snapping turtles relax on lower mill pond at Frank Melville Memorial Park. Photo by Beverly C. Tyler

By Beverly C. Tyler

The intersection of Main Street and Old Field Road in Setauket marks the entrance to the Frank Melville Memorial Park. The horseshoe-shaped park, completed in 1937, includes extensive plantings, a simulated grist mill, a magnificent view of Conscience Bay and the cottage of the last Setauket miller Everett Hawkins. From the park, there is an entrance to the Frank Melville Memorial Foundation sanctuary grounds with its extensive nature paths.

The Setauket Millpond was a center of commerce for the community from the time it was settled in 1655 until early in the 20th century. It is easy to imagine almost any time in Setauket history while in the park.

Looking out over the mill dam, Conscience Bay reflects the 8,000 years the Native Americans lived here before the English settlers came to Setauket. The mill tells the story of the farmer grinding grain in the 1700s. The recently restored red barn was originally made from World War I barracks buildings at Camp Upton in Yaphank. The stable remembers the horse Smokey and speaks of a 19th-century horse and carriage. The stone bridge relates how an immigrant great-grandson came to Setauket and gave it an image of the countryside of rural England and Europe with a park.

Just after dawn the Setauket Millpond shimmers with morning mist and reflects the early morning sky and the trees that partly surround it. Walking along the path in Frank Melville Memorial Park, the only sounds, except for the occasional car going by, are the birds in the trees and the ducks in the pond. They contrast with the greens, browns and grays of early morning. The contemplative surroundings start the day with the beauty of God’s creation and gives perspective to the rest of the day.

Birdsong by Beverly C. Tyler

Spring, the park at morning.

Woodpeckers rat-a-tat, the whoosh of wings — Canadian geese, a soft grouse call is heard.

Bird song, first near and then far, across
the pond.

Bird song left and right.

A gentle breeze turns the pond to silver, moving patterns of dark and light.

The background sounds of water flowing over the mill dam and into the bay.

Pairs of mallards gliding slowly across
the pond.

The trumpet calls of geese announcing flight as they rise from the pond and fly across the mill dam, across the marsh and into the bay.

Trees surrounding the pond make patterns of greens of every shade.

Dark evergreens and climbing vines add vertical splendor climbing skyward.

Bright green beech and silver-green sycamore trees stand stately and strong.

Patches of white dogwood add depth
and contrast.

A heron glides effortlessly across the surface of the pond, rises and disappears into the cover of a black birch tree.

I am overwhelmed by gentle sounds and contrasting scenery, by muted colors in every shade and texture.

Beverly C. 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.

Compliments of Anita Jo Lago

Hometown: Stony Brook

Day job: Production Manager for Marketing and Communications at Stony Brook Medicine.

“The rapid pace of invention in photography technologies has changed what we are capable of capturing. The art in photography is expanding and nothing seems impossible in terms of imagining what a photo can be of, look like or what camera (or mobile device) it can be taken with. Creativity has no boundaries and is never ending. To be riding that wave at this moment is very exciting.”

Photographer: “I started taking photos back in the late ‘80s on film cameras. I got more serious in 2002 when I started travelling and wanted to capture what I saw during walks around cities. After my office changed locations in 2014, I found myself passing the Frank Melville Park in Setauket daily. That sparked my curiosity in nature and started my latest adventure in photography.”

Favorite camera: “I find the Nikon D850 and the Canon 5D Mark 4 to be very challenging and rewarding cameras.”

Favorite lenses: “For macro photography (extreme close-up photography), Nikon 200mm f/4, Voigtlander 125mm f/2.5 and Canon 65mm f/2.8 are all fantastic lenses. They have taught me a true test of patience. Zoom lenses like the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G, Canon 100-400 f/4.5-5.6 and Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6E have a great range for capturing wildlife near and far.”

Favorite location: “Frank Melville Park is a hidden treasure. The environment and “vibe” of the park is peaceful. The Red Barn, Mill House and Bates House give the sense of history of the land and community. The North and South Ponds, the trails, the gardens, all contribute in ‘packing a punch’ when it comes to the beauty of nature and wildlife. Experiencing rare bird sightings, watching eggs hatch, nestlings learning to fly, bird migrations, reemerging turtles after winter hibernation, beekeeping … there are millions of happenings, hours of enjoyment, something for everyone. Every visit is a memorable one. Imagine taking photos there!

Other hobbies: “Besides spending time watching wildlife year-round, I enjoy computer technology, learning about mute swans, craft beer and finding a great slice of pizza!”  

Best advice to get that perfect shot: ‘Take photos of things that you’re immersed in, that you feel a deep connection with and that you love being around. If you shoot often enough, there comes a point where you don’t realize you have a camera in your hands and that your eye is looking through the viewfinder. There, you are in the zone — you found the sweet spot. Those are the photos that you will cherish as perfect.”

Favorite aspect about taking photos: Getting lost looking through the viewfinder. The excitement of seeing what I’m seeing is astonishing. There is so much discovery unfolding in nature that goes unnoticed. To have an opportunity to share those photo stories with others is extremely gratifying. It’s fulfilling to connect others to things they may never have an opportunity to experience and see firsthand.” 

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.”

SOME SPRINGTIME GREEN

Joe Kelly (www.joekayaker.com) captured this photo of a great egret in breeding colors and plumage at Frank Melville Memorial Park in Setauket on April 18. He writes, ‘You really can’t see much of the plumage in this shot but just look at the green in its face. Even the Hulk would be impressed with that color! Frank Melville Park is a good place to catch these guys in action. Come down to the park and take a stroll. It’s a beautiful place.’

Send your Photo of the Week to leisure@tbrnewspapers.com.

John Turner, center, points to a flock of common nighthawks passing overhead. Photo by Patricia Paladines

By Patrice Domeischel and John Turner

If you happen to have driven recently on Old Field Road in Setauket, where it crosses over Frank Melville Memorial Park, you may have noticed anywhere from a few to a dozen and a half people staring at all angles skyward with binoculars and wondered what’s got their attention. Looking at cloud formations? Maybe UFOs? Waiting for sunset? Watching the monarch butterfly migration? Or perhaps observing numerous bird species as they fly by?

If you picked the last choice, you’d be right (although any migrating monarchs are dutifully noted by observers too!). Specifically, these observers have tuned into an annual phenomenon — common nighthawks passing through Long Island on their annual migration, traveling from their breeding grounds in New England and Canada to their wintering grounds in South America.

These medium-sized birds with long wings that sport distinctive white bars may be seen agilely flitting incessantly over the pond, most often at dawn to an hour later and an hour before, right up until, dusk. These erratic flight movements are not a show for our pleasure but a feeding tactic employed to catch their main food source, small insects like midges, mosquitoes, gnats etc. on the wing.

The bird of the hour, the common nighthawk. Stock photo

Not a hawk at all, nighthawks are referred to as “goatsuckers” and are members of the Caprimulgidae family (capri, Latin for goat, and mulgare, Latin for milking). This name is derived from the mistaken belief, originating as early as 2000 years ago, that these wide-mouthed birds sucked the teats on farm goats. In actuality the birds were attracted to the insects stirred up by roving livestock. Other members of this family found on Long Island include the whip-poor-will and the Chuck-will’s-widow.

Common nighthawks, once a common breeder on Long Island (there have been no confirmed breeding records for several decades), and other members of the goatsucker family are experiencing population declines. Published data indicate that nationally common nighthawk numbers have dropped by more than 60 percent over the last 50 years.

This same trend has been seen in New York. Common nighthawks here have declined by 71 percent as a breeding bird between 1985 and 2005, whip-poor-will’s by 57 percent and Chuck-will’s-widows by 62 percent. Prime contributing factors are thought to include rampant pesticide use resulting in diminished insect populations and loss of nesting habitat (being ground nesters they are especially vulnerable to feral and free-roaming cats, fox, skunks and other mammalian predators) and pesticide use.

Pesticide use is highly significant as it has also been implicated in the decline of other birds that feed in the air who also depend upon small aerial insects — species such as swallows, swifts and flycatchers.

There are simply significantly less insects than there were a few decades ago, before the advent and widespread use of pesticides.

Nighthawks do not build a nest, but, as mentioned above, lay their eggs (typically two) directly on the ground, preferring gravelly surfaces. Old gravel rooftops in urban areas once provided additional, appealing nesting habitat for nighthawks, but many roofs are no longer surfaced with gravel, but of rubber, and are not a viable nesting alternative. The shift to other types of roofing materials is also thought to have contributed to a decline in nighthawk numbers.

At the stone bridge on Main Street, the Four Harbors Audubon Society, with the support of the board of the Frank Melville Memorial Park, is conducting a census of nighthawks in an effort to provide an additional source of data about population trends. It is hoped that an annual count, through time as information over the span of years is compiled, can provide additional data on the species’ population trends, helping to supplement the findings gained by the annual nationwide Breeding Bird Survey and periodic statewide Breeding Bird Atlas.

Local birder Richard Haimes, right, with his son and grandchildren, at a recent nighthawk watch at Frank Melville Memorial Park. Photo by Patrice Domeischel

Named the Frank Melville Stone Bridge Nighthawk Watch, pedestrians can watch each evening between 5:30 p.m. until dusk as Audubon members don their binoculars and tally nighthawks and any other avian or winged creature passing through. Several bats are regular visitors at dusk, and a bald eagle, peregrine falcon and other falcon species and hawks have been sighted as have ruby-throated hummingbirds, green herons, belted kingfishers and red-bellied woodpeckers.

It first became evident in October of 2016 when significant nighthawk migration was noticed and recorded at this location, that Frank Melville Park’s stone bridge lookout, with its open vistas overlooking the pond in both directions, might be a hot spot. It was recognized that this location was an important nighthawk migration thoroughfare and a great vantage point to witness them as they traveled through the area. It was also recognized as a hot spot for nighthawks due to the prolific hatch of aerial insects such as midges coming off the two ponds that become ready prey for these birds.

So, an idea was born of curiosity and the desire to help this fascinating, declining species. Why not conduct a common nighthawk survey at the stone bridge? There were questions that needed answering. When do nighthawks arrive here and in what numbers? Are they continuing to decline and at what rate? What can we do to help them?

The data, to date (the nighthawk counting season is not yet complete), have been quite interesting and exciting. The count has been as high as 573 on a wildly exciting evening, where there were “kettles” of birds, circling and feeding, to the only day where no nighthawks were spotted, on a windy, rainy, tropical storm day. Recent data also seem to indicate that most birds travel in a westerly direction, likely following the Long Island Sound coastline before continuing south.

Will data from coming years support our findings from this current year? Will our results mirror the national and statewide trends of declining abundance? Years of data will need to be collected and analyzed; a reliable conclusion cannot be reached based on one year’s findings. But each year’s count results will help us gain a better understanding of the common nighthawk, its numbers and migration trends, and through our research, better protections may be formulated and instituted. Until then, we continue to stand at the stone bridge and count, witness to the exciting phenomenon of nighthawk migration.

The Stone Bridge Nighthawk Count will be ongoing through Oct. 15. All are welcome. Bring your binoculars, your desire to see goatsuckers, and come watch the show. For more information or directions, please call 631-689-6146.

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.

Suffolk County Leg. Kara Hahn and recovering alcoholic and addict David Scofield answer questions posed by concerned parents at a past Three Village Drug & Alcohol Awareness meeting. File photo by Donna Newman

Heroin addiction can still be seen as a closely guarded secret in North Shore communities, but a couple of Three Village residents are doing their part to try to change that.

About 20 people were present Jan. 22 at the Bates House in Setauket for an informational meeting geared to help the loved ones of those battling heroin addiction. The addicts themselves were not present, but parents, grandparents, siblings, friends and other loved ones were, with the hope of gaining a greater understanding for how to combat the problem.

The gathering was a joint venture of both the public and private sectors, initiated by Lise Hintze, manager of the Bates House, a community venue in Frank Melville Memorial Park.

To help a loved one dealing with addiction call Lise Hintze 631-689-7054

“Pretending we don’t have a drug problem [in our community] only hurts the children and perpetuates the problem,” Hintze said. “I have a 19-year-old and a 21-year-old and we’ve been to too many funerals. Parents say ‘not my child, not in our town’ but it’s very real and it’s happening here.” 

Stony Brook resident Dori Scofield, who lost a son to heroin addiction in 2011, established Dan’s Foundation For Recovery in his memory to provide information and resources to others. Old Field resident Dana Miklos also has a son battling addiction and she wants to share what she has learned to empower parents and help them deal with addiction’s many challenges. The two represent the “private” interests.

“One of the reasons I wanted to come out and talk about it is to give parents ways to navigate through this horrible process,” Scofield said. “From being at the hospital when your son or daughter ODs and you know you have to get them into treatment, but you don’t know [how].”

Scofield said she dialed a 1-800 number someone had given her when her son overdosed and said she lucked out when the placement turned out to be a good one. She told the event attendees they need not “reach out to a stranger” as she did. She can help.

Miklos wants to eliminate the stigma that keeps affected families in hiding.

“I want parents to know the three Cs: they didn’t cause it, they can’t cure it, and they can’t control it,” she said. “We become so isolated [dealing with an addicted child] just when we should be talking to other parents, supporting each other.”   

Suffolk County Leg. Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), who has been working to alleviate the community’s drug problem since taking office, also participated in the event.

“In 2012, the first year I was in office, I couldn’t believe this would be something I could work on and change,” Hahn said. “But I wrote legislation that got Narcan — which is an antidote for opioid overdoses — for our police sector cars. Within a matter of days we were saving one, two, three a day. Within two weeks we had an officer who had two saves back to back.”

Hahn said she authored another bill that would make sure there was a follow-up for each person saved. A Narcan reversal saves a life, but does nothing to end the need for the drug and the cravings. The second piece of legislation tasks the health department with reaching out to those saved to attempt to get them into treatment.

A third piece of legislation she wrote provides training for lay people — like the group assembled at the Bates House — to carry and use Narcan. She encouraged all present to be trained and prepared.

The statistics Hahn gave for Narcan saves showed a steady increase over the last five years. In 2012 after passage of the legislation in August, there were 325 saves. Numbers rose year by year to 475 in 2013, 493 in 2014, 542 in 2015 and 681 in 2016 when at least 240 people died of overdoses, according to Hahn.

David Scofield, who has been sober for three years, delivered a message of hope for those in attendance.

“I don’t have the answers,” he said. “I do know how [it is] to be a kid struggling with drug addiction. This thing is killing people. Hundreds of people are dying from heroin addiction every day and you don’t hear about it. That’s just the truth.”

Scofield’s message also included a plea for loved ones of addicts to get past the stigma of addiction and bring the conversation to the community. As long as people hide the cause of death, he said, he believes kids will continue to die.

For information about this support group, call Lise Hintze 631-689-7054.

John Cunniffe in his Stony Brook Avenue office. Photo by Donna Newman

To John Cunniffe, a person who lacks a knowledge of history is like a tree without roots.

So to make sure the history of the Three Village community is alive and vibrant, he’s spent the last decade offering his considerable architectural acuity to various organizations dedicated to doing just that.

Cunniffe sees the value in preserving heritage. He pays attention to the smallest of details, striving for historical accuracy while providing renovations that work in today’s world.

“There are many professionals in our community who give generously of their services to our local nonprofit organizations, often pro bono or for reduced fees, but none quite like John Cunniffe,” said Robert Reuter, president of the Frank Melville Memorial Foundation. “He has helped jump-start and advance more important historic building projects throughout the Three Villages than I can count.”   

For his considerable contributions to the work being done by courageous nonprofits in preserving local historical edifices, for his unflagging willingness to lend his expertise to important local architecture projects and for his extreme generosity of time and spirit, John Cunniffe is one of Times Beacon Record News Media’s People of the Year for 2016.

“When someone essentially does ‘pro-bono’ work in their area of expertise — that made John’s involvement just that much more selfless.”

— David Sterne

Raised on Long Island, the 45-year-old Stony Brook resident received his architectural degree from the New York Institute of Technology. He has worked for the Weiss/Manfredi firm where he honed his design pedigree.

The Cunniffes decided to return to Long Island from Virginia 10 years ago and settled not far from the Soundview area of East Setauket, from which his wife Colleen Cunniffe hails. There they are raising their two daughters.

Now known for prestigious residential projects that value historic preservation, while creating contemporary architecture for his clients, he has also become the go-to architect for important restoration and preservation projects throughout the Three Village area, Reuter said.

Cunniffe donated his services to create the documents and secure the permits necessary to relocate and restore the historic Rubber Factory Worker Houses for the Three Village Community Trust. Soon he was handling work for the Setauket Neighborhood House, the Three Village Historical Society, the Frank Melville Memorial Park, The Long Island Museum, projects in the Bethel–Christian Avenue–Laurel Hill Historic District as well as the Caroline Church, Reuter added.

“They all needed an architect,” Reuter said. “They got more than they asked for — they got thorough project planning and exceptionally good design, as well as the necessary documents and permits.”

Along the way, Cunniffe represented the Stony Brook Historic District as a volunteer on the Town of Brookhaven’s Historic District Advisory Committee and advised the Setauket Fire Department on planning and design for the new headquarters building on Route 25A in Setauket.

Setauket Fire District Manager David Sterne said he feels grateful to have had Cunniffe’s participation in the planning for the new fire department structure.

“John was an integral part of the community committee for the planning and design of the new firehouse,” he said. “He attended most meetings and his insights, especially from his architect’s point of view, were invaluable. It’s one thing for a person to take part as a volunteer, but when someone essentially does ‘pro-bono’ work in their area of expertise — that made John’s involvement just that much more selfless.”

Brookhaven Town Historian Barbara Russell remembers where and when she first encountered Cunniffe. 

John Cunniffe constructed plans for the new Setauket Fire Department Headquarters on Route 25A in Setauket. Phto by Desirée Keegan

“I first met John when he was the representative from the Stony Brook Historic District to the Town’s Historic District Advisory Committee,” she said. “He always brought sound knowledge of architecture, a willingness to hear out the applicants and helpful suggestions to the meetings. Beyond his education in architecture, he has a sense of the importance of historical structures and how they fit into our community today.”

Russell said it is unique how Cunnife considers style, materials, location and history of a structure as well as how it has to conform to fit in today’s world.

“Whether it be its location in the community or the owner’s lifestyle, balancing all those variables takes a keen eye, and a heart for the type of work he does,” she said.

Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) said the Three Village area is a special place because of people like Cunniffe.

“Our extraordinary community is defined by caring people like John Cunniffe, whose professional architectural vision and personal commitment to volunteerism is a gift that enhances our sense of place,” he said. “We are indeed fortunate that John has chosen to invest his considerable talent and energies here.”

Reuter compared the architect’s work to another famous designer who worked in the area: Ward Melville’s architect.

“Richard Haviland Smythe did these sorts of community projects for his patron who generously funded them,” he said. “John Cunniffe is our modern day Smythe — if only we had modern day major patrons to move these many projects forward. John has been a wise, good-humored and essential partner.”

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