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History

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Centereach's cheerleading team competes at UCA nationals. Photo from Middle Country school district

By Desirée Keegan

All the girls wanted was to hear Centereach’s name called. When they heard they were going straight through to the Universal Cheerleaders Association national championship finals, they couldn’t have predicted the chain of events that would occur.

The Cougars had never reached the national finals. As the high of hearing they were in wore off, and they had to hit the stage the next day, the nerves started to kick back in.

Centereach’s cheerleading team competes at UCA nationals. Photo from Middle Country school district

“Nobody really talked,” junior Lynda D’Alessandro said. “We weren’t hyping each other up like we were the day before, we weren’t hitting — we weren’t confident in what we were doing.

It was just a different vibe. But as soon as we were getting ready to compete, everyone was saying, ‘C’mon, we’ve got this. Everyone’s been working so hard. It’s only 150 seconds, we can do it.’ At that point, I said to myself: ‘We’ve got it.”’

Centereach nailed its routine, and knowing they were up against three previous nationally-ranked Division II Large Varsity teams from Long Island, the girls weren’t sure where the chips would fall.

“We were shaking,” sophomore Corinne Michalski said as her team waited for the results to come in. “If you were sitting by that semicircle our team was probably the loudest because we were hysterically crying.”

The girls sat uneasy, fingers squeezed between one another as they heard team after team get called before them. Once the judges reached the Top 5, the Cougars couldn’t contain their excitement.

“If you ask me or anyone else, we would say ‘I don’t know how it looks; I don’t know if we’re going to do well,’” D’Alessandro said of her team’s mentality heading down to Florida to compete. “Hearing two national champion team’s names get called before us, I thought, ‘How does Centereach, a team that’s never made it past the preliminary round, go straight through and place ahead of them?”’

With two teams left, Centereach was finally called, and for the first time in school history Feb. 11, the cheer team placed at nationals.

Centereach’s cheerleading team competes at UCA nationals. Photo from Middle Country school district

Naturally, yelling and screaming ensued.

“It was a feeling like no other,” Michalski said. “None of us went down there expecting to do what we did. Every single week at local competitions we never even placed. We [faced] teams we never in our wildest dreams thought we could beat. It still feels like a dream; it doesn’t feel like I’m awake.”

Centereach had several members drop out at the beginning of the season, and pulled up an eighth-grader to fill the squad. Over the course of competition, the team was never at full strength, with a cheerleader or two usually sitting out due to injury or illness. Watching her team compete on the national stage in the preliminary round, head coach Stephani Catalano said she couldn’t believe her eyes. Her team was one of two from the field of 14 to hit a perfect routine.

“The first 26 seconds of our routine are the hardest part of our routine,” she said. “We say the second the arabesques hit, we know the rest of our routine we can hit without even thinking about it. It was amazing to see them use all their energy and finish a flawless routine. It truly left me speechless.”

She said her girls were determined moving into the finals. She said they never rested on their laurels.

Centereach cheerleaders excited after hitting their routine. Photo from Middle Country school district

“We wanted to earn that trophy,” Catalano said. “We didn’t want to rely on making it straight through past semifinals. We had a lot to prove. We didn’t get there by luck — we’re in a hard division, and we proved we deserve to be there. I know now their fire is going to burn brighter and bigger than it ever has.”

D’Alessandro said it’s Catalano who was the catalyst behind Middle Country school district making history. The four-year varsity coach graduated from Centereach. A former cheerleader for the Cougars, Catalano never made it to nationals, and was finally able to take her team the last two seasons. In 2017, the girls didn’t make it past the first round.

“Before her, we never placed at competitions; it was never possible,” the three-year varsity cheerleader said of her coach. “Stephani’s attitude and her heart and her passion for the sport made a complete difference. She has a lot of faith in us doing well, and that we’ll make her proud. She’s helped me not only become a better cheerleader, but a better person with the lessons that she’s taught me and my team.”

With the core of the Cougars returning next season, the girls are confident, despite the added pressure associated with finishing second. Catalano said the girls are already asking to start practicing.

“We can start off with more confidence instead of working up to it,” Michalski said.

Her teammate took it a step further.

“There’s no reason we can’t be national champions,” D’Alessandro said. “People keep coming up to me and congratulating me and all I can say it, ‘Thank you.’ Maybe in a week or two it will hit me — we’re second in the nation. I never expected us to make history for Middle Country, and we did it.”

Centereach’s cheerleading team competes at UCA nationals. Photo from Middle Country school district

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Someday other teams may be able to say they did it, but this Mount Sinai girls basketball team can say they did it first.

The Mustangs completed a perfect 20-0 regular season for the first time in school history with a 68-23 win against Hampton Bays at home on senior night Feb. 8.

Junior guard Gabby Sartori scored 21 points to lead Mount Sinai. She netted 17 points in the first half alone, going 6-for-6 from the free-throw line in the first quarter and banking 11 of 12 attempts from the charity stripe by halftime.

“I don’t think we quite know yet what we just did,” Sartori said, laughing. “I didn’t know how to react at first. It’s just so surreal right now. It’s been such a long season and to see it culminate in this is amazing.”

“I don’t think we quite know yet what we just did.”

— Gabby Sartori

Senior Kayla Repperger put Mount Sinai on the board first on the way to an early 14-4 lead after eight minutes. By halftime, the Mustangs extended the advantage to 37-9 after a monster second stanza, outscoring Hampton Bays 23-5.

After the last few games the Mustangs wanted to clean up their act. Eleven players scored in the total team win. Kylie Budke finished with nine points, Casey Campo added eight and Brooke Cergol contributed seven.

“I’m very happy for the girls, and very proud of them, because they worked so hard,” head coach Jeff Koutsantanou said. “They wanted to set the right tone heading into playoffs, so they came out with a new intensity tonight — they really wanted to prove to everybody they’re back. I always believed in this team and knew if they worked hard anything can happen. They earned this.”

Mount Sinai was a step ahead of Hampton Bays all game, getting in the passing lane and stealing the ball, converting transition opportunities into points.

“They have great instincts,” Koutsantanou said. “My girls have the ability to see things — that’s what we do best sometimes. Everyone was scoring, everyone was passing the ball, they played the way we’re capable of, and when they play like that the sky’s the limit.”

“They wanted to set the right tone heading into playoffs, so they came out with a new intensity tonight — they really wanted to prove to everybody they’re back.”

— Jeff Koutsantanou

Although going undefeated wasn’t the primary goal for this season — the Mustangs are focused on defending their Suffolk County title — as the unblemished season started to take form there was some fear of history repeating itself. Mount Sinai fell in a close last game of the 2016-17 season to Shoreham-Wading River.

“It was in the back of my mind — I was thinking about it all day,” Sartori said of the potential of losing in the last game. “But we played like a team today, got the job done early and that’s what really got us on top. It’s a sigh of relief.”

Senior captain Olivia Williams said this was just another step in the direction of her team’s ultimate goal.

“This historic run is something I’m going to remember forever,” she said. “We’re definitely going to have to put in extra work, but I feel confident that if we come together we can do it.”

The Mustangs will compete Feb. 17 in the Class A quarterfinals at home. The time is to be determined.

Sartori said even though every game presents a new challenge, she thinks her team has the talent to beat anyone.

“We’re not perfect right now,” she said. “Our record may show it, but we’re definitely going to face tougher competitors. I think we can’t dwell on this for long. We’ll celebrate for the time being, but we have to get back to work tomorrow. That’s what’s great about our team — we can shift gears quick. Playoffs are definitely going to be a different atmosphere and we need to be ready for it.”

This version was updated Feb. 9 at 11:30 a.m. with additional information.

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The 'pink house’ in Belle Terre Village as it's being demolished in November. Photo from Historical Port Jefferson Facebook page

An iconic Port Jefferson landmark located on the Belle Terre bluffs and previously owned by a Bulgarian countess and movie star is no more.

Colloquially referred to as “the pink house” for its bubblegum-hued exterior paint job, the 30 bedroom home located at 161 Cliff Road was built in 1870 and was nearly 19,000 square feet, according to the Town of Brookhaven assessment roll. It was demolished during November, according to a Belle Terre Village employee, though the village declined to comment further on the house or property when asked why it was demolished or if the owner needed village permission to do so.

The home was recently owned and occupied by Countess Nadia de Navarro-Farber, who died in 2014, according to an obituary on the O.B. Davis Funeral Homes website. A November legal notice from Belle Terre Village indicated a public hearing was held Nov. 28 based on the request of the property’s current owner, Yuri Farber, who is seeking to build a new two-story residence on the premises, the notice said. Farber is listed as the countess’ husband in her obituary. He could not be reached for comment.

“It’s just a total icon, you won’t run into anyone in the area who doesn’t know it,” a Facebook user named Theonie Makidis said in a discussion that took place on a page with more than 5,000 followers dedicated to sharing stories and photos related to the history of Port Jefferson. “Kind of an enigma as well because it was extremely private and secluded — being parked right in front of it you couldn’t see it at all between the bushes and the gates, but you may be lucky enough to catch a small glimpse of the (almost as iconic) green gardener’s house. The only way you could really see this home for its true beauty is when you were on a boat on the water and you’d look up and there it was up on the bluff, comforting, reliable and breathtaking. It will be missed; it’s heartbreaking and the end of an era.”

Scenes from the 1989 comedy “She Devil” starring Roseanne Barr and Meryl Streep were shot at the pink house, which added to its iconic reputation. The countess was born to a noble family in Bulgaria and starred in several black-and-white movies in her home country, the obituary said. She moved to New York in 1949 and lived in Belle Terre for more than 40 years. She was twice honored by John T. Mather Memorial Hospital for her generosity, and her propensity to donate her time and money to help the hospital.

“The countess was very generous at Christmas time [as] she had many parties for the local kids,” poster Ernie Rositzke said in the Facebook thread. “Some of the gifts were mink teddy bears all lined up sitting on the staircase leading upstairs. She was a very generous women, lots of pleasant memories.”

Several community members lamented the loss of the local monument, where some said they attended hospital fundraisers and other events or took wedding photos. Another poster said being from Port Jefferson Station, it was a destination simply worth “taking a ride past” to see it. An area fisherman said the house even served as a marker for those fishing from a boat.

“Obviously the owner can do what he likes with his property, but this particular one means a little something to many of us,” Warren Handy, an administrator of the Historical Port Jefferson Facebook group, said in the thread.

Randall Woodard, 97, reflects on meeting Roosevelt, a life and roots in the village, military service

Then 12-year-old Randall Woodard, Gilbert Kinner and New York Gov. Franklin Roosevelt in Port Jeff in 1932. Photo from Warren Woodard

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but in one case, a picture is worth almost 100 years of history.

On Dec. 8, 1941, 76 years ago to the day, then president of the United States, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, delivered his “day which will live in infamy” speech during a joint session of Congress in response to Japan’s attack on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii Dec. 7. The address served as the precursor to the U.S. finally joining World War II and taking up the fight against the Axis powers. He went on to serve as president until his death in 1945, preventing him from completing his fourth term in office, a feat in itself, as no other American president has served more than two terms.

In the summer of 1932 just before his first presidential campaign, Roosevelt, an avid sailor, made a recreational stop in Port Jefferson Harbor.

Woodard and son Warren during a recent trip to Washington, D.C. Photo from Warren Woodard

At the time, Roosevelt was the governor of New York and the Democratic Party nominee for the general presidential election that fall. He defeated incumbent President Herbert Hoover to win the highest office in the land in November 1932. During the visit, Roosevelt took a photo aboard a sailboat with two youngsters from Port Jeff, one of whom is still alive residing in the village.

Randall Woodard was born Sept. 3, 1920, in his home on Prospect Street. His family has deep roots in Port Jefferson, though his ancestors can be traced back even further to Southold in 1664.

“I wasn’t there that day,” Woodard quipped during a November visit to the Times Beacon Record News Media office in Setauket, accompanied by his youngest son, Warren, and Richard Olson, a longtime Port Jefferson School District history teacher who has since retired.

Woodard’s father Grover was the school district manager in Port Jeff, and actually hired Earl L. Vandermeulen, who the high school was eventually named after. His wife Barbara worked in the elementary school under Edna Louise Spear, the eventual namesake of the same school. Though he said he didn’t meet any other presidents in his life, Woodard met Albert Einstein once, and his grandmother heard Abraham Lincoln give a speech in New York. Woodard went on to have two sons and a daughter, who were all raised in Port Jeff in a house on the corner of High Street and Myrtle Avenue.

The photo of Woodard, his childhood friend Gilbert Kinner and the soon-to-be president of the United States is a cherished possession of the Woodard family. Warren joked there’s a framed copy hanging in every room of his house.

Woodard said on the day he met Roosevelt that he and Kinner were sailing his family’s 12-foot mahogany vessel around Port Jefferson Harbor on a warm summer morning in June or July.

At about 10 a.m., two or three seaplanes landed in the harbor and taxied over to the beach near the east end of the waterfront near the famous Bayles Dock. Woodard, who was 12 years old at the time, said he and Kinner noticed a large crowd gathering near the dock, so they decided to sail over and see what the commotion was all about.

“I think I could take you.”

— Randall Woodard

They approached the black yawl sailing craft tied to the dock with a man wearing a white sun hat seated in the cockpit. Woodard said he still remembers noticing the metal braces on Roosevelt’s legs and a pack of cigarettes on the seat next to him.

“The whole waterfront of Port Jeff was people,” Woodard said. Roosevelt was waiting for his four sons, who were running late, to arrive to begin a vacation cruise.

The Democratic National Convention had just selected him as the party’s nominee for the presidential election that fall, and it was too early to begin campaigning. While he waited for his sons to arrive, Roosevelt and the reporters milling in the vicinity suggested the candidate should be in a photo with the two boys. Woodard and Kinner boarded, and “Vote for Roosevelt” hats were placed on their heads to wear in the photo. Woodard recalled that Kinner took the hat off, tossed it in the cockpit and calmly said, “My father is a Republican.”

Woodard said there was an even more memorable interaction from the meeting when Roosevelt asked him, “How does the boat sail?” Young Randall responded, “I think I could take you.”

He referred to the then-governor’s vessel as “badly designed,” with a laugh during the interview. He said eventually Roosevelt and the others took off sailing in the Long Island Sound. Woodard and his friend tried to keep up with Roosevelt for as long as they could until the soon-to-be president was out of sight.

“We kids went to the movies for a week straight just to see ourselves on the Pathé News movies,” Woodard wrote in a 2004 account of the day.

Woodard and his son Warren shared a story about seeing by chance a clip of 12-year-old Randall dancing on Roosevelt’s boat in a documentary about past presidents decades later. Warren said they purchased multiple copies of the documentary on DVD.

“We kids went to the movies for a week straight just to see ourselves on the Pathé News movies.”

— Randall Woodard

Woodard’s life and interests would intersect with Roosevelt’s in other ways later in life. His daughter Tracy was diagnosed with polio in 1949, which also famously afflicted Roosevelt. Woodard’s affinity for boating only grew after 1932, and he eventually went on to serve in the U.S. Navy, where Roosevelt had previously served as the assistant secretary prior to his years as governor.

The Woodards owned several sailboats and fishing boats through the years. In 1936, Randall and his older brothers, twins Martin and Merwin, finished tied for first among 2,000 other competitors worldwide for the Snipe Class International championship. Through the years he often competed in races and experienced more-than-modest levels of success.

After graduating from Port Jefferson High School in 1938, Woodard attended The Citadel military college in South Carolina.

“The war was on the horizon in Europe and a military college made sense at that time,” he wrote in 2004. He joked he and a high school friend went to Citadel because their grades were not good enough to attend the U.S. Naval or Coast Guard academies.

“I was not a hero,” Woodard said. “If we didn’t have a Marine Corps we’d still be over there. I was in enough tight spots to know.”

After graduating from The Citadel with a degree in civil engineering, he became a Seabee officer in the U.S. Naval Construction Battalions. The Seabees, as they were called — a play on “CB” for Construction Battalion — were deployed to Pearl Harbor in the aftermath of the Japanese attack to reconstruct damaged bulkheads, dredge the ocean floor to allow ships passage and assemble barges and causeways in preparation for an amphibious attack, according to Woodard. During his training prior to deployment while stationed in Rhode Island, Woodard was aboard the world’s largest sea tow, which was an experimental floating airfield slated for assembly in Alaska. The airfield was not needed, and broken-up pieces were used during the Normandy Invasion on D-Day.

“The war was on the horizon in Europe and a military college made sense at that time.”

— Randall Woodard

He was part of a mission headed to a series of islands in the Pacific near Japan in May 1944, weeks before the beaches were stormed in Normandy. Nine days after D-Day, aboard a craft carrying four barges Woodard was responsible for overseeing, the U.S. Marine Corps invaded Saipan, a Japanese-held island. Woodard and the Seabees contributed to the mission by using the barges to unload ammunition, gasoline and other supplies.

One day a Japanese Zero aircraft flew low and attacked his flat steel barge with little options in the way of hiding places. He said he pulled out his handgun and fired two rounds at the aircraft, which eventually went down.

“I probably missed, but the plane crashed into the side of a freighter,” he wrote in 2004. He said his barges survived for five weeks until the island was secure. After the victory over Japan, he spent six months at Navy Department Bureau of Yards and Docks in Washington, D.C., where he met Barbara Brown, whom he later married. Woodard said he remained in the Navy reserves for about 15 years.

When he returned home, Woodard worked for years as a civil engineer. In the 1950s he was the resident engineer overseeing a series of contracts to construct the Northern State and Sunken Meadow parkways, and said he was responsible for the construction of all of the parkway overpasses in Nassau and Suffolk counties.

This post was updated Dec. 8 to correct the date of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s 1941 speech.

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A postcard of a family canal boat on the Erie Canal being pulled by mules. Image from Beverly C. Tyler

By Beverly C. Tyler

The changes in transportation that began in the early 1800s were dramatic and far-reaching. They made it possible to lower costs of food and fuel, expand settlements, open western New York and the Midwest and provide employment for thousands of immigrants. Before steam power, transportation on land was limited to walking, riding horses and going by horse and wagon. On the water there were sloops, schooners and larger ships that traveled around the world. All of these were dependent on organic modes of transportation: wind, current, animals and feet.

By the 1850s and 1860s schooners, barks and full-rigged ships were setting speed records on the China trade route and around Cape Horn to the California coast. Sloops and schooners brought goods to and from Long Island, carried cordwood into New York City and eventually carried coal from Jersey City and Newark to communities on Long Island.

Because it was so difficult and time consuming to sail upstream, great American rivers such as the Hudson in New York and the Connecticut River remained underutilized. It was realized that the steam engine applied to a boat would allow for on-demand propulsion for the first time in human history. In the first decade of the 1800s, New York State offered a prize, the exclusive commercial route up the Hudson River, for the first steamboat to travel the route at an average of 4 mph.

May 1895 the schooner Commerce, loaded with 91 tons of eggs and stove coal, left Perth Amboy and sailed with the cargo to New London, Connecticut. Painting by Ron Druett; photo by Beverly C. Tyler

Robert Fulton, an artist in Paris and a self-styled engineer, with financing by Robert R. Livingston, realized that a large paddlewheel, attached to the side of the vessel, rather than a screw propeller at the stern, was the answer to go upstream. In August 1807, Fulton’s North River Steamboat achieved 5 mph from Manhattan to Albany, and he received the prize.

DeWitt Clinton, mayor of New York and former U.S. senator, was elected governor in 1816. He began construction of the Erie Canal from Lake Erie to the Hudson River with state and private funding on July 4, 1817. The canal opened in sections and every section became proof of the canal’s value as a propeller of commerce. Completed in 1825, the canal quickly exceeded all expectations. Goods from Cleveland got to Manhattan within days. Chicago was easily accessible from New York. The Erie Canal was the first large commercial canal in America.

By 1862, the canal had a depth of 7 feet and could handle boats carrying 240 tons. In 1882, the canal was made free. It had earned $42 million above the original cost and the expenses of enlargement, maintenance and operation. The success of the Erie Canal set off canal mania in other states: the Ohio and Erie Canal from Cleveland to the Ohio River 350 miles south and the Miami and Erie Canal from Toledo to Cincinnati. By 1830, the population in the Northwest (now the Midwest) doubled to 1.6 million and by 1840 doubled again to 3.3 million. Canals had opened what is now known as the Midwest. By 1850, the two major American ports were New York and New Orleans.

Now areas near the Great Lakes — from the Allegheny River to Pittsburgh and the Monongahela to the Ohio to the Mississippi, to the Gulf of Mexico — were commercially more connected to the American south than to the Atlantic coast with its population in the millions. The Wabash and Erie Canal was a shipping canal that linked the Great Lakes to the Ohio River via an artificial waterway. The canal provided traders with access from the Great Lakes all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. Over 460 miles long, it was the longest canal ever built in North America. Due to canal mania in the north, the railroads were slow in starting, lacking investment and behind the British in the manufacture of iron. By 1837, there were only 1,500 miles of track in America. Track construction accelerated right after the panic of 1837. By 1840, Cornelius Vanderbilt had bought and sold enough steamships and steamship routes to amass a fortune. Running through Long Island Sound, Vanderbilt had the fastest boats from Manhattan to Providence to Boston. Canals and steamboats made long-distance transportation viable, but canals were a temporary solution. The railroads would soon become the vehicle that united America with steam power.

In the next History Close at Hand article, railroads, specifically the Long Island Rail Road, will be explored. 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.

Veterans Dan Guida, Gary Suzik and Joseph Cognitore during a visit to Rocky Point High School to commemorate Veterans Day. Photo by Rich Acritelli

By Rich Acritelli

This week marks the 63rd anniversary of the first Veterans Day, Nov. 11, 1954, as declared by President Eisenhower, an annual remembrance of national service.

“On that day let us solemnly remember the sacrifices of all those who fought so valiantly, on the seas, in the air, and on foreign shores, to preserve our heritage of freedom,” Eisenhower said.

Many North Shore residents have served at home and abroad to protect the freedom of the United States. Just recently, proud veterans from VFW Post 6249 in Rocky Point were interviewed by members of the Rocky Point High School History Honor Society about their years in uniform.

The first veteran to be interviewed was Gary Suzik, who is a resident of Rocky Point. The native of Michigan’s upper peninsula grew up playing football, hockey and downhill skiing and still has a touch of his Mid-western accent. He served in the U.S. Navy for four years and was stationed on the USS LaSalle, where he helped guide the landing craft. As it turned out, this was one of the last ships to be built locally at the historic Brooklyn Navy Yard. Suzik said he is immensely proud of his duty on a vessel that saw naval missions for more than 40 years in every corner of the world. The ship and crew even helped retrieve the Gemini capsule, a spacecraft carrying two astronauts, after it landed from an early space mission.

Suzik participated in operations in the Mediterranean Sea, where he visited ports in Italy and France. He was also deployed to Cuba and the Caribbean during the Dominican Civil War in 1965. It was common for this ship to carry about 400 sailors and 500 to 600 Marines who  utilized landing crafts to assault enemy forces in hot spots around the globe. Suzik mentioned how the ship had the honor of carrying Admiral John McCain Jr., who is the father of senator, noted Vietnam veteran and prisoner of war John McCain (R-Arizona). Veterans Day is a special moment for Suzik as he recalls not only his memories, but that of his father who fought during the Battle of the Bulge in World War II and other family members who were also in the military.

Dan Guida grew up in Nassau County and currently lives in Wading River. His mother had nine brothers, of which seven served in the military during World War II. Since his youth, Guida said he learned the importance of national service from stories that were presented to him by his uncle. After high school, Guida was granted a temporary military deferment in order to attend St. John’s University in Jamaica, Queens, but a short time later, he decided to leave school and was drafted into the Army. With some college behind him, Guida was accepted into the Army Officer Candidate School and became a second lieutenant. Today around the post, many of the VFW members cheerfully refer to him as “Lieutenant Dan,” a reference to the film “Forrest Gump.”

From 1967 to 1968, Guida served in Vietnam with the I Corps. As an officer, he was responsible to direct tanks, armored personnel carriers and the trucks that operated within the northern areas of South Vietnam, not too far from Da Nang and the demilitarized zone. Guida recalled the tanks didn’t function well within the terrain of Vietnam through the heavy rains that saturated the grounds and made it difficult for American armor to gain enough traction in the mud. He shared interesting insights into the buildup to the war with the students.

Later, Guida utilized the GI Bill to attend Nassau Community College and Hofstra University, where he majored in accounting. He held a job as an accountant for a good part of his life and he still happily holds financial responsibilities today for Post 6249. The Wading River resident said Veterans Day is a moment that our citizens should be thankful for the sacrifices that past, present and future veterans have made toward the security of this nation. Guida said he saw that gratitude as he entered the high school before the interview. He had a big smile on his face when a younger Rocky Point student personally thanked him for his service.

Rocky Point resident and local commander of VFW Post 6249, Joseph Cognitore was also asked about his time in the service by the students. While Guida saw the earlier part of the war, Cognitore, who was drafted into the Army, endured the latter phase of fighting in Vietnam. From 1969 to 1970, he was a platoon sergeant that served in the air cavalry that transported soldiers by helicopters into various areas of the country. 

Cognitore was tasked to conduct “search and destroy” missions against the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese Army who were situated in caves, tunnels, jungles and mountains. He also fought in Cambodia against an enemy that utilized the strength of the Ho Chi Minh trail to move troops and materials through the country to attack American and South Vietnamese forces.

Cognitore said it took a long time to put the war behind him. During the Gulf War in the early ’90s, he joined the VFW and rose to be its commander and to hold prominent leadership positions within the local, state and national levels of the organization. He said he is constantly reminded of his combat tours through injuries to his legs that have left him hobbling for years.

Cognitore views every day as Veterans Day. Each day he answers countless emails and telephone calls to help men and women that have served at home and abroad. Recently, Cognitore helped spearhead a golf outing that has raised over $200,000 to help the Wounded Warriors. One of the most important qualities the students were treated to during the interview was the camaraderie the veterans have toward each other, a dynamic likely strengthened by Post 6249’s daily mission of helping every veteran.

Rich Acritelli is a social studies teacher at Rocky Point High School and an adjunct professor of American history at Suffolk County Community College.

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A historic look at Smithtown’s first LIRR trestle. Photo from the Smithtown Historical Society

By Marianne Howard

It wasn’t until the arrival of the Long Island Rail Road and a few transportation innovations that Smithtown began to flourish as a place to live.

Prior to the LIRR arriving in 1872, Smithtown was solely connected to New York City through the Long Island Sound transport and dirt roadways. With the railroad, travelers from New York City were free to access areas like St. James and Kings Park as day trips, which previously would have never been considered.

As more and more people began coming into town, economic and business development around town boomed. Local farmers could now load wagons full of produce onto flatbed railroad cars headed for New York City. Travelers who initially came east for fresh air eventually concluded that there were residential possibilities in Smithtown and settled into the area.  However, the horse and buggy was the most accessible way to travel on the area’s dirt roads.

Old Hauppauge Road in 1910. Photo from the Smithtown Historical Society

Country sleighing was a favored pastime by early residents, according to “Images of America: Smithtown” written by Bradley Harris, Kiernan Lannon and Joshua Ruff. The book cites Alma Blydenbyrgh’s 1833 diary entry for Jan. 17 , in which she wrote, “Mr. Floyd been to the river and took Em and myself for a sleigh ride. Good sleighing!”

Getting to and from Smithtown remained difficult for years to come. The main obstacle to Smithtown’s connection to the northern spur of the LIRR was the Nissequogue River. To accomplish fully connecting the LIRR, engineers crafted a trestle to span the river valley, the largest iron structure of its kind on Long Island. When completed, it stood over 50 feet high and spanned a distance of 490 feet.

In the 1890s, bicycles first became a popular fad in the area. Bicyclists were urging the town and the county to construct dedicated bicycle paths to improve riders’ safety. Millionare Richard Handley personally funded a bike path from his estate in Hauppauge out to Smithtown. Eventually, Suffolk County constructed a path along Jericho Turnpike. 

Bicycling quickly became a nuisance to town officials. In 1911, Smithtown’s town board issued a motion banning bicyclists from riding on town sidewalks. Any rider caught violating the order could be fined up to $5.

Thirty years after the railroad came to town, automobiles began appearing. By the 1920s, the automobile was replacing the horse and buggy. Town officials were eventually forced to pave the roadways, and by the 1930s, the town was primed for a boom in both population and land development.

Marianne Howard is the executive director of the Smithtown Historical Society. For more information on the society, its events or programs or on becoming a member, visit www.smithtownhistorical.org or call 631-265-6768.

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This past week, we went “shufflin’ off to Buffalo.” Bet you don’t know where that expression came from. I certainly didn’t know that “Shuffle Off to Buffalo” is a song from Act II of the 1933 movie, “42nd Street,” and that it was a railroad saying even earlier. All I had to say was that I was going to Buffalo, and the response was immediate: “Shufflin’ off?” I was asked.

The second reaction was also the same. “Better bring your long underwear,” I was urged. “And a shovel. Is it snowing there yet?” Well, I’m going to tell you that Buffalo gets a bum rap. First of all, it was 82 degrees in the afternoon when it was only 80 degrees on Long Island. Fortunately I had passed on the suggested long underwear. I did bring a pair of shorts, but I did not wear them because I didn’t see anyone wearing shorts in the city. When I am traveling, I’m a big believer in the “When in Rome” adage.

Actually the city looked quite pleasant to me, larger than I had imagined, clean and with a fair share of tall buildings. The population of more than 250,000 residents makes it the second largest city in the state. I understand that Buffalo, like a number of rust-belt cities, has undergone quite a face-lift.

Admittedly I did not see much of it since I was there for the fall meeting of the New York Press Association, and that meant I was locked into the hotel site where the workshops were held. But we did have a chance to look around a bit when we went out to the Anchor Bar, where Buffalo chicken wings were allegedly invented. It’s a pleasant and good-sized sports bar, and most people at the tables were, sure enough, having chicken wings with blue-cheese dip and cut-up celery sticks on the side, although one lady was eating a good-looking dish of shrimp scampi. She must have been a native.

In the way of cultural attractions, the city has an art museum, a science museum, a theater district, multiple art galleries, and the historic Martin House that was recommended for viewing. Buffalo was once the scene of considerable wealth from the auto industry, where Pierce-Arrow automobiles were manufactured, also the railroads and the Erie Canal. As a result there are a number of urban mansions. It also has a river walk on Lake Erie that houses several eateries. Food, in fact, is big. And people we met, in restaurants, the hotel and on the streets were friendly and unhurried — such a change of pace for a native New Yorker like me or even someone born and bred on Long Island. It always helps when the weather is beautiful, which it was for our entire stay.

The Buffalo Transportation Pierce-Arrow Museum was enough to make lovers of antique automobiles cry for joy. The museum, which is large and planning to get larger, also has antique bikes and motorcycles, all in seemingly shiny new condition. And it even houses a filling station designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. It’s a remarkable piece of architecture.

It was an eight-hour drive from Bridgeport, where the ferry docked, to Buffalo, and that does not count the stops. The roads are excellent, the roadside trees just beginning to suggest autumnal colors, and we spent one night on the way up in Canandaigua, about an hour and a half from Buffalo.

In the heart of the beautiful Finger Lakes region, the area is deservedly famous for its Riesling wines, which I confess to having tasted. The village, its name derived from the Seneca tribe, was the scene of the Susan B. Anthony trial in which she was accused of voting illegally in 1873, since women were not then allowed to vote. She was found guilty and fined $100 with costs, which she did not pay.

Colleagues were surprised that we drove to Buffalo rather than just flying there, but I remembered from a previous trip many years ago, when I was a high school student, that the Mohawk Valley and upper New York state are truly lovely destinations. This trip confirmed that memory.

While going through items in his mother’s house Three Village historian Beverly Tyler discovers more about his family’s history, which included ownership of Tyler General Store circa 1890. Photo from Beverly Tyler

Beverly Tyler

Growing up in Setauket, first in my grandmother’s house and post office and then in the family home that dates to about 1740, I was aware that my ancestors had lived there for four generations. However, I was not conscious of the details of those families, nor did I realize that the material collection of those four generations was still in the house, packed, in most cases, carefully away in trunks, chests, barrels, boxes, tins and other assorted containers.

My mom died in August of last year, and my family members and I began the process of preparing for an estate sale of the contents of the house. We didn’t have to concern ourselves with the house itself as Mom made a wonderful deal with the Three Village Community Trust, which will eventually take ownership of the house and three acres.

While going through items in his mother’s house, above circa 1900, Three Village historian Beverly Tyler discovers more about his family’s history. Photo from Beverly Tyler

As we began opening trunks, boxes and closets, we discovered clothing, china, glassware, photographs and many other objects dating from the 19th century and even a few items dating to the 18th century. One of the discoveries was music composed and written by my great-grandfather, George Washington Hale Griffin, who worked at various times with both Christy’s and Hooley’s Minstrels in New York City and Chicago. I even discovered at least one piece of church music he wrote.

While I was growing up, I learned, through her letters home, about my great aunt, Mary Swift Jones, who voyaged to China and Japan from 1858 to 1861, in a 150-foot bark built in East Setauket Harbor by her Uncle William Bacon, whose father left England in 1796 to come to Long Island to work in the Blue Point Iron Works. His journal entries were among family papers I researched, even traveling to his hometown in Derbyshire, England, to discover where he came from and why he left. Many of these archival papers and artifacts, dating to the last three centuries, have been given to various Long Island museums and historical societies, while others are to be included in the estate sale.

What I didn’t realize was that the first two generations to live in the house were direct ancestors of my wife Barbara and that the original part of the house had just three bedrooms, which was home to families that each had five children.

When the house and farm were sold to my ancestors in the first decade of the 19th century, it became home to two generations of nine children, still in a home with three bedrooms. It was not until 1879 that an addition was added with two additional bedrooms upstairs, well after my grandfather and six of his eight siblings had married and moved on.

When the house and farm were sold to my ancestors in the first decade of the 19th century, it became home to two generations of nine children, still in a home with three bedrooms.”

I knew from an early age that my great-grandfather, Charles B. Tyler, and my two unmarried great aunts, Annie and Corinne, had remained in the house their entire lives. My family ran a general store for about 100 years in front of our house on the corner of Main Street and Old Field Road. After Charles died in 1899, Annie ran the post office, except for two terms of the President Cleveland administration when the postmaster position was given to party loyalists, and Corinne ran the general store. In the 1930s they closed the store and donated the building to the local American Legion post. The legion moved the building up Main Street where it sits today near the Setauket Methodist Church.

I treasure the knowledge that my ancestors left so many records of their existence. However, many of the individual photographs and photo albums, especially those dating to the 19th century, are of people I do not recognize and are, for the most part, unidentified. Only their clothing, hair styles and poses give hints to their time period and possibly their identity. Everyone I meet who has come face to face with family material from the past says the same thing, “I wish I had asked more questions when I had the opportunity.”

There are many avenues to explore to discover more about the people we love and the ancestors we know so little about. Take the time to learn more about your heritage and the history of the community where you live and label your photographs. The Three Village Historical Society and the Emma S. Clark Memorial Library are both good places to start, with helpful people who have the time, the talent and the desire to help you discover the links to your family and community history.

Beverly Tyler is the Three Village Historical Society historian and author of books available from the society located at 93 North Country Road, Setauket. For more information, call 631-751-3730 or visit www.tvhs.org.

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Almost everyone likes movies. But have you ever fantasized about making a movie? Now I’m not talking about a home movie of the kids swimming or starring in a play. I mean the big stuff, with lights, camera, action, Hollywood director’s chair, first-tier actors and bullhorn. Well, our newspapers are now in the filmmaking business, and it was history that made us do it.

History, particularly our local history about the Revolutionary War – the battle of Long Island, the Battle of Setauket, Nathan Hale and the Setauket Spies are as exciting to read as any stories today. In fact, they are remarkably relevant, as aspects of the Constitution are regularly part of our political discussions today. For what were the Patriots fighting, putting their lives and possessions on the line, bleeding and dying? And what are we doing with that heritage?

History makes for great storytelling, as the producers of “TURN” on AMC discovered over the last four years. Their version of history was inspired by fact but strung together by fiction. So on the anniversary of the Setauket Spy Ring last year, we  filmed a dramatic narrative of the Culper Spies wholly based on fact. To our great delight, that short film, which is on our website and YouTube, Facebook and other places, won first prize from the New York Press Association for video made by a newspaper.

Encouraged by our success and entranced by the many triumphant and also heart-wrenching stories that happened right here on Long Island some 240 years ago, we are making a full-length film this year, and we begin shooting locally this weekend. This time we are going all the way, with a cast of professional producers, directors, actors and first-rate equipment. The set is a work of art in itself, a recreation of the fort in the Battle of Long Island in Brooklyn Heights. We have 135 re-enactors coming from distant parts — Saratoga, New York; members of our own Long Island Third New York regiment; Murrysville, Pennsylvania; and Fairfield, Connecticut — to stage the battle that almost lost the Revolutionary War before it even truly began. They will be carrying authentic muskets, shooting gunpowder, spilling blood and gore profusely (thanks to our famous special effects person) and otherwise re-creating history. Best of all about this film, we are delving into the lives and personalities of the historic figures whose actions made victory possible. Be assured that we are characterizing them authentically, both colonists and British, fleshing out what details have come down to us from historians and corroborated by our local historical societies.

Several local organizations, institutions and residents are helping to support and underwrite this ambitious production: The Ward Melville Heritage Organization, the Three Village Historical Society, The State University at Stony Brook, the Society for the Preservation of Long Island Antiquities (SPLIA), Theatre Three and the law firm of Glynn Mercep & Purcell. Some support is not so local, perhaps including the Fraunces Tavern Museum in New York City and the Nathan Hale Homestead Museum in Coventry, Connecticut. Many places have indicated their interest in showing the film, including some local teachers and administrators. What a painless way to teach local history.

As we have been reaching out to the many people involved in this venture, we have come across many enriching details. For example, the Sherwood-Jayne Farm, where some of the action takes place, has original planking from Founding Spy Benjamin Tallmadge’s home, the Brewster House was a tavern and home of a cousin of fellow Culper Spy, Caleb Brewster, historic Benner’s Farm where we are doing some of the filming, comes down to us over the centuries, and the 1709 Thompson House, home of a local doctor, is one the beautiful preservations of the WMHO. And by the way, the Caroline Church on the Green in Setauket has a musket ball lodged in its steeple.

History is the glue that holds a community together, and our particular history is the platform on which our nation was built. We are proud to bring these stories to you on film, as well as in print, and we invite any organizations, businesses and residents who might like to be credited with making this production a reality to contact us directly. Call me at 631-751-7744 and become a part of the history of our hometowns.

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