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History

Historian pens new book on local amusement parks of yesteryear

Actors, including local resident Jane Owen playing the notorious outlaw Belle Starr, pose in front of the bank at Dodge City in Patchogue. Photo from the Eaton family

Living in Suffolk County, we’ve all heard of Splish Splash, Chuck E. Cheese’s, Dave and Buster’s, Boomers, Adventureland and the Long Island Game Farm. But how many of us have ever heard of Frontier City, Fairytown USA, Dodge City or Turner’s Amusement Park?

Photo from The History Press
Photo from The History Press

Historian Marisa L. Berman’s latest book, “Historic Amusement Parks of Long Island: 118 Miles of Memories” (The History Press) takes us on a nostalgic journey to explore the kiddie parks of Queens, Brooklyn, Nassau and Suffolk that are now just a distant memory. According to Berman, this book is “a celebration of the amusement parks that Long Islanders have loved and unfortunately have lost. … [It] will tell the story of Long Island through the memories of its children.”

Berman’s first book centered on Nunley’s Amusement Park in Baldwin, which she often visited as a child. At book signings, according to her second book’s introduction, many people would mention other parks on Long Island that they had fond memories of and she “quickly realized that there were many more stories that needed to be told.”

The author reached out to sources on Facebook and received many photographs, stories and memorabilia from people who had visited these parks. After much research and numerous interviews, the book finally came together.

All of the 33 amusement parks featured in the book opened in the 1940s and ‘50s, with the exception of Playland Park in Freeport, which opened in 1924 and closed in 1931. Berman attributes this to the many veterans who moved east from the city to Long Island to raise their families after World War II and the need to “entertain the masses.”

Each park is described in vivid detail, from inception to closing, from admission prices to rides, including what is in that location today — almost always a shopping mall or store. The wonderful black-and-white photographs, 80 in all, pull everything together.

Many of the kiddie parks featured a petting zoo, carnival rides and a train, but each had its own special niche. In our neck of the woods, there were western-themed parks like Dodge City in Patchogue, on the corner of Sunrise Highway and Waverly Avenue, and Frontier City in Amityville, on Route 110, complete with a bank, jail, cemetery, general store and sheriff’s office.

Children ride the miniature train at Lollipop Farm in 1952. Photo by Kathryn Abbe, courtesy of SPLIA
Children ride the miniature train at Lollipop Farm in 1952. Photo by Kathryn Abbe, courtesy of SPLIA

Fairytown USA in Middle Island, which was located across from Artist Lake on Middle Country Road, consisted of a storybook-inspired village and sections with themes like Planet Mars and Mother Goose. Farther west, Lollipop Farm in Syosset had a miniature train that carried children around the four-acre farm. The train miraculously survived, stored in pieces in a barn, and was recently lovingly restored by the Greenlawn-Centerport Historical Association.

The majority of the defunct parks’ artifacts, however, have been lost forever. Mostly family-owned and operated, Berman attributes the parks’ demise to the decline of the baby boom in the mid-1960s.

By the end of the book, Berman will have the reader yearning for a simpler and more innocent time, “a time when there was nothing better than your parents bringing you to your park so you could play and just enjoy being a kid.”

Todd Berkun, founder of the Facebook page “Long Island and NYC Places That Are No More,” sums it up perfectly in the foreword: “Whether you spent time in these parks growing up or live on the Island now and have wondered about their glorious past, this book is for you. As a testament to an era of great fun and enjoyment on the Island, this work describes a vibrant and important part of Long Island’s history.”

“Historic Amusement Parks of Long Island: 118 Miles of Memories,” $21.99, is available at local retailers and online bookstores. It is also available through Arcadia Publishing and The History Press by calling 888-313-2665 or by visiting www.arcadiapublishing.com.

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A typical Highlander: The breed is well adapted to the extreme Scottish weather. Photo from Beverly Tyler

By Beverly C. Tyler

Scotland is a wonderful, wild and surprising place to visit.

My wife, Barbara, and I spent three days exploring The Trossachs National Park. We stayed in the village of Balloch at a bed-and-breakfast on a farm. George was a dairy farmer who had to sell his herd due to rising costs and lower milk prices. Sheila, his wife ran the B&B, Dumbain Farm, in a beautiful converted building that was the dairy barn.

The first day we drove to Luss, a 19th-century village that used to house slate quarry workers. Recognized as one of Scotland’s loveliest villages it is filled with many original stone cottages strewn with flowers and vines of every color and texture. We took walks around the village and through the farmland and former quarries around it. The paths are beautifully laid out and a delight to walk. We discovered a number of spoil heaps from the slate quarries; these remnants of the slate mining were clearly visible. In the afternoon we took a cruise on Loch Lomond. It was cold and cloudy but the scenery was spectacular.

The only downside was the almost complete lack of commentary. All the information you need to explore the villages, walks, hikes and lochs is on the website www.visitscotland.com.

The next day, Father’s Day (June 21), we drove through the incredibly beautiful Queen Elizabeth Forest Park to Loch Katrine. What superb vistas. We had a wonderful conversation on the loch cruise with a Scottish couple who were biking back from the other end of the lake. We saw a very pretty cottage built for Queen Victoria along the loch bank; she was visiting for the opening of the water supply from Katrine to Glasgow.

Unfortunately her 21-gun salute by the firing of cannons blew out all the cottage windows so she could not stay there.

We had lunch at the restaurant at the pier and dads were free for Father’s Day. We drove to Callander as the sun came out and walked a mile-and-a-half round-trip to Bracklinn Falls.

The water flows over and around gigantic slate stones that form walls around the falls. Along the walk we saw many sheep as well as long-haired Highland cattle, which are well adapted to the harsh climate. We had dinner in the oldest registered licensed pub in Scotland, The Clachan Inn (1734), in the village of Drymen.

The next day we left Dumbain Farm and drove to Glasgow, the largest city in Scotland. We enjoyed the Riverside Museum and the 245-foot barque Glenlee (1896), permanently moored alongside the museum.

The barque has a well done and interesting tour, with information on the 15-man crew and how they fared as seamen over the years on various ships. The Glenlee and thousands of other ships were built here along the River Clyde including the Queen Elizabeth 2, also known as the QE2. The decline of shipbuilding has left Glasgow with only tourism as a riverside industry, but it is now a vibrant city.

We had just time enough in the day to stop at the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum and viewed exhibits on Glasgow’s history, among others. The museum is housed in a most elegant Spanish Baroque building.

Beverly Tyler is the Three Village Historical Society historian.

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Photo from Jeff Bressler

The Smithtown Fire Department is in the final stages of having its historic 1935 Mack Ladder Truck fully restored. A Department Restoration Committee has been given the task of having this piece of Long Island history returned to its former glory.

The restoration is not using Fire Department funds or taxpayer dollars for the project. The entire restoration is being funded by the generosity of Smithtown Fire Department members and the general community.

For the second consecutive year the Restoration Committee will host a chicken barbecue at 5 p.m. on Aug. 1, featuring the sounds of South Bound, a popular Long Island country band. Entry is $25 in advance or $30 on the day of the event.

Last year’s event was enthusiastically received with hundreds of music lovers in attendance to enjoy a complete BBQ chicken dinner, hamburgers, hot dogs, soda, beer and wine. The event is held on the scenic Nissequogue River at the department’s River Property, located behind 419 West Main St., Smithtown.

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Historical society launches campaign to restore home by its 300th anniversary in 2020

The William Miller House turned 295 years old over the weekend. The birthday celebration also kicked off the Miller Place-Mount Sinai Historical Society’s five-year fundraising initiative to restore the oldest home in Miller Place by its 300th birthday. Photo by Erin Dueñas

By Erin Dueñas

The William Miller House celebrated its 295th birthday on Sunday, complete with balloons, music and even a replica cake of the house. But in spite of the festivities, old age is catching up to the oldest house in Miller Place, which is in need of a long list of repairs and updates.

The house, located on North Country Road in the historic district of Miller Place, is the headquarters of the Miller Place-Mount Sinai Historical Society. Built in 1720, the house is on the National Register of Historic Places and is significant for the very few changes that have been made to the home’s interior and look over the centuries. The house showcases artifacts ranging from doctor’s equipment and farm tools to children’s toys and furniture from the 1800s.

“It’s a living museum,” said Antoinette Donato, vice president of the society.

Donato said the birthday party was the kickoff to a five-year campaign, which seeks community assistance in order to get the repairs completed in time for the house’s 300th anniversary in 2020.

The society acquired the home in 1979 from the estate of Harry Millard, the last descendant of William Miller, and restored it in the early 1980s.

“We’re working very diligently to get the house up to snuff,” Donato said, noting the house is in desperate need of a new roof as well as repairs to sixteen windows, paint, and doors that need adjusting so that they can open and close properly.

“We need it to be authentically restored,” Donato continued. “It can only be done by skilled craftsmen that have the expertise of historical restoration.”

Society President Gerard Mannarino blows out the birthday cake candles. Photo by Erin Dueñas
Society President Gerard Mannarino blows out the birthday cake candles. Photo by Erin Dueñas

According to society President Gerard Mannarino, who was presented with a proclamation from Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) at the party, estimates for the roof came in close to $20,000, with the least expensive at $18,000. He said that without help from the community, there is a slim chance the society will be able to foot the bill.

“We need people to join the society; it helps us,” Mannarino said. “We are hoping the party will get us exposure to get people interested in us.”

The society is currently constructing a brick pathway, which extends from the street up to the post office on the grounds of the house. Bricks can be purchased for $100 and personalized, and all proceeds benefit the Society.

“My big push is to get 200 families from Miller Place to purchase one of these bricks,” Mannarino said. “That’s the money to fix the roof.”

Mannarino said Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) has been a huge help to the society’s efforts over the years, securing grants that allowed them to continue offering programs to the community.

“She’s our biggest fan,” Mannarino said.

Anker said people need to be motivated to help the society, echoing Mannarino’s goal of getting support from local families.

“We need to prioritize getting these renovations done,” she said.

Donato stressed it is the efforts of the society’s volunteers who deserve credit for getting so much accomplished at the house so far.

“I call them the silent vigilantes — they see that things need to be done and they just do it,” she said. “They understand the importance of the history here.”

One of those volunteers is Miller Place’s Doug Flynn, who saw a loose and splintered board on the porch of the post office and quietly repaired the board and gave the whole porch a fresh coat of paint.

“I enjoy fixing things,” Flynn said. “There is so much to be done here, whatever I can do, I do it.”

Society trustee Margaret Dosher Cibulka chaired the birthday party committee. She said she was pleased with the way the party turned out and noted its importance to the community’s history.

“It was wonderful in all respects,” she said. “The purpose was to acquaint the community with the value of the house.”

“It’s the beginning of Miller Place,” she said. “We need to preserve it so the children realize what a jewel they have in their own community.”

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The stark beauty of Glen Coe complete with a piper. Photo from Beverly Tyler

By Beverly C. Tyler

Scotland is a wonderful, wild and surprising place to visit.

A part of the United Kingdom, Scotland demonstrates an independent spirit, single malt whisky and haggis, a traditional food that defies categorization. Scotland has many wonderful heroes, and movies have been made about some of them.

Scotland also raised poets, writers and scientists as well as a number of kings, queens, lords and ladies, some of whom literally lost their heads. Growing up, I was thrilled by the adventures of Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott. Abbotsford, his home and gardens are an hour south of Edinburgh.

My wife, Barbara, and I have wanted to visit Scotland for a number of years, and this June we spent a week exploring some of the Scottish Highlands and the Trossachs National Park around Loch Lomond and Loch Katrine.

We drove a rental car from Manchester Airport to Edinburgh, where we spent the first three nights. We started the first day in Edinburgh by taking a one-day, 12-hour small-group bus tour to Glen Coe, Loch Ness and the Scottish Highlands.

It was a wonderful introduction to Scotland and we had a very knowledgeable and good-natured driver and guide.

We stopped at Glen Coe, where we took in the stark beauty and listened to a Scot playing the bagpipes. There, a most tragic and moving story was played out in 1692, when 38 men of the Clan MacDonald were massacred by the Campbells who had accepted their hospitality, on the grounds that the MacDonalds had not been prompt in pledging allegiance to the new monarchs, William and Mary. Another 40 women and children died of exposure after their homes were burned.

At Fort Augustus, we watched boats going through the three locks between Loch Ness and the canal that took them to the next lock. Loch Ness, reputed home of the mythical monster, and Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in the British Isles, are both scenes of landscape beauty. The weather adds to the overall effect.

In contrast, the next day, we toured The Royal Yacht Britannia, which was a favorite of Queen Elizabeth II. It is now permanently berthed in Edinburgh and the self-guided audio tour was the best organized. In the tea and lunchroom, we were treated like royalty and the story of the ship, the royals who lived on it and the men and women who worked on it was clear, informative and enlightening.

We walked the Royal Mile in Edinburgh from the castle to the Palace of Holyroodhouse. We especially enjoyed The Scotch Whisky Experience tour and learned a lot about single malt scotch.

We also enjoyed the gigantic Museum of Childhood and the John Knox House. We learned a lot about Knox, his life and his turbulent relationship with Mary, Queen of Scots. We also toured St. Giles’ Cathedral where Knox preached reform leading to the abdication of Mary.

We learned about regional differences in scotch whisky as well as a great deal about the relationships of the people of Scotland to each other and to the English. It is a turbulent history of a strong, self-reliant people.

The next three days we headed north and west into the area of the Trossachs National Park. This is one of the most beautiful areas of Scotland. We drove first to the tiny village of Balquhidder and along its narrow roads, often sharing them with bike riders. We then drove farther north to Killin, which is known for the falls that flow through the town and at one time provided milling power. Here and throughout Scotland and England are walking trails that go along lochs (lakes in England) and through fields, farms and villages. It was a delight for the eye and refreshing beauty for the soul. To be continued.

Beverly Tyler is the Three Village Historical Society historian.

The barracks of the 124th Illinois Infantry in Vicksburg, Miss. Photo in the public domain

By Rich Acritelli

Independence Day commemorates the birth of our nation as well as a day when the Union Army notched a huge victory during the Civil War. It was a July 4 more than 150 years ago that saw some of the most serious fighting ever to take place on U.S. soil.

President Abraham Lincoln wanted desperately to end the Civil War and preserve the Union. By mid-1863, the only way to accomplish that goal was to destroy the southern will to fight. Lincoln’s most important leader was Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, who in 1861 was a shop clerk in his family’s store in Illinois. Nobody, including Grant, could have foreseen his quick rise from obscurity to one of the best fighting figures the nation ever produced.

Gen. Ulysses S. Grant poses in Virginia in 1864. Photo in the public domain
Gen. Ulysses S. Grant poses in Virginia in 1864. Photo in the public domain

During the war, Lincoln grew increasingly bitter toward the officers tasked with attacking the South. He detested Gen. George B. McClellan and later fired him for his unwillingness to crush the rebellion in Northern Virginia. For two years, the Army of the Potomac became a revolving door for other officers who failed to defeat Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.

Lincoln had a limited military background, serving as a captain during the Black Hawk War between the U.S. and Native Americans three decades earlier, but took his job as commander-in-chief seriously. One of his most important decisions was keeping Grant as the head of the Army of the Tennessee after the 1862 Battle of Shiloh and in the face of rumors that Grant was an alcoholic and unable to carry out his duties.

Grant’s rise to commanding general began during the Battle of Vicksburg.

Vicksburg was known as the “Gibraltar of the Confederacy” and the “citadel” on the Mississippi River. Early in the Civil War, Grant understood taking that location would divide the Confederacy, open the river to Union naval and commerce shipping and prevent resources from reaching Lee in Northern Virginia. Grant was determined to destroy it.

In April 1863, he saw he would only gain a victory by moving his army south and attacking Vicksburg on the same side of the Mississippi held by the enemy. This was a risky decision — one that could win or lose the war in the West. The campaign involved Grant cutting off his own supply and communication lines, with he and his men living off the land using the lessons he learned while fighting in the Mexican-American War. If he and his fellow soldiers could survive in the deserts and heat of Mexico, the Civil War fighters could do the same with the hearty agriculture, cattle and poultry resources in Mississippi.

On April 16, with his wife and youngest son Frederick next to him, Grant ordered a naval flotilla of gunboats and barges to make the perilous journey south. The Confederacy opened up its vast armaments but failed to destroy the ships, and Grant turned his gamble into a string of victories that led to the demise of Vicksburg.

Through July 4, Lincoln watched in amazement as the general decisively drove against the enemy. When one politician suggested the operation was a failure and that Grant was again drinking too much, Lincoln retorted that Grant was engaged in some of the most serious and successful fighting the world had ever known.

It was a cunning campaign to operate within the Confederacy. Southern Gens. Joseph E. Johnston and John C. Pemberton both commanded larger forces but under the attack of Grant’s Union Army were unable to combine their forces in battle. In Washington, D.C., Lincoln watched Grant take Jackson, Miss., the home of Confederate President Jefferson Davis, thereby cutting off the supply, communication and transportation links that supported Vicksburg.

In late May 1863, Grant began a 48-day siege that trapped Pemberton, a native of Pennsylvania, and his forces on the Mississippi River. By July 4, Pemberton’s men were starving and had lost their morale; they surrendered. On our nation’s birthday, Grant took 31,000 Confederate soldiers as prisoners of war, and seized 172 cannons and 60,000 rifles.

Church bells rang out in northern cities to celebrate the Army of the Tennessee’s efforts to finally take Vicksburg in one of the most vital campaigns of the war, on the road to reuniting America.

Rich Acritelli is a social studies teacher at Rocky Point High School and an adjunct professor of American history at Suffolk County Community College. He was a staff sergeant in the New York Air National Guard 106th Rescue Wing in Westhampton Beach.

The Chicken Hill community was located in the area of Route 25A and Main Street in Setauket. Photo from the Three Village Historical Society

The American Association for State and Local History (AASLH) recently announced the winners of the 70th annual Leadership in History Awards, the most prestigious recognition for achievement in the preservation and interpretation of state and local history.

Of 60 national awards honoring people, projects, exhibits, books and organizations, the Three Village Historical Society in Setauket was chosen to receive the 2015 Leadership in History Award of Merit for its current exhibit, “Chicken Hill: A Community Lost to Time.” The Award of Merit is presented for excellence in history programs, projects and people when compared with similar activities nationwide.

“The Leadership in History Awards is AASLH’s highest distinction and the winners represent the best in the field,” Trina Nelson Thomas, the awards chair and director of AASLH said in a statement.

The distinction is one Frank Turano, the curator of the exhibit, is very excited about.

“It’s an honor, a privilege,” he said. “It puts our organization in very elite company. The AASLH does not give out this award in every state every year, so it is a very, very selective award.”

“Chicken Hill: A Community Lost to Time” explores a particular neighborhood, formed in the mid-nineteenth century, that surrounded the Setauket United Methodist Church on Route 25A and Main Street in Setauket. At its height in the 1930s and 1940s, it was a community of workmen/laborers and businessmen comprised of immigrants from Poland, Lithuania, Russia and Italy as well as African Americans and Native Americans.

According to Turano, the Chicken Hill community dispersed in the 1960s when the Three Village area became a suburban community.

Asked what the inspiration was for creating this display, Turano said, “This exhibit honors people who have been the backbone of this community for as long as this community existed and people [who] were largely overlooked. They helped build the community, they help maintain the community today, and they largely are taken for granted or overlooked.”

The Chicken Hill exhibit has been warmly received by the community but Turano noticed that the general public “simply did not know that this community existed.”

“If someone spoke of Chicken Hill [in the past], more often than not, it was in disparaging terms and what I wanted to do with this exhibit was have people recognize the significance of that community,” he said.

The exhibit is constantly evolving, as the society is always accepting more memorabilia, stories and photos from the community. Since its inception last June, the Chicken Hill exhibit has now almost three times as many photos in its archives, which have been scanned and placed on digital frames. “We’ve built flexibility into the exhibit,” explained Turano. In addition, the exhibit includes a video featuring stories from residents who grew up in the community and an 1860 Robert Nunns piano recently restored by Michael Costa of Costa Piano Shoppes in Port Jefferson Station.

The award will be presented at a special banquet during the 2015 AASLH annual meeting in Louisville, Ky., on Sept. 18.

“It’s been a privilege working with the people that called Chicken Hill home and I have to thank society Archivist Karen Martin, Carlton “Hub” Edwards and the members of the [Three Village Historical Society] Rhodes committee who provided the information used to put the exhibit together,” Turano said.

“Chicken Hill: A Community Lost to Time” is currently available for viewing at the Three Village Historical Society, 93 North Country Road, Setauket, from 1 to 4 p.m. on Sundays and by appointment. For more information, call 631-751-2676 or visit www.tvhs.org.

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Overview of the slave trade out of Africa. Photo from Yale University Press

By Beverly C. Tyler

A book titled “The Logbooks: Connecticut’s Slave Ships and Human Memory,” by Anne Farrow, uses a log of three voyages over a period of 20 months in the first half of the 18th century, recorded by a young Connecticut man who went on to captain slave ships and privateers, to tell a much wider and disturbing story.

Farrow’s book connects Dudley Saltonstall, the Connecticut man who kept the log books, to the unknown slaves who were transported from Africa, then to the men in Africa who first enslaved them, to the ships that transported them across the Atlantic, and finally to the men who purchased them to work to death in the Caribbean sugar plantations and in the rice plantations of America’s southern colonies.

Farrow, a former Connecticut newspaper reporter, said the story of African-American people must be told over and over, from the beginning. She said she believes that it has not yet been absorbed into the family of stories told and retold about America and that the story of injustice and suffering still has not made its way into the national narrative.

Unknown to most Americans is the fact that colonial Connecticut had been a major hotbed of British West Indies plantations where slaves were growing and processing sugar in a monoculture that yielded huge profits to England. In addition, Rhode Island men were at the helm of 90 percent of the ships that brought the captives to the American south, an estimated 900 ships.

Farrow noted that over the course of two centuries an estimated three million Africans were carried to islands in the Caribbean to grow sugar.

Farrow’s book, compact enough to be read in just a few days, is an engaging, local and personal history. The story of the Connecticut and Long Island Sound men who took part in the slave trade is disturbingly real.

It brings into focus the way many of our own prosperous and influential Long Island families made their fortunes. It doesn’t change who they were or who we are, but it provides us with a clearer understanding of the pain and suffering caused by their actions.

Farrow emphasizes that we should acknowledge what was done and keep it as a reminder of man’s inhumanity to man and how we are continually striving, often unsuccessfully, to make our lives better for all.

The book is also the story of her mother’s declining memory due to dementia, the memories her mother would never recover, and the log books, the story she did recover.

Farrow wrote, “I couldn’t avoid the contrast between what was happening to my mother’s memory and the historical memory I was studying, which seemed so fractured and incomplete.”

It is again and again evident from Farrow’s research and gripping prose that slavery was not just a southern problem. Slavery served white people in the north and in the south. Farrow notes that the killing uncertainties of life as a captive were linked to the state of bondage not geography.

In spite of the federal law prohibiting the importation of slaves from Africa, slaves were still being transported from Africa across the Atlantic until at least the beginning of the American Civil War. The story of one of our own East Setauket slave ships, Wanderer, was detailed in my column two weeks ago. I must apologize that the name of the primary author of that article, William B. Minuse, was omitted from the opening credits.

Beverly Tyler is the Three Village Historical Society historian.

Book launch to be held at annual members reception

The front cover of Stephanie Gress’s new book. Image from Vanderbilt Museum

Stephanie Gress knows more about the history of William K. Vanderbilt II than most people. As director of curatorial affairs for the Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum for eight years¸ she is the steward of Mr. Vanderbilt’s legacy, his estate, mansion and museum collections.

Using that extensive knowledge and a trove of rare photographs from the Vanderbilt archives, Gress created a richly illustrated book, Eagle’s Nest: The William K. Vanderbilt II Estate. Its cover photo, from the Vanderbilt Museum archives, is by the noted New York City photographer Drix Duryea. The picture shows the bell tower and one wing of the mansion in the late 1920s, before the Memorial Wing enclosed the courtyard.

The book was published June 1, by Arcadia Publishing in South Carolina, the leading local-history publisher in the United States. The Vanderbilt will celebrate the book’s official launch at its annual Members Reception on Sunday, June 28.

Gress noted that the release of the book is well-timed, as the development of the Eagle’s Nest estate is in its centennial decade: “This book tells readers about the Vanderbilt family, why Mr. Vanderbilt came here and built the estate, how the place changed over the years based on changes in his life, and how we use it today.”

Vanderbilt, known as Willie K., purchased the first parcel of what would become 43 acres for his Northport Bay waterfront estate in 1910, and hired the eminent New York City architectural firm of Warren & Wetmore to design and build it. The firm had designed Grand Central Terminal in Manhattan for Cornelius Vanderbilt’s New York Central Railroad. Cornelius was William’s great-grandfather.

Eagle’s Nest is the easternmost Gold Coast mansion on Long Island’s affluent North Shore. From 1910 to 1944, the palatial, 24-room, Spanish-Revival mansion was Willie K.’s summer hideaway. There he hosted intimate gatherings of Vanderbilt family members and close friends — including the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, legendary golfer Sam Snead, and the Tiffanys.

“Mr. Vanderbilt embarked on many of his legendary world voyages from Eagle’s Nest,” Gress said, “along with a 50-person crew and a few, fortunate invited passengers.” During his travels, she said, he collected natural-history and marine specimens and ethnographic artifacts from around the globe.

With the help of scientists and experts from the America Museum of Natural History, he created exhibits in the galleries at the estate to showcase his collections.  Mr. Vanderbilt died in 1944. His wife Rosamund continued to live in the mansion until her death in 1947.  Vanderbilt’s will bequeathed his estate and museum to Suffolk County. In 1950, it was opened to the public as the Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum. The estate is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

“Much to the credit of Willie K., Eagle’s Nest continues to fulfill his intended mission,” Gress wrote in the conclusion of the book. “Visitors from all over the world come to see one of the few remaining Long Island Gold Coast estates with its original furnishings. His collections remain on display and they continue to fascinate and entertain.”

Eagle’s Nest is available for purchase on the Arcadia Publishing, Amazon and Barnes & Noble websites, in the Vanderbilt Museum Gift Shop and in local bookstores.

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Taken in 1930, this aerial view of Selden’s Still Farm, owned by D. Benjamin Still and his wife Eva, shows their chicken coops and land. Photo above from Middle Country Public Library Heritage Collection

By Rachel Siford

After two years of researching, writing and editing, the Middle Country Public Library’s local history book is
finally in print.

From left, Luise Weiss, Theresa Arroyo, Jim Ward and Sara Fade lead creating the history book. Photo from MCPL
From left, Luise Weiss, Theresa Arroyo, Jim Ward and Sara Fade lead creating the history book. Photo from MCPL

“Centereach, Selden, and Lake Grove,” an Images of America History Book was released on May 25. The book, which is published by Arcadia Publishing, is the latest in the company’s Images of America series that showcases small towns throughout the United States.

“I think it’s a wonderful thing for our staff to do because we have the resources and it’s our duty as a public library to preserve the history of our area,” Library Director Sophia Serlis-McPhillips said. “It’s like we are giving back to our community.”

The book documents the history of the Middle Country area dating back to the 1700s, and features images collected from residents that show the transformation of Centereach, Selden and Lake Grove from small, rural communities to the commercial, vibrant area it is today.

Four librarians, Luise Weiss, Theresa Arroyo, Jim Ward and Sara Fade, headed the research and making of the book.

The book’s researchers utilized neighboring library archives, local historians and photos and information they already had at the MCPL Heritage Collection.

The Centereach 1934 fourth- and fifth-grade classes were held in a one-room schoolhouse. Photo from Middle Country Public Library Heritage Collection
The Centereach 1934 fourth- and fifth-grade classes were held in a one-room schoolhouse. Photo from Middle Country Public Library Heritage Collection

“I learned so much about the area, and we wanted to be able to pass that on,” said Arroyo, the coordinator of adult reference and cataloging services.

All four had to find pictures, track down and confirm information and then write a description detailing a special event or place in town.

“Local history is so much fun because you can put a historical lens on things you drive by every day,” Arroyo said.

Since the area does not have its own historical society or a main street, there haven’t been many books written about its history, according to Arroyo.

“Most people wouldn’t think that this area was full of farms and that Selden was known for its watermelons,” Arroyo said, smiling. “Middle Country Road is such a busy, commercial road today that it is hard to imagine it being a dirt road with no lights.”

Serlis-McPhillips said there has been a lot of public support and interest and a positive reaction so far: “People don’t realize how rich in history we are.”

The view of Middle Country Road near New Village Congregational Church in the early 1900s. Photo from Middle Country Public Library Heritage Collection
The view of Middle Country Road near New Village Congregational Church in the early 1900s. Photo from Middle Country Public Library Heritage Collection

While most Images of America books end around the 1920s, the Middle Country one is unique because it delves into historic moments from the 1950s and 1960s.

Arroyo and Serlis-McPhillips both said their favorite history tidbit was learning about the cycling craze of the 1890s, which led to the creation of Bicycle Path, a road that stretches from Patchogue to Port Jefferson.

According to the librarians, riders were called wheelmen, and needed license plates and registration to ride.

To accompany this book release, the library is revamping its heritage collection by changing how the current section is organized, and will add genealogy resources for patrons to use.

The library will begin reconstructing the section in late June with the hope of opening in early fall.

“We felt is was really important since we don’t have a historical society for our area,” Serlis-McPhillips said. “We really wanted to be able to do something for our community.”

To see more photos and historical archives, visit the library’s website at www.middlecountrypubliclibrary.org/adults/local-history.

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