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History

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Long Island residents hold a rally to call for justice for crime victims in the Huntington area, most of them Hispanic. File photo by Rohma Abbas

By Rich Acritelli

Our nation has lately been rocked by protests that are springing up around the country in response to perceived unequal treatment, mostly at the hands of law enforcement. But these sorts of movements are nothing new — Americans of all colors and creeds have a history of protesting the government and bringing about positive change.

Since the first European explorers and settlers made their way to this continent, Native Americans have experienced some of the greatest hardships. While there are some positive stories in American history, like that of Sioux runner Billy Mills winning the gold medal in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics for the 10,000-meter race, such stories were rare. The reservation system was built on poverty and has historically had high rates of suicide, depression, alcoholism and drug abuse. During the 1970s, major tribal groups banded together to protest for enhanced rights from the government. From briefly occupying Alcatraz Island in San Francisco to taking over the Bureau of Indian Affairs building in Washington, D.C., it was their goal to work with the government to better the lives of Native Americans.

After Japan’s Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor, the fearful U.S. government removed Japanese-Americans from their daily lives on the West Coast. Loyal people who paid taxes, were productive citizens and had their children learn about the Constitution were viewed as enemy combatants. More than 110,000 citizens were forced into internment camps from California to Arkansas. From 1942 to 1946, the Japanese were imprisoned and had all of their rights stripped from them. Ironically, some of the most valiant U.S. soldiers who had served in the bloody fighting in Italy’s mountainous terrain during World War II were Japanese-Americans. With their loved ones imprisoned at home, the soldiers were highly decorated and even wounded fighting against the Nazis.

But unlike other historic groups that fought back against injustice, the Japanese Americans did not mount any movement of criticism against their internment, and there was no public or political sympathy for them. It was some 40 years later when Congress finally listened to several weeks of testimony that described the horrors of internment. In 1988, the government formally apologized for the wrongdoing and compensated affected citizens with reparations.

Once World War II ended, black soldiers who defended their country arrived home to a government that was still unwilling to fully grant equal rights to them. Some African Americans who fought with distinction in the European and Pacific theaters were lynched in their uniforms when they returned home, a report that sickened President Harry S. Truman. In 1948, he desegregated the armed forces. But racism was not over — since the end of the Civil War, black citizens had to contend with unfair treatment, such as  poll taxes to keep them from voting and the resentment and violence of the Ku Klux Klan. Black Americans responded fully during the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and 1960s, including with the civil disobedience under Martin Luther King Jr.

As a young man, Cesar Chavez realized that massive inequalities plagued the Latino pickers in the California fields. After spending two years in the military, Chavez began his life’s mission to help the migrant workers, who had little voice in their society. His earliest efforts of aiding others were to ensure that Hispanic people had support dealing with police discrimination, violence, tax problems and immigration issues. Chavez’s social work was also geared toward gaining respect from the California government to help the thousands of workers who strenuously labored in the fields. He extensively traveled in that state to gauge the needs of the workers. During the 1960s, his labor movement reached the impoverished vegetable and fruit pickers. Through nonviolent protests, Chavez and his followers asked Americans not to buy the products that they were harvesting in order to put pressure on the large businesses and farms to be fairer with their wages and labor practices. At various points during the movement, Chavez fasted several times to bring attention to the economic, social and political needs of the workers and citizens he represented. By the 1970s, the pickers’ movement achieved success, with many of the farmhands gaining union contracts. The United Farm Workers Union earned the right to collectively bargain.

It is an American right to protest unfair treatment at the hands of the local, state and federal government. While many inequalities still exist in our society, past movements have demonstrated that peaceful protests for change do work. Change has and always will come to this nation, but it cannot be positive if won through violence against people or property.

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.

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North Shore-based Founder’s Day Committee opens fourth-graders up to Setauket’s original settlement

Students with guide Donna Smith at the Amos Smith house (circa 1740). Photo from Beverly Tyler

By Beverly C. Tyler

The goals of the Founder’s Day Committee are to introduce the Vance Locke murals on the early history of the Town of Brookhaven to all the 4th grade students in the Three Village school district, and to introduce the students to Brookhaven’s Original Settlement in Setauket.

The Town of Brookhaven was founded in Setauket on April 14, 1655. In 2006, following the successful 350th Town of Brookhaven anniversary celebration in 2005, a group of local residents, Setauket PTA members and the Setauket School principal met and decided to invite fourth grade students from all Three Village Schools to spend a day at the Setauket School to see the recently restored murals and learn about their history.

The murals, in the Setauket School auditorium, were painted in 1951 by artist Vance Locke.

From 2006 through 2013, fourth- grade students from Three Village schools came to the Setauket School auditorium, learned about the murals and the history they portray, and viewed artifacts connected with the murals and their various themes.

Students were also treated to monologues by Setauket School sixth-grade students, dressed in period costumes, about the murals and the people in them.

In 2014, a change was made to provide students with a more direct and hands-on experience. Three Village fourth-graders were introduced to the murals and their history and then taken on a walking tour of the Setauket Original Settlement area. In 2015, the walking tour was improved, providing each class with a guide and adding visual details to the tour.

Evaluations by teachers have led to various improvements in the student experience. To date, teachers have been enthusiastic about the tour and the changes and improvements made over the years.

The mural talk and tour, on April 29 and 30, guided 20 fourth grade classes around the Town of Brookhaven Original Settlement area. The days were perfect, weather-wise, and the sight of more than 400 students learning about the history of the area brought it to life.

The Founder’s Day Committee, Barbara Russell, Brookhaven Town Historian; Donna Smith, Three Village historical Society director of education; Katherine Downs Reuter, Three Village Community Trust; and Beverly Tyler, who works as Three Village Historical Society historian.

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Smithtown’s Landing Methodist Church. File photo

Nine churches will take part in the Smithtown Church History Day to honor and celebrate the town’s 350th anniversary.

Sunday, May 17, has been the designated day for residents to learn about other religions and discover the similarities between faiths. The churches will open their doors to interested parties for tours and historic activities.

The Resurrection Byzantine Catholic Church on Edgewater Avenue is welcoming visitors to its regularly scheduled Sunday Divine Liturgy at 11:15 a.m. followed by an open house and guided tours between 1 and 5 p.m.

The Smithtown United Methodist Church on Middle Country Road will open from 12:30 to 3:30 p.m. for tours and additional activities. Members will also be serving light refreshments.

St. Thomas of Canterbury Episcopal Church on Brooksite Drive will also open its doors to the public for its 8 and 10 a.m. services with coffee following each one.

Between noon and 2 p.m. volunteers will be there to hand out brochures and give tours of the church and garden. There will also be a demonstration of how to use the Meditation Labyrinth.

For residents who would like to see Smithtown’s oldest church, they can visit Smithtown First Presbyterian founded by Richard Smythe in 1675, located at the corner of Middle Country Road and North Country Road.

Starting at 1 p.m. DVDs on the church and its history will be shown in the Narthex along with light refreshments available in the Parish Hall. Family activities will take place on the church lawn throughout the afternoon. Several other events will take place throughout the day.

Both St. James United Methodist located on Moriches Road and Trinity AME Church located on New York Avenue are inviting the community to come and learn about their respective history.

St. James United Methodist is inviting people to come see the interior of the church that was rebuilt in 1899 after being destroyed by a fire. Members are also inviting people to take a look at the popular stained glass windows. Trinity AME Church will serve refreshments and invites the community to join them for a meet and greet.

The Smithtown Landing Methodist Church on Landing Avenue is offering open tours from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Members of the Ladies Auxiliary will be on hand to present the history and background of the church. There will also be information on the founding members of the church who are buried in the little cemetery on the grounds.

The Hauppauge United Methodist Church on Townline Road will also be participating in the big day. The church will open for services at 9 a.m. when all are welcome. Between 2 and 3 p.m. there will be church tours followed by a tour of the old Hauppauge burial grounds behind the church with graves dating back to the Revolutionary War.

The last church that will participate in the festivities is St. James Episcopal Church on North Country Road. Worship services will be held at 8 and 9:30 a.m. followed by an open house from noon to 4 p.m. Guided tours to see the church will be available throughout the day as well as guided tours of the cemetery.  A picnic lunch featuring hot dogs, apple pie and other goodies will be available as well.

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Setauket Neighborhood House. File photo

By Bonnie Connolly

Despite living on Main Street in Setauket for 28 years, I only had a nodding acquaintance with the Setauket Neighborhood House. Then for several weeks last summer I watched as a new porch went up on the house. I thought, “Wow, that construction is a big deal. Keeping up this old house must cost a fortune.” For the first time I wondered who owned the Neighborhood House, and how the resources to maintain the building were generated. Well, this is what I discovered.

Construction of the Setauket Neighborhood House began prior to 1720 and the building was located on Setauket Bay. In 1820 Dr. John Elderkin purchased the house and had it moved to its present location. He added on to both ends of the original house, and it became Ye Old Elderkin Inn. In the 1860s the well-regarded inn serviced a stagecoach line.

When Dr. Elderkin died in 1885, the house was passed on to his niece, Julia, and then on to Julia’s niece, Augusta Elderkin and Augusta’s husband, Captain Beverly S. Tyler. The Tylers named their inn The Lakeside House and it operated until 1917.

Eversley Childs purchased the inn in May of 1917, and in the fall of that year the Neighborhood House was dedicated to the community. The Setauket Neighborhood Association was formed to maintain the house and the grounds. In 1979 the association formed a committee to restore and preserve the house.

Membership in the association is one way you can help to maintain this wonderful site. There are four membership categories ranging from $25 to $100.

Another way to support the house is to attend the annual Taste of the Neighborhood event on Friday, May 15, from 7 to 10 p.m. Last year’s successful event was able to raise funds to build a new front porch. This year’s benefit is to build a new ballroom floor.

The gala event will feature signature dishes from local restaurants that will be accompanied by beer and wine. Blythe Merrifield will be singing with Bob Boutcher on piano, and her daughter Liz Merrifield will be singing with Pat Morelli on guitar. There will be raffle baskets and prizes, and Robert Roehrig and Patricia Yantz, both members of the Setauket Artists, will be donating a painting for the raffle where all proceeds go to the SNH. Both artists will have many of their paintings for sale during the event and for a week afterward.

Tickets are $30 online at www.setauketnh.org or $35 at the door. For more information, call 631-751-6208.  Come join us while we celebrate this beautiful building and raise money for a new ballroom!

Some of Toni Frissell’s work includes photographs taken of the Kennedy family. Photo from Leighton H. Coleman III

By Jenni Culkin

The artistic photography of the late North Shore resident Toni Frissell will be on display at the Village Hall in her hometown village of Head of the Harbor from May 29 to June 11. The Village Hall will be featuring some of Frissell’s rarest works from private collections.

Frissell was a prominent photographer on the North Shore of Long Island throughout the 20th century. Her work in photography included fashion pieces, wedding snapshots and various photojournalistic photos.

“She had a very good eye and a sense of style,” said Leighton H. Coleman III, the village historian for the village of Head of the Harbor. “They were very personal and engaging photos.”

Frissell also used her photographic talents to illustrate children’s books throughout the 1940s. According to Coleman, these books have become extremely valuable and highly sought after by collectors.

Frissell’s work was featured in vintage magazines such as Vogue and Life.

“She had her own career and she was a trailblazer in her career,” Coleman said in an interview last week.

Visitors can also expect to learn more about Frissell during their time at the event. A micro-exhibit of the history of the Frissell family, photographs of Frissell by other famous photographers and  a copy of “Toni Frissell: Photographs 1933-1967” authored by her daughter will be available to view throughout the exhibit.

Some of Frissell’s family members and former sitters will be attending the exhibit. Her granddaughter, who followed in Frissell’s footsteps, will be one of the people in attendance.

The Village Hall will begin hosting the historic exhibit on May 29 with an opening reception at 5 p.m. The exhibit will be open to the public every afternoon through June 11.

The Lusitania is docked in Liverpool sometime before 1912. Photo from the Michael Poirier Collection

Nancy Dorney will spend several hours at Pier A in New York City on May 7 honoring relatives she never met.

A retired shop owner from Stony Brook, Dorney will join officials from Great Britain, Ireland, Germany and other countries to pay tribute to those who took a journey that ended abruptly and in many cases tragically exactly 100 years earlier when a German submarine torpedoed and sank the British ship Lusitania off the coast of Ireland as it was heading for Liverpool.

Among the 1,198 killed that afternoon were 128 Americans, which included 39-year-old pianist Charles Harwood Knight and his 42-year-old sister Elaine. The Knights were Dorney’s great-great-uncle and aunt and, for a time, were also her grandmother Millicent Lawrence’s guardians. After the sinking, which took 18 minutes, the Knights, who were traveling in first class, were never found.

The Knights “disappeared off the face of the Earth because they decided to take the ship that day,” Dorney said.

The sinking of the Lusitania, like the loss of the Titanic three years earlier, raised questions about what actions could have prevented the death of so many at sea. It also triggered active discussion about what role the United States could or should play in World War I.

The German government had warned of an aggressive campaign to sink ships around the British Isles that they believed were carrying munitions and reinforcements for the war. Some thought the Lusitania, which, at 24 knots, was the fastest cruise ship active at the time, could avoid becoming a target. The ship, however, had shut down one of its boilers to keep down costs, bringing its top speed to 21 knots, said Michael Poirier, co-author of the book “Into the Danger Zone: Sea Crossings of the First World War.” In the waters where the Germans had been patrolling, the ship was only going 18 knots, said Poirier.

The Lusitania “was handicapped by not speeding through the danger zone,” Poirier said. There are so many “what ifs,” he added.

In the aftermath of the sinking, opinions in the United States were sharply divided over the proper course of action. Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan, who had run for president three times and was an outspoken member of the Democratic Party, urged the country to steer clear of involvement.

Bryan thought the sinking didn’t immediately require farm boys from the middle of the country to risk being “killed for the rights of wealthy Americans to travel through war zones,” said Michael Barnhart, a distinguished teaching professor in the History Department at Stony Brook.

Even if America didn’t enter the war, Bryan didn’t want the sinking to become “a line in the sand,” where, if the Germans cross that line in the future, America “paints itself into a corner and has no option but to go to war,” Barnhart continued.

Teddy Roosevelt personified the other side of this argument, urging the United States to come to the aid of the British. Roosevelt viewed the sinking of the Lusitania “as an example of barbarism,” Barnhart said.

Political cartoonists at the time described the Germans in terms similar to the way people view ISIS now, Barnhart said.

Sensing that the country wasn’t eager to become involved in war, President Woodrow Wilson demanded that “Germans give the citizens of neutral nations a chance to get away in lifeboats before the ship on which they had been sailing was sunk by a German submarine,” explained Richard Striner, a professor of history at Washington College in Chestertown, Maryland. The Germans told Wilson the British had deck guns on their passenger ships that the British could use if the submarines surfaced. Wilson, Striner continued, suggested the British get rid of these guns but, not surprisingly, the British refused.

Ultimately, however, Wilson did what Bryan feared, indicating that future attacks would bring the country closer to war. In protest of the president’s posturing, Bryan resigned. In 1917, the Germans “realized that turning the U-boats loose would bring the U.S. into the war,” Barnhart said, but, they resumed their attacks anyway amid a shift in political winds in Germany. The United States joined the war on April 6, 1917.

As for Dorney, she has delved deeper into the lives of distant relatives who were important for her grandmother. Charles Knight, who people called by his middle name Harwood, was an accomplished pianist and, as Dorney described, a bit of a character. He forgot the organ music he was supposed to bring to a family funeral and played a somber version of a ragtime song from 1896, called “There’ll Be a Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight.”

The last anyone heard from the Knights was when they sent a note to Dorney’s grandmother that contained a list of first-class passengers aboard the Lusitania, with names including Alfred Vanderbilt and Charles Frohman. A theater producer, Frohman helped develop such stars as Ethel Barrymore and John Drew, relatives of current actress Drew Barrymore.

As the former owner of Pride’s Crossing, a housewares and furniture store in Stony Brook, Dorney said she has an appreciation for what she’s learned about the Lusitania. The woodwork on board was “beautifully made and included interior design and artwork that were magnificently done.”

Dorney and those attending the wreath-laying ceremony in New York will heed the words Poirier said are so often connected with the sinking of the Lusitania: “Lest we forget.”

Work will add parking spots, greenery near historic area

The parking lot east of Mariners Way will get a makeover. File photo by Elana Glowatz

Village officials have lined up a construction company to redo the parking lot behind the Fifth Season restaurant, recently dubbed the Baker’s Alley lot, as part of a larger project that aims to restore a downtown historical area.

The Port Jefferson Village Board of Trustees hired East Moriches-based Rosemar Construction, the lower of two bidders on the work, at its meeting on Monday night. At the municipal lot by Mariners Way, the work includes repaving and striping, putting in a pedestrian walkway and adding landscaping.

In addition to the parking field east of Mariners Way, the lot includes 14 spaces in a strip on the road’s western side.

Restriping will make room for seven to eight more parking spots, Mayor Margot Garant said at the meeting.

It will also eliminate a dead end in the middle of the parking lot, improving access for public works employees when they remove snow from the village’s lots in the winter.

East Coast-based engineering firm VHB — the group that put together the construction drawings and plans for redoing the metered parking lot based on designs by Port Jefferson’s Campani and Schwarting Architects — still has to review Rosemar’s bid, which came in close to $350,000 and will be funded by village parking meter revenue.

“I’m told that this is quite a good price,” Trustee Larry LaPointe said. “VHB expected it to come in significantly higher.”

Officials are now calling the area the Baker’s Alley parking lot, making it the namesake of a nearby path the village is working to restore. Baker’s Alley was, in turn, named as a nod to Port Jefferson’s so-called bakery wars that took place there in the early 1900s, in which William West’s New England Bakery famously competed with another local shop. The feud fully erupted in 1916, when both owners changed the establishments’ names to Port Jefferson Bakery.

The now-overgrown and often overlooked dirt path starts at East Main Street, heads down to the parking lot and turns north toward East Broadway. Village officials are looking to turn the alley into a brick walkway, with classic lighting and native plants along the way. After turning north, it would run along a short stone wall as it passes between the parking lot and adjacent businesses, then connect with the small Founders Park at East Broadway.

The village has not yet received bids on the alley portion of the project, LaPointe said, but officials want to get moving on the parking lot work.

“We need to get started as quickly as possible so we don’t interfere any more than necessary with the use of that lot in the high season.”

The Order of the Ancient and Honorable Huntington Militia held “Muster Day” on May 3, reenacting the day Huntington learned of the first battles of the American Revolution at Lexington and Concord in 1775. Actors in the historical re-enactment demonstrated trades and daily life skills from the colonial era on the grounds of the Arsenal, a restored historical house museum located near the corner of Main Street and Park Avenue.

The Huntington Historical Society hosted its annual Sheep to Shawl Festival on May 3, giving locals a fun and fascinating look at colonial life. It featured real sheep-shearing and had demonstrators in colonial costume sharing their knowledge and assisting visitors in carding, spinning, knitting and weaving. There was also live music and colonial-era games. Children experienced different aspects of colonial life, including the process of how sheep wool goes from the animals to fabric — from sheep to shawl.

The Noah Hallock house dates back to the early 1700s. File photo

By Julianne Cuba

After being closed for the winter, tours have resumed at the Noah Hallock Homestead in Rocky Point, on Hallock Landing Road.

The Rocky Point Historical Society acquired the property two years ago. Noah Hallock built the homestead in 1721 and eight generations of his descendants lived in the house until 1964, said Natalie Aurucci-Stiefel, president of the historical society.

Noah and his wife, Bethia, had three sons: Noah II, Josiah and William. All three sons were born in the house their father built and served in the military as Patriots during the Revolutionary War.

The elder Noah, who died in 1773 at age 77, was buried beside his wife, who died in 1766, in the family’s cemetery, located on a hill behind the homestead. Bethia’s grave is the oldest in the Hallock family cemetery.

In 1964, another local family purchased the home, and lived there for almost 50 years.

Today, the homestead operates as a showcase and a museum of Rocky Point’s history. The tours, which are offered at 172 Hallock Landing Road on Saturdays from April through December, 1 to 3 p.m., showcase 15 rooms with information from the 1700s through the 20th century. One of the rooms focuses on radio history, Aurucci-Stiefel said.

The famed RCA Corporation, headed by David Sarnoff and based in New York City, had a radio transmitting station in the hamlet.

“We’re proud to feature Rocky Point’s history in this house,” Aurucci-Stiefel said. “Each room features original artifacts and photograph collections.”

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