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Local history

Huntington Town officials and historians celebrated the unveiling of a new historic marker April 24. Photo from Town of Huntington

Huntington history buffs and town officials gathered downtown on Tuesday to commemorate a historic rally turned family feud that played a critical role in the women’s suffrage movement.

Huntington Town officials unveiled a new historic marker sign at the corner of Wall and Main streets April 24 that tells the tale of a 1913 women’s suffrage rally in what’s now Huntington village.

“Here we are now, 105 years later, and this controversial event for women’s rights is going to be commemorated for all to see,” Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) said. “Signs like this show you what a progressive area Huntington was and continues to be, especially when it comes to civil rights.”

Above, Huntington Supervisor Chad Lupinacci unveils the new historic marker. Photo by Kyle Barr

In July 1913, there was a clash in the fight for women’s voting rights in downtown Huntington. It was fueled by a family feud between a mother and daughter over a wagon and whether women should have the right to vote.

Activists Rosalie Jones and Edna Buckman Kearns staged a suffrage rally at the intersection of Wall and Main streets that was attended by more than 1,000 people. There was a wagon named the “Spirit of 1776” used by the women who were upset about taxation without representation. Mary Jones, Rosalie’s mother and a virulent anti-suffragist, stepped in front of the wagon and began to heckle the crowd. She was upset that the suffragists were using a wagon that was once owned by members of her family, all of whom were against giving women the vote.

There were less anti-suffragists compared to women suffragists in the early 20th century according to Antonia Petrash, president of the Long Island Woman Suffrage Association, but they were just as adamant and animated as their counterparts.

“They were very vocal and active,” Petrash said. “They used the same tactics as the suffragists such as hosting conventions and calling politicians.”

Women in New York State would be given the right to vote in 1917, three years before the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was passed.

The new historic marker commemorates a 1913 women’s suffrage rally. Photo by Kyle Barr

“I think it’s so fantastic that we have this monumental placement of the marker,” Jillian Guthman, Huntington’s receiver of taxes, said. “But it does leave me in awe that in this wonderful country that we’re in, that just a short time ago, there was an issue of the right to vote for women.”

The sign was funded by the William G. Pomeroy Foundation, a Syracuse-based foundation that provides grants for historic signs. Petrash and Marguerite Kearns, a historian and granddaughter of Edna Buckman Kearns, helped secure the funding for the historical marker.

Town Historian Robert Hughes said that signs like these are part of an effort to give historical notoriety to minorities and other overlooked groups in Huntington.

“This is the 125th historical marker in the town of Huntington,” Hughes said. “In the early years they would always commemorate Colonial sites, but in more recent years we’ve tried to make a concerted effort to commemorate those unknown parts of our history, such as African American sites like the Jupiter Hammon House, and now with this marker for women’s suffrage.”

The wagon involved in the July 1913 parade was donated by Marguerite Kearns to The New York State Museum in Albany. It will be on display through May 13.

Pastor Gideon Pollach, of St. John's Church, and Denice Evans-Sheppard at Jones Cemetery. Photo from Town of Huntington

Huntington Town officials are seeking the public’s help in putting back together forgotten pieces of African-American history in Cold Spring Harbor.

Located off the east side of Harbor Road, there is a small plot of town-owned land that’s only known as Jones Cemetery. Huntington Town Historian Robert Hughes said it is named after the Jones family that owned extensive pieces of land in the area in both the current towns of Huntington and Oyster Bay through the 20th century. They’re also famous for starting Cold Spring Harbor Whaling Company.

“We knew he was most likely buried at that cemetery. We could not find it. There was a lot of brush covering up the graves and headstones.”

—Denice Evans-Shepard

Hughes said he believes most, if not all of those buried in the cemetery are African-Americans who once worked for the Jones family — some as slaves.

“The Jones Cemetery is one of 56 historic cemeteries located throughout the Town of Huntington,” Hughes said. “Unfortunately, many have become overgrown over the years. Other priorities often take precedence over cemetery cleanups.”

Hughes, Huntington’s director of minority affairs Kevin Thorbourne and volunteers from St. John’s Church in Cold Spring Harbor cleaned up the cemetery grounds March 3. Their work revealed about three dozen graves marked only by simple field stones and two traditional marble headstones.

One of the marked headstone is for Alfred Thorn, an African-American who worked for Charles Jones, and then Oliver Jones as a coachman. Thorn died Feb. 3, 1900, at age 55. The other marble headstone is for Patience Thorn, who is believed to be Alfred’s mother, according to Hughes. The identities of the three dozen others buried in the cemetery are unknown.

Denice Evans-Sheppard, the new director of the Oyster Bay Historic Society, said she has reason to believe one of her ancestors is buried in Jones Cemetery.

“It’s like finding the missing piece to the puzzle,” she said.

Evans-Sheppard said growing up she was told her family originally worked on the Jones family estate. Her great-great-great-grandfather, Lewis Carll, once worked as one of the coachman for the Jones family. He’s the only member of her family not buried in Oyster Bay, according to Evans-Sheppard.

“To to learn who was buried at Jones Cemetery will help us put the missing pieces of Huntington’s history back together.”

— Chad Lupinacci

“We knew he was most likely buried at that cemetery,” she said. “We could not find it. There was a lot of brush covering up the graves and headstones.”

She was invited to tour the grounds with Gideon Pollach, pastor of St. John’s Church; Hughes and Thorbourne after the cleanup March 7.

“It was beautiful to finally make that connection,” she said.

Evans-Sheppard said she knows some descendants of other African-American families who worked for the Jones, including the Jacksons, the Seamans and her own, the Carlls. Many related individuals still live in nearby areas of Huntington, Oyster Bay and Amityville, she said. 

Along with Huntington Town officials, Evans-Sheppard is hoping families will step forward to help identify their remains.

“The Town of Huntington has a rich history of contributions from the African-American community, and to learn who was buried at Jones Cemetery will help us put the missing pieces of Huntington’s history back together,” said Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) in a statement.

Anyone with information on individuals who may be interred in the cemetery is encouraged to contact Hughes at 631-351-3244 or email at rhughes@huntingtonny.gov

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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.”