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Richard Smythe

Historic property once owned by the town's founding family burnt down to studs

A historic Smithtown mansion once inhabited by the descendants of founder Richard Smythe burned down to its studs Monday night, according to St. James Fire Department.

Suffolk County police received a call at 7:56 p.m. March 26 reporting a fully involved house fire on Edgewood Avenue in Smithtown, according to Kevin Barattini, spokesman for St. James Fire Department.

Smithtown Fire Department was first to respond to the scene and immediately reached out for mutual aid from Hauppauge, Kings Park, Nesconset, Nissequogue and St. James fire departments. The historic mansion was fully engulfed in flames by the time firefighters arrived, according to Barattini, leaving them unable to enter the building.

“You could see this fire for miles,” he said. “It was amazing, that thing was glowing.”

The property was purchased March 8 by Richard Albano, owner of Richie’s Pizza in Commack and Deer Park, with the intent of restoring the nearly 175-year-old mansion to its original state.

“I’m absolutely devastated,” Albano said.

The new owner said the fire was heartbreaking, and was unable to talk about it any further Tuesday morning.

“I’m absolutely devastated.”
— Richard Albano

Albano began extensive renovations of the more than 11,000-square-foot mansion earlier this year after receiving permission from the previous owner to get started before the sale was final. The home’s 16 bedrooms, two kitchens, master ballroom, and numerous bathrooms had fallen into disrepair, but still contained many of the original fixtures, according to Albano.

“I feel a lot of passion for this home,” he told TBR News Media March 13. “I’m working on it every day, restoring it. My goal is to make it look as it was when it was brand new.”

According to “Colonel Rockwell’s Scrap-book,” published by the Smithtown Historical Society in 1968, the house was built around 1846. It once belonged to Obadiah Smith, a great-grandson of Smythe, before eventually becoming the homestead to Ethelbert Marshall Smith, another Smythe descendent, in 1877.

Albano had posted March 19 on Facebook that “the restoration is going great and today seemed like it was the [first] day that it felt as things were going back together instead of taking things apart.” He was preparing to install a new roof on the building.

“It’s very unfortunate as you have a guy who was restoring this property and you look forward to seeing it when you pass by it every day,” Barattini said.

The new owner had said he hoped to open the historic mansion for the public to view once it was fully restored. Though Albano has been purchasing, renovating and reselling properties for decades, he said his intention was to live in the Ebo Hill mansion once the project was completed.

There was no reported injuries and the fire is under investigation for unknown causes at this time.

The Smithtown Bull is an integral piece of the town’s history. File photo

Smithtown has been celebrating its 350th anniversary through many celebrations and events this year, and there are still several more to come.

Bradley Harris, town historian, formed the Smithtown 350 Foundation committee almost two years ago. “I wrote a letter to Supervisor [Pat] Vecchio that the town should plan significant events to inform the residents of the history of Smithtown on its 350th anniversary,” Harris said in a phone interview.

Harris said Vecchio (R) then decided to have Harris form a committee specific to planning events for the anniversary.

“My objective is to try and make an exciting year to remember, that will make people more familiar with the town they live in,” Harris said in a phone interview.

The first event the 350 committee held was The People of Smithtown, where author and historian Noel Gish presented a program on the cultural heritage ethnic peopling of Smithtown, pulling from history, personal photographs and recollections.

In March a special town board meeting was held where board members, while wearing colonial garb, read the original patent for Smithtown in old English. Harris said it was “very funny.” At the meeting, a time capsule that was buried 50 years ago was opened up. The time capsule itself was an old milk can, and Harris said the smell “bowled everyone over.”

Inside were items such as an old telephone book and pennies from the 1950s and ’60s. The committee plans to bury a new time capsule sometime in November. Inside the new one will be a video of this year’s parade, as well as a video of the parade in 1965 to show contrast.

This past summer there have been concert series, heritage festivals, theatrical productions and more. The dedication of the statue of Richard Smythe will be held this Saturday, Sept. 19, at 10:30 a.m., which will be followed by a fireworks celebration later that night at 6:30 p.m. at Sunken Meadow State Park. The 350th parade is still to come in later September.

The Smithtown Historical Society has also been hosting many events to celebrate Smithtown’s anniversary.

The Heritage Country Fair is the society’s next big celebration.

This Sunday, Sept. 20, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. the society will host an old-fashioned fall festival, which will include an 1860s baseball team, antique cars and trucks, Civil War reenactors, pony rides and hayrides, according to Marianne Howard, SHS executive director. “It should be a great time,” she said.

There will also be a series of four fall harvest lectures, from late October to early November.

The first will focus on historic haunts and ghost legends, the second on Long Island’s involvement in the Civil War, the third on tales from a general store and the final on songs from 18th-century America.

The last event to celebrate Smithtown’s 350th anniversary, the Heritage Country Christmas, will be hosted by the historical society. It will feature a bonfire, caroling, a puppet show, colonial and contemporary Christmas music, children’s crafts and a visit from Santa. The event will be held on Tuesday, Dec. 1.

“I hope by the end of this year that the residents of Smithtown will have a greater appreciation and greater knowledge of their town,” Harris said.

Librarian slated to lead lecture including 17th-century tales of popular Caleb Smith State Park Preserve

Cathy Ball is a supervising librarian of the Long Island Room at the Smithtown Library. Photo from Carol Paquette

George Washington in the park? What is the history of the road? Caleb, a thorn in whose side? Did he run the gauntlet? Why was he robbed?

These are some of the anecdotes that will be part of an inside look at the history of Smithtown’s Caleb Smith State Park Preserve on Sunday, April 19, at 1 p.m. at the preserve on Jericho Turnpike. The free event will be presented by Friends of Caleb Smith Preserve. Preregistration is required by calling 265-1054.

Cathy Ball, supervising librarian of the Long Island Room at the Smithtown Library, will speak and illustrate, with artifacts, historical stories about the 543-acre preserve and the families of Caleb Smith.

The original house, which is located on the preserve, was built in 1753 by Smith — a great-grandson of Smithtown’s founder Richard Smythe — and his father Daniel Smith II.

“I have been thinking a lot about Caleb, his children and grandchildren, and the history of the park and the roads within the park and their purpose in earlier times,” said Ball, noting that she will discuss the effects of the Revolutionary War on Smith and his family. She will also delve into their lives, the mills, and the property’s subsequent history as the Wyandanch Club before becoming a state park and preserve.

Since 2004, Ball, a resident of Setauket, has worked in the Long Island Room, which contains 8,000 books and 200 boxes of documents, including original manuscripts from the 17th century. Working alongside local historian and archivist Caren Zatyk, Ball conducts programs and exhibits, supplemented with the archives.

Currently both of them are working with the New York State Department of Transportation on the development of pocket parks for cyclists along Route 347 in Smithtown, providing information and historical photo displays for each park that will depict the history of that particular area.

The Long Island Room brings in a “continual stream of researchers and authors from long distance researching family and local history,” Ball said.

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The iconic Smithtown statue, “Whisper the Bull,” welcomes residents as they enter the township and is a symbol of the community’s long and storied past. File photo by Elana Glowatz

By Jenni Culkin

There is cause for celebration among Smithtown residents this year. The town was founded 350 years ago, and the Smithtown Historical Society is preparing to get its residents involved in festivities and immersion in the town’s proud history.

“This town has been inhabited for 350 years,” said Kiernan Lannon, executive director of the Smithtown Historical Society. “It’s self-evident that this is a milestone!”

Lannon said the Smithtown Historical Society’s mission is to “preserve and present the town’s history,” and in order to develop an itinerary for the 350th annual celebration, the town’s historical society developed the 350 Foundation — a group of volunteers comprised of representatives from various organizations in the town.

On March 3rd, 1665, Richard Smythe, the town’s founder, was granted the Nicholls Patent. The patent gave him the right to the territory that encompasses present-day Smithtown. Originally, it was believed that Smythe was told that he could have all of the territory that he could circumnavigate on the back of a bull.

The bull story is so important that it has become the icon that represents Smithtown. The bull statue, affectionately named “Whisper the Bull,” welcomes residents as they enter the town boundaries.

The story proved to be only a legend, but it still has a place in this year’s celebration of the town’s history.

The Bull Smythe Relay is proof that the bull story is still sentimental to the people of Smithtown. The relay is the first of the 350th anniversary events that the 350 Foundation is planning, scheduled for March 1, which will mimic the torch relays that are performed during the Olympics.

The relay will cover approximately 36 miles within the town, each mile sponsored by a different person, organization or family. The public is welcome to come and watch the Bull Smythe Relay and support the participants.

Town historian Bradley Harris helped spearhead the planning of this year’s 350th celebration after Town Supervisor Patrick Vecchio penned a letter to him asking him to help plan the events.

Only two days after the relay, on March 3, there will be a special town board meeting. A time capsule opening will follow the meeting. The capsule was buried in 1965, during the town’s 300th anniversary celebration.

Town Councilwoman Lynne Nowick says that she can remember attending the 300th anniversary and said the events were historically a great historical celebration for the Town of Smithtown.

“The 350 committee is doing a fabulous job,” she said.

The dedicated 350 Foundation has a tentative calendar of events stretching from late February to December of this year. Not all of these events are held by the historical society.

The Smithtown Performing Arts Center is also hosting a musical performance called “The Spirit of Smithtown,” which will be playing in late May and early June. The Smithtown Library is also formulating a schedule of events that is to be announced within the last few weeks of February. Even the public schools in Smithtown’s school districts are planning an art show and contest.