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Robert Reuter

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The MTA is currently updating the Stony Brook train station, which will lead to modern amenities and more security. Photo by Rita J. Egan

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority is giving the Stony Brook Long Island Rail Road train station a makeover.

The MTA began renovations on the station’s train house July 23 and will continue working on the station into the fall. In addition to being renovated, the station house will receive modern enhancements and upgrades, according to Aaron Donovan, MTA deputy communications director.

The station house was built around 1888,
according to the book “Images of America: Stony Brook,” and rebuilt in 1917, according to the MTA. The one-story structure will be completely renovated inside and out, and there will be the addition of a Wi-Fi network and charging ports, according to Donovan. Commuters will soon see improved signage and digital information displays, including electronic information columns, and bicyclists will have new bike racks.

The station platforms will be updated with new lighting and closed-circuit television security cameras, according to Donovan. Plans also include sidewalk improvements and a new sculpture in the plaza area.

The MTA has upgraded the station throughout the decades, Donovan said, including the station’s high-level platforms being installed in 1985 and targeted renovation work done to platform railings, lighting and platform shelters in 2011.

Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) said in a statement she was pleased that work began this summer.

“The Stony Brook train station is one of the most recognizable community landmarks in the Three Village area,” Cartright said. “There have been requests for upgrades over the years. I am pleased that the MTA saw the importance of meeting with community members including civic leaders, town Historic District Advisory Committee members and government officials to collaborate and develop a renovation plan. It is important that renovations to the station are in keeping with the historical character of the area while meeting the needs of modern travelers.”

Robert Reuter, a member of Brookhaven’s Historic District Advisory Committee, said he provided input but not officially on behalf of HDAC. 

“We encouraged them to preserve the existing and familiar green and beige color scheme, locate planned new ticketing machines away from the bay window, improve handicap accessibility both at the station and crossing the tracks, and minimize signage,” Reuter said.

In 2017, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) introduced a proposal to invest $120 million to provide state-of-the-art enhancements to 16 LIRR stations, including Stony Brook — and also at Port Jefferson. The MTA covered $35 million of the investment to the railroad stations, according to its website. It is estimated by the LIRR that 2,330 customers use the Stony Brook train station daily.

The Three Village Community Trust closed on the historic Timothy Smith House, below, offered by Julia de Zafra for a nominal price. Attorney Gary Josephs, Assemblyman Steve Englebright, TVCT trustee Robert Reuter, Julia DeZafra, trust attorney Peter Legakis, and Cynthia Barnes, TVCT president, were on hand for the closing July 12. Photo from Three Village Community Trust

A local group has preserved a piece of history for future generations.

The Three Village Community Trust acquired the historic Timothy Smith House at 55 Main St., Setauket, July 12, according to a press release from the trust.

The Timothy Smith House will be renamed the Timothy Smith-Robert de Zafra House. Photo by Robert Reuter

“Because of its long history, its connection to town government in Brookhaven, and its remarkable degree of preservation over its 300-year life span, the Smith House is a valuable acquisition,” the release read. “The Three Village Community Trust is indebted to Robert de Zafra for acquiring it at the death of the previous owner, protecting it from being subdivided, and in so doing preserving the historic character of Setauket and this area’s contribution to the nation.”

In March, de Zafra’s widow, Julia, offered the house to the trust for a nominal price and will donate funds to help with continued restoration. According to the press release, de Zafra was a founding trustee of the Three Village Community Trust, and the Timothy Smith House, also known as the House on the Hill, has been recognized as a Brookhaven landmark and dates back to the early period of Setauket’s settlement starting in 1655.

Cynthia Barnes, president of the TVCT, said the trust will continue the restorations that de Zafra started and will be raising funds through contributions to the Robert de Zafra Restoration Fund and seeking grants. The house will be renamed the Timothy Smith-Robert de Zafra House. While the home will remain a private residence, Barnes said there are discussions about ways to make it available to the public periodically.

Robert Reuter, a TVCT trustee, said the house is “a treasure that figures prominently in our town’s earliest history” and he feels it offers an opportunity to interpret the best of design and craftsmanship in 18th-century colonial Setauket.

“The Timothy Smith House, a substantial two-story post-and-beam colonial building, remains original save for plumbing and electrical improvements.”

— Robert Reuter

“The Timothy Smith House, a substantial two-story post-and-beam colonial building, remains original save for plumbing and electrical improvements,” Reuter said. “It features immense structural timbers, floor boards — 24 inches and more in width, wrought iron hardware, primitive window glazing and simple but robust interior architectural details. A massive central chimney serves multiple fireplaces on both floors. The main kitchen fireplace incorporates a rare beehive oven with arched brick opening.”

According to the TVCT press release, the house, which dates back to 1695 to 1705, occupies one of the earliest farmstead plots in the area. It was laid out along both sides of a freshwater creek that was dammed to create the Setauket millpond. It is historically significant because it was the de-facto Brookhaven Town Hall during much of the 1700s due to successive Smith family members serving as town clerk. Timothy Smith occupied the house during the Revolutionary War, and it and the surrounding farm property remained in the Smith family until the death of Julia Sophia Smith in 1948. Forrest Bonshire, lived there from the 1960s to 2013, and the home was purchased by de Zafra from Bonshire’s estate to prevent it from being subdivided, and de Zafra was carefully restoring it before his death in October.

Renovations on the Red Barn in the Frank Melville Memorial Park, including straightening the building, were recently completed. Photo by Rita J. Egan

The weather was finally ideal for Frank Melville Memorial Park trustees, volunteers and friends to celebrate the completion of much-needed repairs to a historic structure.

Workers began restoring the park’s Red Barn at the beginning of September and completed the project a few months later. The 1,056 square-foot barn needed structural restoration, which included straightening, and the building up of the existing foundation to a level where it will be protected from flooding.

“The Melville Park is a historic oasis that now has an improved focal point, the Red Barn, to use to serve a larger population and build a new audience.”

— Kathryn Curran

On May 20 guests of the trustees enjoyed a reception complete with wine, hors d’oeuvres, dinner and desserts from Farm to Table Catering, as well as music from a few of The Jazz Loft performers.

Robert Reuter, president of the Frank Melville Memorial Foundation, thanked those who played a part in restoring the barn including Kathryn Curran, executive director of the Robert David Lion Gardiner Foundation, who helped to secure a $44,330 matching grant for the park.

“Kathryn Curran and the trustees of the foundation saw the real community value in what we’re doing here,” Reuter said. “I think they understood when they saw the application that this really is one of the centers of our community. It’s part of a large area that is rich in history, and it’s often interpreted as that by the historical society and some of the others who celebrate that history.”

He said in addition to the foundation’s endowment, the community’s support also played a big part in the restoration. Trustee Greg Ferguson’s family foundation and another trustee who wished to remain anonymous created a $10,000 matching challenge. Reuter said the trustees’ friends exceeded the goal and came close to matching the Gardiner grant. He said the balance needed for the barn came from park funds that were budgeted for park repairs.

Curran said the Gardiner Foundation seeks out projects through community outreach that advance regional history.

“The Melville Park is a historic oasis that now has an improved focal point, the Red Barn, to use to serve a larger population and build a new audience,” she said.

Curran said she and the foundation board members were pleased with the completed project. Scott Brown was chosen to work on the renovations by the FMMF board and has worked on other Gardiner projects including the Ketcham Inn in Center Moriches, the Modern Times Schoolhouse in Brentwood and the Caroline Church of Brookhaven’s Carriage Shed in Setauket.

“As a restoration carpenter Scott’s empathy to our historic sites is rooted in respect for their traditional construction,” Curran said. “His work helps bring these buildings back to life for their newly designated purposes.”

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The Three Village Community Trust will take over ownership of the Timothy Smith House on Main Street in Setauket. Photo by Robert Reuter

New ventures by some Setauket residents will make the area look a little different in the coming years.

The Three Village Community Trust announced plans to clean up Patriots Hollow State Forest and acquire the historic Timothy Smith House.

Patriots Hollow State Forest

The woods that run along Route 25A, across from Setauket’s Stop & Shop, have been the site of many downed trees over the years. The trust announced at its annual meeting March 14 that plans are in the works to clean up the woods and add a trail so people can walk through the forest, something that cannot easily be done in the property’s current state.

The land trust has partnered with the New York State DEC to clean up Patriots Hollow State Forest, which is the site of numerous downed trees. Photo by Cynthia Barnes

Setauket resident and former teacher Leonard Carolan said he walked into the woods one day and was disappointed to see how messy it was, not just because of the trees but the infestation of invasive plants. He approached the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, Three Village Community Trust President Cynthia Barnes and state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) to discuss working together to clean up the former farmland.

Those conversations led to the trust signing a stewardship agreement with the DEC. Carolan, the chair of the new stewardship, will steer a committee of 16 people, which will assess the forest’s conditions and seek the community’s input to develop a restoration plan, according to Carolan. He said after gathering wants of the community and addressing concerns, the next step would be to clear 100 feet into the woods and turn to experts to identify the plants and figure out which need to be dug up or trimmed back.

“We want to work it where we have enough clearing that we can plant native trees — the white oaks, the red maples, the black tupelos — and make that into a more native natural forest with a greater variety of trees and habitat,” Carolan said.

The trust also plans to build a split-rail fence with downed locust trees along the 25A side of the property. The committee chair said the work will take years to complete, and the community trust will spearhead fundraising campaigns in the future to fund the project.

Barnes said the trust is excited to join forces with the DEC and to work with Carolan.

“This former farmland in the heart of the Setauket community, devastated by neglect and storms over the years, is in dire need of attention,” Barnes said.

The Timothy House is known locally as the “house on the hill.” Photo by Robert Reuter

Englebright said he was happy to hear the trust and DEC working together on cleaning up the forest, which he considers an important part of the local landscape.

“I would like to see the community take emotional ownership of the property,” the assemblyman said. “The way you do that is make it accessible. The way you develop good stewardship is have people who are invested in the property — through their ability to walk on trails, to enjoy the natural beauty of the property, to discover its secret. There’s a reason why it’s called ‘hollow.’”

Timothy Smith House

The home known locally as the “house on the hill” was purchased by Robert de Zafra in 2012. Up until his death last October, de Zafra, the trust’s co-founder, was restoring the home that sits on 2.6 acres.

Trustee Robert Reuter reported that de Zafra’s widow, Julia, offered the house to the trust for a nominal price and will donate funds to help with continued restoration. The trust will also create the Robert de Zafra Conservation and Preservation Fund to preserve the house and other community landmarks.

Englebright said the house represents an important part of history in Setauket. The Smiths were among a group from Southold who settled Setauket in 1655 and created Brookhaven town. A clerk once worked out of the home, and it was considered Brookhaven’s town hall for decades. Englebright said de Zafra went to great lengths to ensure the house was protected and preserved, even using his own resources.

“It’s appropriate, I think, for the community trust — which he is a founding trustee of — to carry forward his legacy as well as the legacies of all the others who lived in the house preceding his acquisition of it,” Englebright said.

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The former cottage two buildings over from the ranger’s house on West Meadow Beach has been demolished after snow earlier in the season caused the roof to cave in further than it had been. Photo by Herb Mones

While taking a walk along West Meadow Beach, something he does on a regular basis, Paul Feinberg noticed something different — one of the cottages by the ranger’s house was missing.

The Setauket resident said one day the cottage two buildings over from the ranger’s home was there, and by Feb. 16, it was gone. It’s something he is happy about. 

The only evidence was a work truck in the nearby vicinity with a sign that read: “We make things disappear.”

“That one they removed, that was just an accident waiting to happen,” Feinberg said. “When the roof caved in, that’s one thing for someone to get in there, but then the whole side of it caved in. It was just a mess.”

Town of Brookhaven attorney Annette Eaderesto said the town demolished the cottage. Snow earlier in the season further collapsed the roof, according to Eaderesto.

Feinberg said he believed Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Valerie Cartright’s (D-Port Jefferson Station) office was instrumental in having the structure removed.

Two cottages formerly sat near the ranger’s station on West Meadow Beach. The cottage on the right was demolished Feb. 16. File photo

At a June 5 Three Village Civic Association Meeting, Cartright updated the civic association members about the town’s preliminary assessment of the four cottages at West Meadow Beach. The councilwoman said after an internal evaluation it appeared two of the cottages were dilapidated and structurally unsound, and possibly not salvageable. However, there was the potential to save a third structure and use another as an outdoor interpretive kiosk. Only four of the historic cottages that once lined the beach remained after 2004, when the town removed nearly 100 to make way for West Meadow Wetlands Reserve.

Cartright said she was following standard operating procedure and had asked for an independent engineer to assess the cottages, and the town had complied with her request.

“I wanted to make sure if these cottages are coming down that we have a report from someone outside of the town telling us that is necessary,” she said at the June 5 meeting.

At the meeting, Robert Reuter, a member of the town’s historic district advisory committee, asked that the committee be advised about any future plans regarding the cottages on the beach. Reuter said Feb. 20 he was saddened to learn about the demolition of the structure, and the committee was not notified about it.

Reuter said he wouldn’t recommend any remaining cottages be demolished, and he feels the beach structures can be preserved without spending a great deal of money. When the town renovated the ranger’s home, it cost approximately $500,000, according to Cartright. Reuter said the former summer homes were built with no basements or hard foundations, which allows water to easily wash through underneath. The structures were built to easily be closed up each year. To preserve such a home it has to be made as weather-tight as possible, according to Reuter, to keep rainwater from penetrating the structure. He would have suggested the roof be repaired and windows bordered up.

“It wouldn’t be hard if there was the commitment to do it, it wouldn’t be hard to keep them from falling down.” Reuter said. “It’s really demolition by neglect, pure and simple.”

John Turner is a champion for open space preservation and environmental conservation. Photo by Maria Hoffman

By Anthony Frasca

A familiar face in the Setauket area is at the forefront of environmental preservation and conservation.

“It was good news when John and Georgia Turner moved to town,” said Robert Reuter, president of the Frank Melville Memorial Foundation. “John is a legendary leader for protection of the environment and an admired naturalist and educator.”

John Turner has been involved with numerous groups whose focus is on either open space preservation or environmental conservation. Town of Brookhaven Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) said she has considered Turner a vital resource since she was elected to office.

“I am constantly impressed by [the] scope of his knowledge about the town’s history and natural environment,” Cartright said. “His involvement with organizations such as the Long Island Pine Barrens Society, his teaching and author background, along with his constant desire to update existing knowledge with continued research makes John a wealth of information the town is lucky to have.”

The naturalist was co-founder of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society, a group whose mission is to promote education, to advocate for the protection of Long Island’s drinking water and to preserve open spaces especially in the Pine Barrens. According to the society’s website, with a large swath of land in Suffolk County slated for development, the Long Island Pine Barrens Society filed suit in 1989 against the Suffolk County Department of Health and the town boards of Brookhaven, Riverhead and Southampton. At the time it was New York state’s biggest environmental lawsuit, leading to the Pine Barrens Act, thereby protecting the Pine Barrens and establishing the Central Pine Barrens Joint Planning & Policy Commission.

Turner is one of the co-founders of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society. Photo by Maria Hoffman

As a spokesman for the Preserve Plum Island Coalition, Turner has also been active in trying to prevent Plum Island from being sold and developed. The environmentally sensitive island is currently at the center of a swirling controversy and is the subject of a legal battle against the federal government under the Endangered Species Act and other laws, according to a TBR News Media July 14, 2016, story.

Made up of numerous diverse environmental groups, from the Connecticut-Rhode Island Coastal Fly Fishers to the North Fork Audubon Society, the Preserve Plum Island Coalition has advocated for the signing of a petition to save the island along with encouraging a letter-writing campaign to local elected officials. The island provides a habitat for a diverse variety of local and migratory wildlife.

Carl Safina, founder of the Safina Center at Stony Brook University and the endowed professor for Nature and Humanity in the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, said he has worked with Turner on a variety of environmental initiatives on and off since the 1980s.

“I consider John Turner to be the finest naturalist, and among the top handful of most engaged conservationists on Long Island,” Safina said. “He’s a true leader.”

As the conservation chair of the Four Harbors Audubon Society, Turner led the Stone Bridge Nighthawk Watch this past fall. The group recorded and tallied nighthawk sightings at the Frank Melville Memorial Park in Setauket. A significant nighthawk population was noticed at the park in 2016 and the open vistas provided an important location for cataloging the bird’s migration. The nighthawk research was supported by the board of the park, another organization that, according to Reuter, Turner “has adopted with vigor.”

“We’ve walked every part of the park, looking for opportunities to improve habitat and interpret our diverse natural environment,” Reuter said. “The man certainly knows his plants and wildlife. He’s passionate about sharing his knowledge. Rather than just toss out ideas, John has prepared for the park a written blueprint for improvements and educational opportunities. It’s an honor to have his guidance.”

New York State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) said he considers Turner one of the finest naturalists on Long Island.

“He has brought his ‘inner pied piper’ of the environment to Setauket at the Melville Bridge,” Englebright said. “I watched through the years as the crowd grew. He has helped bring an awareness of the tidal wetlands of Setauket Harbor and has done it in a gracious and compelling manner. He is truly extraordinary, the essence of what a naturalist should be. He’s a special part of our community.”

Eagle Scout John Ninia stands by the dogwood trees he planted at Frank Melville Memorial Park. Photo from Jerry Ninia

For one Eagle Scout, earning coveted merit badges has been more than a pastime; it’s been a mission. The undertaking has led him to earn all 137 badges a Scout can receive — an accomplishment only 6 percent of scouts in the nation have achieved, according to the Boy Scouts of America website.

John Ninia, of Poquott, a senior at Ward Melville High School, moved up from Cub Scout to Boy Scout when he was 11 years old. Ninia said it took him six years to earn all 137 badges. A scout needs 21 badges to become an Eagle Scout — 16 being mandatory ones.

“I just went for all of them,” the Troop 70 Eagle Scout said.

When he was 12 years old, Ninia said he attended Boy Scout camp, where his mission to collect every badge first became his goal.

John Ninia, an Eagle Scout in Troop 70, proudly wears his 137 badges. Photo from Jerry Ninia

“I remember after my first week of summer camp, I was on my way home and I was really thrilled,” he said. “Usually you can get five badges if you’re really into it but I got about 11, and my parents mentioned that I could go back for a second week.”

Ninia said he immediately signed up for the second week, and when he earned 20 badges that summer, he said it was a great feeling. The Scout said some merit badges, such as one for art, can take a day and a half, while personal fitness, family life and other badges require more time, even months. He said a scuba badge took several days of training to earn certification, while achieving the water skiing one was the most difficult, but he kept trying until he could stand up on the skis.

Ninia completed three Hornaday projects, which are tasks that involve the environment. He eliminated invasive knotweed, a Japanese plant, at West Meadow Beach, planted trees at Frank Melville Memorial Park and installed a rain garden in the Village of Poquott’s California Park. Working to improve the environment is a passion of his, and he plans to major in environmental studies in college.

Frank Melville Memorial Foundation Park Board President Robert Reuter said Ninia worked diligently to clear a substantial vine-choked area adjacent to the Bates House in the park. His work saved existing trees and allowed for the planting of several native white flowering dogwoods.

“It’s revealing of his commitment that I get calls from John offering to continue the work,” Reuter said. “This young man has a bright future underpinned by his extraordinary personal achievements and service to community.”

Robert Mandell, who was Ninia’s troop leader for the majority of the time he has been in Boy Scouts, said he remembers the teenager coming to him telling him how he earned badges for various activities such as glass blowing and concrete mixing. The former troop leader he said he would question him at length about what he did to earn the badge.

“I quizzed them like the FBI,” Mandell said.

He said he wasn’t surprised when Ninia earned every badge, saying he is a smart, hardworking teenager.

“This young man is driven,” the former troop leader said.

While the experiences earning the badges have provided great memories for Ninia, he said what he has enjoyed most during his Scouting years has been “providing leadership to a group of scouts and helping them with their own ability to rank up.”

“This young man has a bright future underpinned by his extraordinary personal achievements and service to community.”

— Robert Reuter

Despite a busy schedule with school, the cross-country team and DECA, Ninia said it’s important to make time for Scouting.

The high school senior said one can no longer be a scout after 18, but while his days as a scout may be over soon, he hopes to always be a part of the organization in some way, even though he’s not sure about being a troop leader.

“It’s hard, and I do have a lot of stuff and I’m a busy guy, but Scouting is something I’ve loved so I’ve always been able to make time for it,” he said. His advice to other Scouts? “Try your best and shoot for the stars.”

Ninia’s father Jerry said the family, which includes mom Lynn and siblings James and Christina, is proud of their Scout and his accomplishments.

“He’s a good kid,” his father said. “He works very hard He perseveres. He has a can-do attitude. He’s just the kind of guy that makes things happen.”

Achieving merit badges makes a Scout a more well-rounded individual, according to Jerry Ninia.

“When you think about it, 137 merit badges, it touches on everything from art to architecture to woodworking to metalworking to horseback riding to law and medicine to water sports and everything in between,” he said. “You can probably strike up a conversation with anyone as a young adult and speak to anyone from practically any walk of life because you’ll probably feel some commonality.”

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