By Beverly C. Tyler
This year, April 11 and 12, will mark the 14th year that Three Village fourth-grade students have come to the Setauket Elementary School auditorium to learn about the murals depicting the history of Setauket and Brookhaven, and the sixth year the Founders Day program has included the Original Settlement Walking Tour.
Last year during the Founders Day walking tour, one fourth-grade student had something to share.
“I don’t like history, but I like this,” he said.
Last year on April 23 and 24, about 450 Three Village fourth-grade students came to the elementary school auditorium in celebration of Brookhaven Town Founders Day to learn about the area history through the murals of Vance Locke, a local artist who completed the murals in 1952. Then, for the next two hours, each class, led by guides from the Three Village Historical Society, explored the Original Settlement area that surrounds the Setauket Village Green. Students were introduced to painter William Sidney Mount and Culper spy Abraham Woodhull at the Setauket Presbyterian Churchyard and to residents Emma S. Clark, Thomas Hodgkins and Ward Melville at the Caroline Church Cemetery. At the Village Green, students learned about the Setalcott Native Americans, Brookhaven’s original English settlers, and the diversity of immigrants who lived and worked here, as well as the varied ancestry of the Three Village area soldiers whose deaths in war are memorialized here.
In Frank Melville Memorial Park, the fourth-grade boys and girls learned about gristmills, millers, blacksmiths, post offices, general stores and one of the Original Settlement’s 17th century homes. At the Setauket Neighborhood House — a home this writer grew up in — students heard about the structure of the building and how it progressed from a hotel, with stagecoach service from the Lakeland railroad station, to a tourist home with station wagon service from the Long Island Rail Road’s Stony Brook station, and finally to its use as a meeting place for the entire community.
At the circa 1740 Amos Smith House, students learned about the eight generations that lived in the home and how it grew to accommodate the four generations that included from five to nine children, parents and at least one grandparent in a three-bedroom house.
Each fourth-grade class also discussed the differences as shown in the images of the house in 1740, 1900 and today. Donna Smith, historical society director of education and Founders Day committee member was told by one of her tour group students, “My favorite part was seeing the house Mr. Tyler grew up in and how it is so different.”
The last stop, at Patriots Rock, a remnant of the last glacier and a Native American meeting place, provided an opportunity to learn about the Revolutionary War Battle of Setauket in 1777 and Caleb Brewster, who as an artillery officer directed the cannon fire, and who was also an important member of the Setauket-based Culper Spy Ring.
“Founders Day is more than learning about our local history,’ said Barbara Russell, Brookhaven Town historian and Founders Day committee member. “It is a historical experience for our Three Village fourth-grade students. … Learning that the Emma S. Clark Library is not just the place to find books or attend a program, but is an architecturally interesting structure that was built by a local resident [Hodgkins] as a gift to the community, and there really was a person named Emma S. Clark is enlightening to fourth-graders. Then they walk toward the Caroline Church and see the Hodgkins and Clark headstones — it all comes together in this fascinating look on a student’s face that they have just put it all together.”
“My favorite part was seeing the house Mr. Tyler grew up in and how it is so different.”
— Fourth-grade student
At the end of the tour each student receives a copy of “Discover Setauket, Brookhaven’s Original Settlement,” a walking tour guide companion prepared by the historical society, courtesy of Three Village Central School District. Students, who can now be considered knowledgeable guides to the area’s local history, are encouraged to take their family members on the walking tour.
The elementary school’s fourth-grade students were so inspired by the 2018 Founders Day tour that they decided to produce a video story of each of the Vance Locke murals in the school’s auditorium. The students were led by Andy Weik, school district lead teacher for instructional technology, and fourth-grade teacher Eric Gustafson. The students recorded the videos, and they were produced with a QR code added at the base of each mural. All but two were completed in time for Culper Spy Day, Sept. 15, a communitywide celebration of the spy ring with a wide range of community organizations and businesses taking part. For the first time, due to the student videos, the elementary school auditorium was opened on a Saturday to take part in the celebration. Four of the Vance Locke murals are scenes of activity in Setauket and Brookhaven during the Revolutionary War. Several of the students who worked on the video stories were present in colonial costumes in the auditorium to answer questions and talk to some of the 800 people who bought tickets for the event, as well as a few who wandered in to see what was happening.
At the historical society, we hope, for the foreseeable future, that every fourth-grade student will continue to experience the wonder of our local history and be excited to learn more of the stories of the people who lived here and what they contributed to our history.
Beverly C. Tyler is Three Village Historical Society historian and author of books available from the society at 93 North Country Road, Setauket. For more information, call 631-751-3730 or visit www.tvhs.org.