By Beverly C. Tyler
My great-aunt Annie, Anna Louise Tyler (1863–1943) lived her entire life in the house I grew up in on the corner of Main Street and Old Field Road in Setauket. For more than 80 years, from about 1850 to 1931, the Tyler Brothers General Store stood on the same corner in front of the house close to the road. For all those years the Tylers also served as postmasters, and the post office was located in the general store.
Anna Tyler was appointed Setauket’s 11th postmaster Nov. 12, 1897, and she served the community until 1915. At the time of her appointment, she was 34 years old. She was the niece of Capt. Israel Bennett Tyler (1830–1895) who served as postmaster 19 years from 1870 to 1885 and again from 1889 to 1893.
In 1895, after the death of Israel Tyler, Capt. Charles Tyler, my great-grandfather, carried on the store until two years before his death, when he became ill and passed away June 12, 1899. From 1897 on, the post office and store were run by Annie and Corinne Frances Tyler, spinster daughters of Capt. Charles Tyler.
The mail was brought to Stony Brook and Setauket by the Long Island Rail Road. For most of that time, mail was delivered twice a day. It was carried to the store and post office and handed to Annie Tyler for many years by Adolph Pfeiffer who began mail service with a horse and wagon. In the winter months, he used a horse and sleigh. According to an article in the Three Village Herald in 1965, “Occasionally when the roads were almost impassable, the mail was taken by Mr. Pfeiffer on horseback, or even on foot — pulling the bags on a sled. Later with the advent of the automobile, he became agent for the Franklin automobile, and these as well as other makes of cars were used for transporting the mail.”
The entrance to the post office in the West Setauket store was through a side door on the left (north) side of the building. The northern third of the store was the post office and the remainder, from the front door over, was the general store. Annie Tyler was postmaster and her sister Corinne (1858–1941) ran the general store.
The general store was the center of the small community, which included about 100 families and numbered less than 800 people. The school on the Village Green, the churches and the new library around the Green and the grist mill on the lower pond were also a part of the community’s hub. The general store and post office building was a center for communication and gossip as well as a place to tell stories and swap
information about the latest farm equipment, the weather and, of course, politics.
“We were a big family, and we was always down there. Sometimes Poppa paid once a week. They kept track of it and I could get anything. They never asked no questions.”
— Lucy Keyes
Telephone lines were first installed from a central office in Northport in 1896. In the last few months of 1899, central offices were established in Port Jefferson and Smithtown. According to historian Kate Strong, the first telephone subscribers in Setauket were her father Selah B. Strong, her uncle Thomas S. Strong, Annie Tyler’s store and the Setauket railroad depot.
Lucy Keyes, who was born in 1900, remembered in a 1989 interview that when she was 6 or 7 and going to school on the Village Green, she would walk home, stopping first at the post office.
“They were such nice ladies,” Keyes said. “Miss Annie took care of the mail … Miss Annie used to make money orders and everything … We went there to pay land taxes.
“Miss Corinne took care of the store. They kept it open even during lunch — Miss Corinne and Miss Annie switched. It was open until after mail at night. There were two mails — a morning and an
evening mail. We used to trade with Sears and Roebuck and Montgomery Ward. It came in the mail.”
Keyes recalled that Corinne’s brother Henry Tyler helped her at the store.
“Momma and Poppa brought all their groceries there,” Keyes said. “We bought canned goods, salt pork, potatoes, bread and even bananas in later years. We were a big family, and we was always down there. Sometimes Poppa paid once a week. They kept track of it and I could get anything. They never asked no questions.”
Lucy Keyes was one of 12 children of Jacob and Hannah Hart born between about 1880 and 1910. An 1889 “day book” for the “Tyler Bro” store lists “Jacob Hartt” 34 times in a two-month period. One entry included “1 box blueing, 1 jelly roll, 4 barrels, 3 butter tubs, 1 box, 1 bag flour, 5 candles, 1 loaf bread, 1 bot. vinegar, 1 lb lard,” all for $2.42.
Keyes remembered a candy case in the store that contained a number of selections.
“You would get four or five round things for a penny,” she said. “Jawbreakers, three or four for a penny; and stick candy was a penny a stick.”
By 1915, the automobile was beginning to change the buying habits of local residents who found a wider range of goods and services in specialty stores. The telephone was bringing gossip and information directly into the home, and Parcel Post was bringing catalog shopping into the home. The post office in Setauket was also becoming an independent operation and would soon outgrow the general store where it had coexisted for so many years.
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.