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Setauket history

Setauket United Methodist Church circa. 1909. Mechanics Hall, which was once used as a parsonage, is to the right. Photo from Three Village Historical Society

Members of a Three Village church are recalling its history with a significant milestone around the corner.

The Setauket United Methodist Church, located on the northeast corner of Route 25A and Main Street and known locally as the “light on the hill,” will be celebrating its 175th anniversary Oct. 14 with a special service.

Setauket United Methodist Church as it looked today. Photo from Setauket United Methodist Church

Congregants originally gathered in a schoolhouse in 1835 not far from its present location, according to church documents. The Methodist Society of Setauket was formed by Alfred Darling, Peter Darling, Charles Darling, William Cargill and Richard Terrell after attending a revival in Port Jefferson in 1843.

They first purchased what was known as the Baptist Meeting House on the corner, and in 1869 members who were employed in the local shipbuilding industry began building the current church when it was agreed that a bigger building was needed. The congregants sold the old church in 1869 and moved the building across Route 25A. The new building was dedicated Oct. 12, 1870.

Dennis Hutchinson was baptized in the church in 1939 and has been a member all his life. Through the years, he said he has seen the congregation, which currently includes approximately 500 members according to Rev. Steven Kim, grow due to developing surrounding communities and at times shrink.

Hutchinson said he remembers many renovations through the decades, including a new steeple that cost $16,000 in the late ’70s. At a horse show organized by philanthropist Ward Melville, Isaac Lyness, a member of the church, attended the event and was able to meet Melville and tell him about the steeple and the church’s historic significance in Setauket. Melville gave $4,000 to help pay for the new steeple.

“That was quite a generous gift at the time,” Hutchinson said.

Through the decades, church members held various fundraisers including fairs and bake sales, and Hutchinson said local residents always remember how the church would sell clam chowder in the spring. He said one year they made 600 quarts of chowder.

Cecelia Lundquist said during the last 10 years the church members have redecorated the sanctuary and installed a handicapped elevator. Lundquist and her husband, Bob, have been members since 1967 when they moved back to Long Island after her husband was briefly transferred to Virginia. A lawyer they knew from their church in Brooklyn told them about Setauket and suggested they join the church.

“We became members of the Setauket United Methodist Church more than 50 years ago,” Lundquist said. “It has been the center of our lives, both spiritually and socially.”

Barbara Thomas has been a member of the church since she attended as a child, and she remembers when the children would meet under the sanctuary for a brief service in the basement hall named after Samuel Gurney, a missionary with family in the area. The service would be followed by classes.

The original steeple of the 1870 church building is being painted by Ray Tyle, who was a local photographer and artist known for his aerial photographs commonly taken from the tops of flagpoles and other tall structures. Photo from Three Village Historical Society

“I remember long velvet drapes that divided the classrooms,” Thomas said. “The drapes were hung from wire which ran from the walls to the columns that braced the church.”

Thomas said the church bought Mechanics Hall, a building near Main Street that was converted into a parsonage for the pastor, and when the Sunday school and church membership  grew during World War II, to accommodate the growing congregation, an addition was built to connect what then became the former parsonage. It was named after Carl J. Norton, who once produced Christmas pageants for the church. With the addition, the church now had two offices, and the former parsonage was named after early members of the church, the VanBrunt family.

“I am still a part of this wonderful little church and sometimes I witness the return of former members,” Thomas said. “I remember with fondness the men and women who have come to guide us through the years as pastors, and I remember the many sisters and brothers who have graced the church and been a loving family to me.”

There have been approximately 75 pastors through the decades. Rev. Kim has led the congregation since 2016 and said he is looking forward to the anniversary.

“I hope people would rediscover the significance of the great spiritual heritage that has run through Setauket Methodist Church upon our 175th Anniversary,” Kim said.

Hutchinson will speak on the day of the service. He said he let Kim know he has a lot to share.

“In my little talk that I’m going to give on that Sunday, I have so many things [to share] but I should try to get them home by dark,” Hutchinson said.

The anniversary service will be held Oct. 14 at 10 a.m. at the church located at 160 Main St., East Setauket. The service will include sharing memories, guest preachers, a luncheon and a
performance by musicians from The Jazz Loft. For more information about Setauket United Methodist Church and the anniversary service, visit www.setauketumc.org or call 631-941-4167.

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The Tyler Brothers General Store once housed the Setauket post office. Photo from Beverly C. Tyler

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 Louise Tyler, center, was an early postmaster, while her sister Corinne, right, ran the general store. Photo from Beverly C. Tyler

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.

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Robert Eikov ran a shop on 25A in East Setauket east of Gnarled Hill Road. Photo from the Three Village Historical Society collection

By Beverly C. Tyler

In an oral history interview with Joseph Eikov, who was born in Setauket in 1903, he talked about life in East Setauket in the early 20th century. His father came here from Warsaw, Poland.

“They all migrated here,” he said. “My mother [Dora Pinnes] from [Kopyl] Russia … All the Jews migrated here … They were called greenhorns. They came here with badges on. They came here to work in the [East Setauket] rubber factory and after the factory burned down [1905], then they started to leave. That’s when Pinnes [Dora Pinnes’ brother Herman, who opened a kosher butcher shop in East Setauket] went from kosher. They moved away gradually until there were very few left.”

Joseph Eikov, known as Jess, was the owner and operator of the bus company that serviced the Setauket Union Free School on the hill in East Setauket for many years. 1961 photo from Three Village Historical Society collection

Local history is a combination of the history of people, places and events. All of these elements are needed to understand and enjoy the history of a community or family history. Research into one of these areas naturally spills over into the others. Sources of information are so varied that they cannot be listed or explained in one short article; however, getting started in the exploration of local history is as simple as finding out about your own family’s history.

Without the research provided by family historians, the collections of local history in libraries and historical societies would be much less useful. If your family comes from Long Island, plan a visit to the Suffolk County Historical Society library in Riverhead at 300 W. Main St. The society maintains one of the largest files of genealogical material in Suffolk County. Its Weathervane Gift Shop also has a large collection of books, pamphlets and other materials on Long Island history and genealogy. The Long Island collection in the Emma S. Clark Memorial Library, 120 Main St. in East Setauket, includes a large number of published genealogies. These include both individual and family histories. The manuscript collection of the Three Village Historical Society (the Capt. Edward R. Rhodes Memorial Collection of Local History) in the Emma Clark Library includes a number of typed and handwritten genealogies. Most of these are family histories, but some include extensive information on specific individuals as well.

It is important for more local residents to provide information on their families to be placed in the Three Village local history collection. In this way the history of Setauket and Stony Brook can be kept up-to-date.

The information compiled by family members includes not only the names, dates and relationships of prior generations, but often supplies the interesting stories about their lives that makes local history so interesting. But where to start? Most genealogists recommend that those entering the field for the first time read a good basic book on the subject of genealogy and family history. Researching family history can be an enjoyable undertaking if you dig into the past with the right tools at your disposal.

Family history has, with the advent of the internet, become a popular pastime. There are a number of sites that can help with family research. Start with www.live-brary.com. Click on Local History and Genealogy and then on Topic Guide Genealogy. The Mormons have a free site you can use at www.genealogy.com. Ancestry is a for-profit site at www.ancestry.com that can be accessed for free at the Emma Clark and other local libraries. Heritage Quest, on the other hand, can be accessed from the library or at home by signing in to the library website at www.emmaclark.org. One of many interesting sites for genealogy and family history is www.stevemorse.org.

Sam Eikov ran this shop on Main Street in Setauket, now a dental office and lawyer’s office. Photo from Three Village Historical Society collection

Books on genealogy and family history are available at libraries. At the Emma Clark library, upstairs under 929.1, are books such as: “The Troubleshooter’s Guide to Do-It-Yourself Genealogy” by W. Daniel Quillen (both 2016 and 2014 editions), “How to Do Everything Genealogy” by George Morgan (2015) and “Genealogy Online for Dummies” by Matthew and April Helm (2014). There are also a number of DVDs on genealogy and family history.

To begin your family history, just remember to start with yourself. You are the beginning of the search. Record all the known facts about yourself — birth, baptism and marriage dates — and all of your known brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, parents and grandparents. Next, use home sources. Find out what kind of genealogical materials you have in your home and relatives’ homes including family bibles, newspaper clippings, military certificates, birth and death certificates, marriage licenses, diaries, letters, scrapbooks, backs of pictures and family histories. Don’t forget to talk to or write to — email if possible — your relatives, even the ones you haven’t spoken to in years. Family gatherings can also provide a good source of information about family history and folklore.

However you get started, get going. You will find the journey well worth the effort.

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.

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