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Three Village Historical Society

The Three Village Historical Society hosted its annual Candlelight House Tours Dec. 1 and 2, Visions of East Setauket: Then and Now. The Friday night event ended with a reception at St. James R.C. Church’s parish center, which is home to a presepio, a tableau of life in Bethlehem at the time of Christ’s birth, assembled by Rev. Gerald Cestare.

This year the tour provided participants the opportunity to step inside homes that are of local historical importance or sit on property that is considered as such in East Setauket and Poquott. Each of the homes were dressed up for either Christmas or Hanukkah by local decorators and included both indoor and outdoor holiday accents.

Candlelight House Tour decorators were Allison Butera, Donna Howard, Nancy Munch, Susan Malkan, Lynn Sabatelle, North Suffolk Garden Club and Open House Country Flowers & Interiors.

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Plenty of unique shopping opportunities are available in the Three Village area such as at the Reboli Center. Photo by Beverly C. Tyler

By Beverly C. Tyler

Holiday shopping at the stores that help give our historic communities a sense of place just makes good sense. The upcoming holiday season is a good time to purchase a few of the wonderful gifts and books about the local area and to pay a relaxing visit to a few nearby not-for-profit shops that deserve our special support.

Three Village Historical Society History Center & Gift Shop, 93 North Country Road, Setauket

The society’s gift shop was expanded to complement the exhibit SPIES! How a Group of Long Island Patriots Helped George Washington Win the Revolution. There you will find gifts including many books, booklets and pamphlets on local history. A local favorite is “General Washington’s Commando: Benjamin Tallmadge in the Revolutionary War” by Richard F. Welch. I already knew a lot about Tallmadge, but I couldn’t put Welch’s book down. It’s well researched, organized and interesting. Other books of note include “Washington’s Spies: The Story of America’s First Spy Ring” by Alexander Rose, the consultant for the AMC series “TURN,” a dramatization of the Setauket-based Culper Spy Ring. Selene Castrovilla’s books bring the Revolutionary War to life and the illustrations will delight both children and adults. “Upon Secrecy” tells the story of the Long Island-based Culper Spy Ring. “Revolutionary Friends: General George Washington and the Marquis de Lafayette” brings to life the relationship between Washington and Lafayette. Everyone of every age should read this moving account of two real American treasures. Her latest book “Revolutionary Rogues” is the story of the lives and relationships between John Andre, British officer and intelligence chief, and Benedict Arnold, a successful American general who became our most well-known traitor. The gift shop is open Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and the gift shop and exhibits are open every Sunday from 1 to 4 p.m. (Closed Dec. 24 and 31.) For more information, call 631-751-3730 or visit www.tvhs.org.

At Gallery North residents can find artistic presents. Photo by Beverly C. Tyler

Gallery North, 90 North Country Road, Setauket

The gallery is diagonally across the street from the historical society. It is easy to park at one and walk across the street to the other. The entire gallery is a gift shop with many beautiful paintings and gift pieces by local artists for sale. The current exhibit is Deck the Halls. Local artists and artisans have created beautiful paintings, drawings, handmade jewelry, pottery, glass, decorations, bags, cards and much more. Gallery North also is showcasing a diverse range of Long Island art and has Holiday POP-UP Shopping. On Thursdays, Dec. 7, 14 and 21, from 4 to 7 p.m., join them for a glass of wine and refreshment while you meet the artists and shop. Each Thursday evening a different selection of artists and artisans will be offering their hand-crafted gifts, jewelry, art and more. Gallery North is open Wednesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday noon to 5 p.m. through Dec. 22. For more information, call 631-751-2676 or visit www.gallerynorth.org.

Long Island Museum, 1200 Route 25A, Stony Brook

The gift shop in the Visitors Center includes books and prints on The Long Island Museum’s exhibits and permanent collections. There are also jewelry, pottery and hand-blown glass items made by local artists as well as hand-turned wood items by local artist Harry Wicks. The Visitors Center includes a temporary display of Revolutionary War items and the gift shop offers children’s Revolutionary War era gift items. The Visitors Center and gift shop are open Thursday to Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday noon to 5 p.m., closed Dec. 24 and 25. For more information, visit www.longislandmuseum.org.

Reboli Center, 64 Main St., Stony Brook.

The Reboli Center opened a year ago in the former bank building on Main Street in Stony Brook. On display are a large collection of wonderful paintings by Joe Reboli. Around the Reboli Center are four sculptures by Long Island artist/sculptor David Haussler. The current exhibit Tis the Season features Reboli paintings of the beauty of winter. In the design shop, there are wonderful art and craft items available to purchase for gifts as well as giclée prints of some Reboli paintings and artwork by Doug Reina, Jim Molloy and Pam Brown as well as David Ebner furniture and interesting items from a variety of artists. Stop in and see all the Reboli Center has to offer. The Reboli Center is open Tuesday through Saturday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sundays 1 to 5 p.m. Thursdays have extended hours to 8 p.m. through Dec. 21. For more information, call 631-751-7707 or visit www.rebolicenter.org.

St. James General Store, 516 Moriches Road, St. James

This old-fashioned general store is run by the Suffolk County Parks Department, Division of Historical Services. There are two floors of 19th- and 20th-century goods and lots of homemade goodies. They have an extensive collection of old-style candies, many date back to the 19th century. Be sure to try one of their delicious molasses pops.

The Visitors Center at The Long Island Museum in Stony Brook includes a temporary display of Revolutionary War items and the gift shop offers children’s Revolutionary War era gift items. Photo by Beverly C. Tyler

On the second floor are books on Long Island covering many local communities, and lots of interesting children’s books. This is one good, close-by, independent book store. The back room has an extensive collection of ornaments, some of which are reproductions of antique decorations. Back on the first floor, there is a large selection of toys, dolls and games for children that also harken back to the 19th century. The St. James General Store is open every day from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Call 631-854-3740.

There are lots of unusual gifts at these four gift shops. If you are buying a gift for someone, you will undoubtedly find something to suit every taste. There are many other excellent local shops in the Stony Brook Village Shopping Center and Setauket and East Setauket. In the Village of Port Jefferson, along and around Main Street and East Main Street are many delightful and unusual shops and restaurants. A special one in Port Jefferson is Secret Garden Tea Room on Main Street. Have a cup of tea, maybe a scone and jam or a delicious lunch and look over their selection of unusual and tea-based gifts. Open 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Sundays, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Closed Tuesday and Wednesday. For more information or reservations call 631-476-8327 or visit www.thesecretgardentearoom.com.

Finding a special or unusual gift is not only a good idea, it also supports our local businesses and brings us closer together as a community, and you never know who you will run into by shopping locally.

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.

By Rita J. Egan

The folks at the Three Village Historical Society are busy getting ready for a holiday favorite, their annual Candlelight House Tour scheduled for Dec. 1 and 2. This year the theme will be Visions of East Setauket: Then & Now, and the tours will include five homes on Shore Road in East Setauket and Poquott as well as a stop at the St. James R.C. Church Parish Center. The event provides the opportunity for participants to explore historic homes and properties and enjoy stunning holiday décor.

Steve Healy, president of the historical society, said this will be the 39th year the society is hosting the event, and he looks forward to it every year. “We get a great response, the houses are all different, and it’s a very festive occasion,” he said.

This year’s tour is the sixth one organized by co-chairs Patty Cain, historical society vice president, and Patty Yantz, a former president. Yantz said when it came to this year’s theme the pair were inspired by the book published by the organization, “Then & Now: The Three Villages,” which includes photos of various locations in the area as they looked in the past and how they appear now.

“We always like to highlight our archives and what we’re about,” Yantz said. “We like to take historic areas and look at how it’s developed.”

The tour has been filled with historic homes since its beginnings when decorator Eva Glaser and Mary Lou Mills came up with a way to raise funds for the Setauket Neighborhood House, which was in disrepair at the time. The structure, located at 95 Main Street, was the original home of the Three Village Historical Society’s headquarters.

The major fundraiser for the society, both Cain and Yantz said over the years more and more homeowners have offered their houses to be put on display. While decorators work on each home, many homeowners contribute input when it comes to the decorating.

Cain said she is always looking for homes to include, and when residents offer up their houses for the event, she takes into consideration its historical importance and what other structures are already included. The co-chairs and decorators work for months to prepare for the weekend, and Cain said they always worry if they did enough and if there are an adequate number of volunteers. However, every year the first night proves all the hard work was worth it.

“When it’s 6 o’clock Friday night, and the candles are lit in the houses, and the first guests come in, to me that’s the best part,” Cain said.

For many who participate in the tour, it’s an event that kicks off the holiday season; something Yantz agrees with. “I’m always amazed at how beautifully decorated the homes are,” she said. “That to me is why I just can’t wait to see them. For me personally, it just sets off the whole holiday feeling and brings back childhood memories. It’s inspiring to me,” she said.

Cain said they try to mix older and newer homes on the tour; however, the newer ones must be on historic properties to be included.

Among the homes decorated for this year’s tour will be one on the land known as Tinker Bluff, which is named after the first homeowner Henry Champlin Tinker, who built a summer home overlooking Port Jefferson Harbor in the late 19th century. Another home’s west end is its original mid-1800s structure, while one house sits on a land parcel where its dock attracted Joseph Elberson, proprietor of the once local rubber factory, to buy the property to use it for a transportation line.

“There’s a lot of history here,” Cain said. “The land is history, so you may have new homes on historic land that was once a huge farm or huge shipbuilding company. It’s historic in that respect, and we’re able to bring that history to people that might not know about it.”

Visitors to St. James R.C. Church Parish Center on Route 25A will discover the church’s presepio, a tableau of life in Bethlehem at the time of Christ’s birth. A unique Italian art form, the scene goes beyond the traditional nativity and fills an entire room.

The Dec. 1 tour includes wine and hors d’oeuvres at each home from 6 to 9 p.m. and ends with a buffet and wine reception at the parish center catered by Express Catering — a branch of Setauket’s Bagel Express — from 9 to 11 p.m. Saturday includes two options of an early breakfast at the Old Field Club in East Setauket and tour or tour only. The Saturday tour ends at 4 p.m.

Tickets for Friday night and the breakfast and tour are sold out, but plenty were available for the Saturday tour at press time. Ticket prices range from $45 to $110 per person. For more information, call 631-751-3730, email info@tvhs.org or visit www.tvhs.org. Tickets may be picked up at the Three Village Historical Society, which is located at 93 North Country Road, Setauket.

Holly Griesel as Etta Sherry talks about the Old Stone Jug in Stony Brook — now The Jazz Loft — during the spirits tour Oct. 21. Photo by Beverly C. Tyler

By Beverly C. Tyler

The Spirits of the Prohibition: Setauket in the Roaring 20s provided the overall theme for the Three Village Historical Society’s 23rd Annual Spirits Tour in the graveyards of the Setauket Presbyterian Church and Caroline Episcopal Church Oct. 21.

“My family was traditionally Episcopalian but my father Melville Havens Bryant had become a rabid prohibitionist, and the Methodist Church embraced temperance so we changed affiliation,” George Overin, playing William Washington Bryant (1859-1937), said. “Father was so committed to the cause that he would cross the street rather than walk in front of a saloon.”

George Overin as William Washington Bryant talks about the Prohibition during the spirits tour. Photo by Beverly C. Tyler

More than 300 attendees followed guides that took them on a walk to meet 14 colorful but deceased local residents who entertained them with stories of their lives and the people in the Three Village communities. Guided tours began at 5 p.m. and a new group stepped out from the Setauket Presbyterian Church social hall every 15 minutes through 7:45 p.m.

In addition to the tours through the cemeteries, tour participants were treated to an exhibit on Prohibition with many artifacts and visuals from The Long Island Museum’s Prohibition exhibit, Midnight Rum, on view in the Setauket Presbyterian Church social hall. The exhibit featured a 1933 beer keg from Trommer’s Brewery, which Trommer’s rebranded and pressed this pre-Prohibition keg into service to help satisfy its large number of beer orders.

Tour groups were also treated to an evening of jazz in the hall by the Ward Melville Honors Jazztet with Andrew Cavese, Max Liueberman, Miles Bruno and Jared Gozinsky providing the delightful jazz on bass, sax, guitar and drums.

“It was a court room, meeting hall, lecture hall, but most notably what it was used for was square dancing and late at night, if the spirit got my papa, you would see some fancy footwork at the Stone Jug,” Holly Griesel as Etta Sherry (1855-1956) said, talking about the Old Stone Jug in Stony Brook — now The Jazz Loft.

Donna Smith as Kate Wheeler Strong talks to tour participants about her “True Tales.” Photo by Beverly C. Tyler

Stony Brook was also celebrated with stories about Robert Cushman Murphy. He and his wife Grace Barstow Murphy are buried in Rhode Island, but Robert Murphy was here as a visiting spirit along with lifelong Stony Brook resident Etta Sherry, who is buried in Oak Hill Cemetery in Stony Brook.

“Suffolk County, right here where you are, was the very first county in the entire world to have DDT banned in 1956, and Grace and I spearheaded that effort with some other people,” Art Billadello, playing Robert Cushman Murphy (1887-1973), said.

Setauket’s Kate Wheeler Strong (1879-1977), historian, teacher and storyteller, who is buried in the Smith-Strong cemetery on Strong’s Neck, wrote articles on Long Island local history for the Long Island Forum from 1938 until 1976. She also put her articles into a series of booklets she called “True Tales.”

“My love of history came from my father who knew every story about the family and the local people living here,” Donna Smith as Kate Wheeler Strong said. “He’s the one who inspired me to write about ‘True Tales.’”

Participants, especially those who took the early tours before dark, were treated to a view of the restored Caroline Church Carriage Shed adjacent to the church parking lot. Built in 1887, it is a unique example of a seven-bay carriage shed that was an important feature in the community during the era of the horse and buggy.

This year’s Spirits Tour was also special for the beautiful weather and starry skies that made for a pleasant, fun and informative event for everyone who participated.

Beverly 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.

From left, Steve Healy (as Henry Smith Mount) and Steve Hintze (as William Sidney Mount) at last year’s Spirits Tour. Photo by Heidi Sutton

For the past 23 years, as the air gets chilly and colorful leaves decorate the ground, the Three Village Historical Society ushers in the spooky month of October with its annual Spirits Tour, a night of treks through local historic cemeteries guided by local historic figures. This year’s event, whose theme is The Spirits of Prohibition: Setauket of the Roaring 20s, will take place Saturday, Oct. 21, at the Setauket Presbyterian Cemetery, 5 Caroline Ave., and Carolina Church Cemetery, 1 Dyke Road in Setauket. The evening promises a rip-roaring night of jazz, artifacts and more for all guys and dolls in attendance.

The 2015 Spirits Tour focused on Culper Spies. Photo by Heidi Sutton

Building on the themes of the historical society’s Prohibition Night fundraiser last month, this year’s Spirits Tour is a 1920s-set event exploring what it was like to live in Setauket in the decade that saw the rise of the women’s suffrage movement, gangsters and flappers, and, of course, illegal speakeasies and alcohol bootleggers. Fourteen actors, decked out in period-perfect costumes courtesy of Antiques Costume & Prop Rental by Nan Guzzetta, will portray local figures from the past such as Annie Rensselaer Tinker, a prominent suffragette who had a summer cottage in Poquott, George Vingut, whose barn was used to bootleg liquor, Ward Melville, who famously redeveloped Stony Brook Village, and many more.

This year’s 2-hour tour will be a multisensational event, according to director Brian Cea, including period exhibits previously displayed at the Long Island Museum in Stony Brook, like Ford Model T cars, antique bottles, a live jazz band and even silent films projected on the side of the churches. Prohibition-era food and drinks will also be offered for sale.

“It’s not just going to be walking around in a circle listening to spirits,” Cea said. “It will entail smelling, feeling and tasting the era. I wanted to help bring this subject to life.”

Brian Cea as Benedict Arnold during the 2015 Spirits Tour. Photo by Heidi Sutton

Cea, who has been involved in the Spirits Tour for the past eight years, got the idea for the Prohibition-era concept when he was giving a private historic house tour on Bennetts Street in East Setauket once owned by a judge with ties to a tavern owner on Wall Street in New York City in the 1920s. Old whiskey bottles dating back to that time were eventually found underneath the flooring.

“We believe this guy was holding liquor that was being transported from over the Sound into Long Island and brought into the city,” Cea said. “I then found out bootlegging was very prosperous here on Long Island with illegal gin mills around our area and I thought, ‘Let’s look into that.’”

TVHS President Stephen Healy said he’s excited for a walk through that unexplored aspect of Long Island history. “A lot of times you see the bootlegging arrests that took place in the city, but you don’t see where the product was made and where it came from,” Healy said, explaining the local farmers grew the key ingredient in alcohol: potatoes. “It’s fascinating how people would get alcohol. They would smuggle it in coffins and rum-running boats. We were a pretty good source [for the alcohol].”

Historical society trustee Frank Turano returned to write the script for the event, a process that took up a majority of the summer due to the massive amounts of research. “In town, around Prohibition, there were bootleggers, there were people storing booze, people making moonshine — a representation of all things,” he said. “Each year we try to do something different and we’d never done that era before, so we took advantage.”

The Cast

Kate Wheeler Strong (Donna Smith)

Ellsworth Buckingham (Steve Healy)

Eversley Childs (Max Golub)

Harry Golden (Mort Rosen)

Celia Hawkins (Karin Lynch)

Ward Melville (Michael O’Dwyer)

Robert Cushman Murphy (Art Billadello)

Sarry Ann Sells (Bonnie Duvall)

Etta Sherry (Holly Griesel)

Eugenio Goncalves de Teixeira (Michael Tessler)

Annie Rensselaer Tinker (Stephanie Carsten)

William Bryant (George Overin)

George Vingut (Robert Ogden)

Roaming Cop (Brian Cea)

The Three Village Historical Society will present its 23rd annual Spirits Tour on Saturday, Oct. 21 from 5 to 9 p.m. Rain date is Oct. 28. Tours, which begin at the Setauket Presbyterian Church parking lot at 5 p.m., leave every 15 minutes and can last from 1½ to 2 hours each. Last tour starts at 7:45 p.m. Participants are asked to arrive 15 minutes prior to your tour’s departure, to dress warmly, wear comfortable shoes and bring a flashlight and umbrella.Tickets in advance are $18 adults, $15 members; $10 children under 12, $8 members. Tickets at the door are $25 adults, $20 members; $12 children under 12, $10 members. For more information, call 631-751-3730 or visit www.tvhs.org.

OUR REVOLUTIONARY STORY The weather cooperated as the community came out in droves for the 3rd annual Culper Spy Day on Sept. 16. Ticket holders were able to visit 15 locations in the Three Village and Port Jefferson area and learned how people lived during the Revolutionary War with blacksmithing and colonial cooking demonstrations, and about the infamous Culper Spy Ring which originated from Setauket. Historic churches and the oldest home in Brookhaven, the Brewster House, opened their doors to tours on this rare occasion.

All photos by Greg Catalano

From left, Steve Healy and Tom Manuel during a recent tour of The Jazz Loft in Stony Brook. Photo by Heidi Sutton
An evening of booze, jazz and dance

By Kevin Redding

For one glorious evening, The Jazz Loft on Christian Avenue in Stony Brook will transport local guys and dolls back to the rip-roaring time when big bands reigned supreme, a sea of flapper dresses whirled around the dance floor and booze was in high demand.

Presented by the Three Village Historical Society in collaboration with The Jazz Loft, the Prohibition Night fundraiser is a 1920s-set event on Thursday, Sept. 14 from 7 to 9:30 p.m. that encourages residents to dress in period clothes, mingle and dance to the sounds of the era and get a sense of what it was like to live in this area during one of the most exciting decades of the century.

From left, Steve Healy and Tom Manuel during a recent tour of The Jazz Loft in Stony Brook. Photo by Heidi Sutton

But unlike folks of the time who had to smuggle illegal alcohol into speakeasies, it’s no secret that beer and wine will be flowing at the event all night long as it’s sponsored by Montauk Brewery Company, representatives from which will provide raffles and tastings of its beers, including the Watermelon Session Ale. All proceeds will benefit the historical society.

The fundraiser will serve as a prequel of sorts to the historical society’s 23rd annual Spirits Tour on Oct. 21, dubbed The Spirits of Prohibition: Setauket of the Roaring ’20s, which will guide residents through life in Setauket and Stony Brook as it was during that decade. Continuing with Spirits Tours tradition, actors will be situated in various parts of the Caroline Church of Brookhaven and Setauket Presbyterian cemetery and portray local figures from the past who were involved in the suffrage movement as well as the smuggling and secret storage of alcohol.

“It’s such a fascinating time in history. The jazz clubs during that period, between the flapper dresses, the jazz music, and the romance of everything, could rival any hip hop club today,” TVHS President Stephen Healy said. “It’s fascinating how people got alcohol during this time. They would smuggle it in coffins and rum-running boats and out here we had a lot of farmers growing potatoes, a key ingredient in vodka. So we were actually a pretty good source.”

Healy added that because the event tackles an era that jazz music helped define, it was a no-brainer to collaborate with The Jazz Loft, a nonprofit the society president had wanted to work with for a while now, and its director Tom Manuel. With an added connection with the president of Montauk Brewery, he said it was a perfect fit.

“Those three themes matched up perfectly — the alcohol, the prohibition history and the jazz music,” Healy said. “It will be fantastic. We’ll have beer tastings, raffles and probably a walk around that night. While you listen to jazz music, you can either sit at the table and watch the show or mingle and learn about prohibition history, our society and the loft.”

Tom Manuel and Steve Healy with Manuel’s dog Cindy Lou in front of The Jazz Loft in Stony Brook. Photo by Heidi Sutton

Manuel, who founded The Jazz Loft in May 2016 as a hub for jazz preservation, education and performance, is not only providing the venue for the event at no cost but the entertainment as well.

With trumpet in hand, he and his Firehouse Five band will be performing a program of music that spans the decade, including Louis Armstrong’s “Indiana,” “I’ve Found a New Baby,” and “I’m Confessin’” and early Duke Ellington and Django Reinhardt among others. The band, consisting of trumpet, guitar, bass, drums, cornet, saxophone and trombone, will even be performing on period instruments acquired from the loft.

“Jazz has always been the soundtrack to what was happening in our country, so I love that we could do something like this and transport people back in time for a night and provide a very clear picture of what was happening back in the day,” Manuel said.

Recalling an interaction he once had with documentary filmmaker Ken Burns about the ’20s, Manuel said, “He was talking about this and said, ‘It’s interesting how anytime you tell people they can’t do something, everybody wants to do it and it immediately becomes popular.’ So in the ’20s, it was you can’t drink, you can’t wear that, you can’t listen to this music, and so of course what does everybody do? They go absolutely crazy over all this and all they want to do is hear jazz, dance, drink booze and have a great big party. I think the time’s extra special for that naughty factor.”

Manuel said the event was especially important to him because it gave his nonprofit the opportunity to collaborate with another, which is part of the loft’s overall mission. “It’s so essential that we nonprofits work together because we can’t do it on our own,” he said. “I don’t care how successful you are; we are all in the arts and the arts is all about collaboration. So we can’t just hide in our little corners. I’m so happy that the TVHS is growing. That, to me, is why we do this. Now, together, we’re stronger as a team.”

The Jazz Loft is located at 275 Christian Ave. in Stony Brook Village. Tickets to Prohibition Night are $20 adults, $15 seniors, $10 students. Period costumes are encouraged. To order, call 631-751-1895 or visit www.thejazzloft.org. Spirits Tour tickets will also be on sale during the event. For more information on the Spirits Tour, visit www.TVHS.org or call 631-751-3730.

Head of Special Collections and University Archives at Stony Brook University, Kristen Nyitray, with a letter by Nathaniel Woodhull, one of four letters on view during Culper Spy Day. Photo by Jenna Lennon

By Jenna Lennon

‘Lucky is the child who listens to a story from an elder and treasures it for years.’ — Barbara Russell, Brookhaven Town Historian

Margo Arceri first heard about George Washington’s Setauket spies from her Strong’s Neck neighbor and local historian, Kate W. Strong, in the early 1970s. Arceri lights up when talking about her favorite spy, Anna Smith Strong. “Kate W. Strong, Anna Smith Strong’s great-great-granddaughter, originally told me about the Culper Spy Ring when I used to visit her with my neighbor and Strong descendant Raymond Brewster Strong III. One of her stories was about Nancy (Anna Smith Strong’s nickname) and her magic clothesline. My love of history grew from there,” she said.

Four years ago Arceri approached the Three Village Historical Society’s President Steve Hintze and the board about conducting walking, biking and kayaking tours while sharing her knowledge of George Washington’s Long Island intelligence during the American Revolution.

Today Arceri runs Tri-Spy Tours in the Three Village area, which follows in the actual footsteps of the Culper Spy Ring. “I wanted to target that 20- to 60-year-old active person,” she said. “I have to thank AMC’s miniseries ‘Turn’ because 80 percent of the people who sign up for the tour do so because of that show,” she laughs.

Your ticket to the 3rd annual Culper Spy Day awaits!

It was during one of those tours that Arceri came up with the idea of having a Culper Spy Day. “Visiting places like the Brewster House, which is owned by The Ward Melville Heritage Organization, the grave site of genre artist William Sidney Mount at the Setauket Presbyterian Church cemetery (whose paintings are at The Long Island Museum) and the Country House, which every one of the spies visited,” Arceri thought “there has to be a day designated to celebrating all these organizations in the Three Village and surrounding areas; where each of us can give our little piece of the story and that’s how Culper Spy Day developed.”

After a successful two-year run, the third annual Culper Spy Day will be held on Saturday, Sept. 16 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. offering self-guided tours of 15 locations.

One event you won’t want to miss is the display of historic letters at Stony Brook University’s Special Collections and University Archives located on the second floor of the Frank Melville Jr. Memorial Library. Last year more than 60 people came to see two of George Washington’s letters during the event. This year, they’re hoping for an even bigger turnout with four handwritten letters that illustrate the “history and impact of the Culper Spy Ring,” according to head director Kristen Nyitray. The letters, which were penned by Nathaniel Woodhull, James Jay and Washington, “underscore Setauket’s and the Spy Ring’s pivotal role in the framing of our country,” she said.

The first of Washington’s letters, dated Sept. 24, 1779, addresses issues regarding Robert Townsend, whose code name was Samuel Culper Jr. It was received just a few days later, as noted on the letter, by Washington’s spymaster, Benjamin Tallmadge.

The letter offers methods of gathering intelligence, such as the mention of using “the stain” or the invisible ink believed to be created by James Jay, and the use of code names and numbers. During the war, Washington didn’t know the identities of the spies operating within the spy ring, so they communicated with code names and numbers to assure complete secrecy. At this point in history, the spy ring was “still vetting how best to obtain information without detection,” said Nyitray.

Almost a year later, on Sept. 16, 1780, Washington wrote to Tallmadge again, this time very favorable of Culper Jr., offering him public awareness of his actions or compensation for his efforts. The letter states, “I shall be ready to recommend him to the public, if public employ shall be his aim, and if not, that I shall think myself bound to represent his conduct in the light it deserves, and procure him a compensation of another kind.”

However, Townsend quite literally took his secret to the grave. The existence of the Culper Spy Ring was not made public until the 1930s when historian Morton Pennypacker acknowledged the similarities between Townsend’s handwriting and that of Culper Jr.

Obtaining Washington’s letters from Christie’s New York was a “collaborative effort” by the university, the Three Village Historical Society, The Ward Melville Heritage Organization and the Raynham Hall Museum.

In Woodhull’s March 4, 1776, letter, he provides Major General Philip Schuyler updates in regards to officers, battalions and supplies while Jay’s Jan. 9, 1808, letter addresses an unnamed general asking for compensation for his development of a “secret mode of correspondence,” presumably the invisible ink Washington and Townsend used to communicate decades prior.

Nyitray has been contacted from people all over the country looking to make an appointment to view the letters. “I receive calls and emails every week about the letters,” she said. With the Culper Spy Ring at the forefront of the popular TV show, AMC’s “Turn,” it has “brought positive attention and awareness to our region’s history” and “taken on a life of its own … the university provides an opportunity for all to engage in history through the letters, which is a much different experience than reading or watching a television program about it.”

Arceri’s favorite part of the day is “seeing all these different organizations coming together as a whole. It really is our Revolutionary story,” she said. “Everywhere you turn in the Three Villages you are looking at an artifact, and as the historical society believes, the community is our museum and that I would really love to put on the forefront of people’s minds.”

The third annual Culper Spy Day has been made possible through the efforts of The Three Village Historical Society, The Long Island Museum, The Ward Melville Heritage Organization, Tri-Spy Tours, Stony Brook University Special Collections, Emma S. Clark Memorial Library, Frank Melville Memorial Park, Three Village Community Trust, Caroline Church of Brookhaven, Setauket Presbyterian Church, Incorporated Village of Port Jefferson (Drowned Meadow Cottage), History Close at Hand, the Country House Restaurant, Times Beacon Record News Media, Raynham Hall, the Smithtown Historical Society, Discover Long Island, Ketcham Inn of the Moriches and Sagtikos Manor in Bay Shore.

Tickets, which are $25 adults, $5 children ages 6 to 12, may be purchased in advance at the Three Village Historical Society (TVHS), 93 North Country Road, Setauket, by calling 631-751-3730 or by visiting www.tvhs.org. Veterans and children under the age of 6 are free. Tickets may be picked up at the TVHS from Sept. 11 to 15. At that time, visitors will receive a bracelet and a copy of the Culper Spy Day map with all event listings and include access to 15 Culper Spy Ring locations. If available, tickets on the day of the event may be purchased at the historical society.

 

Photo from TVHS

The Three Village Historical Society recently announced the exciting acquisition of the Abraham Woodhull costume worn by actor , Jamie Bell during the filming of the AMC series “TURN.” The costume will be integrated into the historical society’s SPIES exhibit.

The exhibit tells the story of the little-known Culper Spy Ring that was active during the American Revolution from 1778 to 1781 through the use of interactive software, fun-filled educational games and hands-on activities that include quill pens and invisible ink and decoding spy letters using a spy code.

The Three Village Historical Society is located at 93 North Country Road, Setauket. Hours for the exhibit are Sundays from 1 to 4 p.m. and by appointment for groups of 10 or more. Admission is $10 adults, $5 students and children 12 and under, free for members. For more information, call 631-751-3730 or visit www.tvhs.org.

Claudia Friddell
Margo Arceri

Join the Three Village Historical Society for a special Family Walking Tour and Talk on George Washington’s spies on Monday, July 17 at the Setauket Neighborhood House, 95 Main St., Setauket. Local historian Margo Arceri will lead a walking tour at 5:30 p.m. (please arrive by 5:15 p.m.) followed by a guest author visit and spy acitivity with children’s book author Claudia Friddell at 7 p.m. No registration is necessary. Walking tour is $10 per person/talk is free. For more information, please call 631-751-3730 or visit www.tvhs.org.

 

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