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Three Village Historical Society

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Tri-Spy Tours owner Margo Arceri with two young volunteers Culper Spy Day 2018. Photo from Margo Arceri

Her business activities may be associated with warmer temperatures, but a Strong’s Neck resident is keeping busy even in the colder weather.

Margo Arceri is known in the Three Village area for creating Culper Spy Day, an annual event in September, and Tri-Spy Tours, which takes participants to local historical sites. While the excursions include participants walking, biking, kayaking and paddle boarding — activities many may associate with summer — Arceri said the business keeps her busy year round. This year she was booked for private tours up until Thanksgiving, and she will be sponsoring the screening of TBR News Media’s “One Life to Give” at The Setauket Neighborhood House Monday, Dec. 10, which will be hosted by the Three Village Historical Society, something she said she’s looking forward to.

“I love the storyline, and the Times Beacon has been an incredible partner with Culper Spy Day,” she said. “In general, it’s kind of my way of giving back and also supporting something near and dear to my heart.”

Participants on a Tri-Spy tour visit Abraham Woodhull’s grave. Photo from Margo Arceri

During December, January and February, Arceri said she thinks about new ideas for the next year. Recently, she was inspired to apply for a grant for a trolley to use for tours after members of the Daughters of the American Revolution and Children of the American Revolution traveled from Connecticut to Long Island, and Arceri conducted a tour for them on a Coach USA bus.

She is also hoping to extend Culper Spy Day to a weekend and would love to coordinate a bus trip into New York City where ticket holders can visit the Fraunces Tavern Museum and go on a Revolutionary War-era walking tour in the downtown area with Patriot Tours, she said.

For Arceri, the winter months are ideal for researching in places like Fort Ticonderoga, West Point, Boston, Williamsburg and Philadelphia. She said there is always new information to discover.

“Somebody will ask me something on my tour, and like a good detective, I’ll have to find out the answer,” she said.

Arceri said Brookhaven Town historian Barbara Russell once wrote, “Lucky is the child who listens to a story from an elder and cherishes it for years.” It’s a quote she always starts her tours with because she said she is that child.

The Tri-Spy Tours owner said her love for history began while growing up in Strong’s Neck where she would listen to the stories of Kate Wheeler Strong, a descendant of Culper Spy Ring member Anna Smith Strong who was known for using her clothesline to send coded messages to her fellow spies.

Arceri initially volunteered giving walking tours with the Three Village Historical Society and served on its board three times through the years in roles such as vice president and recording secretary. Arceri said she is always grateful for former society president Steven Hintze, who helped her launch Tri-Spy Tours, and current historical society president Steve Healy for helping her take the business to the next level.

“He has been incredibly supportive, and he’s always listening to my ideas and giving me his feedback and his ideas,” she said. “They’ve just been incredible partners.”

“Somebody will ask me something on my tour, and like a good detective, I’ll have to find out the answer.”

— Margo Arceri

She also credits everyone at the historical society for always being helpful, and archivist Karen Martin, historian Bev Tyler as well as Russell for assisting her with research.

Healy said the admiration is mutual, as Arceri is always looking for new ideas and seeking to expand. He said he would love to see the historical society grow, and he credits Arceri with helping it do that.

“She has the vision to look at the bigger picture, and how we can tie things together,” Healy said.

Arceri said during her tours she intertwines Culper Spy history with fun facts about philanthropists such as the Melville family and Eversley Childs, because she said she feels that it’s important to point out that so many structures in the area are preserved because of someone’s generosity.

“I always like to stress on the tour from the natives, that people arrive here, and they fall in love,” Arceri said. “The early settlers did, the Melvilles did, and I try to make sure that anybody who comes on our tour falls in love a little bit with Setauket.”

Members of the bus trip pose for a photo between the statues of Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr with dueling pistols.

By Elizabeth Kahn Kaplan

Twenty-seven enthusiastic day trippers boarded a chartered bus at the headquarters of the Three Village Historical Society at dawn on Nov. 3. Led by TVHS historian Bev Tyler, they arrived in comfort before 10 a.m. at Philadelphia’s newest tribute to the founding of our nation, the Museum of the American Revolution. There, the drama of the American Revolution and the ideas that inspired it came to life through the personal stories of the people who were there, from the early stirrings of unrest in Boston to the opening shots of the War of Independence and beyond, to the creation of the American Republic.

A must see was the recently opened exhibit, Hamilton Was Here: Rising Up in Revolutionary Philadelphia, on display through March 17, 2019. While New York City, our nation’s first capital, is the focus of attention in the Broadway hit “Hamilton: An American Musical,” it was in Philadelphia, the second national capital, that many of the major events in the life and work of Alexander Hamilton took place.

Museum visitors prepare to load and fire a cannon

The exhibition highlights different aspects of Hamilton’s contributions: his role as an artillery officer in Washington’s army and, later, as adviser to President Washington; his writings that persuaded states to accept the United States Constitution; creator of the U.S. Coast Guard; and first Secretary of the Treasury who envisioned the financial future of the nation.

Through interactive displays, hands-on activities and wall texts, the museum presents the struggles by Hamilton, who favored a strong central government, with Jefferson and Madison, who believed that power should lie with each state. These are questions that we still struggle with today: How do we achieve a proper balance between the rights of each state to act independently and  the need for federal oversight?

Other permanent exhibits are exceptional as well. The museum proudly displays Washington’s war tent, in which he worked and slept alongside Continental Army battlefields. Another remarkably stirring exhibit is housed in a small amphitheater containing life-size, three-dimensional representations of members of the Oneida Indian Nation. Each one “speaks” in turn, presenting arguments for and against sending their warriors to take part in the Saratoga Campaign in the autumn of 1777. Should they support the Patriot cause and fight alongside the Americans, or should they side with the British Army? The Oneidas wrestle with their decision and decide to fight with the Continental Army. The Saratoga Campaign became a turning point of the war.  

A scene from the Oneida Indian Nation exhibit at the museum.

Is this an appropriate museum for children? Yes, bring a child to see Washington’s war tent, or follow the 10 steps it takes to load and fire a cannon, or design a coin or paper currency for the new nation, or dress up in reproduction 1790s clothing to attend one of Martha Washington’s “levees.” All can sit in comfort to see excellent, informative short films.

That said, the museum’s exhibits appear to be designed primarily for high school and college students and adults. They pose serious questions — questions that the nation still struggles to answer. At the end of the day I asked one of the knowledgeable participants among the group to share his impression. “It was good,” he said, “but not great.”  When asked why the lower rating, he said, “Too politically correct.”

Hmm. Yes, the museum has expanded upon the history many of us learned about our country’s origins, mostly told from the perspective of affluent white Protestant males. Little was said in most textbooks or high school class discussions about the impact of the American Revolution on Native Americans, enslaved Africans, women, Catholics and other religious minorities and French and Spanish occupants of the land. For them, the revolution offered promise and peril. Some chose the cause of independence and others sided with the British.

Storybook touch screens called Finding Freedom introduce the African-American London Pleasants, who ran away from slavery in Virginia in 1781 and joined the British Army as a trumpeter. We hear about Eve, owned by the Randolph family of Williamsburg, Virginia, who fled to the British when they occupied the city. She and her son George enjoyed a period of freedom, working under the British, until she was recaptured at Yorktown in 1781. We learn of Elizabeth Freeman, who sued her owner for freedom based on the 1780 Massachusetts Constitution — and won.

The museum focuses attention on the most revolutionary legacies — personal liberty, citizenship, the right to vote and social equality. Is the museum “Politically Correct,” or simply “Correct”?

On the bus ride back to Setauket, the participants from the Three Village Historical Society were treated to a screening of the TBR News Media film about Nathan Hale, “One Life to Give.” They also had time to think about what they’d learned at the Museum of the American Revolution. If that was the goal of its designers, they accomplished their purpose.

The author is the former director of education at the Three Village Historical Society and an educator, writer and lecturer on art, artists and American history.

All photos by Elizabeth Kahn Kaplan

By Rita J. Egan

For four decades the Three Village Historical Society has been illuminating the way to the holiday season with its Candlelight House Tour, showcasing historic properties dressed in all their festive finery by a team of local decorators.

On Saturday, Dec. 1, ticket holders can take part in the society’s 40th annual Candlelight House Tour. Titled 40 Years Honoring a Sense of Place, the tour will include five homes in East Setauket, the grist mill at Frank Melville Memorial Park and the historical society’s headquarters on North Country Road.

This year’s tour is the seventh one organized by co-chairs Patty Cain, historical society vice president, and Patty Yantz, a former president. Yantz said the title of the tour is a natural fit for the society that offers various programs that educate residents about former residents and local history, which in turn gives them a sense of place.

“People can come and go, but that history still lives on and is hopefully appreciated by generations to come,” Yantz said.

One of the homes on the tour this year was featured during the first Candlelight House Tour and is owned by the same owner, Eva Glaser. Glaser was one of the first co-chairs of the event and came up with the idea to hold a candlelight tour to raise money for the refurbishment of The Setauket Neighborhood House, where the historical society was initially housed. “It’s a treat to have her home on it,” Cain said.

This year’s tour includes other homes from past tours, mostly from the event’s first decade, and even though the owners have changed, the historical aspect of the houses hasn’t, according to Yantz and Cain.

“Some of these houses are favorites of tour-goers and the community, so they do like to see them again,” Cain said.

Cain said in the past some recently built homes were included on the tour because they were situated on properties of historical significance, but this year all the houses are significant on their own merits. The co-chair said they all date back 100 years or more, and the owners have maintained the unique historical character for each.

Among the spots are one structure that belonged to a sea captain and a beach house that overlooks Conscience Bay. Cain said a Dutch Colonial home that is a familiar sight to locals will also be one of the stops giving ticket holders the opportunity to see what the new owner has done with it.

The theme of each house is different either depending on the décor or the architecture of the home, according to Yantz, and each spot highlights and honors the area.

“Not only do we get to see the houses but sometimes we get a glimmer or concept of who built the house,” she said. “We get the history. We get an idea of who came here before [us], which I think is a wonderful thing in the more of a transient world we live in. Sometimes it’s very nice to be very grounded.”

Cain said she thinks attendees will take away a lot from this year’s event.

“I hope what they get out of the tour this year is to really see a beautiful sampling of the historic homes that we have in the area and can appreciate the fact that each owner has really cherished the fact that it is a historic home, and they have maintained the bones of the house,” Cain said.

The 40th annual Candlelight House Tour will be held on Dec. 1 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. (the Nov. 30 evening tour is sold out). Tickets are $50 per person, $45 members. An optional breakfast at the Old Field Club from 8:30 to 10:30 a.m. is available for an additional $20. For more information or to order tickets, call 631-751-3730, email info@tvhs.org or visit www.tvhs.org. Tickets may be picked up at the Three Village Historical Society located at 93 North Country Road, Setauket.

Photos by Rita J. Egan, 2017

The Three Village Historical Society presented its 24th Spirits Cemetery Tour, titled The Fickle Finger of Fate, Oct. 20.

Approximately 20 attendees at a time were led on walks through the Setauket Presbyterian and Caroline Church cemeteries as actors portrayed former Setauket and Stony Brook residents, some of whom knocked on death’s door too soon.

Ticket holders learned about William Sidney Mount and his interest in seances; the sickly Mary Swift Jones who accompanied her husband on a voyage to China where he brought a coffin on board in preparation of her death; Adelaide Sells, a gospel singer who won Amateur Night at Harlem’s Apollo Theatre; Alice Parsons who went missing in Stony Brook in 1939 and more. 

Historic Setauket cemeteries will host an evening of mystery and suspense

Donna Smith portrays Maria Smith Williamson during the 2016 Spirits Tour

By Heidi Sutton

The shorter days, falling leaves and cooler weather signal the arrival of the Three Village Historical Society’s annual Spirits Tour. The popular event, now in its 24th year, will be held at the Caroline Church of Brookhaven and the Setauket Presbyterian Church cemeteries on Saturday, Oct. 20. Guided tours will begin at 5 p.m. with the last tour of the evening heading out into the dark at 7:45 p.m. 

This year’s tour, titled Fickle Finger of Fate, will feature “Spirits” of the past, costumed actors who will portray unfortunate souls of the Three Village area that knocked on death’s door too soon. 

One of the stops during last year’s tour. Photo by Beverly C. Tyler

Frank Turano, co-chair of the committee and historical society trustee returned to write the script for the 15-member cast, a massive undertaking that took months of research. When asked how he came up with this year’s theme, Turano said, “Fate takes different turns in people’s lives and that’s what we’re highlighting. These are local people that made a decision in their lives that sometimes turned out good and sometimes not so good.”

All the people that the actors will be portraying lived in Setauket and Stony Brook. “The earliest one lived in the 18th century and the latest one is middle 20th,” said Turano. Those who currently live in the area will recognize the familiar last names like Bates, Parsons, Satterly, Davis and Jones. 

“Until [William] Levitt arrived in this community, this was very much a provincial area with the same people [living here] year after year and generation after generation,” explained Turano who will be portraying Henry Hackett Satterly who enlisted in the army and was shipped out to the Mexican War in the early 1840s. He wound up dying in a hospital in Mexico and was buried in an unmarked grave. His family erected a monument to him behind the Presbyterian Church.

Visitors will also meet the spirit of Captain George Child who perished along with 154 others when the Lexington Steamer caught fire and sank off Eaton’s Neck in 1840. Child was filling in for Captain Jake Vanderbilt, who had called in sick, which sealed his fate.

Artist William Sidney Mount, who is buried at the Presbyterian Church, will have his story told also, but in a different context. “In the late 1840s there was a national popularity with the occult with the Ouija board and cult activities and Mount was fascinated by it and one of the places he went for these séances  was [Thomas Haddaway’s house in Stony Brook] which is now the Country House Restaurant,” said Turano.

Stephanie Carsten will reprise her role of Maria Smith Williamson, whose son Jedidiah died after being run over by a wagon in the mid-1800s, and  Edward Pfeifer’s specter will tell how he enlisted in the Army Air Corps in the 1930s as a ground crewman and was stationed at Clark Field in the Phillipines, “which was considered a plum of an assignment because he was right near Manila” said Turano. 

“Unfortunately, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, Pfeifer was transferred to the Infantry Division and was part of the defense of Corregidor.” Pfeifer wound up on the infamous Bataan Death March and died in the prison camp. Added Turano, “He had lots of things that twisted his fate.”

TVHS President Stephen Healy is proud to be able to offer this event to the community, which, along with the society’s annual Candlelight Tour, is one of the society’s biggest fundraisers of the year. “The churches are fantastic — they just are that perfect backdrop to having an event like this and to actually walk through an active graveyard is kind of neat and a little bit spooky as it is,” he said. 

One of the new additions to the tour this year will be roaming characters who will interact with visitors in both cemeteries. Healy will play the part of a turn-of-the-century detective investigating a disappearance, a role he is looking forward to playing at one of his favorite historical events.

“As a local historian group, we try to get the word on locally what happened here, pre and post Culper Spy. People live in this community because aesthetically it looks beautiful, but they don’t know a lot about the rich history and that’s where we come in.”

Tours will leave from the Setauket Presbyterian Church, 5 Caroline Ave., Setauket every 15 minutes starting at 5 p.m. Each tour lasts approximately 1½ to 2 hours. The last tour departs at 7:45 p.m. It is advised to dress warmly, wear comfortable shoes and bring a flashlight. 

In addition, a 1920s remastered silent film, “The Daughter of Dawn,” will be screened at the Setauket Presbyterian Church during the event.  Selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant,” it features an all-Native American cast. Complimentary hot cider and donuts will be served in the Presbyterian Church during the event. 

Tickets in advance at www.tvhs.org are $18 adults, $15 members; $10 children under 12, $8 members. Tickets on the night of the event, if available, are $25 adults, $20 members; $12 children under 12, $10 members. Rain date is Oct. 27. For more information, call 631-751-3730.

Photo by Anthony White

The fourth annual Culper Spy Day was held Saturday, Sept. 15 offering participants self-guided tours of 24 locations in the Three Village area and Port Jefferson including eight more spots than previous years.

Margo Arceri, founder of the event and owner of Tri-Spy Tours, was pleased with this year’s turnout of more than 800 visitors.

Margo Arceri speaks to visitors about Culper Spy Abraham Woodhull at his gravesite in the Setauket Presbyterian Church Cemetery during the event. Photo by Michael Rosengard

“Culper Spy Day has grown beyond my wildest dreams,” she said. “From Manhattan to Montauk, attendees get to learn and understand just how the Culper Spy Ring helped change the course of the Revolution. These were ordinary people who did extraordinary things. Without the hard work and efforts of each individual
organization and their volunteers, it would not be what it is today.”

Tri-Spy Tours, the Three Village Historical Society, The Ward Melville Heritage Organization and The Long Island Museum hosted the  day with more than 40 organizations participating. Ticketholders experienced Revolutionary War encampments; docent-led tours of historic homes, churches and cemeteries; blacksmith demonstrations; Colonial cooking; children’s activities; invisible ink demonstrations, a TURN memorabilia auction and more.

From left, Major Benjamin Tallmadge (Art Billadello) and Abraham Woodhull (Beverly C. Tyler) read a copy of The Royal Gazette dated July 21, 1780 on the grounds of the Sherwood-Jayne Farm in East Setauket as Big Bill the Tory, aka William Jayne II (David Burt), looks on. Billadello is wearing a dragoon coat from the AMC television series ‘TURN’ that will be auctioned off at Gallery North’s Studio during Culper Spy Day. Photo by Heidi Sutton

 ‘Lucky is the child who listens to a story from an elder and treasures it for years.’

Barbara Russell, Town of Brookhaven Historian 

By Heidi Sutton

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.

Five 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. 

It was during one of those tours that Arceri came up with the idea of having a Culper Spy Day, a day to honor the members of Long Island’s brave Patriot spy ring who helped change the course of history and helped Washington win the Revolutionary War.

The Brewster House, considered to be the oldest house in the Town of Brookhaven, will be open for tours on 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 three-year run, the fourth annual Culper Spy Day will be held on Saturday, Sept. 15 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. offering self-guided tours of 24 locations including eight new spots for the ultimate Culper Spy Day experience. “The more the merrier,” laughs Arceri.

One new event you won’t want to miss is an interactive tour at the Sherwood-Jayne Farm in East Setauket where you’ll experience a different spin on George Washington’s Culper Spy Ring. Maintained by Preservation Long Island, the property boasts a 1700s saltbox home, apple orchard, barn, an ice house, corn crib, a pasture and nature trail.

According to Darren St. George, education and public programs director at Preservation Long Island, the farm was originally owned by the Jayne family.

“The property was purchased by Mathias Jayne in 1730 [who built a lean-to saltbox dwelling] which is eventually passed down to William Jayne II in 1768 who expands the house after his second marriage,” he said, continuing, “[William] was involved with local government, he was a constable, so he had some stature and clout in the community and it was nice to have a more substantial home.”

However, when the Revolutionary War broke out, Jayne chose to remain a Loyalist and a steadfast supporter of the crown.

Meet Big Bill the Tory at the Sherwood-Jayne Farm in East Setauket on Culper Spy Day and learn the TRUTH about George Washington’s pesky band of renegade spies! Photo by Darren St. George, Preservation Long Island

“William Jayne II was a known Tory in the neighborhood,” said St. George. “Long Island was occupied by many Tories, many people still supported the king and didn’t want to upset the status quo, but as the war concluded, most Torys moved to Canada or Connecticut or they turned their back on the king entirely, but Jayne doesn’t. He still stays a Tory, he has his reputation and still thrives in the community,” eventually acquiring the nickname Big Bill the Tory.

When Jayne passed away, the home remained in the family until it was sold in 1908 to Preservation Long Island’s founder, Howard C. Sherwood, who used the home to showcase his many antiques. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2009.

During Culper Spy Day, ticketholders will be able to take part in a 20-minute guided tour of the first floor of the home, specifically the Jayne Parlor (which was added after the Revolutionary War), the Sherwood Living Room (which was the original 1730 home) and the Tap Room (kitchen/dining room).

One of the more interesting features of the home are the original late-18th-century hand-painted floral wall frescoes on the walls of the Jayne Parlor. Commissioned by William Jayne II, they were rediscovered underneath wallpaper by Sherwood in 1916 who had them restored by well-known artist Emil Gruppé. “One small panel was left untouched so that you can see how it’s weathered through the years,” St. George pointed out during a recent tour.

The home contains artifacts that specifically relate to the American Revolution, including paneling on the fireplace wall and shutters on a bar in the Tap Room that came from the Tallmadge House of Setauket, believed to be the birthplace of Colonel Benjamin Tallmadge, a founding member of the spy ring who would become George Washington’s chief intelligence officer.

As a special treat, Big Bill the Tory, portrayed by David Burt, will make a guest  appearance during each tour and share his views on the Culper Spy Ring and the noble intentions of King George III. “He’ll explain what life has been like for him as a Loyalist — the other side of the story that we’re really not hearing too much of,” explained St. George.

Parking will be in the field next to the property and visitors are asked to line up at the back door for the tour, which will be ongoing from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Apple cider and donuts will be available for purchase.

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.”

Admission is $25 adults, $5 children ages 6 to 12 and 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, participants will receive a bracelet and a copy of the Culper Spy Day map with all event listings and include access to 24 Culper Spy Ring locations. If available, tickets on the day of the event may be purchased at the historical society.

Participating organizations: 

The fourth annual Culper Spy Day is presented by Tri-Spy Tours, the Three Village Historical Society, the Long Island Museum and The Ward Melville Heritage Organization in collaboration with the Benjamin Tallmadge District of the Boy Scouts; Campus Bicycle; Caroline Church of Brookhaven; Country House Restaurant; Custom House; Discover Long Island; Drowned Meadow Cottage Museum; East Hampton Library, Long Island Collection; Emma S. Clark Memorial Library; Fairfield Historical Society, Fairfield Museum & History Center; Frank Melville Memorial Park; Fraunces Tavern® Museum; Gallery North; History Close at Hand; Huntington Historical Society; Huntington Militia; Joseph Lloyd Manor House; Ketcham Inn Foundation; Northport Historical Society; Old Methodist Church; Paumanok Tours; Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce; Port Jefferson Free Library; Preservation Long Island; Raynham Hall Museum; Rock Hall Museum; Setauket Elementary School; Setauket Harbor Task Force; Setauket Neighborhood House; Setauket Presbyterian Church; Sherwood-Jayne Farm; Stirring Up History; Stony Brook University Libraries, Special Collections; Stony Brookside Bed and Bike Inn; Three Village Community Trust; The Three Village Inn; Times Beacon Record News Media; and the Underhill Society of America Inc. 

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Bev Tyler stands behind his daughters and wife, Barbara, before a bicentennial celebration in 1976. Photo from the Three Village Historical Society

Sometimes even a historian gets to enjoy a historic moment in his own life.

Historian Bev Tyler celebrates his 80th birthday at the Three Village Historical Society. Photo by Sandy White

Members of the Three Village Historical Society celebrated Beverly Tyler’s 80th birthday Aug. 15, a milestone the historian reached four days before. The society’s main office was fittingly the setting for the celebration as the organization has been a part of Tyler’s life for more than half of his 80 years.

In 1974, when he began to organize a local bicentennial committee in anticipation of July 4, 1976, Tyler said he joined the Three Village Historical Society. He asked Bill Minuse, the society’s president at the time, for seed money, and the members agreed to donate $1,000. During the two years of the committee’s existence, the members worked on projects that included planting Bradford pear trees along Route 25A from the Stony Brook train station to the memorial park in East Setauket and placing a memorial stone in front of St. James R.C. Church. The committee also published the “Three Village Guidebook” written by Howard Klein and illustrated by Patricia Windrow, which provided a summary of the historic neighborhoods in the area.

It was during this bicentennial year that Tyler first wrote for this newspaper, when it was known as The Village Times, to promote the committee. Later, he wrote biweekly history articles for once competitor The Three Village Herald, and after the two papers merged, he became the history columnist in 2002 for The Village Times Herald, as he is to this day.

During his decades with the historical society, Tyler said he has served in many capacities including president, chairman and newsletter editor. He became historian in 2003, when he began working with historical society education director Donna Smith.

“Bev has been instrumental in bringing local history to our students in Three Village through his program Founder’s Day and his field trips for students across Long Island about the Culper spies,” Smith said. “He relates so well to the students, from fourth grade to high school.”

A love for local history was instilled early in Tyler’s life — a passion he credits to his family and living in Setauket.

“This was always a community where history was right there in the forefront,” he said.

Bev Tyler in the early 1950s. Photo from the Three Village Historical Society

While the historian’s family tree has deep roots in the Three Village area, Tyler was born in Brooklyn at Methodist Episcopal Hospital in 1938. He said his parents moved back to their family home in Setauket when he was a year old. His father, a violinist, had moved to the city in hopes of finding work as a musician. When his father couldn’t find enough work, the family moved back, and they lived with Tyler’s grandmother until he was 11.

The historian said they soon moved to the family’s house on Main Street across from the post office where his mother lived until her passing in 2016 at 102 years old. After graduating from Setauket Elementary School, when it was open to students from kindergarten through ninth grade, he attended Stony Brook Boys School. He said his grandmother had written a letter to the school administrators when he was 3 or 4 asking them to hold a spot open for him. However, he said he didn’t like the school and then attended Port Jefferson High School for a year. The historian, who has written a number of books, admitted he was a lousy student, who didn’t even like history class because he said it felt like it was just about wars and dates.

“I wasn’t interested in school because it was too easy,” he said. “So, I read. I read voraciously.”

During his brief stint at Port Jefferson High School, he played in the school band with his now wife, Barbara, but he said they didn’t know each other well.

“She played the saxophone, and I played trumpet,” he said. “She didn’t like trumpet players because we always sat behind the saxophones.”

Tyler said he eventually attended and graduated from the military school Admiral Farragut Academy in Pine Beach, New Jersey, on the banks of the Toms River in 1957. He started dating Barbara in 1960 after they met once again at the Port Jefferson Yacht Club, where Tyler was running the club’s launch.

Tyler’s military education came into play when he joined the Navy. He served for two years and was a reservist for eight. The quartermaster, who worked on the USS Franklin D. Roosevelt, said he fell in love with travel while in the armed forces.

 Bev Tyler with Donna Smith, left, and Lindsey Steward, right, in the Nassakeag Schoolhouse on the grounds of the Long Island Museum in 2016. Photo by Heidi Sutton

“I took advantage of every single chance I could get,” he said. “I went to Rome, Paris, Venice, Lake Como, Barcelona, Madrid, Greece.”

His time on the high seas though would soon be replaced with a career in the air. After he graduated from SUNY Farmingdale with an associate degree in photographic technology, and a short stint as a photo chemist for a photography manufacturing company, he decided to get his private and commercial pilot licenses. Tyler said he worked at MacArthur Airport for an air service, and about a year or two later he applied to the Federal Aviation Administration to be an air traffic controller — a job he held from 1968 until he retired Jan. 3, 2002.

Tyler and his wife have two daughters — Jen, who now lives in North Carolina with her husband, and Amy, who runs Amy Tyler School of Dance and Harbor Ballet Theater in Port Jefferson. They also have eight grandchildren.

The historian said he is currently focusing his research on the shipbuilding era, 1844–1880, and the Revolutionary War, especially the Setauket Culper spies. When it comes to his favorite spy, the historian said it’s Caleb Brewster, who carried messages from Benjamin Tallmadge in New York City to the spies on Long Island.

“[Brewster] is self-starting and a risk-taker, and he is fearless and a proven leader who takes care of his men and follows orders well,” Tyler said.

When it comes to reaching the milestone of 80, Tyler has simple advice for those who want to follow in his footsteps.

“Do things you enjoy and enjoy things you do,” he said.

By Beverly C. Tyler

Telling stories about the men and women of the Culper Spy Ring and portraying Setauket spy leader Abraham Woodhull has been one way for me to bring local history to life for both residents and visitors to this area. Reading about the Culper spies is also important, so I have written a number of articles and recommended books that tell the story. I have recently read and enthusiastically recommend “Kayleigh & Conner Detectives Inc. and King The Spy Dog” for children of all ages.

The cover of Dana Lynn Zotter’s first children’s book.

Written and illustrated by Dana Lynn Zotter, this 174-page soft-cover book tells the story of two children, Kayleigh and Connor, who spend their last week of summer vacation visiting their great-grandparents in Stony Brook who live in a historic house that holds all kinds of secrets. 

When the children find a gravestone with the name KING engraved on it in the roots of an old tree, their great-grandfather tells them that there was once a legendary spy dog named King in the area who has appeared as a ghost. The siblings meet a local boy and, as detailed on the back cover, “Three children search for the truth about ghosts, legends, and Long Island’s Culper Spies.”

Zotter has woven a delightful tale of a family and their experiences in the Long Island communities of Stony Brook, Setauket and Port Jefferson together with an accurate portrayal of the men and women involved in the Revolutionary War Culper Spy Ring. This well-crafted story vividly transports the reader to the historic hamlet of Stony Brook where the children explore their great-grandparents’ Colonial-era home and the shoreline of this picturesque community.

As Kayleigh and Connor explore, they discover mysteries connected with the house and the community, including an appearing and disappearing black dog named King. Agreeing to become detectives and follow the clues, the children discover how the Culper spies operated and how King the spy dog became an important member of the Culper Spy Ring.

Their travels take them along West Meadow Creek and as far as the Village of Port Jefferson where they meet General Lafayette on a recreated 18th-century French warship, which actually visited Greenport in 2015. At one point the children are mysteriously transported back to the Revolutionary War and join the Culper spies and King the spy dog on a brief spy adventure.

The Setauket Presbyterian Church and cemetery

“Kayleigh & Conner Detectives Inc. and King The Spy Dog” features 22 illustrations, including a recipe for invisible ink and a spy code, along with a list of historic places to visit. The drawings, including one of the Setauket Presbyterian Church and cemetery, help bring the story to life without taking away from the writing, allowing readers full use of their imaginations. I enjoyed the story and easily identified with the characters. 

Dana Lynn Zotter, who describes herself as a gardener, poet, artist and finder of four-leaf clovers, has crafted a wonderful story that will delight children and make historians smile.

“Kayleigh & Conner Detectives Inc. and King The Spy Dog” is available at the Three Village Historical Society’s gift shop, 93 North Country Road, Setauket. Hours of operation are Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Sundays from 1 to 4 p.m. For more information, call 631-751-3730 or visit www.tvhs.org.

Author Beverly C. Tyler is the Three Village Historical Society historian and pens a biweekly column in the Village Times Herald titled History Close at Hand. 

Major Benjamin Tallmadge (Art Billadello) gives visitors a brief history about the Culper Spy Ring at a previous event.

On Saturday, Sept. 15 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., The Long Island Museum and The Ward Melville Heritage Organization in Stony Brook and the Three Village Historical Society and Tri-Spy Tours in Setauket will host a day of spy-related tours and activities for the 4th annual Culper Spy Day. 

The event is named for the Culper Spy Ring founded by Benjamin Tallmadge of Setauket, which provided Gen. George Washington with the information he needed to turn the tide of the American Revolution.

The Setauket Presbyterian Church will be open for tours during the event.

Visitors can learn what really happened while enjoying docent-led tours of historic homes, churches and cemeteries, Colonial cooking and blacksmithing demonstrations, reenactments, walking and bicycle tours, Anna Smith Strong’s famed clothesline, invisible ink demonstrations, a children’s book signing, time period music, military drills, a TURN memorabilia live auction and sale, mill grinding demonstrations and many more family-friendly activities in the Three Villages and along the North Shore.

In addition, Revolutionary War artifacts, including George Washington’s original letters to members of his spy ring will be on display in the Stony Brook University Library Special Collections. Ticket holders will have a chance to meet Benjamin Tallmadge, Abraham Woodhull, Samuel Culper Sr. and Anna Smith Strong as well.  

The Three Village Inn in Stony Brook will feature a spy breakfast (cost is $10 per person plus tax and tip and reservations are required)  and the Country House Restaurant, also in Stony Brook, will serve up a spy-themed lunch (not included in Spy Day ticket price). Call 631-751-0555 for breakfast and 631-751-3332 for lunch reservations. The Three Village Historical Society will also be offering snacks and lunch at its Tavern on the Field. 

Build your own Revolutionary War story and see history come to life at this fun-filled event. 

Tickets, which may be purchased at www.tvhs.org, are $25 for adults and $5 for children ages 6 to 12. Children under the age of 6 and veterans will receive free admission. Wristbands for entry and maps with the event listings and a schedule of activities can be picked up at the Three Village Historical Society at 93 North Country Road in Setauket from Sept. 10 through Sept. 15. Tickets are good for admission to most participating organizations for Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 15 and 16, and at The Long Island Museum through Sept. 23.

For more information, please visit www.culperspyday.com.

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