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Three Village Historical Society

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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Donna Smith, left, education director with Three Village Historical Society, explains to students the use of codes during the Revolutionary War. Photo by Beverly C. Tyler

By Beverly C. Tyler

Fifteen summer camp students ranging in age from 11 to 13, from Campus Camps in Oakdale, under the direction of Ashleigh Frezza, director, came to Setauket for a half-day spy school at the Three Village Historical Society’s history center. The students were ready to discover the story of the Revolutionary War Culper Spy Ring and to explore how the ring operated during the British occupation of Long Island and Manhattan.

A student presents the results of her work to others during the spy school program at Three Village Historical Society. Photo by Beverly C. Tyler

The spy school program was designed to introduce students to each of the five main spies in the spy ring and how they operated between 1778 and 1783. Following a short PowerPoint presentation on the Culper Spy Ring, the students were divided into three groups. Each group of five students, together with an education leader, were provided with specific details of the operation of the spy ring. They studied the information until they understood the ring and were able to write about it and make presentations to the entire camp group at the end of the session.

The first group learned about each of the five principal members of the spy ring: Benjamin Tallmadge, Abraham Woodhull, Robert Townsend, Austin Roe and Caleb Brewster as well as the most important female who aided the ring, Anna Smith Strong. They also dressed in some of the clothing of the period and learned about a number of everyday items used and enjoyed by Long Islanders. When the entire camp met, each student, portraying a specific member of the spy ring, gave clues to the students in the other groups to see how long it would take to discover their identity.

The second group provided information about five various codes used during the Revolutionary War period, and the other students had to decipher a simple message presented by each student.

“They loved the codes and wanted more samples to decode,” said Donna Smith, TVHS education director. “I think they appreciated how long it might take to write a message in code and even to decode some of them.”

“I really enjoyed seeing how they were able to make predictions and were genuinely surprised when they realized how different the results were.”

— Lindsey Steward

The third group working with three different invisible ink liquids — lemon juice, milk and a solution of baking soda — presented their hypnosis as to which would prove to be the most effective invisible ink and their individual findings when they finished the experiment.

“I really enjoyed seeing how they were able to make predictions and were genuinely surprised when they realized how different the results were,” said Lindsey Steward, spy school leader.

Following the presentations, the students and their leaders went on a field trip to the Setauket Presbyterian Church graveyard and the Setauket Village Green. Here the students learned about conditions in Setauket and the Town of Brookhaven during the Revolutionary War. They explored part of the cemetery with special emphasis on the grave of Abraham Woodhull and the other Revolutionary War-era family sections that make up the earliest part of the graveyard. As they were leaving, I asked one student what she liked best about the day.

“I liked the trip to the cemetery, I liked everything,” the student said.

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.

From left, Michael O’Dwyer and Annie and Stephen Healy enjoy last year’s event. Photo courtesy of TVHS

By Kyle Barr

If there’s anything that we know about the 1920s, it’s that the parties were wild. Despite, or likely because, of Prohibition, the music was loud and idiosyncratic as jazz came onto the scene, and the alcohol flowed as if by fountains into the expecting mouths of flappers and bootleggers alike.

Setauket’s Three Village Historical Society, in collaboration with The Jazz Loft in Stony Brook is hoping to bring that period of time back to life with the second running of their annual Prohibition Night fundraiser at The Jazz Loft next Thursday, June 14 from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. The event, sponsored by the Montauk Brewing Company, will include snacks, wine, beer and raffles.

This time the TVHS is adding an extra layer of early 20th-century history with a new emphasis on the women’s suffrage movement and how that tied into a time of cultural revolution.

The fundraiser will feature memorabilia from the Women’s Suffrage Movement including this stamp from the collection of the Melville Family papers.

“You had this revolution with the women’s movement and the right to vote, and you had this revolution with the clothing, with flappers and the Charleston and the bobbed haircuts,” said Tom Manuel, owner of The Jazz Loft. “These were real renegade statements of society and culture, and its cool when you put them together.”

The Jazz Loft will have several items on display relating to women’s suffrage, including several articles, papers and artifacts housed in display cases as well as a mannequin fully dressed up in the class women’s suffrage garb with a large purple sash reading “Votes for Women,” courtesy of Nan Guzzetta of Antique Costumes & Prop Rental by Nan in Port Jefferson.

“[The movement] was really ahead of its time,” said Stephen Healy, president of the Three Village Historical Society. “It’s interesting to see if history is going to repeat itself or we will move on from here. The movement has been a longtime coming.”

That historical revolution collided with the cultural revolution of the 1920s, as many of the same women who campaigned for the women’s vote also stumped for the temperance movement. Suddenly, with the ban of the sale and consumption of alcohol in 1919, a whole new era of organized crime and mass criminality was born as the sale of alcohol eclipsed any decade before or after it.

“Everybody became creative with getting alcohol,” Healy said. “From everything with potato farmers out on the east end of Long Island and vodka creation, and I can’t imagine [the activity] between the water and the farms and the amount of backdoor distributing that was taking place on Long Island.”

The fundraiser will feature memorabilia from the Women’s Suffrage Movement including this “Vote Yes” stamp from the collection of the Melville Family papers.

But it wouldn’t be the 1920s without jazz, and Manuel said he has that covered. Manuel’s band, The Hot Peppers, will be performing live music straight from the jazz giants of the period such as Louis Armstrong, Jelly Roll Morton, Thomas “Fats” Waller and more.

“I think for us it really supports and makes a statement about who we are,” Manuel said. “Our mission is jazz preservation, jazz education and jazz performance. Any time we can take history and allow it to come to life, we served our mission.”

Last year’s Prohibition Night was supremely successful with sold out tickets and a packed room. Healy said he expects this year to do just as good or even better.

“It was a great success, it sold out, and it gave us some cross pollination between history and The Jazz Loft,” Healy said.

Manuel agreed that the event is the perfect blend of history and recreation. “Any time we collaborate with something in the community, it really solidifies the statement they say about jazz, which is that it’s all about collaboration,” he said. 

The Jazz Loft, located at 275 Christian Ave. in Stony Brook Village, will host the 2nd annual Prohibition Night: Celebrating 100 Years of Women’s Suffrage in New York State on Thursday, June 14 from  6:30 to 9:30 p.m. Tickets are $25 adults, $20 seniors, $15 students. Period costumes are encouraged. To order, call 631-751-1895 or visit www.thejazzloft.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.

This dragoon coat, worn by actor Seth Numrich in AMC’s ‘TURN’ series, will be one of the items auctioned off on May 19. Photo courtesy of AMC

UPDATE:

I-Spy TURN Auction & Spy Themed Event for May 19 has been canceled
Due to the excessive rain and water on the property this week and with the prediction of additional rain over the weekend, the Three Village Historical Society feels it is in the best interest of guests and volunteers to postpone the event.  “We will reschedule I-Spy for a date in the future when we can provide the best experience for all. Cancelling this event was a hard decision to make and we apologize for any inconvenience,” said the Society.

By Michael Tessler

The Three Villages is home to a remarkable Revolutionary history that for over a century remained elusive to the American people … all except in Setauket where local lore and legend preserved a tale of spies, lies, petticoats and the exceptional bravery of everyday citizens who risked everything to liberate their homes and loved ones from tyranny.

General George Washington established the Culper Spy Ring in 1778 by recruiting Benjamin Tallmadge, a would-be lieutenant colonel and future congressman who called the quaint village of Setauket home. He recruited friends and schoolmates to establish a secret network, eluding the mighty British Empire that had been occupying Long Island since August 1776. Their efforts turned the tides of war in favor of the Continental Army and forever altered the course of history.

It wasn’t until 1939, when amateur historian Morton Pennypacker began to decipher secret aliases and uncover the true identities of the Culper spies. In 2014, the legend of the Culper Spy Ring finally entered the public zeitgeist with the premiere of AMC’s television drama series “TURN: Washington’s Spies,” a historical fiction piece that chronicled the Culper Spy Ring. 

“If it weren’t for Setauket, we would have lost the war,” declared Three Village Historical Society President Steve Healy. “If Washington had been caught, he would have been hanged. They stopped that, they saved the [American] Revolution.” And just as the Culper spies saved the fledgling United States, the Three Village Historical Society has made it its mission to keep the Culper Spy Ring and the local history of this community alive.

When “TURN” ended last August, the Three Village Historical Society reached out to the show and received a very special donation: props, costumes and other memorabilia actually featured on the show during the series’ four-season run. On Saturday, May 19, the public will have the opportunity to own these pieces of history during a silent auction fundraiser on the society’s front lawn starting at noon. Bidding closes at 4:15 p.m.

According to TVHS board members Cathy White and Janet McCauley, the most sought after item of the day will be a dragoon (18th century cavalry) coat worn by the actor who played Benjamin Tallmadge, Seth Numrich. “It’ll be fun to see where it ends up,” said McCauley. “Either way, it is a wonderful tool to educate our community about the area that they live in.” 

Other items in the auction include a reproduction of a 1730 Dublin Castle Long Land (1st Model) Brown Bess musket; autographed sheet music; a portrait of King George II, c. 1730, reproduction on canvas; as well as maps, letters and artifacts such as an astrolab, horn bowls, British army drumsticks, pewter pitchers, posters, an uncut sheet of Continental currency and more.

In addition to the silent auction, there is a flurry of activities scheduled throughout the day. From noon to 4 p.m. community educator Donna Smith, portraying Anna Smith Strong, will hold invisible ink demonstrations while noted children’s author Selene Castrovilla will be selling and signing copies of her books. Visitors will also have the opportunity to meet Benjamin Tallmadge, portrayed by TVHS past president and trustee Art Billadello. The historical society’s two exhibits, SPIES: How a Group of Long Island Patriots Helped George Washington Win the Revolution and Chicken Hill: A Community Lost to Time, and gift shop will be open as well. 

At noon, historian Margo Arceri will lead a Tri-Spy Walking Tour, which starts at the post office next to Frank Melville Memorial Park, 101 Main St. in Setauket. Historian Beverly C. Tyler will give a Walk Through History with Farmer and Spy, Abraham Woodhull, guided tour at 2 p.m. starting at the front parking lot of the Caroline Church of Brookhaven, 1 Dyke Road, Setauket. 

From 3 to 5 p.m., “Wine and cheese will be served while we have Colonial music performed by Natalie Kress and Kevin Devine of the Three Village Chamber Players,” said Sandy White, TVHS office manager, adding, “We want to create a dialogue about our community’s history. ‘TURN’ helped start that conversation. We’d like to continue it.” 

The Three Village Historical Society, 93 North Country Road, Setauket will host an I-Spy “Turn” Auction fundraiser on May 19 from noon to 5 p.m. (rain date May 20). Tickets, which are $25 adults, $5 for children age 14 and younger, cover participation in all of the day’s events, including both walking tours. To order, please visit www.TVHS.org or call 631-751-3730.

Tom Manuel of The Jazz Loft, right, shown with TVHS President Steve Healy, will be honored at the awards dinner on March 21. Photo by Heidi Sutton

By Heidi Sutton

On Wednesday, March 21, the Three Village Historical Society will once again host its annual Awards Dinner honoring volunteers, local businesses, society members and area residents who have made significant contributions to help preserve the shared heritage within the Three Village area.

Among the honorees will be Nan Guzzetta of Antique Costume and Prop Rental by Nan Guzzetta of Port Jefferson, who has been chosen to receive the Kate Wheeler Strong Memorial Award in recognition of significant contribution toward the fostering of interest in local history and a fuller appreciation of the rich historical and cultural heritage of this community. Guzzetta has earned this award with her years of inspiration and guidance with costumes for society events, especially the Spirits Tour.

Eva Glaser a longtime member and volunteer will receive the Maggie Gillie Memorial Award for contributions by a member of the society in recognition of overall dedicated service and for significant contributions furthering the goals of the society. Glaser’s award is for her years of support to the society and as the co-chair and inspiration for the first Candlelight House Tour 40 years ago.

An interest in volunteering led Richard Melidosian to the Three Village Historical Society. Melidosian has been and continues to be a docent at the SPIES Exhibit and the Candlelight House Tour and a guide at the Spirits Tour and Founder’s Day. For that, he will receive the Gayle Becher Memorial Award in recognition of volunteer efforts to help the society by performing those necessary tasks that facilitate its efficient operation. This award honors volunteers whose work consists of loyal support repeated on a regular basis.

Rebecca Fear, a student at Ward Melville High School, is this year’s honoree for the R. Sherman Mills Young Historian Award, a prestigious award presented for contributions to the society by a young person. Rebecca and her family have volunteered at many events including Culper Spy Day, the Long Island Apple Festival, the Spirits Tour and the society’s annual Yard Sale.

Three community award certificates will be handed out this year. The first, for enhancing or restoring a building used as a commercial structure in a way that contributes to the historic beauty of the area, will be awarded to Thomas J. Manuel of The Jazz Loft, 275 Christian Ave., Stony Brook for the conversion of this historic building to a cultural center for music in the Three Village area. The second, for house restoration or renovation and ongoing maintenance and preservation in keeping with the original architectural integrity, will be awarded to Andrew and Kathy Theodorakis for their home at 242 Christian Ave. in Stony Brook. The third award, for ornamental plantings or landscaping that enhances the beauty of the Three Village area, will be granted to Charles Regulinski of 24 Dyke Road, Setauket.

The event, now in its 41st year, will be held at the Three Village Inn, 150 Main St., Stony Brook from 6 to 9 p.m.

A three-course dinner, which includes a Caesar salad with rosemary focaccia croutons, choice of entree (pan-seared salmon with baby spinach and beurre blanc sauce, seared breast of free-range chicken with haricot vert and saffron potatoes or sliced Chateau steak with red wine sauce with Yukon Gold potato puree and baby carrots) and an apple crumb tartlet with whipped cream for dessert, will be served. (Vegetarian meal available upon request.) The evening will feature a cash bar, raffles and live music by the Ward Melville High School Honors Jazztet.

Please join them in honoring these worthy awardees. Tickets are $65 per person, $60 members. To order, visit www.TVHS.org or call 631-751-3730.

HISTORY BUFFS From left, Three Village Historical Society President Stephen Healy, author Brian Kilmeade, Historical Society members Art Billadello and Beverly C. Tyler and past TVHS President Steve Hintz gather for a photo after the sold-out evening.

By Heidi Sutton

Art Billadello shows Brian Kilmeade last week’s article in the Times Beacon Record.

Fox News’ “Fox & Friends” morning show co-host and author Brian Kilmeade stopped by the Setauket Neighborhood House on Monday night to take part in the Three Village Historical Society’s monthly lecture series. Kilmeade was there to promote his latest book, “Andrew Jackson and the Miracle of New Orleans: The Battle That Shaped America’s Destiny,” and touched on how committed our young country was during the War of 1812.

Reached the following day, Steve Healy, TVHS president, said the sold-out event “was a great success. We were fortunate to get a three-time history writer who’s been on the [New York Times] Best Seller list.” Kilmeade also spoke about his first history-focused book, “George Washington’s Secret Six: The Spy Ring That Saved the American Revolution.” That book “hits home with us, living in the Three Village area,” said the TVHS president.

A lengthy Q&A and book signing followed. Kilmeade also graciously posed for photos. “History is always a subject we love to discuss and talk about at the Three Village Historical Society,” stated Healy.

“Without history, we don’t understand what makes us special and why so many from around the world risk it all to live and work here,” noted Kilmeade.

Photos by Heidi Sutton

Author Brian Kilmeade will make a stop at the Setauket Neighborhood House as part of a tour to promote his latest book ‘Andrew Jackson and the Miracle of New Orleans.’

By Heidi Sutton

Fox News’ “FOX & Friends” morning show co-host Brian Kilmeade will visit the Setauket Neighborhood House, 95 Main St., Setauket on Monday, Feb. 26 from 7 to 9 p.m. to promote his latest book, “Andrew Jackson and the Miracle of New Orleans: The Battle That Shaped America’s Destiny.” The event is hosted by the Three Village Historical Society and will include a special book signing, lecture and Q&A.

This is Kilmeade’s fifth book and his third history-focused book with co-author Don Yaeger. The first two, “George Washington’s Secret Six” (2013) and “Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates” (2015), spent a combined 37 weeks on the New York Times Best Sellers list.

“I’ve always found Andrew Jackson interesting, especially the way he led America to victory during the Battle of New Orleans,” said Kilmeade in a recent email when asked why he chose Jackson to be the topic of his new book, adding, “Jackson was a self-taught Militia General who won almost every battle he faced while suffering from bullet wounds and dysentery.”

In summarizing the book, Kilmeade said, “I like to think of the War of 1812 as a rematch of the Revolutionary War — this time without the help of the French. Before Jackson was called on to lead, the British were slaughtering the Americans on the battlefield — and it really looked like we needed a miracle. Notorious for his leadership and tenacity, Jackson led a ragtag team of frontier militiamen, French-speaking Louisianans, Cherokee and Choctaw Indians, freed slaves, and even pirates. On Jan. 8, Jackson’s troops defeated the British in under 45 minutes. In this book, you’ll learn how this oft-forgotten battle shaped America’s destiny.”

The Massapequa resident last visited the area in 2014 to promote his book on George Washington. “It was wall to wall people,” said Steve Healy, president of the Three Village Historical Society in a recent interview. “The history topic was a little closer to home. ‘George Washington’s Secret Six’ was about the Culper Spy Ring in Setauket, which always creates local interest.”

Healy said the historical society recently reached out to Kilmeade again and invited him to speak at its monthly lecture series. “We are very excited,” he said. “We love it when history is the main topic. The Battle of New Orleans was an interesting battle that propelled Andrew Jackson into the national spotlight.”

Kilmeade is looking forward to returning to Setauket. “I love the rich history and character that emanate through the unique little town,” he said.

According to the TVHS president, Kilmeade will briefly talk about his first two history-focused books and then delve into his current book. “There is a lot to discuss in the battle of New Orleans,” said Healy, adding that photos may be taken at the book signing portion of the program.

Preregistration is required by visiting www.tvhs.org as space is limited. No tickets will be sold at the door. Entry fee, which includes a copy of Kilmeade’s book to be signed, is $40 per person, $30 members. Entry to the lecture only is $10 per person, free for TVHS members. For further information, please call 631-751-3730.

Update: This event is sold out!

Three Village Historical Society Archivist Karen Martin dug up some Valentine’s Day cards from the organization’s collection. To learn more about the history and manufacturer of Valentines in the U.S., the historical society suggests checking out http://www.worcesterhistory.org/blog/whitney/. The Three Village Historical Society is located at 93 North Country Road in Setauket. Happy Valentine’s Day!

Margo Arceri, right, creator of Culper Spy Day, poses with Diane Schwindt, dressed as an 18th-century cook at the 2017 event. Photo from Mari Irizarry

By Rita J. Egan

With the help of those who appreciate history, events of the past have a chance to live on. Margo Arceri is one of those history lovers, and her passion has inspired others to learn more about their local landscape.

Arceri didn’t need the AMC series “TURN” to discover how instrumental the members of the Culper Spy Ring were in the Colonies winning the American Revolutionary War. While growing up in Strong’s Neck, she learned about the Setauket spies directly from Kate. W. Strong herself. The great-great-granddaughter of Anna Smith Strong would tell stories of the patriot who used her clothesline to send messages to her fellow spies, and through those tales, Arceri developed a deep curiosity for history and the local intelligence group.

Three Village Historical Society historian Beverly Tyler said Arceri’s passion is so strong her car features “Culper” license plates.

“She loves the Revolutionary War,” Tyler said. “She loves Anna Smith Strong, and the whole idea of the spy ring.”

A few years ago, Arceri, a former vice president and past secretary of the Three Village Historical Society, created Tri-Spy Tours, where participants follow the footsteps of the spies by walking, biking and/or kayaking through the area.

Steven Hintze was the president of the society when Arceri came to him with the idea of the tours. He said he liked the concept and discussed it with the board members.

Hintze said it was while conducting Tri-Spy Tours that Arceri realized there was more to share about local history, so she developed Culper Spy Day, an annual event that sponsors a self-guided tour where attendees visit various structures and museums in the area to learn how the Setauket spies assisted President George Washington during the Revolutionary War. Hintze said the day, which marked its third year in September, has greatly grown in popularity, attracting history lovers from all over the tristate area. According to historical society records, the event attracted twice as many people in 2017 than it did the year prior.

Hintze said he isn’t surprised how popular it has become through Arceri.

“She’s one of those people who has a great personality, she’s friends with everybody,” Hintze said. “She knows a lot of people, and she knows how to put them together.”

Margo Arceri, standing left, with volunteers Janet McCauley, standing right, and Barbara Lynch at the 2017 Culper Spy Day. Photo from Mari Irizarry

Tyler agrees that Arceri has done a wonderful job, especially in getting various organizations involved in Culper Spy Day. Arceri reached out to local groups such as The Long Island Museum, The Ward Melville Heritage Organization and Drowned Meadow Cottage in Port Jefferson, which once was owned by the Roe family, members of the ring. The happening has also grown to include organizations outside of the Three Village area, such as Raynham Hall Museum in Oyster Bay and Ketcham Inn in Center Moriches. Tyler said Arceri is working with a historical society in Fairfield, Connecticut, to take part next year.

“I think it’s very important to the area,” the historian said. “It’s starting to bring in people.”

Steve Healy, the Three Village Historical Society’s current president, said when it comes to questions he may have about local history, in addition to Tyler and Town of Brookhaven historian Barbara Russell, he considers Arceri one of his go-to people.

“It’s difficult in today’s environment to dedicate time to history, and she seems to have found a good mix with history and with [her] work,” he said.

Arceri has a knack for getting people to think about history, Healy added, saying it’s apparent during both the Tri-Spy Tours and Culper Spy Day. He said the history buff connects with people by allowing them to ask questions and have a dialogue. She’s known for asking participants: “What do you think happened? What do you think are the elements that drove this situation?” because she doesn’t see historical events in black and white.

“Margo likes to engage people, and that’s one of her strong points, too,” Healy said. “She has many, but one of them is to engage people in a situation where they can have an honest, educated discussion.”

Healy believes the future looks bright for Arceri and her Culper spy ventures.

“I think she’s found a great niche where she can introduce local history to people and grow that further, because she’s always looking to grow,” Healy said. “That’s one of the things that I really like about her. She’ll have a conversation with me and say: ‘Steve, I want to expand. I want to get more people involved in this. I want to teach more people to let them know what happened here.’”

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