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Tri-Spy Tours

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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.”

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.

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.

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.’”

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

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