By Susan Risoli
Setauket resident Frank Turano delves deeply into local history. He uncovers compelling stories of everyday people and brings those tales to life for the rest of us to share.
For that reason, and for his ongoing service to the Three Village Historical Society as board member and past president, Turano is one of Times Beacon Record Newspapers’ People of the Year.
Beverly Tyler, the society’s historian, has known Turano since the early 1970s and described Turano’s leadership in unearthing details about Chicken Hill, the area of Route 25A around the current-day Setauket Methodist Church. It was once a thriving community of immigrants who helped each other make a new life in America. An exhibit about Chicken Hill is on display at the society’s headquarters in Setauket. Tyler said Turano, who is manager of the Chicken Hill project and curator of the exhibit, led the search for the community’s almost-forgotten past and wrote a successful funding proposal to create the exhibit.
“He’s there almost every single weekend, to give tours of the exhibit,” Tyler said.
He and Turano traveled in September to the annual meeting of the American Association for State and Local History, where the Chicken Hill exhibit received the association’s highest distinction, the Award of Merit.
Karen Martin, archivist for the Historical Society, said Turano leads the organization’s Rhodes Committee. At the group’s weekly meetings in the Emma Clark Public Library, Martin said, Turano facilitates the group’s far-ranging and free-wheeling conversations about the history of our area, and then mines the discussions for ideas to dig into.
“The big names, like the Ward Melvilles, make the headlines,” Martin said. “But Frank also wants to know about everyone who lived in a community, the everyday person, the guy who owned the general store.” If a historical topic comes up in a Rhodes committee meeting, Turano “wants to know all the details. He’ll say, ‘Who’s going to know about this? Let’s give them a call.’”
Turano also volunteers for the Society’s annual Candlelight House Tour every December, Martin said. He explains the history of houses on the tour, and in general “he loves to give presentations.”
Local resident Hub Edwards, who has worked with Turano on many history projects, said, “If people want to know history, they should listen to him. He goes to great lengths to get the true story of a project, with no shortcuts.”
Edwards said Turano is always featured in the Historical Society’s annual “Spirits” tour of local graveyards, dressed as one of the historical figures highlighted by the tour. Turano also frequently writes scripts for the tour’s performances.
Turano’s daughter Alyssa said her father is now combing through the archives of the Long Island Museum. He’s working on an exploration of the Long Island whaleship-building industry, she said, “focusing on Mr. Cooper, one specific whaleship builder who lived in the 1800s.” Turano is finding out about Cooper’s life by reading his diaries and looking over ship construction work logs. Alyssa said her father has been excitedly sharing stories with her and his friends, about the buried gems of history he is finding.
“Not everyone appreciates history in the way that he does,” she said. “It’s very inspiring. When you are so passionate about history, you can make it come alive again.”
Her father is committed to finding out as much as he can about local history, she said, because he believes strongly that “not all of these people have had their stories told.” And he has told her that “it’s better to know the back story, so you can know how your community has changed throughout time.”