History Close At Hand

By Beverly C. Tyler

The Smith/Swift/Tyler/Davis house, built about 1740, was home to many generations. On June 1 and 2, the house at 97 Main Street in Setauket will function as the central hub for Gallery North’s 20th Annual Wet Paint Festival. The history of the house itself, as well as the families who have lived there, is a representation of the story of the growth of the Three Village community; of farming, transportation, commerce and trade. 

The original section of the house was constructed with white oak timber framing. Over the frame and on the floors were white pine boards; on the roof were red cedar shingles. These were the trees found locally and used to build most colonial-era buildings in this area. For more than 100 years, this was a farmhouse on an active farm with many out-buildings. In the original house there were two rooms on the first floor and three bedrooms on the second floor.

As a family home and farm, many generations of two prominent families lived here. Amos Smith and his wife Juliana Hawkins raised five children, born between 1773-1785. When Amos died intestate in 1799, an inventory of his home and farm included household goods, farm tools and farm animals. Their son, Walter Smith and his wife, Elizabeth Ellison, raised five children here, born between 1811-1825. 

About 1831, Joseph Swift purchased the house and farm. Joseph and his wife, Amelia Bacon, raised nine children here, born between 1832 and 1851. Joseph’s eldest daughter Eliza married Charles B. Tyler, my great-grandfather, in 1851. Charles purchased the house and farm in 1854 and raised nine children here, born between 1851 and 1870. Charles’ wife Eliza, their unmarried daughters, Annie and Corinne, and one of Charles’ granddaughters, Carrie, lived here until their deaths in 1924, 1941, 1943 and 1947, respectively. The house and property then passed to Carrie’s half brother Beverly Griffin Tyler, his wife Blanche and their three children. When Blanche Tyler Davis died in 2016 in her 102nd year, ownership passed to the Three Village Community Trust, who will preserve the home and property, including Patriot’s Rock, in perpetuity. 

 The Tyler Brothers General Store stood on the corner of the property, just north of the house, where it served the community as a post office and store for more than 50 years. The store was run by Charles B. Tyler and his brother Israel. Israel lived in East Setauket along what is now Gnarled Hollow Road and he served as Setauket postmaster for most of the years between 1870 and 1897. Both men were schooner captains who traveled up and down Long Island Sound and the U. S. East Coast carrying commercial cargo and passengers. Their knowledge of trade routes and sources of supply contributed to their success as general store owners.

The original house served well for the large families who lived there; however, by the last decades of the nineteenth century, with American industry providing more and more labor-saving devices for the home, change and growth was inevitable. In 1889, an addition included a formal dining room and two additional bedrooms. Over the years, the use of a kitchen had changed from a central fireplace to a summer kitchen, separated from the house. Finally, about a decade before World War I, that structure was moved and attached to the house as a “modern” kitchen with an ice box, a large coal stove and other appliances. All of these changes were implemented, not by the men, but by the women who remained in the home after most of Charles and Eliza’s children had moved on. 

Following the deaths of Israel in 1895 and Charles in 1899, Charles’ wife, Eliza, sold the general store to her children, Corinne and Annie Tyler, for one dollar. Corinne ran the general store. Annie was Setauket’s postmaster from 1897 until 1915.

Lucy Hart Keyes remembered that when she was six or seven and going to the school on the Village Green, she would walk home, stopping first at the post office. “They were such nice ladies. Miss Annie took care of mail … Miss Annie used to make money orders and everything. Miss Corinne took care of the store. They kept it open even during lunch–Miss Corinne and Miss Annie switched. It was open until after mail at night… We used to trade with Sears and Roebuck and Montgomery Ward. It came in the mail.”

Lucy recalled that Corinne’s brother Henry Tyler helped her at the store. “Momma and Poppa bought all their  groceries there. We bought canned goods, salt pork, potatoes, bread and even bananas in later years. We were a big family and we were always down there. Sometimes Poppa paid once a week. They kept track of it and I could get anything. They never asked questions.”

Lucy remembered a candy case in the store which contained a number of selections. “You would get 4 or 5 round things for a penny. JawBreakers, 3 or 4 for a penny, and stick candy was a penny a stick.”

By the 1920’s, the appeal of the local merchant who carried all the staples needed by the local family was decreasing. The variety of products was increasing by leaps and bounds, and the small country store could not keep pace. Chain food stores with quantity buying were able to offer lower prices and wider selections. In East Setauket the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company (A & P, established 1859) was getting a large share of daily trade with advertisements in the local papers listing prices such as “New Potatoes 5 lbs-15¢, Grandmother’s BREAD Small Loaf 5¢-Large Loaf 8¢.” (“Port Jefferson Times’’ – July 7, 1927). 

“After being established in the grocery business at Setauket for more than 60 years, the familiar old corner store, known as Tylers’ grocery store, near the lakes, closed out their stock last week and have discontinued business. . .” (“Port Jefferson Times” – April 1927). 

Beverly Tyler is Three Village Historical Society historian and author of books available from the Three Village Historical Society.

Rev. Gregory Leonard speaking at the 2016 Order of St. Luke Conference. Photo courtesy Beverly C. Tyler

By Beverly C. Tyler

On Sunday, April 14, members of Bethel AME Church in Setauket and the Three Village community came together to celebrate the ministry of Rev. Gregory Leonard who retired in 2020, after twenty-six years as pastor of Bethel AME Church.

I first met Rev. Leonard at the funeral for the Mother of Bethel AME Church, Lucy Agnes Keyes, who died on Friday, September 16, 1994. This was his first funeral at Bethel AME and he said something about getting his feet wet at Bethel or starting here by jumping into the fire. Interesting choice of words, as he soon became the chaplain for the Setauket Fire Department. Mrs. Keyes’ Going Home Celebration was on September 20, 1994.

Rev. Leonard’s extensive community service included serving as chaplain of the Long Island State Veterans Home at Stony Brook University, and the development of Hobbs Farm in Centereach. My wife Barbara noted at the celebration, “My association with Bethel Church and Pastor Leonard began through the Order of St. Luke-a Christian healing ministry. He became one of our two chaplains. Services rotated monthly among  Caroline Church, St. Cuthbert’s in Selden and Bethel.” For us it was a chance to add Christian friends and worship in different ways.

“One of our cherished times was when Pastor Leonard was the spiritual leader for our regional retreat called A Quiet Walk with Jesus. The format was four short talks by the leader who then gave us points for meditation in the quiet times that followed each talk. Pastor Leonard was perfect for this. He had previously attended several of these retreats very quietly. We knew that he would be a wonderful leader, but others were very pleasantly surprised by the leadership of this quiet but dynamic man.”

It was in the spirit of William Sidney Mount that the Bethel AME Church, Setauket and the Museums at Stony Brook held “A Community Coming Together” in the Art Museum on Sunday, February 25, 1996. The reception featured the exhibition, William Sidney Mount: Music is Contagious, plenty of good food — courtesy of Bethel AME — good company, and a few descriptive comments on Mount and on the Three Village Community.

Rev. Leonard, pastor of Bethel AME, opened and closed the museum’s event with an emphasis on the strengths of neighborhood and family, and how important it is to work at getting to know other people in the community-thus adding to the strength of community bonds.

This emphasis of family and community was on display during the Sunday service at Bethel AME on April 21 as well as at the luncheon and talks in honor of Rev. Leonard. Speaker after speaker spoke about his spiritual leadership and his humility. 

As detailed in Bethel AME’s celebration program, “Rev. Leonard built strong ties, bonds and personal relationships with co-workers, community and congregation members. He recalls that his proudest moments during his ministry at Bethel Setauket came in working with members of his leadership team, the congregation and community groups such as Building Bridges, Order of Saint Luke, the Setauket Fire Department and the Vets home.”

Beverly Tyler is Three Village Historical Society historian and author of books available from the Three Village Historical Society, 93 North Country Rd., Setauket, NY 11733. Tel: 631-751-3730. http://WWW.TVHS.org 

Joseph Smith Hawkins and his wife Henrietta. Photo courtesy Beverly C. Tyler

By Beverly C. Tyler

A fine example of the many Colonial farmhouses in the Three Village area is the two-and-a-half story farmhouse on Main Street in Stony Brook, just west of the mill pond, at the corner of Hawkins Road. This attractive white farmhouse with its nine-over-six small-pane windows was built about 1750. 

The earliest known resident of this farmhouse was Joseph Smith Hawkins, son of George and Ruth Hawkins. He was born in Stony Brook on February 7, 1763. Like his father, Joseph was a farmer. He married Phebe Williamson and they had two sons, Nathaniel – born 1791 – and Joseph Smith – born 1796. 

Sometime after 1810, Joseph Smith Hawkins built the house diagonally across the street. When their father died in 1827, the brothers traded houses. Joseph moved across the road to the original family farmhouse and Nathaniel moved into his brother’s house. Nathaniel was a wheelwright and operated a shop near his home.

Joseph Smith Hawkins built this Federal-style house, circa 1810, which was Victorianized and subsequently restored to its Colonial appearance by Ward Melville. Photo courtesy Beverly C. Tyler

Joseph was a farmer his entire life and his son Joseph Smith Hawkins – born 1827 – continued to live in the farmhouse. Joseph married Henrietta Sophia Davis on February 10, 1858 and together they farmed the land until the early 20th century. Henrietta died June 6, 1907 and Joseph died April 12, 1911. The farm, until about 1950, included a number of barns and related outbuildings.

Joseph Hawkins’ grandson Percy Smith, born 1892, and a Stony Brook resident his entire life, remembered, in an interview in 1976, when his grandfather ran the 65-acre farm. “He used to raise wheat and rye and corn, no small vegetables except in the family garden. There was a big barn on the south side of the house, a hog pen and many other buildings which are all gone now. There was, as I remember, six horses and ten to twelve cows. I used to, when I was a boy, drive the cows to pasture each morning and back in the evening. The pasture was more than a mile away and I got 75 cents a week.”

“He used to make butter and take it to the store and trade it in and get groceries. Farming used to be a mainstay of the village, plus the boats that used to bring things in and take things out. My grandfather used to cut and ship cordwood to New York City. The dock at Stony Brook used to be covered with hundreds of cords of wood.” 

Percy also remembered how Stony Brook families relied on each other for many of their necessities of life. The farmers supplied the food products and the ship captains supplied transportation for the goods that were sold in New York City and Connecticut. The coastal schooners also brought to Stony Brook many items that were not grown or manufactured here. The merchants then bought and sold from both the farmers and the schooner captains. 

The 19th century brought many changes that affected the close interdependent relationship of the farmers, ship captains, and merchants. The opening of the Erie Canal in 1826 brought coal for fuel from Pennsylvania and other states and hastened the decline of the use of cord wood for fuel in New York City. 

Wheat and other grains from the midwest, first from Ohio, were shipped on the Erie Canal and began arriving in New York City in large quantities. Most of the local grist mills found it difficult, if not impossible, to match the low price of midwest grains and either adapted or went out of business. Percy Smith also noticed these changes. 

Joseph Smith Hawkins house, circa 1750. Photo courtesy Beverly C. Tyler

“The older people died off and the younger ones didn’t want to bother with farming because they could make more money doing something else. They didn’t want the drudgery that their fathers had so the farms were sold off.”

 Thus ended most of the small individual farms in the Three Village area. The local farmer was always a hardworking individual who took a great deal of pride in his work. Most of the farmers continued to work their farms as long as they were able and, in the decades leading up to the 20th century, they usually passed the farm on to their sons and grandsons. 

The farms are gone, but many of the farmhouses remain as witnesses to a lifestyle that has passed on. With a bit of imagination you can stand in front of these homes and visualize what it was like to be a part of that era.

Beverly Tyler is Three Village Historical Society historian and author of books available from the Three Village Historical Society, 93 North Country Rd., Setauket, NY 11733. Tel: 631-751-3730. 

Historian Kate Strong drawing by Carol Petty. Photo courtesy Three Village Historical society

By Beverly C. Tyler

As detailed by Kate Strong, “In 1675 [in Tangier] Colonel William Smith…bought a great book, sometimes called ‘The Tangier Book’ and  sometimes ‘The First Pigskin Book.’ The first entry was a statement of his marriage. After that he recorded the baptisms [including minister and godparents], and some deaths, of his numerous children. As he wrote on only one side of the page, his wife, Martha, turned the book upside down and wrote her recipes — in some cases telling the name of the person giving her the recipe.”

The recipes and notes Martha made in the first pigskin book were most likely entered during the years on Long Island. “She sometimes added a few bits of news,” Kate Strong wrote, “as when she told that Colonel William’s sickness came from a strain he had incurred in lifting her off the horse…later she recorded that her dear Billy was better.”

Kate Strong listed just a few of the recipes including: “To make pancakes –  take the yokes of six eggs, add ye one white and one pint of cream and half a pint of sacke & nutmeg and a little salt and some sugar. Make the batter of a reasonable thickness, work in some flower [sic] and fry them…” Martha also included recipes for medicinal purposes, including one from her daughter. “For a sore throat or Quinsey — take Rue and pound it pretty fine and make a poultice and plaster, must be an inch thick & lay it on ye side of ye throat. It is a sure cure. You may sprinkle it with brandy…”

“This prescription is said to work like a charm for sore throat; Roast some apples very soft, smash them with as much butter as an English walnut, with a spoonful of molasses, mix well together. Take it hot and go to bed – given by daughter Heathcott.” 

Martha also wrote down some of the “old wives tales” of the period as well as recipes for household items that were not always easy to come by on rural Long Island. “When you gather apples or pears, to keep them you must gather them when the moon is at the full…. A recipe to make good ink. Take two quarts of strong vinegar, half a pound of galles or hard oak appels, Two spoonfuls of Coperas, putt all these ingredients into a glass bottle with a wide mouth, let it stand in ye sun or some hot closett & you have a very good ink, there must be 2 spoonfuls of Gunpowder!”

As related by Kate Strong “She was not too busy to enjoy riding with her husband,..I imagine they had fine horses. I know their saddles were covered with velvet. They went to the South Shore not only to enjoy the ocean breezes in the summer but on business.”

When William “Tangier” died in 1705, the Smith children included Henry, later second Lord of the Manor, age 26; Mrs. Martha Heathcote, age 23; Jeane, age 17; William Henry, later to inherit the south shore manor house and estate, age 15; Gloryana, later to marry the Rev. George Muirson, age 14; and Charles Jeffery, who would die of smallpox in 1715, age 11. Lady Martha was now faced with raising her young family and running her late husband’s vast holdings and business interests.

Entries in the Pigskin Book had been started by William Smith as an estate account book of farm transactions, the Indian whaling crews and the amount of whale “Ogle” and “Bane…” The entries began in 1697, as detailed by Dr. John Strong, “From 1696 until 1721, the Smiths used the book to keep the accounts of Native Americans working for their whaling company… Lady Martha Smith, for the 1706-07 whaling season made  a net profit of 120 barrels of whale oil out of 180 barrels, a sizable profit.”

“Off shore whaling was a fine business in those days and Madam Martha had her own whaleboat,” Kate Strong wrote. “The crew was mostly Indians. She kept her records in a second pigskin book, which was almost lost in the San Francisco fire. A member of the family had taken it west. During the fire, a gentleman saw a trunk which had fallen from a truck and examined the contents. Finding the pigskin book he restored it to its owner. I once held the book in my hands. It was after a small luncheon at Miss Ruth W. Smith’s at Mastic. After the luncheon she handed me the book and said I could go in the other room and make what notes I wanted. Alas, a member of the party followed me in there and, while we had a nice talk on mutual ancestors, I never had a chance to open the book.” 

As detailed in “Bellport and Brookhaven,” published in 1968, “The Lady Martha, was a remarkable woman…managing not only the vast estate, but carrying on the whaling business successfully.”

Also noted by Kate Strong, “Fifteen Indians, the whaling crew, are listed by name; their wages, and the charges made against them, for shot, powder, rum, ‘cotes,’ ‘britches,’ etc… She must have had trouble controlling them, for there are quite a few complaints. ‘He [Will Bene] got nothing this season, stayed away ten days at a time, when he went to see his Shua. Was a great loss to me.’ But there were more cheerful entries too.  ‘I thanks God, my company killed a yearling whale. Maid 27 barrels ogle.’ Listed was the weight in pounds of whalebone from each whale, as well as the number of barrels of oil.”

“As to what the early settlers thought of Martha in their plans for the meeting house church,” wrote Kate Strong, “they wrote that at the table was to sit no woman of any kind except Madam Martha Smith… She died five years after her husband on September 1, 1709 and was buried beside him on the spot he had chosen overlooking the little bay on the neck, now called Strong’s Neck, but we old timers think of it by its real name, St. George’s Manor, part of the Manor of St. George.”

Beverly Tyler is Three Village Historical Society historian and author of books available from the Three Village Historical Society, 93 North Country Rd., Setauket, NY 11733. Tel: 631-751-3730. 

Historian Kate Strong as a young girl with her dog on the steps of her home on Strong’s Neck. Photo courtesy Beverly C. Tyler

By Beverly C. Tyler

She was baptized Martha Tunstall on July 2, 1652, daughter of Henry Tunstall of Putney, County of Surrey, England. She moved with her family to Tangier, Africa where she married William Smith. From her marriage on Nov. 26, 1675, until her death in Setauket in 1709 at the age of 57, Martha led a life dedicated to her husband, family, business interests and community. 

She gave birth to 13 children and buried seven of them; journeyed — in a time of discomfiting and perilous travel — from Tangier, back to England, to Ireland for the birth of a child, and finally to America. She raised her family in, at first, primitive conditions, and assisted her husband in his businesses which often involved his traveling from home over long periods of time. Throughout all this time she became well respected and loved as Lady of the Manor and was eventually widowed at the age of 52,  successfully continuing her husband’s business interests including off-shore whaling and was an acknowledged community leader.

Madam Martha Smith, as historian Kate Strong referred to her, or Lady Martha Smith, as she is referred to in many documents, is not listed in “The Encyclopedia of Women’s History in America”, nor is she mentioned in “Long Island Women: Activists and Innovators”, both excellent books on history’s neglected gender. However, she was a woman of wealth and stature on Long Island and especially in the communities of Setauket and Mastic where she and her husband maintained their residences.

Col. William “Tangier” Smith was born in February of 1654, in Higham-Ferrers, Northamptonshire, England.

Tangier, which had been ceded to England as part of Queen Charlotte’s dowry, was an important port, or so it was thought, until abandoned and burned by England in 1683, after both Spain and Portugal refused to take it off England’s hands. As detailed by Chester Osborne, William went to the crown city of Tangier, Africa when he was 20-years old. A year later he married Martha Tunstall. He was elected to the post of mayor on Nov. 11, 1682. The young couple returned to England in 1683, and in 1686, sailed from Ireland for America with three children.

William and Martha arrived in New York in the fall of 1686 with two children, 7-year-old Henry and 5-year-old Martha. Another child, Hibernia, had been born in Cork, Ireland in June before they left for America on the ship ‘Thomas’, but she died at the end of August while they were still at sea. Hibernia was the couple’s eighth child and the sixth to die. Three of their children, Elizabeth, John and William, Jr. died in Tangier. Two of their children died in London in 1684.

During their time in New York, Martha gave birth to a daughter Jeane on Dec. 8, 1687. William very quickly purchased land in Setauket, ‘Ye Little Neck’ and on the South Shore as well. By 1689, William and Martha had moved permanently to the young settlement of Setauket. In March, Martha gave birth to William Henry. In June 1690, their daughter Gloryana was born. Eighteen months later another daughter, Theodocia, was born on Dec. 14 and died on Dec. 29. Two years later, on Dec. 20, 1693, Martha gave birth to the couple’s last child Charles Jeffery.

During these early years in Setauket, William and Martha moved from their first house near the Woodhull homestead to the Neck where they built a larger house that became known as St. George’s Manor. While Martha kept busy at home, William worked to increase his land holdings as well as his family. On Oct. 9, 1693, he received a patent from Governor Fletcher that included all the land “bounded roughly By Carmen’s River and Forge River [then called Connecticut River and Mastic River respectively] between Middle Country Road and the Atlantic Ocean.” This, combined with his previous purchase, created the Manor of St. George. In 1697, William added another portion of land, running to the western boundaries of the Towns of Southampton and Southold. He then built a second Manor House on Smith’s Point in Mastic. Here the family spent summers, returning to the Manor house in Setauket for the rest of the year.

With the acquisition of the patent land in 1693, William and Martha became the Lord and Lady of the Manor, Lady Martha and Lord William “Tangier” Smith. 

Stay tuned for part two of Beverly C. Tyler’s History Close at Hand column in the coming weeks.

Tracing communication milestones from diaries to postcards

By Beverly C. Tyler

Celebrating holidays and other special days was and still is an important milestone in people’s lives. Diaries, journals and letters provide some of the earliest records of seasonal activity and how people connected with each other to mark occasions. In America, before the telephone became a standard household item, family members and friends stayed in touch through the U.S. Postal Service.     

In 1873, a new phenomenon began when the United States Postal Service issued the first penny postcards. During the first six months they sold 60 million. With the postcard, brevity was essential due to the small space provided. Long descriptive phrases and lengthy expressions of affection, which then were commonly used in letter-writing, gave way to short greetings. 

The postcard was an easy and pleasant way to send a message. A postcard sent from one town in the morning or afternoon would usually arrive in a nearby town that afternoon or evening. A postcard sent from another state would not take much longer.

As the telephone became more widely used, the postcard became less and less important as a means of daily communications. However, it provided us with a view of the early years of the twentieth century that became a permanent record of contacts between family members and friends.

Advertisement for the Auto show at Athena Hall. Photo courtesy Beverly Tyler

By Beverly C. Tyler

Athena Hall, now Theatre Three, was Port Jefferson’s community hall from 1874, when it was built, until it was remodeled into the Port Jefferson Theatre in 1928. Until then it was an open flat floor area above the Griswold Machine Shop where vaudeville, minstrel, magic lantern, automobile shows and local plays were held. The space usually included music and entertainment and by the early 1900s, “Moving Pictures” as well. 

Athena Hall was also used for high school graduations, as a meeting house, election headquarters, dance hall, roller skating rink and by organizations such as the Port Jefferson Fire Department which held a benefit show in 1927, featuring a one-act play, a movie and the Port Jefferson High School orchestra. Earlier the same year, Bridgeport radio station WICC held a two-night show featuring Charlie Cole and his singing orchestra, with music for dancing every night from 9 p.m.. to 2 a.m. There were even musical and Charleston dance contests during the auto show in January 1927. 

Advertisement for the Auto show at Athena Hall. Photo courtesy Beverly Tyler

About this same year, 12-year-old Blanche Carlton was asked to play the piano before a film and to accompany her close friend Veronica “Ronnie” Matfeld who would sing. Mom told me over tea, “I believe it was all arranged by Charlie Ruggles who got the director to run skits at the theater before the movie. I think the director’s name was John. I could hear the tunes so I didn’t need the music and I could pick out other tunes. For the last piece Ronnie sang “O Sole Mio” and when Ronnie reached the highest note I was to reach for the notes beyond the piano and fall off the stool onto the stage – and I did.” That ended the skit. Mom and Veronica went off stage and the movie started.

Charlie Ruggles came to East Setauket in 1926 and purchased property at 16 Coach Road. He maintained this East Coast residence until 1942. Ruggles was probably best known for his performances as a character actor in films such as “Bringing up Baby” with stars Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn. In this crazy hectic comedy film he played Major Applegate, a big game hunter. Ruggles was in more than 100 films over a more than 50 year career. He began his career on the stage and was also well known for his work in radio and on television. 

Ruggles’ career included Long Island at the Player-Lasky Studios, later the Paramount, where he made four silent films in 1915. His comedic talents also extended to his personal relationships and he made many friends, many famous in their own right, as detailed in the May 13, 1927 “Brooklyn Daily Star”.  

“Due to the cordial relations existing between Charles Ruggles, popular comedian of ‘Queen High,’ at the Ambassador Theater, and Lieutenant Commander Byrd, Clarence Chamberlain, Bert Acosta and other famous airmen, the actor has erected a huge searchlight on his estate near East Setauket, to guide flyers in their aerial navigation during night hours. The Ruggles light has already become a landmark among the eastern aviators.”

Ruggles, as detailed in the October 1, 1936, “Mid-Island Mail”, came here often. “Movie Star at East Setauket  – Charles Ruggles of the movies flew from the coast last week to spend several days at his home in East Setauket. The well-known comedian is a frequent visitor here.” Ruggles was here enough to be included in the 1930 census for East Setauket along with his future wife Marion La Barba. 

Many other vaudeville, minstrel and Broadway actors came to this area with its pleasant villages and picturesque harbors. Getting out of the noise and smells of the city was one reason to come to places like Port Jefferson and Setauket and the presence of local theaters, dance halls and entertainment venues just added to the appeal.

Beverly C. Tyler is Three Village Historical Society historian and author of books available from the Three Village Historical Society, 93 North Country Rd., Setauket, NY 11733. Tel: 631-751-3730. http://WWW.TVHS.org

S.H. West’s first blacksmith shop. Photo courtesy Beverly Tyler

By Beverly C. Tyler

The first of the West family line to come to the Three Village area were Mary Morris West and her two sons Kendall (known as Harvey) and Ebenezer. In 1836 Mary’s husband, Ebenezer West, died in Delaware. The 1850 census lists a Mary M. West, of the right age and birthplace, living in Connecticut with another family, suggesting she may have moved there from Delaware. By 1860, the West family bought a house on Old Town Road. Mary and Harvey were living there along with his wife, Mary Eliza Terrell, whose family lived just south at Walnut Tree Farm, and three children, including Samuel. 

Samuel and Ida West and children on July 4, 1892. Samuel is holding his twins Harvey and Hazel West. There are seven children present. Mary, George and Ida were yet to be born. Photo courtesy Beverly Tyler

Carrie West, wife of Clinton West, noted that her father-in-law Samuel, born on April 8, 1953 in East Setauket, went to Bay Shore to learn the blacksmithing trade of George Thorne. Here, Samuel boarded with the Thornes and spoke of them as a fine family. In 1875, he bought the old Elbert Wheeler blacksmith shop that had earlier belonged to blacksmith William Smith, who owned the house on the corner of Main St. and Gnarled Hollow Road. 

As told by Clinton’s son, Forrest West, “In April of 1881, West had a new shop built on the same site as his first and eventually added a two-story building next door where carriages were repaired.” 

Carrie West noted, “Houses were built up to West’s blacksmith shop. Samuel West was a thorough high-class mechanic, a hard worker, a man of integrity, a devout Christian, a worker for temperance, devoted to his family and home. He had an extensive horse-shoeing trade where he shod the numerous running horses for the Vinguts, farm horses and many carriage horses for Strongs, Tinkers, Rebouls and many other well-known families from Miller Place to Smithtown. He was a clever ironworker; he did the carriage and wagon repair work for the community. He was a wagon maker and built farm wagons, light delivery wagons, and butcher wagons and sleds. He enjoyed hunting and he and Mr. Selah B Strong with their bird dogs enjoyed hunting together. They were great friends. Special horses were brought from a distance, because of his ability in handling them. His shop was a well-equipped, light shop, always very neat, and it has been said by his customers he was always so gentlemanly and courteous.”

Samuel West’s second blacksmith shop. Photo courtesy of Beverly C. Tyler

In 1879, Samuel married Ida Augusta Hulse. Together they kept house in a rented home on Station Road, now named Gnarled Hollow Road. Here, five of their children were born. In 1889, he built a spacious two-story house on the corner of Main St. (now 25A) and Bayview Ave, where five more children were born, the first being twins. A great tragedy came to this happy family when Ida Augusta died in 1899 at the birth of the tenth child. 

Samuel’s only sister, Mary Emmaline Loper (Mrs Gilbert E. Loper Sr.) of Port Jefferson, took his tenth baby into her home and tenderly brought her up with their children. Although crushed in heart, Samuel, a faithful father, brought his large family up in a splendid useful manner, each helping the other. He lived to enjoy four generations. (Based on Carrie West’s notes).

West used the 1881 shop until the 1930s, practicing as one of two East Setauket blacksmiths (Henry Rakow, the other smith, operated a shop on Shore Road.) West’s shop moved in 1951 to become a part of what is now the Long Island Museum of American Art, History and Carriages in Stony Brook. The shop still can be seen with most of the equipment used by West to make and repair the metal parts of wagon wheels, shoe horses, and fashion various items that were essential to the community. 

Samuel West in his blacksmith shop. Photo courtesy Beverly Tyler

As detailed in the “Island News” on August 15, 1932, “Three years and six months before entering the blacksmith trade, Mr. West went to sea with his father, who was by trade a spar maker. This October will end the 57th year he has been open for business on the same spot…One man in Miller Place calls in his car to take the smithy to his horse. He now charges $3 a head but [the Miller Place man] pays three and a half times as much for shoes. Mr. West says that when he first raised his price one customer sold his horses rather than pay it.”  

It is difficult now to understand how important the blacksmith was to this community from the first  settlement through the early twentieth century. The blacksmith was vital to the early farm family as he was an artisan, performing a trade in which few men had the ability to do themselves. Working mostly with iron, he produced hand-cut nails; farm tools, such as axes and hoes; cooking utensils, such as pot hooks, toasters and dippers; and hardware for houses and barns, including hinges and door bolts. He was also a farrier, shoeing horses and oxen. The blacksmith took a great deal of pride in his work as evidenced by the fine ornamental iron pieces that exist as candle holders, gates and other decorative accents. Many blacksmiths also provided various related or unrelated services for the community, such as pulling teeth for local residents and treating horses for minor ailments. These services were quickly abandoned when a doctor or a veterinarian was available

Beverly Tyler is Three Village Historical Society historian and author of books available from the Three Village Historical Society, 93 North Country Rd., Setauket, NY 11733. Tel: 631-751-3730. http://WWW.TVHS.org

Above, Miller Frank Schaefer feeds ducks and swans in front of his Stony Brook Grist Mill. Schaefer had kept the mill in operation until 1947. Photo courtesy Beverly C. Tyler

By Beverly C. Tyler

“Don’t change Stony Brook too much! Leave some dirt roads, some crooked lanes, some old trees, some old homes and the winding brook and creeks. Clean them up a bit, if you will. Restore for permanency, but don’t use 20th-century plastic surgery on a 17th-century face.” — Edward A. Lapham, “Stony Brook Secrets”

Author Beverly C. Tyler

Frank Melville, Ward’s father, was intrigued with Williamsburg and wanted to do something here. After Frank Melville died, Ward carried out the project and said in January 1940, “This project has been in my mind and in the minds of my mother and father before me going back some 10 years.”

Ward Melville envisioned the rehabilitated Stony Brook as a beautification project, an economic engine and a community social undertaking. As described in a pamphlet, “An interesting and most pleasant consequence of the Stony Brook project was the new interest the villagers took in the appearance of their own homes as the village green and shopping center took shape. … As pride of appearance asserted itself, the whole village began to acquire its present neat, clean-cut look of simplicity.”

Melville saw Stony Brook as a community where people would walk, greet one another, converse, discuss the day’s politics and be responsible, involved citizens. The village green and central post office were the keys to this concept. However, the inclusion of village shops and offices for doctors, dentists and real estate agents was designed to make this a functioning community.

Main Street in Stony Brook during the 19th and early part of the 20th century was an active commercial area with a wide variety of shops. This commercial and tourist-generated activity ended with World War I as Stony Brook became a small, locally used harbor village.

South of Harbor Road and the mill pond, there were several small homesteads and farms, a harness maker’s shop, a blacksmith shop and a schoolhouse. The business area began at the grist mill, and except for Jacinsky’s Saloon and a bakery opposite Harbor Road, all the stores were on the west side of the road between the mill pond and the harbor.

Shops included an ice cream parlor, drug store, hardware store, tea room, secondhand clothing store, Chinese laundry, a tailor shop, a harness maker’s shop that became a butcher shop and grocery store about 1900, a barber shop, livery stable, shoemaker’s shop, post office and at least two general stores.

The butcher in Stony Brook at the turn of the 20th century was Orlando G. Smith. His brother, Charles E. Smith, ran a butcher shop and general store in East Setauket. Orlando took over the butcher business from Bennie Wells, who died in 1875. In 1898, Orlando built a new store on the site of an earlier butcher shop run by George Hawkins.

In his booklet “A Century of Progress,” Percy Smith indicated, “In the mid-[1890s], farmers around Stony Brook began decreasing the sale of their livestock, and Orlando Smith was forced to find another source of supply. The closest place was Bridgeport, about 15 miles across the Sound, but Smith encountered many difficulties obtaining meat from even so short a distance.

“His order had to go to Bridgeport by mail. The meat was then hauled to the Bridgeport docks and shipped by boat to Port Jefferson. There, it was loaded into a wagon and brought to Stony Brook. During this time, Orlando bought what meat he could, but this had dwindled mostly to calves, lambs and pigs.”

Orlando Smith’s butcher shop was located south of the current Reboli Center. In 1913, Percy Smith took over the butcher business after it had been owned for less than a year by Captain Robert F. Wells and then by Percy’s father, W.H. Smith. In 1922, Percy moved to a new location in the old post office building located a few lots north of the Reboli Center.

Tom and Mamie Anderson stand outside their general store around 1920. Photo courtesy Beverly C. Tyler

Up Christian Avenue and just to the left, behind the house on the corner of Sand Street, was Tom and Mamie Anderson’s store. According to Edward A. Lapham’s “Stony Brook Secrets,” it had been a general store until World War I, when “groceries became so difficult to obtain that Tom gave up that end of the business and sold only ice cream and candy. He also sold real estate and looked after the town roads.”

When they first came to Stony Brook in the 1920s, Lapham and his wife Anna took a room at the Andersons’ home. Lapham noted that Mrs. Anderson “explained that her home was old fashioned, that there was no running water and that the outhouse was located on the hill above the store. However, if we wanted the room, she would try to make us comfortable.”

Many residents in Stony Brook would provide a room for visitors, especially during the summer when the Stony Brook Assembly was in operation.

Returning to the center of the business area of Stony Brook, the Bank of Suffolk County began its operation in 1907 in a building at the south corner of the old business triangle, which is now part of the Stony Brook Village Green. The building, featuring a shingled mansard roof, was owned by the Odd Fellows and contained a drug store and soda fountain, a library, lodge and dance hall in addition to the bank. The bank moved to the current Reboli Center in 1912, and the original building was torn down as part of the rehabilitation of the Stony Brook shopping area in 1941.

When the bank moved, it occupied a location formerly owned by Dan Sherry, who ran a livery stable before the turn of the century. Just north of Sherry’s was the home and general store of J.N. Gould. Gould’s house later became the home of Doctor Squire. North of Gould’s home was the general store and home of Edward Oaks. Oaks, in 1873, was a “dealer in dry goods, groceries and other supplies.”

According to Percy Smith, Oaks’ general store — later Toppings general store — was the “better” general store in town. “It had everything,” Smith commented, “Bales of hay, kerosene, hardware, patent medicine, food and clothing.”

When the rehabilitation of Stony Brook was completed, Percy Smith was the first shopkeeper to move into the new shopping center. Percy opened his butcher shop in what is now Wiggs Opticians. Many old stores and homes were moved and restored, while many others were demolished. The result was a modern Stony Brook business area with a strong flavor of the past.

An “Images of America” book on the history of Stony Brook is available from the Three Village Historical Society. For further information, contact the Society at 631-751-3730 or stop at the Society History Center and book/gift shop, 93 North Country Road, Setauket, Thursdays through Sundays from 12-4 p.m.

A copy of “Stony Brook Secrets” is available in the Long Island collection of the Emma S. Clark Memorial Library.

Beverly C. Tyler is a Three Village Historical Society historian and author of books available from the society.

36 Bayview Ave. in East Setauket on the morning after the ‘38 hurricane, the house’s chimney obliterated by the storm. Photo courtesy of Beverly Tyler

By Beverly C. Tyler

Author Beverly C. Tyler

Eighty-five years ago, on Wednesday, Sept. 21, 1938, just past noon, a tidal wave swept over Fire Island and the Long Island South Shore, the advance wind and waves announcing the arrival of a hurricane, later named the “Long Island Express.”

It swept across eastern Long Island and continued across Long Island Sound to have even greater destruction and loss of life in southern New England.

That evening at 10 p.m., my grandmother, Edith Tyler, then Setauket’s postmaster, wrote on a penny postcard describing the storm’s local impact. She postmarked the card the following morning and sent it to my father in Brooklyn.

Edith wrote, “Beverly – Did you have a storm today? We have had a northeaster followed by west wind – no lights, telephone – and what a wreck Setauket is – about a dozen trees down. … The green was a wreck – 25 trees from here to Catholic Church down – 100 they say down at Wide Water … mail didn’t get in until 8 p.m. … Jimmy says the Bridgeport boat hasn’t been reported since 2 p.m. Never saw anything like it before – tree blew down on Brennan’s house – wind changed and blew it off … general destruction all around – Mother.”

The hurricane was the subject of Three Village Historical Society oral history interviews. A few were printed in the society’s journal, “The Three Village Historian.”

East Setauket’s Forrest West described the hurricane. “I was commuting in those days on the [Long Island Rail Road] from East Setauket to Brooklyn,” he said. “On my usual afternoon train that day, my head was buried in my newspaper. Only at Huntington did I look up briefly. Noting people braced into the wind and umbrellas being blown inside out – or away – I mildly noted to myself that there was quite a wind blowing and returned to my paper.”

He continued, “Nearing Smithtown, I laid my paper aside and noted that we seemed to be held up going into the station. Held up we surely were for the remainder of the trip, as trees had to be cleared from the tracks. The immensity of the storm was finally getting into my consciousness. Arriving hours late at the Setauket station, I by then knew that my wife would not be meeting me. Surprise, though! There was a fellow I knew there in a pickup, and he offered me a ride. There were so many trees down that we hardly used the streets but rather detoured constantly through people’s yards. Home safely, the night was beautiful and quiet … We were without electricity for 13 days, but we had bottled gas for cooking and a little heat.

“My wife, Peg, was then teaching in the old high school on the hill. She recalls how she and her class watched from the second-story windows as bricks flew out of the walls of the old brick (rubber) factory building on Chicken Hill. No buses, the teachers were obligated to get the students home. She drew a crew that lived in Old Field. With trees crashing alongside and behind, she made her last delivery, advised at one point by an official to ‘get out of here fast. This is the last road open.’ Aside from the safety of her kids, she had one concern on her mind: ‘Please don’t hit this car; we are trading it in tomorrow.’”

Elizabeth R. Medd, from Stony Brook, noted, “The Old Field Club was to have a bridge luncheon that day to start at 11:30 a.m. In spite of the warnings on the radio, we decided to attend, thinking we could drive quickly to our homes if the storm became really threatening. We soon realized we all should go home as the tides were rising, and the winds became fierce from all directions very suddenly.

“I live on Christian Avenue. When I made the turn off Quaker Path, a huge tree fell across the road directly in front of me. I quickly got out of the car and somehow managed to reach my house, dodging other falling trees or climbing over them. In a similar fashion, my older son managed to reach home from The Stony Brook School.

“Suddenly, there seemed to be a lull in the storm. We decided to try to get to the village to find our young son, who was at the village school. At the corner of Cedar Street, we saw a neighbor with five children – two of his own, two who lived in Old Field and our son. He had abandoned his car and was trying to get home by climbing over fallen trees. He continued with his children, leaving the other two with us. As the hurricane soon returned, they had to spend the night, and my heart ached for their parents, who, of course, had no idea where their children were until the next day when the town did a great job repairing communications and clearing roads.”

William B. Minuse, who lived on Shore Road in East Setauket, said, “That day, I went to work for Robartes in Port Jefferson. It was storming. Too rainy and windy to work outside … I really wasn’t aware that it was such a severe storm. The wind blew very hard, but the area where I was was rather sheltered.

“I worked until 5, then I started home. At that point, I realized that there was something more serious going on than an ordinary storm. There were limbs down on the road and some trees down, but I got home without any real difficulty.

“By that time, I believe the electricity was off … I ate dinner, and by that time, the wind had gone down. I got in my car and drove to Stony Brook after dark. … A great many trees [were] down, although I managed to get through Christian Avenue. … Prior to that storm, Stony Brook used to have a beautiful growth of locust trees along Christian Avenue. A great many of them were destroyed and were lying across and alongside the road. Somehow, I managed to get through right down into the village.

“Next morning, I went back to Robartes’ office to go to work. Got there without any difficulty, and he sent myself and my helper, George Brown … to survey some lots in Mastic Beach. … We got into where the lots were located, not far from the Great South Bay. There were trees down there more seriously than there were over here, I would say.

“While we were working there, this bleary-eyed figure came out of one of the houses. It was a man. He told us that he had been in the house all night long. The water had come up around the house, and he had sat on a table waiting for the water to go down, and he had a bottle of whiskey. I think he must have emptied the bottle because he was just about able to stagger when he came out to talk to us. I guess he had a pretty good scare.

“We finished the survey … and started home. At that time, the police had formed a roadblock around the entire Mastic Beach area to prevent looting. We established our identity. … We had no problem with the police, but at that time, the seriousness of the situation was really felt.”

The Port Jefferson-Bridgeport steamer ferry boat, Park City. Photo courtesy Beverly C. Tyler

In Port Jefferson, concern was for the Port Jefferson-Bridgeport steamer ferry boat, Park City, which left Port Jeff at 2 p.m. on the day of the hurricane and was not heard of again until she was discovered anchored in the Sound. The boiler had been flooded, but the crew and passengers had kept the pumps going. She was subsequently towed back into Port Jefferson Harbor by a U.S. Coast Guard cutter. In addition to the crew, two men, three women and a baby were on board, who arrived on the little 40-year-old vessel after a harrowing 18 to 20 hours.

 Beverly C. Tyler is a 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.