Smithtown turns back clock for 350th anniversary
By Chris Mellides
Take members of the Smithtown Town Board, dress them up in 17th century garb and the rest is history.
Officials commemorated the town of Smithtown’s 350th anniversary sponsored by the Smithtown 350 Foundation Tuesday with the opening of a time capsule and were joined by residents who braved the snow to attend the event at the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts.
Town historian Bradley Harris hosted the night’s proceedings and was joined onstage by Supervisor Patrick Vecchio (R) and his colleagues who wore elaborate 17th century period clothing and read passages from the Richard Nicolls Patent of 1665 — which outlined instructions for governance under English rule of what are now the states of New York and New Jersey.
Throughout the presentation Harris and those town officials that participated onstage engaged in playful
banter and delivered light-hearted jokes that often got a rise out of the Long Islanders who watched from their seats.
As the night progressed, Harris often pulled from the pages of history and delivered facts about the founding of Smithtown that those in attendance might not have otherwise known.
Despite the witty quips and wisecracks exchanged in the theater room of what used to be a local cinema, the 71-year-old historian and Saint James resident was quite serious and resolute about the importance of preserving history and the passion he holds for his community.
“This town is very interesting because it started with one man’s dream to carve out a niche for himself where he would be his own master and I think that’s [Smithtown founder] Richard Smith in a lot of ways,” Harris said. “He’s left us so many things to venerate.”
During the course of the event, eyes were drawn to a 50-year-old milk can worn with age, which sat to the far right of the stage. The dirtied metal time capsule was originally buried in 1965, and thanks in large part to the town Engineering Department, which had a precise map of its location, its contents were ready to be shared for the first time with audience members.
Town officials and residents were on their feet and the excitement filling the room was palpable. With a hard crack of a hammer, the time capsule was forced open and placed on the long table, where Vecchio and his colleagues were seated.
Among the contents contained within the milk can were: two dusty hats, a phonebook, a local newspaper, a flyer advertising tercentenary pageant tickets and an assortment of aged coins.
James Potts a resident of Smithtown, who has lived in the area for 63 years, was among those in attendance. Potts’ father was the town surveyor, and, due to this, Potts claims to have a very strong knowledge of the town’s history.
Asked about the night’s presentation, Potts said he was very happy with how things shaped up.
“As you can see from how the theater filled up, it shows you the extent of the connection in this town with the residents and basically the pride in the town that they live in,” said Potts.
While he enjoyed the event, Potts expressed some disappointment with the contents of the time capsule and felt as though there could have been more items included that could have better illustrated what life was like on Long Island in the early 1960s.
Also expressing his dismay with the time capsule finds was Harris, who as a historian expected a lot more.
“It was the era of Kennedy’s assassination, and I would’ve thought there would have been some commentary on that, but there was nothing and that’s a little disappointing,” said Harris. “The guys who made up the time capsule certainly were trying to stir interest in the past and they did that, but what we learned tonight was very limited.”