Stony Brook’s Hercules gets renewed vigor

Stony Brook’s Hercules gets renewed vigor

by -
0 313
Elected officials, Ward Melville Heritage Organization board members and philanthropists Harlan and Olivia Fischer announced the restoration of Stony Brook’s Hercules. Photo from WMHO;

A Long Island landmark is looking more vibrant.

The Hercules figurehead near Stony Brook Harbor. Photo by Rita J. Egan

The Ward Melville Heritage Organization debuted the restored Hercules figurehead at a press conference on Oct. 14. Recently, philanthropists Harlan and Olivia Fischer, of Head of the Harbor, noticed the figurehead needed restoration and decided to sponsor its renovation. 

WMHO board members thanked the Fischers and the work crew from ART of NYC & Long Island who restored the piece located in the Hercules Pavilion overlooking Stony Brook Harbor, across from the Village Center. The Holbrook-based company was retained for the restoration, which included cleaning, sanding and replastering before repairing, painting and varnishing the landmark.

Richard Rugen, WMHO chairman, said, “It’s a work in progress, but [the Fischers] are actually going to take care of the rest of the pavilion as well.”

Additional work will be done on the weather-beaten pavilion in the near future, including roof work and painting.

Harlan Fischer, president of Branch Financial Services, moved his offices from Smithtown to Setauket in 2020. Every day he passes through the village on his way to work and back, he said, and appreciates how lovely Stony Brook village is. He asked WMHO president Gloria Rocchio if she thought the renovation would be a worthwhile project, and she agreed.

“When we make contributions to places, we like to see the results of it,” he said. The Fischers are also donors to The Jazz Loft and sponsor a monthly concert series at the music venue and museum.

The full-color Hercules carving, located in Stony Brook since 1951, features the head and shoulders of the Greek demigod — known for his exceptional strength — draped in a lion’s skin. The bust was once the USS Ohio’s figurehead. The ship was the first to be launched from the Brooklyn Navy Yard in 1820.

Rugen said the figurehead was saved when the ship was decommissioned, destroyed and sunk in Greenport Harbor in 1884. It was bought by the Aldrich family of Aquebogue for $10 at the time, and from the late 1800s until the early 1950s it sat at the Canoe Place Inn in Hampton Bays after the owner, Miles Carpenter, purchased it for $15. Ward Melville bought it from the inn to be placed in Stony Brook.

Brenda Sinclair Berntson, president of Hampton Bays Historical Society, said when Hercules was located at the inn, it was popular for young women to kiss his forehead, believing that the person would be married within the year.

She said the figurehead wasn’t in the best condition, rotting and termite-ridden when it was brought to Stony Brook.

“We’re very glad that Ward Melville had the foresight and saved it,” she said.

Danielle Parisi, business development manager of ART of NYC & Long Island, said as someone who grew up and still lives in Stony Brook, it was an honor to work on the project. Parisi’s co-worker, art restorer Jessie Kefalas, said in walking by the figurehead in the past it was obvious something needed to be done. There was significant damage including the rotting of the chest of Hercules, which is constructed of plaster and wood.

Town of Brookhaven Councilmember Jonathan Kornreich (D-Stony Brook) was also in attendance and commented on the efforts.

“We’ve seen projects like this before, and so often it’s because of the community spirit of  ordinary residents who love where they live or business people who reinvest in their community,” he said.

State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) called WMHO “one of the custodians of our heritage.”

He added that places such as the pavilion are in danger due to rising sea levels brought on by climate change, and the spot around the structure has experienced flooding after significant rain events. In the future, he said, the Hercules Pavilion could possibly be raised to protect it further, and when such a plan comes to fruition he pledged a $125,000 matching state grant to help with the costs.