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Beverly Tyler

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Bank of Suffolk County, built 1911, photo 1915. Photo from Beverly Tyler

By Beverly C. Tyler

When Ward Melville began his plan to construct, in Stony Brook, a compact Federal-style shopping center, there were stores and shops spread out along Main Street, Shore Road, now Dock Road, and Christian Avenue. Main Street in Stony Brook during the 19th and early part of the 20th century was an active commercial area with a variety of shops. South of Grist Mill Road and the mill pond there were a number of small homesteads and farms, a harness maker’s shop and a blacksmith shop, and a schoolhouse. The business area really began at the Grist Mill and pond, and except for Jacinsky’s Saloon and a bakery opposite Grist Mill Road, all the stores were on the west side of the road between the pond and the harbor. Shops included an ice cream parlor, drug store, hardware store, tea room, secondhand clothing store, Chinese laundry, a tailor shop and 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 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 shop on the site of an earlier butcher shop run by George Hawkins. According to Percy Smith, in his booklet A Century of Progress, “In the mid-90s — 1890s — farmers around Stony Brook began decreasing the sales of their livestock, and Orlando Smith was forced to find another source of supply. The closest place was Bridgeport, about 15 miles across 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 where the Reboli Center, formerly the Bank of Suffolk County, Extebank and others, is now. 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, which was located a few lots north of the present Reboli Center, on the site of Gould’s General Store.

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 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. The bank moved to its present location in 1912 and its original building was torn down as part of the rehabilitation of the Stony Brook Shopping Center in 1941.

When the bank moved, it occupied a location, which was 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 home later became the home of Doctor Squires. North of Gould’s home was the general store and the 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 Topping’s general store) was the “better” general store in town.

“It had everything,” commented Percy, “bales of hay, kerosene, hardware, patent medicine, food and clothing.”

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

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Students from different classes pass each other as they arrive, leave, and pass by the Setauket Post Office during a visit earlier this month. Photo from Beverly Tyler

By Beverly C. Tyler

“I don’t like history, but I like this,” was what a Three Village fourth-grade student said during the Original Settlement Tour.

This past Wednesday and Thursday, all 450 Three Village fourth grade students came to the Setauket School auditorium in celebration of Brookhaven Town Founder’s Day and learned about the history of the Town of Brookhaven through the murals of Vance Locke. Then, for the next two hours, each class, led by guides from the Three Village Historical Society, explored the Original Settlement area of Setauket/Brookhaven. Students were introduced to William Sidney Mount and Abraham Woodhull at the Setauket Presbyterian Churchyard and to Emma S. Clark, Thomas Hodgkins and Ward Melville at the Caroline Church Cemetery. At the Village Green, students learned about the Setalcott Native Americans, Brookhaven’s original English settlers, and the diversity of immigrants who lived and worked here, as well as the varied ancestry of the Three Village-area soldiers whose wartime deaths are memorialized here.

In Frank Melville Memorial Park, the fourth grade students learned about gristmills, millers, blacksmiths, post offices, general stores and one of the original settlement’s 17th century homes. At the Setauket Neighborhood House, students heard about the structure of the building and how it progressed from a hotel, with stagecoach service from the Lakeland Railroad Station, to a tourist home with station wagon service from the Long Island Railroad’s Stony Brook station, and finally to its use as a meeting place for the entire community.

At the Amos Smith House (circa 1740) students learned about the eight generations that lived in the home and how it grew to accommodate the two generations that included seven and nine children. Each fourth grade class discussed the differences shown in the images of the house in 1740, 1900 and today. Donna Smith, Three Village Historical Society director of education and Founder’s Day Committee member heard from one of her tour group students, “ My favorite part was seeing the house Mr. Tyler grew up in and how it is so different. We got to wave to his mother who lives there and she’s 101!”

The stop at Patriot’s Rock, a remnant of the last glacier and a Native American meeting place, provided an opportunity to learn about the Revolutionary War Battle of Setauket and Caleb Brewster, who, as an artillery officer directed the cannon fire and who was an important member of the Setauket-based Culper Spy Ring.

“Founders Day is more than learning about our local history, it is an historical experience for our Three Village fourth grade students. … Learning that the Emma S. Clark Library is not just the place to find books or attend a program, but an architecturally interesting structure that was built by a local resident [Thomas Hodgkins] as a gift to the community, and there really was a person named Emma S. Clark, is enlightening to a fourth grader. Then they walk toward the Caroline Church and see the Hodgkins and Clark headstones — it all comes together in this fascinating look on a student’s face that they have just put it all together,” said Barbara Russell, Brookhaven Town historian and Founder’s Day Committee member.

At the end of the tour, each student received a copy of the walking tour guide prepared by the Three Village Historical Society, courtesy of Three Village Central School District.

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

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Above, the Playbill cover features the musical, “Hamilton.” Photo from Beverly Tyler

By Beverly C. Tyler

“A tailor spyin’ on the British government! I take their measurements, information and then I smuggle it!” (Hercules Mulligan, “Hamilton,” Act I)

We laughed, we cried, we cheered, we groaned, and we left the theater emotionally drained, but also intellectually invigorated. We had just been a part of a new, fast-paced, almost non-stop hip-hop musical that chronicles Alexander Hamilton’s life. Hamilton is portrayed by Lin-Manuel Miranda, who also wrote the script, music and lyrics. The historically accurate musical, adapted from the book of the same name by Ron Chernow, takes us from Hamilton’s rise from poverty to a position of power during the Revolutionary War, close to his commanding General, George Washington. It then moves to the forming of a new nation with Hamilton, the other founding fathers, and the people closest to him. The musical also includes his Royal Majesty King George III, portrayed magnificently by Jonathan Groff. “You say the price of my love’s not a price that you’re willing to pay. . . When you’re gone I’ll go mad, so don’t throw away this thing we had. ‘Cuz when push comes to shove, I will kill your friends and family to remind you of my love.”

Only the swift tempo of rap speech could transport us through the myriad of historical events, social situations, and love-hate relationships that existed between these men and women, some well known and many deserving to be better known. From the start of the Revolutionary War, to the duel between Aaron Burr and Hamilton that resulted in his death and his elevation to a revered position in American history, we are transported, along with the cast, feeling more like a congregation than an audience, through the triumphs and tragedies of Hamilton’s life. A brief part of the story includes his relationship with Hercules Mulligan, a patriot and Revolutionary War spy who gathered information on British activity in Manhattan and forwarded the intelligence to Hamilton and General Washington through Robert Townsend (alias Samuel Culper Jr.) and the Culper Spy Ring.

“Hamilton” has deservedly been playing to sold-out audiences since it opened last year at the Richard Rodgers Theatre in Manhattan. If you are looking for advance sale tickets, consider purchasing them now for next spring or summer. I saw the show on Wednesday, April 6, with tickets I purchased at the theatre box office last July.

Now the drama of the Revolutionary War and the Setauket-based Culper Spy Ring continues on Monday, April 25, with the start of the ten-episode, third season of “Turn” on AMC (channel 43 in this area). Lacking the historical accuracy and dramatic impact of “Hamilton”, “Turn” still has us watching the drama of ordinary Long Island men and women, working behind enemy lines, to free us from the domination of the British empire. Watch “Turn,” then come and learn the real and equally dramatic story of the actions and the lives of the people connected with the Culper Spy ring as detailed at the Three Village Historical Society exhibit, “SPIES!”

The exhibit and society headquarters are at 93 North Country Road in Setauket. The exhibit is open every Sunday from 1- to 4 p.m. Walking tours that include the spy story are conducted every month. Check the web site: www.tvhs.org for dates, times and locations.

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

Ad in the Port Jefferson Echo: Jan. 13, 1927, page 2. Photo from Beverly Tyler

By Beverly C. Tyler

Athena Hall, now known as Theatre Three on Main Street in Port Jefferson, was a community hall from 1874, when it was built, until it was remodeled into the Port Jefferson Theatre in 1928 with raked seating for 473.

Until then, it was an open flat-floor area above Griswold’s machine shop, where vaudeville and minstrel shows, magic lantern shows, automobile shows, local plays and other events were held which usually included music and entertainment, and by the early 1900s, “moving pictures” as well.

Ad in the Port Jefferson Echo: Jan. 13, 1927, page 2. Photo from Beverly Tyler
Ad in the Port Jefferson Echo: Jan. 13, 1927, page 2. Photo from Beverly Tyler

Athena Hall was also used for the high school graduations, as a meeting house, election headquarters, dance hall, roller skating ring and by various 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 Famous Radio 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.

About this same year, 12-year-old Blanche Carlton was asked to play the piano before the film that day and to accompany her close friend Veronica “Ronnie” Matfeld who would be singing. Blanche (Carlton) Tyler Davis is my mom and she told me this story over tea one day just recently.

Mom said, “I believe it was all arranged by Charlie Ruggles who got the director to run the skits at the theater before the movie. I think the director’s name was John. Ronnie was going to sing and I would play the piano. 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 “Ave Maria” and when she reached the higher notes I was supposed to be at the top notes on the piano and then 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 was the end of the skit. My mom Blanche and Veronica went off the back of the stage and the movie started.

Ruggles came to live in East Setauket in 1926 and purchased a property at 16 Old 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” (1938) with stars Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn. In this crazy, hectic comedy film he played Maj. Applegate, a big-game hunter. Ruggles appeared in about 100 feature films over a more-than 50-year career.

He began on the stage and became well known for his work in radio and television.

Ruggle’s career included Long Island at the Players-Lasky studio (later to become Paramount Pictures), based in Astoria, where he made four silent films in 1915. His comedic talents also extended to his personal relationships and he made many friends, some famous in their own right, as detailed in the Brooklyn Daily Star for May 13, 1927.

“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, L. I., to guide the flyers in their aerial navigation during the night hours.”

Ruggles didn’t spend a lot of time on Long Island. After all, he couldn’t be here and make all those films and be on the stage in New York as well as in radio and television. However, in a story headlined “Movie Star at East Setauket,” as detailed in the Mid-Island Mail, Oct. 1, 1936, he did come here often: “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 also 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 Tyler is Three Village Historical Society historian and author of books available from the Three Village Historical Society.

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The Smith homestead at 55 Main St., also known as the old house on the hill. The black walnut tree in the rear yard that was a spindly shrub in 1910 was destroyed in the Aug. 4, 2015 storm. Photo from Beverly Tyler

By Beverly C. Tyler

One of the most common names connected with the history of the Three Village area is Smith. Records compiled by Leroy and Alvin Smith indicate that there were four Smith families who settled in Setauket in the 17th century.

The first to arrive was Richard “Bull” Smith who came from Southampton in 1656 and who later founded Smithtown, then known as Smithfield, in 1663. The next to settle in Setauket was Arthur Smith, a Quaker, who was admitted as a townsman in December 1659. Arthur had left Southold to avoid further punishment for being a Quaker and evidently found a more receptive and tolerant community in Setauket. He was also probably well known to the men from Southold who had founded Setauket in 1655.

Robert Smith was the next to arrive, coming from Southold in 1667. Robert, who had lived close to Arthur there, was probably a relative but no relationship has been established. Town records indicate that Robert and Arthur lived near each other in Setauket as well. Robert sold his entire estate in October 1682 and left no known descendants.

The fourth Smith to settle in Setauket was Col. William “Tangier” Smith who arrived about 1689. Smith settled on what is now Strong’s Neck and built his home, which he called St. George’s Manor. When his great-granddaughter Anna Smith married Selah Strong, the neck passed to the Strong family (“Three Village Guidebook,” No. 88). In addition to Strong, the descendants of “Tangier” Smith include many other early Three Village families. The colonel and his wife Martha had a total of 13 children but only six are known to have produced future generations. In addition to the Strongs, the family genealogy includes the Woodhulls, Mounts, Brewsters, Hulses and many others including some of the descendants of “Bull” Smith.

Arthur Smith and his wife Martha, who had settled in Setauket in 1659, had four known sons:

• The first, Thomas, was born about 1646 and died about 1685. He was married to Joanna Longbotham of Setauket and had at least one son, Thomas.

• A second son, John, was born before 1649. He had a wife named Rebecca and at least two children, Deborah and John.

• Third son, Benjamin, was born about 1655 and produced one son, Benjamin Jr. Benjamin Sr. is thought to have been the builder of the Smith homestead.

• The fourth son, Arthur Jr., was born sometime before 1659 and had at least three sons: Arthur, Daniel and Samuel.

The majority of the known descendants of Arthur Smith, the Quaker, are descended from his grandson Daniel. Daniel had eight children, four of whom died single. Many of the descendants of Daniel’s other children are still living in the Three Villages.

Daniel married Mary Thompson, daughter of Samuel and Hannah Thompson in 1720. Daniel was Brookhaven Town treasurer in 1733-37 and then town clerk until 1775. Town meetings were held at the Smith home and thus the house was the seat of town government for many years. Daniel died July 31, 1784, and his son Timothy, born Sept. 3, 1730, inherited the homestead (“Three Village Guidebook,” No. 76). Timothy, who married Zurviah Smith, is believed to have lived with his wife and children in the homestead by 1766. During the American Revolution, as detailed by descendant Julia Smith, Timothy outwitted the British — who searched his home many times — by hiding his guns in the foundation of the house and his gold in tobacco leaves.

The Smith homestead has undergone many changes since it was built circa 1685. It was thought to have had a long sloping — or catslide — roof, possibly added about 1705, making it known as a saltbox house. However, the general architecture and timber-frame construction leave many unanswered questions. There is no doubt that the house grew and changed, much as the family grew and changed. It remained the Smith homestead until the last family member in the house died in 1948, a period of continuous occupation for more than 250 years.

Amos, son of Timothy and Zurviah, inherited the farm and homestead when his father died in 1790. His mother continued to live in the house until her death in 1809. As detailed in an old account book, Amos undertook repairs to the house in 1796 and in 1801 “built new end to the house.” It is quite possible that this “new end” was built for the comfort of Amos’ mother Zurviah.

Amos was a successful farmer and served as the Brookhaven Town tax collector in 1805-10. He also served as one of the town constables in 1803-12. Amos was a slaveholder according to “Records of the Town of Brookhaven from 1798 to 1856,” page 91), and a note attached to the family bible that read: “Amos Smith made return that he had a female Child Born of a Slave of his on the 12th Day of March 1803. Childs name is Cloe.” The bible note for March 1824 lists the two children of Cloe, who by then was a freed slave.

In 1810 Amos, age 40, married Ruth Bennett, age 23, and the couple raised four children: Harriet, Isaac, Timothy and Julia Ann. Amos added 40 acres in Stony Brook in 1806 and another 10 acres in 1821; he also held deed to another 40 acres. In 1826, Amos was elected as one of 36 town fence viewers and retained the position until it was incorporated into the jobs of the commissioners of highways in 1830. He died on Christmas Eve 1844, and wife Ruth died July 13, 1852; they are buried in Caroline Church graveyard just west of the entrance walk.

Isaac J. Smith (1813-81), son of Amos and Ruth, was the only child to outlive his parents. He married Sarah Ann Petty (1824-95) in February 1844 and inherited the family homestead after his father’s death. Isaac was a militia captain and the homestead became known as the Major Isaac Smith house. Isaac was an avid horseman and loved to race. As detailed by Miss Kate Strong, Smith was overtaken by a horse and light rig, made a challenge and won the race. He had not realized that he had challenged Robert Bonner, editor of the New York Ledger and a superb horseman. Bonner said, “I could not spoil his fun by beating him, he was having such a good time.”

Isaac and Sarah had, according to family information, as many as fourteen children, a number of whom died young and are buried near their parents in the Caroline Church cemetery. Piecing together family census and church records we can confirm at least 12. The three unmarried children who lived in the homestead well into the 20th century were Emily Sarah (1850-1937), who was known as Aunt Em to her sister’s children; William Lawrence (1865-1938); and Julia Sophia (1863-1948), known as Miss Julia Smith in the community. Julia told many stories about her family and the homestead. A number of these stories were told to Kate Strong, who included them in her “True Tales” written for the Long Island Forum.

As detailed by Arthur Smith descendant Elinore Bryant, about 1990, there were papers and deeds found in the house along with notes and articles written by Julia Smith; an old account book found in the attic; the Brookhaven tax book of 1806; and a paper fastened to the family bible describing the birth of family slaves. These are all, hopefully, still in possession of family members. Bryant wrote that there were “many beautiful pieces of 17th- and 18th-century furniture … still in use when Miss Julia Smith occupied the house.” She also noted that when the house was sold in 1948, many of Daniel Smith’s tools — “(he) was a cordwainer (shoemaker) by trade” — were still in the shed.

Today the Smith homestead, a community treasure, is being lovingly and carefully restored. Sections of the house reflect the different family needs that occurred as each generation of Smiths added to the home and changed it. Many of these alterations now present a somewhat confusing array of disparate modifications, all of which make understanding the history of the house more interesting and challenging. However, most of the major changes to the house occurred during the first two centuries of its existence. As a result the house, as a home, reflects in many ways the lifestyle of the colonial period.

As Bryant wrote, “To cross the threshold over the old mill stone, was to enter another world. The old floorboards glow in the kitchen with the patina of three centuries, while beneath the wide-throated chimney huge black kettles and utensils hang on the crane, a reminder of the daily chores of the colonial housewife.”

Beverly Tyler is the Three Village Historical Society historian.

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‘Happy Christmas.’ Forest Hills, Dec. 23, 1908. Willie Hamilton to Miss Muriel West, East Setauket. Photo from Beverly Tyler

By Beverly C. Tyler

The celebration of Christmas, as we know it, goes back about 125 years to the late Victorian era. Following the Civil War, the growth of industry picked up dramatically. By the time of the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence in 1876, conditions at home and leisure time experienced by Long Islanders and by the rest of the country changed for the better.

‘Happy Christmas.’ Forest Hills, Dec. 23, 1908. Willie Hamilton to Miss Muriel West, East Setauket. Photo from Beverly Tyler
‘Happy Christmas.’ Forest Hills, Dec. 23, 1908. Willie Hamilton to Miss Muriel West, East Setauket. Photo from Beverly Tyler

Despite union riots and periods of depression, the decades following the Civil War, known as the Gilded Age, ushered in a time of significant material change. The coming of the railroad in the second half of the century, the improvement in communications that resulted in the beginnings of telephone service in the 1890s, the change in printing methods that brought magazines such as Harper’s and Leslie’s Monthly to many homes and the penny postcard that revolutionized contact between people in America and as far away as Europe all brought new ideas and customs to the local residents.

These, coupled with the masses of immigrants that arrived in New York in the three decades following the Civil War, brought new customs for celebrating Christmas that became a part of “keeping Christmas” for everyone.

The first Christmas card was designed by John Calcott Horsley for Henry Cole of England, later Sir Henry Cole. Cole was the organizer and first director of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. The card was printed in London by a method called lithography and was hand colored by a professional “colourer” named Mason. It was sent in 1843. It was the custom at the time to send letters to relatives and friends at Christmas. Cole’s cards were to take the place of the letters that he would have to write to his large number of friends and family. A total of about 1,000 of these cards were printed.

By the 1850s and ‘60s Christmas cards were well established in England and were making an appearance in America and throughout Europe. The first American Christmas card was issued by R.H. Pease of New York between 1850 and 1852. The man generally regarded as the father of the American Christmas card, though, is Louis Prang, whose plant was located in Roxbury, a suburb of Boston, in 1856. First in partnership with Joseph Mayer of Boston, but after 1860 as L. Prang & Co., Louis Prang also instituted the idea of competitions for Christmas card designs in 1880, an idea that was instantly copied by his rival in England, Raphael Tuck & Sons. The first prize was 1,000 pounds, and Louis Comfort Tiffany, a Long Islander, was among the judges.

By the 1880s Christmas cards were being printed in the millions and were no longer being hand-colored. Christmas cards during the late 1800s came in all shapes and sizes and were made with silk, satin, brocade and plush, as well as with lace and embroidery surrounding the printed card. These cards were just as varied as those we have today and included religious themes, landscapes from every season, children, animals and the traditional Father Christmas. The cards were very colorful and usually included some verse in addition to the greeting.

Christmas cards were eventually sent through the mail as postcards. The lower price of postage — one cent for a postcard — was one of the reasons for the popularity of the postcard-greeting card. The postcard was most popular during the years between 1895 and 1914, when the craze for collecting cards was at its height. The beginning of the use of postcards probably goes back to the influence of the trade card, used to promote business and trade in the 18th and 19th centuries, and the visiting card, which included the sender’s name prominently added to the card, and was used to send a greeting.

The postcard became popular worldwide and was recognized by the American Post Office Department on May 1, 1873. The card it adopted measured 5 1/8 by 3 inches and was sold by the Post Office Department for one cent each. It was not until 1898 that an act of Congress allowed privately published postcards the same privileges and rates as the government-issued cards.

Many Christmas cards were saved and placed in postcard albums. Today these provide us with a glimpse of life in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Beverly Tyler is the Three Village Historical Society historian.

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The Setauket High School senior class dedicated the 1946 yearbook to the eight Setauket men who died in World War II. They are, from top to bottom and left to right, Cpl. Douglas Hunter, Sgt. Francis Hawkins, Cpl. William Weston, Lt. Anthony Matusky, Fireman First Class Clifford Darling, and Machinist Mate Orlando Lyons. Henry Eichacker and Edward Pfeiffer are not pictured. Photo from Beverly Tyler

By Beverly C. Tyler

Anthony Matusky received his wings at Pensacola, Fla., in 1941. His sister, Mary Matwell, remembered that Anthony had said that he trained off Greenland in the unit with Joseph Kennedy. At the time of his death, Anthony was stationed on the Trinidad Naval Base as a pilot in a naval patrol squadron engaged in patrolling for enemy submarines, which were taking a heavy toll of shipping in the Caribbean.

“The Navy Department has notified Mrs. John Matusky, of Setauket, that her son, Lieut. Anthony R. Matusky, U.S.N.R., reported missing in action last August [1943], has been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, highest aviation honor, in recognition of the following service: ‘For heroism and extraordinary achievement while participating in aerial flight as a pilot attached to a Patrol Squadron during a coordinated attack on an enemy submarine in the Caribbean Sea . . . His cool courage and superb airmanship in the face of danger contributed decisively to the eventual destruction of the enemy submarine and the capture of her crew.”
— New York Journal American, 1944

As reported in the November 1945 issue of The Reader’s Digest by Pulitzer Prize winning writer Ira Wolfert, in an article titled “The Silent, Invisible War Under the Sea,” the German submarines were an effective tool in destroying the supply arm of the Allied efforts, sinking 1,161 merchant vessels in 1942. Their subs basically owned the Atlantic until an effective strategy was developed using aircraft and radar to find submarines recharging their batteries on the surface and the ideal attack procedures to cripple and sink them.

On the night of Aug. 5, 1943, a patrol plane out of Trinidad Naval Base spotted a sub and made an attack as the sub crash-dived. The Mariner aircraft then kept the sub in radar contact all night but it did not surface again. As detailed by Wolfert, “At dawn [the patrol plane] running low on gas was replaced by Lieut. A.R. Matuski. For seven and a half tedious hours, Matuski plied back and forth and around a square of ocean, figuring how he would maneuver if he were a sub skipper who had been down so and so many hours in such and such currents and this and that kind of sea, and making his gambit accordingly.

“Matuski was a boy who knew his business. At 1321 hours (1:21 p.m.) Trinidad Naval Base got a sub contact report from him, giving longitude and latitude, adding ‘I am going in to attack.’
‘1330’ he radioed, ‘sub damaged, bow out of water, making only about two knots.
‘1335: sub bow sank.
‘1337: no casualties to plane or personnel.
‘1348: Damaged. Damaged. I am on fire.’”

The Setauket High School senior class dedicated the 1946 yearbook to the eight Setauket men who died in World War II. They are, from top to bottom and left to right, Cpl. Douglas Hunter, Sgt. Francis Hawkins, Cpl. William Weston, Lt. Anthony Matusky, Fireman First Class Clifford Darling, and Machinist Mate Orlando Lyons. Henry Eichacker and Edward Pfeiffer are not pictured. Photo from Beverly Tyler
The Setauket High School senior class dedicated the 1946 yearbook to the eight Setauket men who died in World War II. They are, from top to bottom and left to right, Cpl. Douglas Hunter, Sgt. Francis Hawkins, Cpl. William Weston, Lt. Anthony Matusky, Fireman First Class Clifford Darling, and Machinist Mate Orlando Lyons. Henry Eichacker and Edward Pfeiffer are not pictured. Photo from Beverly Tyler

There were no other transmissions from Lt. Matusky’s aircraft and no trace of the pilot or crew of 10 was ever found. Trinidad sent another aircraft to keep up the pressure on the sub and as detailed by Wolfert, “[The next naval patrol bomber] reached the position given by Matuski and 20 minutes later picked up the enemy pip on his radar. When he got in visual range, he could see that Matuski had done his last work well. The sub’s stern was down, its bow up, and it was lumbering across the sea.”

Together with an additional naval aircraft, a blimp and finally an army bomber the sub was sunk. Navy destroyers picked up 40 sub survivors the next morning.      

Anthony was killed during the war but his four brothers returned home, all five honored. Anthony’s name is engraved on the monuments on the Setauket Village Green and the East Setauket Memorial Park along with the other seven men from Setauket who died in WWII.

Two men from the local area gave their lives in WWI, Raymond Wishart and Harry Golden. A massive boulder and south-facing bronze tablet were erected on the Setauket Village Green in their memory. The boulder was brought from Strong’s Neck and the plaque was designed by the well-known artist William DeLeftwich Dodge who painted the murals on New York history that are in the state capital in Albany.

On the opposite side of the rock is a plaque that was placed there after WWII.  It reads, “1941-1945 In memory of Clifford J. Darling, Henry P. Eichacker, Francis S. Hawkins, David Douglas Hunter, Orlando B. Lyons, Anthony R. Matusky, Edward A. Pfeiffer, (and) William E. Weston of the United States Armed Forces who gave their lives in World War II.” On the memorial in East Setauket is also listed the local serviceman Chris F. Brunn who died in Vietnam.

We have a lot to be thankful for during this time of Thanksgiving. We have a very special community here in the hamlets of Setauket and Stony Brook and the villages of Old Field and Poquott. Let us never forget the sacrifice made by these men, by those service men and women from our community who were injured physically and/or mentally, and by all the men and women who served in war and in peacetime to keep us safe and free.

Beverly Tyler is the Three Village Historical Society historian.

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East Setauket “school on the hill,” the Setauket Union Free School was opened in 1911 and closed in 1951. Photo taken from the school field also shows the one-story first- and second-grade classrooms. Photo from Beverly Tyler

By Beverly C. Tyler

My daily experiences in the community around me in the 1940s and ‘50s was an extension of my experiences at school.

The first seven-and-a-half years I attended the Setauket Union Free School on the hill in East Setauket. We had lessons and studying, but most of that is a blur of unremembered activity in the classroom. The real school day consisted of relationships with many of the same people I would see outside the classroom setting. Brief, but wonderful, free times each day on the school playground, on the grassy areas around the school building and on the school field were times to talk and play with classmates and other kids.

We were outside winter and summer, even occasionally when it was raining and definitely when it was snowing. While we played, we joked and talked about teachers, about each other and many things that really didn’t matter, but they were shared experiences.

We knew a lot about each other without ever really spelling it out, and we had no idea how close we were to each other. We cared, we shared, we laughed and we occasionally cried, and we did it face to face every day.

Most of the kids around my age lived within a couple of miles of the school, and many lived within walking distance. I took the bus most days, especially when the weather was bad, driven by Jesse Eikov or one of his other bus drivers like Bill Owen or Gene Hutchinson.

Sometimes a few of us would walk the mile to school, but, since there was so much to do along the way, we were in danger of being late. In the first couple of years in school, explorations into the community and neighborhood around my home and between home and the school were done with my family.

By the time I was in third or fourth grade, it was mostly with schoolmates and friends around my age. We explored woods, fields, ponds, streams, wetlands, abandoned buildings and neighbors’ yards with abandon. We easily walked and biked a mile or two from home without any concern from our parents. Many of our schoolmates and friends had parents that worked in the local area.

Our schoolmates’ parents ran the East Setauket stores, and many of our teachers lived close by, often too close when we were not behaving the way we knew we should.

We never called each other on the phone; we just met on the street after school and on weekends. We were always at the post office in Setauket when the mail was delivered from the train around 6 p.m.

Everyone in the community picked up their mail between about 6 and 6:30 p.m. We hung around near the post office where the old men sat on the benches outside and smoked their pipes, not just waiting for the mail but catching up on the news of the day and the latest goings-on.     

There was never any reason for teachers to take us on field trips in the local area, even places like the firehouse.

We went there with our parents or classmates or friends. This does not seem to be the case today, at least not to the same extent. Children are not on their own after school as we were. My grandchildren, like many children today, have soccer, baseball, T-ball, dance, gymnastics, karate, music lessons and other activities that fill every day after school.

We might have had an organized sport or music lessons once a week and then Sunday school and church on Sunday, but that was it. Now, too often, it’s seven days a week for organized or group activities. We learned the joys of just playing. We made up games, played with balls, bats and sticks.

We rode our bikes around the area and skinned our knees racing around the macadam tennis court by the Neighborhood House. In the summer we found old, leaky rowboats and used them as pirate ships on the millpond. We walked the stream where it went through the woods behind houses along Main Street, caught frogs and played with turtles. We built forts wherever we could and had secret hiding places in the woods and along the stream.

We learned to protect and appreciate the areas that were our own places to play. We climbed the trees and looked into the birds’ nests and tried to put back young birds that had fallen to the ground, usually unsuccessfully. We picked up box turtles on the road and placed them in the woods.

We knew all of our neighbors and understood where we were welcomed and where we were not. Looking back on that time and place, I know how much it meant to me and how much it still means. Classmates who have moved away come back for reunions and say that there was no better place to grow up than right here.

Beverly Tyler is the Three Village Historical Society historian.

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AASLH says thanks to Frank Turano

Center, Frank Turano, project manager of the Chicken hill Exhibit Committee, receives the AASLH Award of Merit. Photo from Beverly Tyler

By Beverly C. Tyler

The Three Village Historical Society received the American Association for State and Local History’s Award of Merit for the exhibit Chicken Hill: A Community Lost to Time at the AASLH’s annual meeting in Louisville, Ky., on Sept. 18.

The Award of Merit is presented to recognize excellence for projects ranging from civic engagement to exhibits and publications.

The Award of Merit is one of the AASLH’s Leadership in History Awards. AASLH bestows Leadership in History Awards to establish and encourage standards of excellence in the collection, preservation and interpretation of state and local history.

AASLH maintains the awards program to recognize good history that changes people’s lives by helping them make connections with the past. Recipients can take pride in the fact that they are recognized by their peers. Winners use the award to promote their institution in their communities and beyond, including leveraging needed funds.

Chicken Hill project manager Frank Turano and I traveled to the AASLH annual meeting to receive the award and to participate in the annual meeting. Staff members and volunteers at history museums, historical societies and related organizations from all over the United States attend the annual meeting to take part in sessions about all phases of local history and to exchange ideas, problems and successes.

The awards dinner on Friday was attended by recipients from 31 states, and the range of their efforts was detailed as each individual or group came up to receive their award. This year, AASLH conferred 61 national awards honoring people, projects, exhibits, books and organizations.

“The Leadership in History Awards is AASLH’s highest distinction and the winners represent the best in the field,” said Trina Nelson Thomas, AASLH awards chair and director, Stark Art & History Venue, Stark Foundation. “This year, we are pleased to distinguish each recipient’s commitment and innovation to the interpretation of history, as well as their leadership for the future of state and local history.”

The Three Village Historical Society Chicken Hill exhibit was designed and installed by members of the society’s Three Village Rhodes Committee, many of whom had a personal connection with the Chicken Hill area and the people who lived and worked there over the past century and a half.

The exhibit includes stories of the evolution of the Chicken Hill area and its religious, social and cultural development. It especially details family life and the passion that surrounds the Setauket baseball teams based there. One of the most dramatic parts of the exhibit is a touch screen computer station featuring interviews with former members of Chicken Hill, who relate their personal stories and recollections of the events that engaged the entire community.

The Chicken Hill exhibit, as well as the companion SPIES! exhibit, are open every Sunday from 1 to 4 p.m. at the Three Village Historical Society Headquarters, 93 North Country Road in Setauket.

Beverly Tyler is the Three Village Historical Society historian.

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New York Royal Governor Tyron, on a white horse, visiting the Setauket Village Green in 1776 to have all men in Setauket sign a pledge of loyalty to the king. Loyalist Benjamin Floyd is pictured left foreground. Photo of 1951 mural by Vance Locke

By Beverly C. Tyler

During the Revolutionary War, a newspaper was published in New York City for the purpose of providing both news and gossip to British troops and American Loyalists. If such a paper existed in Setauket during the war, it might very well be called Setauket’s Loyalist Gazette and contain the following snippets of news.

Tavern keeper Austin Roe has been seen riding from Brooklyn to Setauket. It is such a long ride that he has been observed standing up in the saddle. He needs to be careful; he could fall off and break a leg.

Anna Smith Strong is raising six children by herself on Little Neck, now called Seaton’s Neck, while her husband Selah is in Connecticut. He is known to have Patriot leanings so he is smart to stay away. We don’t need any Washington rabble here on Long Island. When, and if, he does come home, he will find his wife has been doing just fine as a good Loyalist with British officers in her home (St. George’s Manor).

Abraham Woodhull is still a bachelor at age 28 in Setauket. At present [1778] he doesn’t seem to have any love interests at all. One wonders why he travels to New York City so often with Anna Smith Strong, his first cousin’s wife. They are both avid Loyalists, quite strange for Presbyterians. Maybe we should keep an eye on them as well as on all Presbyterians. And why not!

During the Battle of Setauket on Aug. 22, 1777, some of the Patriot troops had a bit of fun firing at the bell in the Anglican Caroline Church tower. The sound of the musket balls hitting the bell was quite loud. Let’s hope our Loyalist troops recover all of the lead bullets as they are now a bit short of ammunition. Get the lead out!

Loyalist Colonel Richard Hewlett has not been seen in Setauket since the fort was closed in the autumn of 1777. In the spring of ‘77, his troops barricaded the grounds around the church, tearing up and breaking off gravestones to use on the barricade. Now Rev. Tallmadge is trying to clean up the church sanctuary where the British stabled their horses. At least there is plenty of manure for Rev. Tallmadge’s garden.

Captain Caleb Brewster, a Continental Army officer, was noticed leaving Long Island’s shore near Setauket. He was obviously here with his whaleboat and crew to spy on British and Loyalist positions. Rumor has it that he has a number of Patriot contacts in Setauket and Old Mans [present-day Mount Sinai], and we do know that he is related to the Woodhulls, Strongs and Smiths in the area. Vigilance is the byword!

Benjamin Floyd, a vestryman at Caroline Church is a Loyalist lieutenant colonel and an all-around great guy. He is also now supervisor of the Town of Brookhaven [1777]. The town board is now solidly Loyalist. Floyd has been supplying vegetables and other farm products to all Setauket residents in need. Let’s hope they are all loyal Tories. Be careful Benjamin! What a guy!

Richard Woodhull, father of Loyalist farmer Abraham Woodhull, was recently attacked and beaten in his home by British soldiers looking for Abraham, who they expected to find at home working on his farm. According to the British soldiers, they really don’t like any Americans; so beating up a defenseless old man because he wouldn’t tell them where his son was is really no big deal.

A British foraging detail recently took all the cows, grain, hay, cordwood and tools from the farm of Setauket resident Jonathan Thompson and his son Samuel Thompson. The Thompsons had fled to Connecticut in 1776, following the glorious British victory at the Battle of Long Island in Brooklyn. Thompson received a chit, tacked to his door, promising payment when the British finally win.

Beverly Tyler is the Three Village Historical Society historian.