Idyllic, intimate scenes of small town life and sublimely serene landscapes. Warmly illuminated faces, too often absent in American fine art, immortalized for generations. William Sidney Mount’s art both embraced and defied the standards of the 19th century.
Through this prism, the Ward Melville Heritage Organization (WMHO) will present a special program titled “William Sidney Mount and Long Island’s Free People of Color” at the Brewster House (c. 1665) in Setauket on Saturday, Sept. 24.
The talk by Katherine Kirkpatrick and Vivian Nicholson-Mueller, co-authors of The Art of William Sidney Mount: Long Island People of Color on Canvas, will explore the identities and lives of the 19th century Black, Native-Black and Black-White people who Mount portrayed in many of his works as well as their ties to the Three Village community.
During the presentation’s two sessions, from 1 to 2:30 p.m. and 2:30 to 4 p.m., Kirkpatrick and Nicholson-Mueller will discuss researching and writing their book, which delves into some identities of Mount’s most notable subjects: people who are largely missing, erased, otherized, or caricatured in American art of the 1800s.
Each session will be followed by a Q&A segment, book signing, artwork presentation, and tour of the Brewster house.
“[Kirkpatrick and Nicholson-Mueller] put forward research that makes you want to ask more questions and think about who these people were…What were their lives like? Who were the other people that lived here? What were their relationships like?” said WMHO’s President Gloria Rocchio.
Among the individuals that the book and presentations will highlight are Henry Brazier, the left-handed fiddler in Right and Left (a portrait that is a stark departure from the racist caricatures of Black fiddlers typical of the time); George Freeman, the lively musician in The Banjo Player; Robbin Mills, the attentive outside audience in The Power of Music; and, Rachel (who’s last name will be discussed at the presentation), the poised fisherwoman in Eel Spearing in Setauket.
Mount’s portrayal of these people is noteworthy in its normalcy. Rather than racist caricatures, at the time a prevalent American representation of any nonwhite person, he painted people as they were: members of the local community.
So it is arguably a bit jarring to learn that, despite what much of his art might imply, Mount was not a abolitionist, an incongruous revelation that Kirkpatrick and Nicholson-Mueller address in the book and will acknowledge in the talks.
“Mount was a complex man,” Kirkpatrick said. Despite the multitudes he contained, Mount’s artistic aims appear simpler: inspired by historical paintings he admired, Mount painted what he knew.
And, Mount knew Long Island, particularly the Brewster house, which is now owned by WMHO and was restored in 1968 to appear as it did in his painting Long Island Farmhouses which is now hanging in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Mount even parked his mobile studio on the Brewster property while painting other farmhouses.
Beyond his appreciation for the landscape, Mount was also acquainted with the Brewster house’s inhabitants. George Freeman of The Banjo Player and Rachel, of Eel Spearing in Setauket, who may have been a Brewster, were just two residents that Mount painted, according to Kirkpatrick and Nicholson-Mueller.
While some structures featured in his landscapes, like the Brewster House, have had both their facades and histories preserved, not much has been cohesively published about the people who populated his paintings, many of whom were friends, neighbors, and townspeople.
Rocchio sees “Color and Canvas…” as a way of correcting the apparent information vacuum. “I am looking forward to seeing people’s reactions to learning more about who lived and worked in the Brewster House…Any time we can bring out new information about the properties that we own, we are incredibly interested in the projects,” Rocchio said.
It was such a search for knowledge that first drew educator and genealogist Nicholson-Mueller to the project. While on a quest for genealogical discovery, she learned that she is probably a descendant of Mount, the Brewsters, and many of the people he captured on canvas, including Mills, of The Power of Music.
Having already bonded over a shared loved of history after meeting at the home of a mutual friend, she teamed up with Kirkpatrick, a historical fiction and nonfiction author, who grew up in Stony Brook.
“The research was a gift to myself; and it is Vivian’s and my gift to the people of the Three Villages, St. James and Smithtown. The details we put together will broaden people’s perspectives and knowledge of familiar places,” Kirkpatrick said.
Each woman already had connections to the WMHO and were looking to work on a project together. Kirkpatrick is the author of Redcoats and Petticoats, a children’s book told through a young boy’s perspective about the British occupation of Long Island during the American Revolution and the Culper Spy Ring. Research and other projects have put her in contact with the WMHO over the years.
Nicholson-Mueller has worked as a volunteer docent for the WMHO at the Thompson House, another historic property it owns. She has also conducted research on the Brewsters and Thompsons.
So, history is both a personal interest and professional passion for Kirkpatrick and Nicholson-Mueller. “Color on Canvas…” is a continuation of their efforts to make the past come alive for modern audiences by broadening the palette of people’s understanding.
“I am hoping that people learn about Mount as an individual; about the lives and history of the people of color who lived in Brookhaven during this period and have heretofore been neglected or ignored,” Nicholson-Mueller said.
Tickets to “William Sidney Mount and Long Island’s Free People of Color” at the Brewster House are $8 per person; space is limited and anyone interested in attending must register in advance by calling 631-751-2244.
There will two additional local events to celebrate the book launch of The Art of William Sidney Mount: Long Island People of Color on Canvas:
On Sunday, October 2nd, the Long Island Museum, 1200 Route 25A; Stony Brook, will host an Author’s Talk on Oct. 2 at 2 p.m. It will include a presentation by Kirkpatrick and Nicholson-Mueller as well as a book signing, banjo and fiddle music, refreshments and a gallery tour, where The Banjo Player and Right and Left will be on display. Fee is price of admission. Visit wwwl.longislandmuseum.org.
On Monday, Nov. 14, at 7 p.m., the Three Village Historical Society will host a Zoom lecture with the authors. The event is free for TVHS members, with a $5 suggested donation for nonmembers. Registration is through www.tvhs.org/lecture-series. For more information, call 631-751-3730.
Experience the transformation history of the Ward Melville Heritage Organization (WMHO)’s Brewster House (c. 1665) and Long Island on Saturday, Oct. 23 at 10 a.m. in their new program, “A Taste of the Tavern.”
Taking place at the authentic Brewster House and Tavern in Setauket, “A Taste of the Tavern” is designed to bring participants on a journey through three centuries of life in Setauket and on Long Island.
Interactive stories include the origins of the Brewster House, the role of Nathaniel Brewster in local and international history, the occupation of the British during the American Revolution, the Culper Spy Ring, 17th century witch trials, African slavery, indigenous indentured labor, and the history of Colonial women.
Guests will also enjoy an authentic bohea tea, the notorious tea that culminated the Boston Tea Party.
Admission is $12 per person and reservations are required. In-person, masks required regardless of vaccination status.
For more information on “A Taste of the Tavern” and to reserve your spot, call 631-751-2244.
I’m sitting on a bench on the Village Green at the Stony Brook Village Center. I’ve come to see the sun set over the harbor. It’s mid-June and there’s still a slight chill in the air. Behind me are the quaint New England style shops and restaurants; across the street Hercules sits in his Pavilion, tall and regal with a lion’s pelt wrapped around his shoulders while kayakers and paddle boarders row silently behind him.
Down to my right I spy the little stream that I used to play in as a child and beyond that the Three Village Inn, the spot for so many family gatherings. I hear a familiar sound and turn to catch the mechanical eagle on the post office flap its wings. It’s 8 p.m. and the chimney swifts above me make their last rounds in search of insects as the sky turns orange and purple and pink. The scene is peaceful and beautiful; a community treasure.
One man’s vision
According to Gloria Rocchio, president of The Ward Melville Heritage Organization, this exact spot was the focal point for Ward Melville’s vision to build the nation’s first planned business community. Originally Melville’s mother, Jennie, came up with the idea of rebuilding the village after the Great Depression and started purchasing properties in the area. When she died in the summer of 1939, “Mr. Melville took up the gauntlet” and envisioned opening the whole village to the harbor.
After establishing The Ward Melville Organization (then known as the Stony Brook Community Fund) on Dec. 31, 1939 the philanthropist presented his grand plan, a crescent-shaped Village Center with connected shops grouped around a Federalist-style post office, to the community in January of 1940 at a special dinner at the Three Village Inn. The project was well received.
“He officially opened [the Stony Brook Village Center] on July 5, 1941 but the last tenant, the hardware store, opened on Dec. 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor Day,” said Rocchio during a recent interview, adding that the mechanical eagle was there from the first day. “The idea of attaching buildings together and having the road network where the deliveries went in the back – all of it was very unusual and unique,” she said.
Now known as the Harbor Crescent section, the shops featured big show windows with identical signage. Full-size trees were planted in the grassy area in front of them (probably to keep them from blocking the storefronts as they grew, theorizes Rocchio), with green metal garbage cans inscribed with a quote from Abraham Lincoln, “I like to see a man proud of the place in which he lives,” placed next to them.
Melville then turned his attention to restoring historic properties in the area dating back to the Revolutionary War, including the Stony Brook Grist Mill and the Thompson House and Brewster House in Setauket. “Each time he did that he deeded it over to the Stony Brook Community Fund, now the WMHO, and here we are,” Rocchio explained.
In the 1960s, Melville saw that the community was changing, and to go along with the times, he built the second section of the Stony Brook Village Center, Market Square, which featured a Bohacks.
When he passed in 1977, his wife Dorothy became president of the board and headed up the third phase of the Village Center with the addition of the Inner Court. Rocchio worked for Dorothy Melville from 1979 until she died in 1989. “I worked very closely with her and she taught me a lot; I learned how [the Melvilles] thought and that was very important.” The final phase, the Educational & Cultural Center, located behind the Inner Court, was completed in 2002.
According to Rocchio, the Stony Brook Village Center was part of a larger vision. “[Ward Melville] loved history – American history. He bought all these properties as it relates to the history of this area,” she explained, adding that Melville’s goal was to have Stony Brook look similar to Colonial Williamsburg.
“[Melville] saw it as a master plan, the Williamsburg concept,” which included donating 400 acres of land for the development of Stony Brook University. “This [shopping area] was supposed to be the road that leads to [The College of] William and Mary,” Rocchio explained, and a lot of the homes on Main Street were purchased by Melville who removed all the Victorian architecture and brought them back to the Colonial style. Slate sidewalks were installed to complete the look.
“This was a place that you lived with history … So you just lived with the Grist Mill where it always was, you lived with the Thompson House where it always was – and to think that this one man had the vision to save all of this and to create this for the residents is such a treasure,” said Rocchio. “The legacy and the foresight that he had is just amazing to me, amazing.”
Continuing the legacy
Today, The Ward Melville Heritage Organization continues its mission to protect and preserve historic and environmentally sensitive properties deeded to it by Ward Melville including the Stony Brook Grist Mill, Thompson House, Brewster House, the 11-acre T. Bayles Minuse Mill Pond Park and two-acre Upper Pond, the Hercules Pavilion, and the Ernst Marine Conservation Center and 88-Acre Wetlands Preserve.
The organization also leases WMHO land and buildings to the Long Island Museum, The Jazz Loft and the Three Village Society Lending Aids for the Sick for $1 per year with the stipulation that they are responsible for maintenance and operations. This was Ward and Dorothy’s vision of creating a community where art, music and history are an integral part of daily life.
Every year the organization offers free summer concerts in front of the post office, a scarecrow contest in October, a holiday festival and Promenade of Trees in December, educational programs for children, Master Classes for adults, cultural exhibits, musical theater luncheon and Wetlands Discovery Cruises. In addition, the WMHO hosts the Long Island’s Got Talent competition and Walk for Beauty.
The Stony Brook Village Center, 111 Main St., Stony Brook is alifestyle shopping center with specialty shops and services, restaurants and year-round events including its annual outdoor summer concerts, Halloween Festival and holiday tree lighting.
The Brewster House, 18 Runs Road, East Setauket was built in 1665 and is considered the oldest house in the Town of Brookhaven. Home to six generations of Brewsters, it was operated as a tavern and general store during the American Revolution by Joseph Brewster. Open on Culper Spy Day every year and by appointment.
The Stony Brook Grist Mill, 100 Harbor Road, Stony Brook is Long Island’s most completely equipped working mill. Listed on the National and New York State Register of Historic Places, it is open to the public for guided tours with a miller on weekends April through mid-October from noon to 4:30 p.m. Admission is $2 for adults and $1 for children.
Hercules Pavilion on Main Street, Stony Brook, houses the figurehead and anchor from the U.S.S. Ohio, the first ship launched from the Brooklyn Navy Yard in 1820.Sharing the Hercules Pavilion with the historic figurehead is the Polaris whaleboat, thought to be the only surviving artifact from the Charles Hall expedition to the Arctic in 1870.
Discovery Wetlands Cruises depart from Stony Brook Marine Services across from the Three Village Inn through Oct. 20. The 27-passenger vessel cruises through the organization’s 88-acre wetlands preserve for a 1½-hour tour. A naturalist on board will highlight and describe the wildlife and flora that the passengers will see. Visit www.wmho.org for full schedule.
The Ward Melville Heritage Organization’s Educational & Cultural Center, 97P Main St., Stony Brook is a state-of-the-art venue that offers a wide variety of events throughout the year including cultural exhibits, musical theater performances and children and adult programs. Home of the Heritage Gift Shop.
The Jazz Loft, 275 Christian Ave., Stony Brook offers a treasure trove of memorabilia from some of the greatest jazz musicians of their day and even an orchestra stage that was constructed from the original Roseland Ballroom dance floor. The venue includes a full calendar of musical performances, as well as sensory-friendly programs. 631-751-1895, www.thejazzloft.org.
The Mechanical Eagle at the Stony Brook Post Office, 129 Main St., Stony Brook, was hand carved and has a wing span of 20 feet. It flaps its wings every hour on the hour from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. as it has done since 1941, welcoming visitors to the Stony Brook Village Center.
The Thompson House, 91 North Country Road, Setauket is one of the largest houses in the Town of Brookhaven. Built in 1709, this five-room saltbox farmhouse was home to five generations of Thompsons, including patriot, farmer and physician, Dr. Samuel Thompson.WMHO education programs are held here by appointment and the house is open for tours on Culper Spy Day
Time to celebrate
In honor of its 80th anniversary, The Ward Melville Heritage Organization plans to celebrate with a series of exciting family events kicking off with its Summer Concerts on the Green from July 7 to Aug. 18. Titled Music Through Time, every concert will represent a different decade. “We’re going to be counting down backwards so we’re going to start off with today’s music and work our way right down to the 1940s,” said WMHO Director of Development Gabrielle Lindau.
From July 14 to Sept. 29 the WMHO will present an exhibit at the Educational & Cultural Center titled Journey Through Time. Working in collaboration with Newsday and the Kings Park Heritage Museum, the exhibit will show how society has changed since 1939 because of national, regional and local events and the advancements in technology. “Each panel will represent a different decade,” explained Rocchio. “Newsday is giving us national news, then we have Long Island news and then we have what’s happening here. It’s been a big project.”
The celebration continues from July 20 to Sept. 14 with Walking Through Time, one and a half hour walking tours that will feature costumed actors from St. George Productions portraying historic figures performing in the first person.
“For this tour we are specifically featuring local women … and you’re going to get to meet people who really lived here and owned some of the properties,“ said Lindau, explaining that participants will meet “Mrs. Devereux Emmet” who owned the Stony Brook Grist Mill and built All Soul’s Church and then head over to the Hercules Pavilion with “Mrs. Jonas Smith” who will speak about the U.S.S. Ohio as well as the legend behind Hercules. The group will then walk over to the Three Village Inn to learn about Captain Jonas Smith, Long Island’s first millionaire. Next the group will meet “Miss Louise,” Dorothy Melville’s longtime driver who will move the group to The Jazz Loft to discuss the history of the building. The tour will conclude in front of the Stony Brook post office just in time to see the eagle flap its wings.
See below for additional details on these special anniversary events.
On Sept. 28 the organization will present The Courageous Women of the Revolutionary War. “[Participants] will have the opportunity to visit the Educational & Cultural Center, the Brewster House, the Thompson House, the Hawkins-Mount House and the Stony Brook Grist Mill,” explained Lindau. “In each of the houses there is going to be a living history performance and you’ll meet ‘residents’ who actually lived in those houses during the Revolutionary War,” she said. “There will be things revealed during this tour that most people have never heard before.” Transportation provided by WMHO to all sites.
The Ward Melville Heritage Organization will also team up with The Jazz Loft to present the John Monteleone Art of the Guitar Festival from Sept. 11 to 14 and the Harbor Jazz Festival from Sept. 25 to 29 and collaborate with the Long Island Museum to present a program titled William Sidney Mount & the Sounds of the 19th Century on July 20 from 2 to 5 p.m.; Hawkins-Mount House tours on Sept. 15 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.; and a Carriage Show and Ride Demonstration on Oct. 27 from 1 to 4 p.m. For more information, call 631-751-2244 or visit www.wmho.org.
MUSIC … ART … HISTORY, 1939–2019
The Ward Melville Heritage Organization is celebrating a milestone in its history with a variety of events for the entire family.Mark your calendars for these not-to-be-missed happenings throughout the summer and fall that will literally take you on a historical and musical journey.
MUSIC THROUGH TIME
Music Through Time free summer concerts will take place each Sunday evening 7 to 9 p.m. in front of the Stony Brook Village Post Office from July 7 through Aug. 18.
Take a musical journey through the decades:
July 7: Sound Chaser Band (2000s-today)
July 14:Tom Manuel & Guests (’90s/Motown)
July 21: Six Gun (’80s/’70s country rock)
July 28: Left Jab Band (’70s/’80s)
Aug. 4: Just Sixties (’60s)
Aug. 11: NY Exceptions (’50s)
Aug. 18: The Jazz Loft (’40s)
JOURNEY THROUGH TIME
Journey Through Time summer exhibit will open July 14 and run through Sept. 29 at WMHO’s state of the art Educational & Cultural Center daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. See how our lives have changed since 1939! Enjoy vintage items such as a WWII Army helmet; a fire engine red T-Bird; Marilyn Monroe, Popeye and Wizard of Oz dolls; a rotary phone as it compares to an iPhone; and so much more! General admission is $8 per person; seniors and children under 12 are $5 per person. Call 631-689-5888 for more info.
WALKING THROUGH TIME
Walking Through Time historic walking tours will begin at the Stony Brook Grist Mill at 1 and 3 p.m. and introduce visitors to a variety of historic figures performing in the first person. Enjoy fun facts and historical happenings from the 18th to the 21st centuries! “Mrs. Devereux Emmet,” c. 1940s, an Astor orphan, who was from Stony Brook, will tell you about why All Souls Church stands here in Stony Brook Village.“Mrs. Jonas Smith,” c. 1850s, will tell you about how her husband became Long Island’s first millionaire through shipbuilding; and “Miss Louise,” c. 1980s, will talk about Dorothy Melville and her interests and activities during this period.
Tour dates are:
July 20 (rain date July 21)
July 31 (rain date Aug. 1)
Aug. 10 (rain date Aug. 11)
Aug. 21 (rain date Aug. 22)
Sept. 14 (rain date Sept. 15)
Regular admission is $15 per person; a Premium Ticket is available for $20 per person, which includes the Journey Through Time exhibit and refreshments; children ages 5 and under are free. Reservations are required by calling 631-689-5888 or 631-751-2244. For more information, visit www.wmho.org.
‘Lucky is the child who listens to a story from an elder and treasures it for years.’
— Barbara Russell,Town of Brookhaven Historian
By Heidi Sutton
Margo Arceri first heard about George Washington’s Setauket spies from her Strong’s Neck neighbor and local historian, Kate W. Strong, in the early 1970s. Arceri lights up when talking about her favorite spy, Anna Smith Strong.
“Kate W. Strong, Anna Smith Strong’s great-great-granddaughter, originally told me about the Culper Spy Ring when I used to visit her with my neighbor and Strong descendant Raymond Brewster Strong III. One of her stories was about Nancy (Anna Smith Strong’s nickname) and her magic clothesline. My love of history grew from there,” she said.
Five years ago Arceri approached the Three Village Historical Society’s President Steve Hintze and the board about conducting walking, biking and kayaking tours while sharing her knowledge of George Washington’s Long Island intelligence during the American Revolution.
Today, Arceri runs Tri-Spy Tours in the Three Village area, which follows in the actual footsteps of the Culper Spy Ring. “I wanted to target that 20- to 60-year-old active person,” she said.“I have to thank AMC’s miniseries “TURN” because 80 percent of the people who sign up for the tour do so because of that show,” she laughs.
It was during one of those tours that Arceri came up with the idea of having a Culper Spy Day, a day to honor the members of Long Island’s brave Patriot spy ring who helped change the course of history and helped Washington win the Revolutionary War.
“Visiting places like the Brewster House, which is owned by The Ward Melville Heritage Organization, the grave site of genre artist William Sidney Mount at the Setauket Presbyterian Church cemetery (whose paintings are at The Long Island Museum) and the Country House, which every one of the spies visited,” Arceri thought “there has to be a day designated to celebrating all these organizations in the Three Village and surrounding areas; where each of us can give our little piece of the story and that’s how Culper Spy Day developed.”
After a successful three-year run, the fourth annual Culper Spy Day will be held on Saturday, Sept. 15 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. offering self-guided tours of 24 locations including eight new spots for the ultimate Culper Spy Day experience. “The more the merrier,” laughs Arceri.
One new event you won’t want to miss is an interactive tour at the Sherwood-Jayne Farm in East Setauket where you’ll experience a different spin on George Washington’s Culper Spy Ring. Maintained by Preservation Long Island, the property boasts a 1700s saltbox home, apple orchard, barn, an ice house, corn crib, a pasture and nature trail.
According to Darren St. George, education and public programs director at Preservation Long Island, the farm was originally owned by the Jayne family.
“The property was purchased by Mathias Jayne in 1730 [who built a lean-to saltbox dwelling] which is eventually passed down to William Jayne II in 1768 who expands the house after his second marriage,” he said, continuing, “[William] was involved with local government, he was a constable, so he had some stature and clout in the community and it was nice to have a more substantial home.”
However, when the Revolutionary War broke out, Jayne chose to remain a Loyalist and a steadfast supporter of the crown.
“William Jayne II was a known Tory in the neighborhood,” said St. George. “Long Island was occupied by many Tories, many people still supported the king and didn’t want to upset the status quo, but as the war concluded, most Torys moved to Canada or Connecticut or they turned their back on the king entirely, but Jayne doesn’t. He still stays a Tory, he has his reputation and still thrives in the community,” eventually acquiring the nickname Big Bill the Tory.
When Jayne passed away, the home remained in the family until it was sold in 1908 to Preservation Long Island’s founder, Howard C. Sherwood, who used the home to showcase his many antiques. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2009.
During Culper Spy Day, ticketholders will be able to take part in a 20-minute guided tour of the first floor of the home, specifically the Jayne Parlor (which was added after the Revolutionary War), the Sherwood Living Room (which was the original 1730 home) and the Tap Room (kitchen/dining room).
One of the more interesting features of the home are the original late-18th-century hand-painted floral wall frescoes on the walls of the Jayne Parlor. Commissioned by William Jayne II, they were rediscovered underneath wallpaper by Sherwood in 1916 who had them restored by well-known artist Emil Gruppé. “One small panel was left untouched so that you can see how it’s weathered through the years,” St. George pointed out during a recent tour.
The home contains artifacts that specifically relate to the American Revolution, including paneling on the fireplace wall and shutters on a bar in the Tap Room that came from the Tallmadge House of Setauket, believed to be the birthplace of Colonel Benjamin Tallmadge, a founding member of the spy ring who would become George Washington’s chief intelligence officer.
As a special treat, Big Bill the Tory, portrayed by David Burt, will make a guestappearance during each tour and share his views on the Culper Spy Ring and the noble intentions of King George III. “He’ll explain what life has been like for him as a Loyalist — the other side of the story that we’re really not hearing too much of,” explained St. George.
Parking will be in the field next to the property and visitors are asked to line up at the back door for the tour, which will be ongoing from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Apple cider and donuts will be available for purchase.
Arceri’s favorite part of the day is “seeing all these different organizations coming together as a whole. It really is our Revolutionary story,” she said. “Everywhere you turn in the Three Villages you are looking at an artifact, and as the historical society believes, the community is our museum and that I would really love to put on the forefront of people’s minds.”
Admission is $25 adults, $5 children ages 6 to 12 and may be purchased in advance at the Three Village Historical Society (TVHS), 93 North Country Road, Setauket, by calling 631-751-3730 or by visiting www.tvhs.org. Veterans and children under the age of 6 are free.
Tickets may be picked up at the TVHS from Sept. 11 to 15. At that time, participants will receive a bracelet and a copy of the Culper Spy Day map with all event listings and include access to 24 Culper Spy Ring locations. If available, tickets on the day of the event may be purchased at the historical society.
The fourth annual Culper Spy Day is presented by Tri-Spy Tours, the Three Village Historical Society, the Long Island Museum and The Ward Melville Heritage Organization in collaboration with the Benjamin Tallmadge District of the Boy Scouts; Campus Bicycle; Caroline Church of Brookhaven; Country House Restaurant; Custom House; Discover Long Island; Drowned Meadow Cottage Museum; East Hampton Library, Long Island Collection; Emma S. Clark Memorial Library; Fairfield Historical Society, Fairfield Museum & History Center; Frank Melville Memorial Park; FrauncesTavern® Museum; Gallery North; History Close at Hand; Huntington Historical Society; Huntington Militia; Joseph Lloyd Manor House; Ketcham Inn Foundation; Northport Historical Society; Old Methodist Church; Paumanok Tours; Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce; Port Jefferson Free Library;Preservation Long Island; Raynham Hall Museum; Rock Hall Museum; Setauket Elementary School; Setauket Harbor Task Force; Setauket Neighborhood House; Setauket Presbyterian Church; Sherwood-Jayne Farm; Stirring Up History; Stony Brook University Libraries, Special Collections; Stony Brookside Bed and Bike Inn; Three Village Community Trust; The Three Village Inn; Times Beacon Record News Media; and the Underhill Society of America Inc.
George Washington and the Long Island Culper Spy Ring continue to make history on the North Shore.
A press conference was held May 18 on the lawn of the Brewster House in East Setauket after the installation of 26 signs along the Route 25A corridor from Port Jefferson To Great Neck, which now designate Route 25A as the Washington Spy Trail. One of the signs, unveiled at the end of the event, is located in front of the Brewster property.
The installation of signage and the designation comes after almost two decades of work on the part of the North Shore Promotional Alliance. The state road was chosen because President George Washington once traveled it to thank the patriots for helping him win the Revolutionary War, and it was also a route that spy Austin Roe used to pick up and deliver secret messages to military officer and spy Benjamin Tallmadge in Connecticut.
Gloria Rocchio, President of The Ward Melville Heritage Organization and North Shore Promotional Alliance, said that during the days of the Culper Spy Ring in the 1700s the Brewster House was one of only a few homes, and at the time of the American Revolution, the area was occupied by 300 British troops.
“Our community was divided between Loyalist and Patriots who supported the revolution in secret,” she said. “This history is the very history of America. Our efforts over the past 17 years have been to shine a light on our American Revolution and to encourage people to visit those important sites on the North Shore where history was made — the George Washington Spy Trail, Route 25A.
In addition to thanking her fellow members of the NSPA and others for their work, Rochhio acknowledged State Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) and State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) for introducing a legislative resolution in both the New York State Senate and Assembly that recognizes the dedication of the trail as well as the service of the spy ring members. On the same day, U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) and U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove) were presenting a similar resolution in congress.
Flanagan thanked those who gave up their free time to dedicate themselves to the project. The senator said he and the other local legislatures who were on hand for the event are proud of their towns.
“We brag about the places that we come from,” he said. “We like telling people about these types of things.”
Flanagan said he hopes that residents, as well as those who travel to the area will take advantage of the educational experiences the signs call out along the way.
When Englebright stepped up to the podium, he asked State Assemblyman Mike Fitzpatrick (R-St. James) to join him and said he appreciated the partnership with his neighboring assemblyman as well as Flanagan when it came to the legislative resolution that recognizes the area’s historical significance.
“This is a special place,” Englebright said. “Patriots lived here. People put their lives on the line as the first espionage ring for service to our nation.”
Englebright echoed Rocchio’s sentiments of the importance of the signs that pay tribute to the area’s history.
“The memorialization of that through this signage that Gloria referred to, is a chance for us to celebrate that reality, that wonderful beginning of our nation, the role that we played in it,” the assemblyman said. “It’s also important to give a sense of place and sense of context for this and future generations.”
Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) and Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) presented a proclamation to Rocchio, which made May 18 North Shore Promotion Alliance Day in Brookhaven. Romaine also reflected on the historical importance of the day.
“Today we remember our history,” he said. “Today we remember ordinary people, living ordinary lives, who were called upon to do extraordinary things.”
John Tsunis, Chairman and CEO of Gold Coast Bank and owner of Holiday Inn Express Stony Brook, introduced Harry Janson, Sr., who was wounded in Vietnam and received the Purple Heart, a medal that originated from Washington’s Badge of Military Merit. Janson, who is on the board of the Long Island State Veterans Home at Stony Brook University, said he believed the members of the Culper Spy Ring — Tallmadge, Roe, Robert Townsend, Abraham Woodhull, Caleb Brewster and Anna Smith Strong — were worthy of the award as well.
“The difference is the example of their bravery,” Janson said. “They performed their bravery in covert, and they took their secrets to their graves.”
Before unveiling the Washington Spy Trail sign in front of the Brewster House, Janson had the same wish as others who worked on the installation of the signage.
“We hope that many of you drive the trail and learn about these brave men and women, and what they did for our country,” Janson said.
Additional Washington Spy Trail signs include ones located on the westbound side of Route 25A at West Broadway in Port Jefferson, by the Long Island Museum in Stony Brook, before the Smithtown Bull in Smithtown and at Lawrence Hill Road in Huntington Station.
Thousands of dollars have made their way to North Shore historical nonprofits, which will help continue to preserve Long Island’s rich history and educate others on it.
The Robert David Lion Gardiner Foundation funds Long Island’s history-based 501(c)(3)s, museums and universities to help with object conservation, historical preservation, education programs and exhibits. The organization was established in memory of Gardiner’s Island, a part of East Hampton town.
“The foundation grants have become highly completive,” Executive Director Kathryn Curran said. “For this round, the board reviewed 43 applicants that covered every form of historic outreach. Projects included restorations, exhibitions, programs and collection digitization.”
Most recently, local historical societies, Friends of Science East Inc., Suffolk County Historical Society, The Nature Conservancy, 3rd NY Regiment Long Island Companies and Stony Brook Foundation, among others, were the 2016 first round recipients.
Joseph Attonito, chairman of the board of directors, said there were many great groups to choose from.
“It is very gratifying to have so many worthwhile organizations overseeing our local heritage and preserving our history,” he said. “Bob Gardiner would be very pleased.”
Rocky Point Historical Society received $7,500 for restoration use and, according to historical society President Natalie Aurucci Stiefel, the funds are being used for repairs and restoration of The Noah Hallock House, built in 1721.
“We feel very privileged to have the foundation choose us for that grant,” she said. “It is important to keep this historic house in good shape. We would’ve had a hard time fundraising that money.”
According to Stiefel, the house, which holds tours on Saturdays between 1 and 3 p.m., was the birthplace of revolutionary soldiers, and had the possibility of being torn down several years ago before Mark Baisch, owner of Landmark Properties in Rocky Point, stepped in to help.
“We still have staircases that the servants and slaves used,” Stiefel said. “It’s filled with artifacts and photographs from the 18th and 19th century, and there’s even a 20th century room dedicated to the radio history of Rocky Point.”
The Port Jefferson Harbor Educational and Arts Conservancy received $16,354.09 for it’s annual Heritage Weekend festivities.
According to Nicole Christian, a consultant for grant writing for Port Jefferson Village, about 50 percent of the funding from the weekend came from the grant.
“The larger, more impactful exhibits and reenactments that would have lasting public benefit, that’s what they supported,” she said.
“We made sure that we tailored a lot of the activities that you see with the cars and the beach scene — we made sure that it all weaves together to celebrate the history of Long Island, particularly the 18th century.”
All 19 locations around the village that hosted the event covered a particular time period in Long Island’s history. According to Christian, the funding helped Port Jefferson be able to create a larger and grander event than would have originally been possible.
“We had all levels of recreational activities here,” she said. “We’re hoping that [visitors took] away a greater appreciation for Long Island’s role in 18th century history, the colonial period, the Revolutionary War, a recreational pastime. People don’t know that [Port Jefferson was] a magnet of recreation for all families.”
The Historical Society of Greater Port Jefferson also received grant money, totaling $22,000 for restoration purposes.
The 3rd NY Regiment Long Island Companies was awarded $12,000 to substitute payment customarily made by collaborators, host sites and venues during the campaign season, allowing those organization to apply those resources to other priorities associated with their missions. The Regiment partakes in re-enactments to educate Long Islanders on the Revolutionary War.
“They are quite an extraordinary group of volunteers who perform a vital role in helping our county’s residents and visitors get a very personal education about colonial life and the role Long Island played in the Revolutionary War,” Richard Barons, the executive director of the East Hampton Historical Society, said.
The Smithtown 350 Foundation received a $5,000 grant toward anniversary events, as the town celebrated its 350th anniversary this year. The Walter S. Commerdinger Jr. County Park Preservation Society in Nesconset received $100,000 for restoration and preservation purposes.
The Huntington Historical Society received a $12,728 grant that Executive Director Claudia Fortunato-Napolitano said will be used to purchase new technology products and technical support.
“With the new technology and updated software that [the] funding will provide for, the society can continue to stay relevant in the 21st century,” Fortunato-Napolitano said in an email. “We will be able to stay better connected with our members and donors, while increasing the number of people who we can help with their research… [It] will lead directly to the growth of the organization as the goal is for the society to successfully engage more members of the public and the community. For small not-for-profits like ours with a limited budget, vital technology updates is often an item that can seem too costly to afford.”
The Old First Presbyterian Church in Huntington received $50,000 for restoration and conservation of the steeple.
The Ward Melville Heritage Organization was awarded $22,500 for an educational program called Distance Learning.
According to Gloria Rocchio, president of the organization, an instructor will give a lesson, in say, the Bewster House, and it would be filmed and broadcasted onto the Distance Learning website.
“People from around the world could learn about the rich history we have here,” she said. “We already have the cameras installed in the Thompson House and the Brewster House, and we’re developing programs for them. Once program should be ready this fall, and the other should be ready next spring. It’s very exciting.”
Friends of Science East Inc., more commonly known as Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe in Shoreham, received $17,500 for capacity-building technology and $3,800 for collections care.
According to board of directors President Jane Alcorn, the funding will be used to survey the property, especially the lab building and power base, to study its historic nature — identify which parts are historic, have architectural drawings done, and figure out which parts are critical to preserve and protect, and how to do it.
“The funding will help as we continue to protect the site as we work toward getting it on the National Register of Historic Places,” Alcorn said. “We know the history of the project is historic. It has significance because of Tesla’s work there—it’s a scientific site. Its architectural origins, in inspiration of Stanford White, an important architect at his time, [are also significant].”
Alcorn said that every dollar is significant, as the nonprofit looks toward the future of turning part of the site into a museum — and the funding makes the creation of a museum more exciting, if the organization can get the property on the national list.
“We believe in preserving and making the best possible choice in how we use that space,” she said. “Having the grant enables us to develop ideas that bring together the past and the future. We have far more fundraising to do moving forward, so the contribution really helps us realize and achieve the steps necessary to move forward. The Robert David Lion Gardiner Foundation has been magnificent, and we applaud their foresight into giving to organizations such as ours, who want to preserve the best of the past.”
Victoria Espinoza and Alex Petroski contributed reporting.
Many of us may think that black-and-white photographs are not interesting. Mimi Hodges, an enthusiastic photographer and Sound Beach resident, doesn’t agree. She likes to take black-and-white photographs of local places. As she puts it, “color can sometimes be a distraction.”
The American Revolution might be a thing of the past but it’s made a mark in Long Island’s present.
After three and a half centuries the historic Brewster House in East Setauket is still standing thanks to the Ward Melville Heritage Organization.
On Monday Dec. 7 at 3 p.m. Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) and Town Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) and the WMHO celebrated the house’s 350th anniversary.
President of the WMHO Gloria Rocchio said nine generations of Brewsters lived in the house after the town sold the house to Nethaniel Brewster on Oct. 24, 1665. She added that the house may be older than 350 years as it was already built when the town sold the property.
WMHO acquired the property in 1948 after John Ward Melville purchased the house from Jennie E. Smith and Robert Elderkin — they were the last members of the Brewster family to own the home. Additions were made to the home before Melville purchased the property — the home was transformed from a one-room cottage to its current multiple-room structure. Nineteen years after purchasing the home, Melville began restoring the dilapidated house.
The Brewster House was as a tavern and general store during the American Revolution. Members of the Brewster family resided in the upstairs portion of the home. At the time, Joseph Brewster entertained British Troops at the home. Joseph Brewster’s cousin Caleb supposedly frequented the house often during the revolution — he was a member of George Washington’s Culper Spy Ring alongside the Roe brothers. The Roe brothers resided in Port Jefferson, which was once called Drowned Meadow.
In light of the house’s long history, Cartright read the original deed that transferred the property to the Town of Brookhaven during the celebration. The town originally acquired the property before WMHO obtained the house many years ago. Both Romaine and Cartright said the house is the oldest building in Brookhaven. It’s age and it’s history made the house worth preserving.
“You don’t want to take these historical homes and modernize them. You want to keep the historical culture,” Cartright said. “Ward Melville Heritage Organization understands the importance of keeping the historical significance of these homes so that’s why we’re happy to work with them.”
Ward Melville established the WMHO on Dec. 29 1939. It was initially known as The Stony Brook Community Fund. While Melville established the organization with the goal of rehabilitating Stony Brook Village and merge history with the area’s natural beauty, the organization has since expanded on his vision.
Currently they continue to spread awareness about Long Island’s history and help to preserve historic sites like the Brewster House.
Romaine added that preserving parts of the community’s history would help the community’s future.
“We have to understand that we’re part of a continuum of history. To do that we’ve got to look back as well as look forward because by looking back we get a clear vision of how to look forward.”
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