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Carlton “Hub” Edwards

The home of one of Bethel AME Church’s first pastors Photo from Preservation Long Island

By Rita J. Egan

The Eato House located in Setauket’s Bethel-Christian Avenue-Laurel Hill Historic District has a chance to be restored and put to public use. The structure that is currently owned by the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Setauket was recently added to the Society for the Preservation of Long Island Antiquities List of Endangered Historic Places.

The house was once home to the Rev. David Eato, one of the church’s first pastors, and his wife Mary Baker, a freed slave. Bethel AME historian, Carlton “Hub” Edwards, said when Mary moved to the North after being freed from slavery she settled in Port Washington where she was an organist at a church. It was there that she met Eato and, after marrying, the couple moved to Setauket and the reverend became one of the first ministers of Setauket’s Bethel AME in the early 1900s. Mary took on the role of superintendent of the Sunday school and held the position until the late 1930s.

Edwards said the members of the Eato family owned the house until the church purchased it a few years ago. The historian would like to see the structure utilized to educate people about local African-American history and the influence of the Setalcott Native Americans in the area.

“I think they should do something with it because it’s one of the oldest houses here in the historical district, and I hate to see old buildings torn down,” Edwards said.

For the past few years, the church has been working with Higher Ground Intercultural and Heritage Association, a nonprofit historical group, to have the Eato House restored, according to Robert Lewis, president of the association.

“Higher Ground has a preservation interest and an intercultural interest,” Lewis said. “There is the Native American culture and African-American culture, so we were looking to create a portion of the structure for a historic interpretation study center.”

Rev. David Eato, circa 1910, was one of the first pastors of Bethel AME Setauket. Photo from SPLIA

He said the plot of land originally belonged to Richard Hawkins, who was known for setting up private sales for prospective buyers who were unable to get a loan from the bank during the Jim Crow era when African-Americans couldn’t borrow money. However, Lewis said he’s not sure if Baker had to buy the house privately from Hawkins or did obtain a loan.

Lewis said a preliminary sketch has been drawn to present to the Town of Brookhaven’s Historic District Advisory Committee, and the church had completed some work on the inside before running out of money for restoration. He said the recognition by SPLIA will help with plans to move forward.

Sarah Kautz, SPLIA preservation director, said many structures added to previous lists, which has been published every other year since 2010, have been saved and renovated. Among the success stories are the Roslyn Grist Mill and the John Coltrane Home in Dix Hills. She said the mission of the list is to raise awareness with the hope that community members will initiate conversations about what problems a structure might face and come up with ideas on how to save it.

“Each [structure] shares a broad story that is important for historic reasons, architectural reasons, and they lend an aesthetic value to communities,” Kautz said. “They’re great for tourism and a sense of place. Other than that, they really need the community to embrace them.”

Kautz said one of the reasons the home was added to the list is because it’s a significant representation of the story of African-Americans as well as freed slaves in the area.

“It’s a really important early story of home ownership of people of color, especially African-Americans in the Jim Crow era,” Kautz said. “This is before civil rights.”

She said another interesting factor is there are memories and photos that will make renovation easier.

“It has great potential to be restored,” the preservation director said. “We know a lot about it, we have a lot of photos. There is a lot of great oral history from within the community. People remember, people who spent time in the house or with their grandparents.”

She said many times buildings such as the Eato House are torn down or altered extensively, and the list can serve another purpose to those involved with older homes.

“[It shows] how homeowners and property owners can celebrate and recognize that part of their value,” Kautz said. “Rather than demolish or do inappropriate renovations that completely erase the historic character they can, instead, celebrate and recognize it.”

Malcolm J. Bowman and R. Lawrence Swanson will receive The Robert Cushman Memorial Award at the TVHS award dinner. Photo by Heidi Sutton

On Wednesday, March 22, the Three Village Historical Society will host its 40th Annual Awards Dinner honoring volunteers and area residents who have made outstanding contributions to the Society and the local community.

Among the honorees will be R. Lawrence Swanson and Malcolm J. Bowman, who will receive The Robert Cushman Memorial Award in recognition of significant contribution to the preservation and conservation of our natural environment. Both are on the faculty of the Marine Science Department at Stony Brook University and are being recognized for their recently published book “Between Stony Brook Harbor Tides —The Natural History of a Long Island Pocket Bay.” This distinguished award has only been given eight times since 1987.

Carlton “Hub” Edwards will receive the  Kate Wheeler Strong Memorial Award  in recognition of significant contribution toward the fostering of interest in local history. Edwards is a lifelong resident of the Three Villages and his knowledge of the area is something to treasure, as are the memories he shares of his 85 years lived here and his work on the Three Village Society’s Chicken Hill, A Community Lost to Time exhibit.

Millie Mastrion a longtime member, past trustee and volunteer will receive The Maggie Gillie Memorial Award for contributions by a member of the society in recognition of overall dedicated service, and for significant contributions furthering the goals of the society.

From left, Katherine Johnson, Kristin Moller and Sean Mullen will be honored at the TVHS awards dinner. Photo courtesy of TVHS

Deep interest in history led Sean Mullen to the Three Village Historical Society.  Mullen has applied his knowledge by volunteering at the society’s archives while pursuing his degree in history at SUNY Stony Brook.  He has been working with the society’s collections, especially those relating to the Revolutionary era and the Culper Spy Ring. For that, Mullen will receive the Gayle Becher Memorial Award in recognition of volunteer efforts to help the society by performing those necessary tasks that facilitate its efficient operation. This award honors volunteers whose work consists of loyal support repeated on a regular basis.

Katherine Johnson and Kristin Moller, both students at Ward Melville High School, are this year’s honorees for the Sherman Mills Young Historian Award, a prestigious award presented for contributions to the society by a young person.  Kristen and Katherine have both volunteered many hours to society exhibits and events.

Three community award certificates will be handed out this year. The first, for enhancing or restoring a building used as a commercial structure in a way that contributes to the historic beauty of the area will be awarded to Michael and Anthony Butera of ATM Butera Mason Contractors & Landscaping for the reconstruction of the 1892 chimney on the Emma Clark Library. The second, for house restoration or renovation and ongoing maintenance and preservation in keeping with the original architectural integrity, will be awarded to John and Christine Negus for their home at 34 Old Post Road. The third award, for ornamental plantings or landscaping that enhances the beauty of the Three Village area, will be awarded to John and Randy Prinzivalli of 6 Old Field Road in Setauket.

The Awards Dinner will be held from 6 to 9 p.m. at the Old Field Club located at 86 West Meadow Road in East Setauket. A three-course dinner, which will include cheese/fruit/crudité, North Fork Salad, choice of entree (sliced grilled sirloin steak, herb-crusted salmon or grilled vegetable lasagna) and dessert, will be served. There will be a cash bar and music will be provided by Dylan Maggio, Alex Attard and Hugh Ferguson from Ward Melville High School Jazz Band under the direction of Jason Chapman. Tickets are $65 per person, $55 members. To order, visit www.tvhs.org or call 631-751-3730.