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Caroline Church of Brookhaven

The 25th annual Spirits Cemetery Tour: The Unforgotten will be long remembered as a great success for Three Village Historical Society and a night of spooky merriment for both volunteers and visitors. The event, co-chaired by Frank Turano and Janet McCauley, was sold out days in advance and attracted around 340 visitors.

The actors, dressed in period garb provided by Antique Costumes and Prop Rental by Nan Guzzetta, mingled among tombstones and tourgoers at the Setauket Presbyterian Church cemetery and Caroline Church of Brookhaven cemetery. Twelve “spirits” recounted stories of lives that spanned the centuries and crossed the continents, but all connected to Setauket.  

Before embarking on the walk, groups gathered in the Presbyterian Church community room. There they enjoyed complimentary donuts and cider, time period appropriate harpsichord music from Kyle Collins of Three Village Chamber Players, an exhibit curated by archivist Karen Martin of photos and other primary source materials about the people who were depicted on the tour and an interactive photo station. The tour ended at the Caroline Church carriage shed, where guests sampled cookies and apple cider. Food and beverages were provided by Ann Marie’s Farm Stand, Stop & Shop East Setauket and Starbucks East Setauket. 

Preparations are already underway for Spirits Cemetery Tour October 2020, which will feature the Spirits of Chicken Hill! If you are interested in volunteering as an actor or in some other capacity for the next tour, please call 631-751-3730 or visit www.tvhs.org.

Photos by Anthony White and Beverly C. Tyler


Stephanie Carsten portrays Maria Smith Williamson at last year’s event. Photo courtesy of TVHS

By Melissa Arnold

Ah, October. The perfect time of year to grab a light jacket, sip a hot drink, and go for a casual walk through a cemetery.

For a quarter of a century, the Three Village Historical Society has invited visitors from far and wide to explore the lives of some of our area’s greatest contributors, both famous and little known at its annual Spirits Tour.

The interesting twist is that the event brings guests on a walking tour through two of Setauket’s historic cemeteries — Caroline Church of Brookhaven Cemetery and the Setauket Presbyterian Church Cemetery — to meet each deceased community member and hear his or her story firsthand.

It’s a unique, fascinating and engaging way to learn more about the area’s rich history, and none of it is scary or Halloween-themed. They promise.

The long-running event, held this year on Oct. 19, is primarily the work of historical society board member Frank Turano who creates detailed scripts for each character and has written more than 400 pages over the past 25 years.

The historical society works hard to ensure that the tour is different each year, with some familiar faces as well as new people to meet. This year’s theme, The Unforgotten, focuses on names you might not know from history class but who still made a significant impact on the area.

“There were a number of people I knew about that never got any sort of notoriety,” said Turano. “So I decided to go about the process of finding interesting but obscure characters. It took several months to write the scripts.”

Volunteers from around the community, many of whom are involved with local theater productions, suit up for the evening in period attire from Nan’s Antique Costume & Props Rental in Port Jefferson for a true-to-life experience.

The cast


(Tim Adams)

Richard Floyd 

(Michael Freed)

Anna Kopriva 

(Karen Overin)

Myra Lyons 

(Stephanie Carsten)

Edward Pheiffer 

(Tommy Ranieri)

Justice Carl Rhuland

(Steve Healy)

John Scott 

(Mort Rosen)

Gen. Francis Spinola

(George Overin)

Caroline Strong 

(Karin Lynch)

Hilma Wilson 

(Tara Ebrahimian)

Sarah Young 

(Theresa Travers)

Henrietta Shipman

(Cathleen Shannon)

Marjorie Cutler Bishop

(Stephanie Sakson)

“I live in the area, and it feels great to be connected to the place where I live,” said Janet McCauley, a board member of the historical society who’s also served as co-chair for the tour for more than 10 years. “It’s so much fun watching the actors portray these different figures in our history, and to see people from the community come back year after year.”

The 90-minute guided tour will include a dozen historical figures, among them Brookhaven town founder Richard Floyd, World War I nurse Caroline Strong, and Sarah Young, a woman with a curious story and shocking devotion to the man she loved. For the first time ever, this year’s tour features more women than men, a difficult feat considering the majority of historical records were written about and by men, Turano said. 

Even Three Village Historical Society President Steve Healy is getting in on the action with a portrayal of Justice Carl Rhuland, a local businessman and justice of the peace.

“The Spirits Tour is one of the longest-running events of its kind and it’s close to my heart,” Healy said. “You can go on this tour every year and learn something new. Everyone is so passionate about bringing these stories to life, from the costumes to casting to script writing and the fine details. Frank has incredible attention to detail and this time of year provides the perfect atmosphere for the tour.”

McCauley urges all tour goers to arrive early, dress for extended time outdoors and to wear comfortable walking shoes. And of course, help yourself to apple cider and donuts donated from local supermarkets and Ann Marie’s Farmstand in Setauket. An exhibit with additional information will be on display at Setauket Presbyterian Church throughout the night.

The 25th Annual Spirits Tour will be held on Saturday, Oct. 19 (rain date Oct. 26). Tours, which are approximately 90 minutes long, leave from the Setauket Presbyterian Church, 5 Caroline Ave., Setauket every 15 minutes starting at 5 p.m. Each tour lasts approximately 1½ to 2 hours. The last tour departs at 7:45 p.m. 

Tickets in advance at www.tvhs.org are $25 adults, $15 members; $10 children under 12, $8 members. Tickets on the night of the event, if available, are $30 adults, $20 members; $12 children under 12, $10 members. For more information, call 631-751-3730. 

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On June 1, under partially sunny skies, residents of Setauket and beyond enjoyed raffles, games, a bounce house, music, a dunk tank, pony rides and more on the Village Green.

The annual Setauket Church Fair was organized by the Setauket Presbyterian Church and Caroline Church of Brookhaven.  The Presbyterian church also offered a tag sale, and the Caroline Church set up a barn sale, where attendees could find items of all kinds including jewelry, dishware and toys.

The 2019 fair benefits To Write Love on Her Arms (a nonprofit dedicated to providing hope and finding help for people struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury and suicide) and also KO Cares (a nonprofit that addresses the needs of disadvantaged communities on Long Island).



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‘The Rock on the Green,’ 1865, by William Sidney Mount

Archaeologists and historians are scheduled to explore the Setauket Village Green to see what they can unearth about Long Island’s Revolutionary War history.

The Lamar Institute has begun a month-long field research project titled The Struggle for Long Island: Expanding Revolutionary War Studies in New York funded by a $60,000 American Battlefield Protection Program grant from the National Park Service and $5,200 in contributions from Lamar. The Georgia-based nonprofit, which conducts archaeological research to advance public awareness, has organized historians, archaeologists, residents and City University of New York students to explore three military sites occupied by Loyalists on the North Shore during the Revolutionary War — the Setauket Village Green, Fort Slongo (now known as Fort Salonga) and Fort Franklin in Lloyd’s Neck.

A reenactor reads the plaque on Patriots Rock. Photo from Three Village Community Trust

Barbara Russell, Town of Brookhaven historian and a Caroline Church of Brookhaven vestry member, said the project was presented to the church’s vestry last year for permission to access the site.

“This is all quite exciting to have respected and qualified researchers from the Lamar Institute in and around our Village Green,” she said. “Historians always welcome further study, and I hope the community will come by and watch the process take place.”

Field research began April 15 in Fort Salonga and will continue April 22 for a week at the Village Green. This will be followed by more studies in Lloyd’s Neck during the week of April 29. While the team has been given permission to research Fort Slongo, which is on private property, property owners have not given permission to study Fort Franklin, which is also on privately owned land. Instead the team will only be able to do work on property that was once the battlefield.

The project will focus on the North Shore areas where the Patriot attacks on the three forts led to their victory at Fort Salonga. Daniel Elliot, president of the Lamar Institute, said the research would include ground penetrating radar survey, systematic controlled metal detection survey, small excavations of key targets, total station laser transit mapping, drone-assisted aerial videography and laboratory analysis. The findings will enable the identification of battlefields and provide data regarding military strategies.

The itinerary for Setauket includes searches of the Patriots Rock tract across from Frank Melville Memorial Park, Setauket Presbyterian Church property and the Village Green and the green and front parking area of Caroline Church of Brookhaven.

Elliot said even though similar studies have been conducted in Georgia and South Carolina, this is the first one in New York and north of the Mason-Dixon Line. While not all the forts have a visible footprint like Fort Slongo, written accounts from those who fought and a map from the Culper spies will help guide them to their exact locations.

“We’re trying to bring them back to life a little bit and increase public awareness of what’s out here,” Elliot said.

“It’s really an American story.”

—David Griffin

The Battle of Fort Slongo, led by Benjamin Tallmadge, he said was a victory for the Patriots where an injured Elijah Churchill became the recipient of the first Badge of Military Merit, which became the Purple Heart.

“It’s one of the few success stories on the Island for the Americans during the war,” Elliot said.

David Griffin, a local historian, has been collaborating on the project. An architect by trade, he’s the author of the book “Lost British Forts of Long Island.” He said there are plenty of lost stories and various interpretations of what happened on the Island when it comes to the Revolutionary War.

The historian said with the use of underground radar and metal detectors, field researchers will be able to find artifacts such as iron musket balls and jacket buttons that will tell a lot more about who was shooting at whom and in what direction. The research will also help to see how many people were engaged, and the size of a musket ball can determine to which side it belonged.

He said many times in cases like these, relics aren’t found too deep in the ground, with most being around 4 to 6 inches deep. As for the Setauket battleground, Griffin said no one knows for sure where the fort walls were, and with ground radar, they may be able to determine its exact location.

Griffin said he is looking forward to learning more about the sites and the forts, and he pointed out that the Loyalists who built them were Americans.

“It’s really an American story,” he said. “Even though we think it was the British that were here, it’s really the Loyalist Americans who built these and tended to them, and the Patriots, who were also Americans, were the people who were attacking the posts, so it really is a very local story of Americans.”

The project will be discussed at a future Three Village Community Trust Join the Conversation presentation with Elliott, Griffin and Sheldon Skaggs, assistant professor at City University of New York. Resulting interpretation also will be documented in a report available to the public on the Lamar Institute’s website, www.thelamarinstitute.org by September 2020.

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The Carriage Shed pictured post stabilization. Photo from Caroline Church of Brookhaven

The Carriage Shed at the Caroline Church of Brookhaven continues to receive a makeover.

The Robert David Lion Gardiner Foundation announced Jan. 11 it had recently awarded the church a matching grant of $10,950. The grant is to cover the cost of replacing the cedar roof on the shed, and according to Barbara Russell, a junior warden at the church and Town of Brookhaven historian, work has already started on the roof as Jan. 15.

The grant marks the second time in the last two years the church has received funds from the foundation. The first matching grant of $23,700 was awarded in 2017 and was used to help stabilize the shed, which was built in 1887. The shed’s internal framework needed replacing as the supporting locust poles were sinking into the ground, according to Russell.

The historian said the congregation was grateful to the foundation for its help.

“Our shared commitment to telling the story of our rich heritage of our communities is exemplified in our ongoing collaboration,” Russell said. “We look forward to the full restoration of the shed in time for our [upcoming] anniversary celebration.”

Father Richard Visconti, rector of Caroline Church, above, watches the Carriage Shed roof being installed. Photo from Caroline Church of Brookhaven

Kathryn Curran, executive director of the Gardiner foundation, called the shed “an icon to the community.” When a nonprofit like the Caroline Church applies for a matching grant from the foundation, she said, they must have the full funding match in place. She added two-part projects like the shed are not unusual.

“There are times when an organization needs to break the project into doable funded portions,” she said. “When a RDLGF grant is awarded, an applicant must complete that first contracted grant and have their final report accepted by the foundation before another application will be reviewed. The Caroline Church applied for two separate grants in two years to complete this project.”

Located on the east side of Bates Road on the church’s property, the Carriage Shed is one of four contributing structures to the church being on the National Register of Historic Places. The shed was initially intended for members to park their carriages while attending services and in later years was used for parishioners to park their cars.

The Caroline Church celebrates its 296th anniversary later this month. Russell said the congregation will commemorate the milestone at their 9:30 a.m. service Jan. 27, and an event to celebrate the restored shed will be held at a later date.

Victim of Shelter Island home invasion laid to rest in Setauket

Mourners fill the small cemetery of Caroline Church of Brookhaven to lay to rest the Rev. Canon Paul Wancura. The church’s former rector was left tied up in his Shelter Island home after a burglary in March and died April 16 due to his injuries. Photo by Rita J. Egan

The Caroline Church of Brookhaven was filled to capacity with mourners saying their last goodbyes to the Rev. Canon Paul Wancura April 24.

The Rev. Canon Paul Wancura visited Caroline Church for his 85th birthday in 2015. Photo from Caroline Church of Brookhaven

The Caroline Church of Brookhaven was filled to capacity with mourners saying their last goodbyes to the Rev. Canon Paul Wancura April 24.

Wancura, a former rector of the church, died of injuries sustained during a home invasion on Shelter Island last month. The local town police discovered the injured 87-year-old March 19 when they responded to a call to check on the welfare of the reverend, according to a statement from the Suffolk County Police Department. The officers found the residence was burglarized and jewelry was stolen. Wancura was transported by helicopter to Stony Brook University Hospital, but died April 16 after a 29-day battle to recover from his injuries.

Wancura arrived at Caroline Church as rector in 1974 and served for 26 years.

Former vestry member Michael Russell said the reverend married him and his wife, Brookhaven Town Historian Barbara Russell, in 1978. He said Wancura was the reason many began bringing their families to the Episcopal church due to his vibrancy, intellect and wit.

“There was just something about him,” Russell said. “You’d love talking to him, and you’d love being with him. So not only was he our rector, but he was a friend to a lot of us.”

Russell said he and many other church members kept in touch with Wancura after he left the church. He became the interim rector for 10 years at Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Greenport and then spent seven months at Episcopal Church of the Messiah in Central Islip.

“You’d love talking to him, and you’d love being with him. So not only was he our rector, but he was a friend to a lot of us.”

— Michael Russell

Before his tenure with Caroline Church, Wancura worked for IBM and served in the military. When he returned from Europe serving in counterintelligence, he received his Master of Divinity from The General Theological Seminary of the Episcopal Church and served as rector of his first parish in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. He was also appointed the archdeacon of Suffolk County before becoming rector of Caroline Church, according to his obituary.

Visiting Wancura at the hospital after the attack, Russell said the reverend seemed to be on the road to recovery and returning to his usual sharp, witty self. He and others were shocked to hear of his death and are still coming to terms with the attack.

During the funeral Mass, the Rev. Lawrence Provenzano, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island, said a friend suggested he pray through the anguish he felt after hearing the news of Wancura’s death.

“Every one of us has been horrified by what has happened,” Provenzano said. “We have each in our own way expressed disbelief that such a thing could happen to one whom we have known, whom we have loved.”

After the Mass, Wancura was buried in the churchyard next to his wife, Helen.

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Caroline Church is hosting an exhibit exploring the early history of the church, the Three Village area and the country, Oct. 7 through 9. Photo from Beverly C. Tyler

By Beverly C. Tyler

A new exhibit, “The 1800s, Growth and Change: The Church, The Community, The Country,” will be open to the public  Oct. 7 through  9 from 1 to 4 p.m. in the history center of  Caroline  Church of Brookhaven, located at 1 Dyke Road, Setauket.

The exhibit details how Caroline Church recovered and prospered following the decades after the Revolutionary War. It also features the 1887 Caroline Church carriage shed which is one of the structures listed along with the church on the National Register of Historic Places in America and is currently being restored to its original state.

Caroline Church at the turn of the 20th century. Photo from Beverly C. Tyler

The exhibit section on the community illustrates, on various panels, how the Three Village area moved from an agricultural base to an industrial community with shipbuilding, a piano factory, a rubber factory and other industries. Featured photographs in the exhibit include two 4-foot long overlapping images of the Setauket area photographed on site in 1878 by George Bradford Brainerd (1845-1887). The photos, taken when there were few trees to hide the view, show the entire area from the Setauket Mill Pond to Route 25A. A series of questions then asks the viewer to identify various structures. Barbara Russell, Brookhaven Town historian and a member of the Caroline Church Historical Commission said, “We thought it would be more interesting to give a background on the photos, and then let the viewer find things, rather than point everything out.”

The section on the country features women’s work in both home and community, some of the local effects of the Civil War, the expansion of the public school system and other events that defined community life in the 19th century.

The exhibit opening is scheduled as part of  New York State’s Path Through History weekends, when many events are scheduled to celebrate the state’s rich heritage. In addition to the exhibit at the  1729 Caroline Church, the Three Village Historical Society walking tour “Abraham Woodhull: Farmer and Revolutionary War Spy” will be held on Saturday, Oct. 7, starting at 2 p.m. from the Caroline Church front parking lot. The tour will include locations where the Revolutionary War Culper Spy Ring operated.

Beverly Tyler is Three Village Historical Society historian and author of books available from the society at 93 North Country Road, Setauket. For more information, call 631-751-3730 or visit www.tvhs.org.

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In 1985 members of a crane company removed the Caroline Church’s steeple bell to protect it from Hurricane Gloria. Photo from Caroline Church archives

By Beverly Tyler

In the archives of Setauket’s Caroline Church of Brookhaven is a beautifully written receipt dated September 17, 1729, written with a quill pen in elegantly flowing script. Addressed to Colonel Benjamin Floyd, senior warden at the church, the receipt details the purchase of the 132½-pound bell that still rings the call to Sunday church services at the historic white colonial building at the Setauket Village Green.

In 1936, the church began a restoration including a return to a colonial appearance. The restoration was financed by local philanthropist and businessman Ward Melville and was carried out by his architect Richard Haviland Smythe. During the restoration, a musket ball was discovered embedded in one of the white oak beams in the tower that holds the bell. During the Battle of Setauket on August 22, 1777, it seems likely that one of the Patriots, firing from about the location of Patriot’s Rock, was trying to ring the bell and missed. At the time the bell was visible in the tower as there were no louvers around the bell as there are today.

In September 1985, with the path of Hurricane Gloria expected to take it directly across the middle of Long Island, it was decided to remove the 30-foot steeple and bell. According to a 1985 article in Newsday, “The Rev. Paul Wancura, church rector, said, ‘We were concerned that with the storm coming, it might blow away and cause some real damage.’” Near the end of the hurricane season the bell and steeple were returned to their exalted positions atop the church tower.

Beverly Tyler is Three Village Historical Society historian and author of books available from the society at 93 North Country Road, Setauket. For more information, call 631-751-3730 or visit www.tvhs.org.

Caroline Church’s Carriage Shed has been fenced in and will receive much-needed repairs. Photo by Rita J. Egan

Two historical structures in Setauket are slated to get much-needed makeovers.

Recently Frank Melville Memorial Park and Caroline Church of Brookhaven were notified that they were awarded grants from the Robert David Lion Gardiner Foundation to offset the costs of upcoming restoration projects. The park will receive $44,330 to restore the Bates Barn, better known as the Red Barn, and the church will be awarded $23,700 to stabilize the Carriage Shed. Both are matching grants, which means the organizations had to raise funds to cover half of each project before requesting the other half in funds from the foundation.

Kathryn Curran, executive director of the Robert David Lion Gardiner Foundation, shed some light on what made the organizations appealing options to receive the grants.

“The organization has to be truly historically significant to the community, have a great outreach educationally, and they also have to have the capacity to fulfill the request, meaning that they have to have money in place if it’s a restoration project,” Curran said.

The executive director said the Red Barn and Carriage Shed not only met the requirements but also were ideal choices.

Frank Melville Memorial Park’s Red Barn, the site of many of the park’s programs, is slated to be restored this fall. Photo by Rita J. Egan

“[Setauket] is such a historically significant community to Long Island so it was an easy understanding of the needs for the projects to move forward,” Curran said. “And, they have a proven record to being historic stewards of these sites.”

Robert Reuter, president of the Frank Melville Memorial Foundation, said the Red Barn is one of the structures that supports the park being on the National Register of Historic Places and is a transplant from Camp Upton in Yaphank, which was used by the U.S. Army during World War I. After the camp was closed, barns were recycled and the timber was used at various locations on Long Island. The Setauket barn was restyled as an English barn from the timbers and serves as the backdrop for the park’s concerts and programs and is also used for storage.

“After we get it restored, we’re going to use it even more,” Reuter said.

The foundation president said the 1,056 square-foot barn needs structural restoration, which includes straightening, and the building up of the existing foundation to a level where it will be protected from flooding, which Reuter said the park has experienced more frequently of late. The siding also needs to be replaced.

He said the restoration of the barn began as a proposal five years ago but during the last year and a half the trustees have worked in earnest obtaining architectural drawings, securing inspections and working on applying for the grant. Reuter said the Gardiner foundation is very explicit about having everything in order before submitting a grant proposal, including having permits in place, quotes and bids.

“It’s a great deal of work leading up to the point where you can make an acceptable application,” Reuter said.

He said park foundation trustee Linda Sanders worked on the grant and did a great job in compiling all the information about the barn that is “used as a touch point in talks and walks by the historical society.”

“[The grant] is a very compelling story about the importance of this building not only in its own right but as an integral part of the diverse story of our history,” Reuter said.

Reuter said some work can begin immediately but the bulk of the restoration will be done in the fall. First the roof will be pulled off to relieve the weight, and it will be a slow process to straighten and stabilize the barn, because “it’s starting to deform as buildings do.”

Sanders said it was Reuter and Barbara Russell, Brookhaven town historian, who originally envisioned the project. She said Reuter conceptualized the project and scoped out the work needed, while Russell researched the history. She said she was delighted that the foundation recognized the historical significance of the park and barn.

“This is really in the center of the Setauket historical crescent, as I call it, that stretches from the Village Green to down Main Street to the historical society,” Sanders said.

The foundation trustee said she sees the barn as an example of not only local history but also the “reuse, recycle and repurpose” sentiment.

“When we tour the Red Barn structure, children particularly are exposed to all of the individuals who have come before them that have participated in stewarding our community assets into the present,” she said. 

Sanders said the park was able to match the Gardiner grant due to the original endowment fund from the Melville family. However, due to the fact that the funds are usually needed for maintenance work such as landscaping and tree work the FMMF will make an appeal to the community to publicly raise the park’s $44,330 half of the project in the near future as it’s the board’s responsibility to raise money for larger projects.

The Caroline Church’s Carriage Shed circa 1956 before structural damage. Photo from Caroline Church of Brookhaven

Russell, who is a member of Caroline Church’s vestry, said the Carriage Shed, built in 1887, is located on the east side of Bates Road on the church’s property and is one of the four contributing structures to the church being on the National Register of Historic Places.

The $23,700 from the Gardiner Foundation was matched by funds raised by the church from parishioners and community members and will cover the cost of stabilizing the shed that once was a place for church members to park their carriages while attending services and in later years even cars. Currently the internal framework needs replacing, as the supporting locust posts are sinking into the ground, according to Russell.

The historian said the work should be completed in the fall. After the stabilization is done, another fundraiser will be organized to repair the cedar-shingled roof.

“We have a responsibility to keep these structures in good repair,” Russell said.

The Three Village Historical Society has used the shed for its Spirits Tour, and the church has held its annual blessing of the animals there as well.

Russell said grants like the one from the Gardiner Foundation are a big help to churches and she encouraged others to apply.

“For any older churches in Suffolk County, this is a prayer answered,” Russell said.

For more information on the Robert David Lion Gardiner Foundation and the grants they offer, visit www.rdlgfoundation.org.

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The Setauket Presbyterian Church, pictured above after the turn of the 20th century. Photo from Beverly C. Tyler

By Beverly C. Tyler

The two churches at the Setauket Village Green are joining forces to present a joint country fair on the green June 3 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

For many years the Setauket Presbyterian Church and the Caroline Church of Brookhaven, who own the Setauket Village Green jointly, have coordinated their efforts to present individual fairs on separate weekends. This year the two churches have planned and worked together to bring a larger fair filling the entire village green with food, games, appropriate vendors and other activities designed to interest families, adults and children of all ages.

For more than a century there have been fairs on the Setauket Village Green. Just west of the village green, where Main Street turns south, was the general store belonging to Charles B. Tyler. In 1899, the store provided the Caroline Episcopal Church fair with two loaves of bread, four pounds of butter, ten pounds of sugar, 100 lemons, paper bags and one bunch of bananas at a total cost of $4.57. As the fair was in the heat of the summer, most likely Saturday, August 12, the lemonade was probably very popular. We can only guess what delicious treats they made with the bread, butter and bananas. So far we have not discovered what other food or activities were going on at the August fair.

Beverly Tyler is the Three Village Historical Society historian and author of books available from the society, 93 North Country Road, Setauket. For more information visit www.tvhs.org or call 631-751-3730.