A flag once flown outside of the post office in the former Echo area of Upper Port has been returned to Port Jefferson and now resides at the Village Center.
The flag is unique in that it contains only 46 stars. It had flown outside the Echo post office between 1908 and 1912. Chris Ryon, village historian, charted the timeline of the 46-star flag.
“The 46-star flag came about when Oklahoma became a state in 1907,” Ryon said. “The following July Fourth in 1908 produced the 46-star flag, as stars are always added to the flag on July Fourth. In 1912, it jumped from 46 to 48 stars because two more states were added, Arizona and New Mexico. That flag lasted until Hawaii and Alaska were added in the late ‘50s.”
Before the present boundaries, “the post office was right up against the railroad tracks in Upper Port Jefferson,” Ryon said. “That area was called Echo — Echo was a racehorse and that’s what it was named after. The post office was the building on the right when you crossed over the railroad tracks into Port Jefferson Station. That building is still there, but it’s an empty building right now.”
On April 10, Lee Squires Sussman and her son Grayson Sussman Squires met with Ryon to exchange the flag. “This has been in the family and has been passed down through the generations,” Ryon said. “She decided it belonged back in Port Jefferson.”
A journey through time
Last week, TBR News Media reached out to Lee Squires Sussman for an exclusive interview. Through our correspondence with her, which included a phone interview and an email exchange, she detailed her genealogical background and her family’s place in the local history of Port Jefferson.
“I grew up outside of Washington D.C.,” she said. “My father, Donald Fleming Squires, was the deputy director of the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History when I was a child. When I was 12, we moved back to Long Island, to Stony Brook, because my dad had decided that he really wanted to get back to his roots, and back to science, not administration.” She added that by returning to Long Island, her father sought “to give back to his home community, so he went to work for Stony Brook University.”
In 1965 Donald Squires helped found SBU’s Marine Sciences Research Center, the predecessor of today’s School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences. A renowned marine biologist, he wrote several books investigating the waters outside of New York City and Long Island. “Interestingly enough, as a sidenote, when we moved back to Stony Brook, we moved into a rental house while we looked for a place to permanently live,” Sussman said. “That house was a house that my other great-grandfather, Harry Fleming, built in Stony Brook.” She added, “We really were going back to our roots.”
A family keepsake
“My great-grandfather was Charles A. Squires and he was the original owner of the flag,” Sussman said. “It flew outside the post office at Echo, New York. Following his retirement, my granduncle, Dwight Squires, took over as postmaster. When he retired, my understanding is that my great-grandfather had left it with my Uncle Dwight.”
At some point in time, Dwight had given the flag to Sussman’s grandfather, Charles W. Squires. Charles W. held onto the flag into his mid-90s and passed it along to her father, Donald. When Donald moved to Tasmania, he gave the family artifacts to her.
“All of the pictures, the certificates, the family Bible, the flag and all of that came to me when my dad moved overseas,” Sussman said. “I’ve had [the flag] stored in my living room in a sea chest that has also been passed down through the family.”
After years of storing the flag, she started considering what to do with this family memento. During the COVID-19 pandemic, a high school friend had referred her to Ryon. The two got in touch and agreed to meet in Port Jefferson to exchange the flag.
“I have five Squires-related children,” Sussman said. “I discussed with the kids what to do with some of these possessions. We all agreed that the flag would be best back home where it could be viewed. It really was just a matter of finding the right time to get out to Long Island and get it to Chris so that he can display it for Port Jefferson.”
At around the time when Sussman began having children, she and her father took up a deep interest in the Squires family history. Her father contacted Tiger Gardiner, author of “The South Fork Squires, Long Island, New York.”
“I would say her life’s work was the genealogy of the Squires family,” Sussman said. “She documents the Squires from really early on in Long Island. When my dad left me all of the photographs and items when he went overseas, that’s when I started getting involved in the Squires family research. It was very easy because I had all of the stuff.”
Sussman described the pride of continuing this Squires tradition, documenting and sharing her genealogy for future generations. When asked how she would like the Squires to be remembered, she said for their hard work, altruism and outlook on education, which she said were central to their system of values.
“The values that the Squires family brought to me were that public service and hard work are the foundations for success,” she said. “There were times when members of my family had money and there were times when members of my family lost all their money. When money was tight, they offered help and shelter to people who were less fortunate.”
Sussman also recalled the renovations made to her grandfather’s house to accommodate and shelter the needy, adding, “During the Depression, the attic had been made into two apartments and the basement had been made into two other apartments where people who were less fortunate lived. Those values really sunk in for all of us and they’re very clearly part of what made my family members click.”
Civic engagement and public service also mattered deeply. “They were very involved in their community and they also never quit exploring,” she said. “Those are things that are a gift to any community, beyond philanthropic gifts — a sense of pride in your local surroundings and a willingness to help.”
Sussman said her family members were acutely aware of the significance of education and passed down this value to their offspring. “History is so much bigger than us all. It doesn’t do anyone any good to leave it in a box in the house.”
— Lee Squires Sussman
“History is so much bigger than us all. It doesn’t do anyone any good to leave it in a box in the house.”
“There was a sign that was printed in my great-grandfather’s printing shop in Echo that we had a copy of in our house,” she said. “I gave one to Chris. It says ‘We study to please,’ which was an old-fashioned way of saying the more modern ‘we aim to please.’” Interpreting the meaning of this sign to her, she said, “To me this was always an indicator of how important study was to my family.”
Today, the Squires family flag hangs inside the Village Center. Reflecting upon her joy in seeing the flag once again on display for the residents of Port Jefferson, Sussman said, “History is so much bigger than us all. It doesn’t do anyone any good to leave it in a box in the house. This makes me incredibly happy. I’ve shed more tears over the pictures of that flag hanging in the Village Center than I can believe. It makes me incredibly happy to see it back home.”