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Claudia Fortunato-Napolitano

By Kevin Redding

There’s no place like a historic home for the holidays.

On Sunday, Dec. 3, the Huntington Historical Society will host its 12th annual Historic Houses at the Holidays driving tour, giving residents the opportunity to explore five private historic homes and two house museums in the area from Huntington Village to Cold Spring Harbor.

Each stop on the self-guided tour will be decorated to the nines for the season; equipped with a volunteer from the historical society to answer any and all questions about the background of each location; and provide a firsthand glimpse at the original architectural styles and designs within these homes, which were built between the early 1800s and early 1900s. Visitors will be able to view bedrooms, living rooms, kitchens and even some attics of these colonial-style residences.

Approximately 300 to 400 people are expected to attend the event this year.

“The Holiday Historic Houses Tour is a real treat,” said Claudia Fortunato-Napolitano, executive director at Huntington Historical Society. “The houses on the tour are all decorated for Christmas and the refreshments are overwhelming. Come and enjoy a day out!”

The theme of this year’s tour is also the mantra of the historical society: Huntington Lives Here.

“Huntington’s history goes back to the mid-17th century and the people that came to live here were interested in building a meaningful town and leaving their imprint on it. This tour serves to highlight that,” said Toby Kissam, a trustee at the historical society and one of the tour’s chief researchers, whose ancestral home — the Dr. Daniel W. Kissam House Museum on Park Avenue — is among the afternoon’s seven stops. “Each year I find people that come on our tours know there’s going to be a great historical story with each house and I enjoy researching and telling that story. It’s always fun.”

Kissam said the oldest private home on the tour is also the one he’s most excited about: the 1820s-built Cold Spring Harbor birthplace of leading suffragette Ida Bunce Sammis, who organized the first women’s suffrage club in Suffolk County and became one of the first two women elected to the New York State Legislature in 1919. The home’s inclusion on this year’s tour correlates with the 100th anniversary of the passing of the constitutional amendment granting women the right to vote in the state of New York, Kissam added.

Also on full display is a house built in Huntington Harbor for a local sea captain in 1902; the grand 1914 Georgian-style home of New York City attorney-turned- Suffolk County representative in the New York State Assembly John J. Robinson, who was elected in 1912 and built his house on West Main Street in 1914; and a farm house constructed in the village in 1917 by Henry Willets of Dix Hills.

The most modern stop on the tour is a 1935-built summer estate in Greenlawn previously owned by a wealthy manufacturer named Walter Beh and his wife Margaret. Beh acquired the large, 110-acre property so he and his a wife, an equestrian, could raise and train horses there.

“Most of these were part-time residents, but they have contributed meaningfully to the town over years and has contributed to the place that Huntington holds today in Suffolk County and Long Island as one of the premiere towns in the region,” Kissam said.

The historical society-owned museums — both the Kissam House and the David Conklin Farm House, built in 1750 — will also be decorated for the tour. Visitors to the Kissam House will be treated to an exhibit entitled Promenade and Parasols, showcasing outfits and umbrellas from the 19th century and Victorian era, and the Conklin Barn will provide an array of refreshments from noon to 4 p.m.

Kissam, who is the great-great-great-grandson of Dr. Daniel Kissam, has naturally had a deep fascination with history his whole life, both general and Huntington-specific, and has occupied the role of genealogist in his family. This past summer, he and the rest of the Huntington Holiday House Tour Committee began their search and research of local private properties to feature.

“That’s always the challenge,” Kissam said on choosing homes to showcase during the tour. “We have to get people to agree, but we know of houses with a history and sometimes we just knock on doors and explain who we are and what we’d like to do. Usually we can talk people into it, particularly if they’re interested in what the history of their own house is. Once we run out of houses and can’t find houses maybe the tour has to stop, but we’ve been able to keep it going for the past 12 years.”

Historical society and committee member Patricia Ernst said the tours are beneficial to both those who take them and those who host them. “At the end of the day, everybody has such a good time,” she said. “The homeowners have a great afternoon having people exclaim over their houses, both the historical aspects of them and otherwise. The tour highlights these old houses and I think that’s a big draw for people who are deciding on what town they want to live in.”

Ernst continued, “Huntington has homes that have been here since the mid-1600s and that isn’t true in too many places. These houses are lovingly taken care of and are being guarded, and people in Huntington appreciate that.”

The Huntington Historical Society’s 2017 Holiday House Tour will be held on Sunday, Dec. 3 from noon to 4 p.m. Tickets are $40 for the general public and $35 for members. For more information or to order tickets, please call 631-427-7045, ext. 401 or visit www.huntingtonhistoricalsociety.org.

Photos courtesy of Huntington Historical Society

By Nicole Geddes

Whether you’re driving or walking through a neighborhood of custom-built homes, it’s human nature to slow down and take in the scenery. From craftsman and Victorian-styled homes to Cape Cod, colonial and Dutch colonial, the architecture and history behind them piques interest.

The same can be said of the historical homes in the town of Huntington.

To “perpetuate an interest in things historic … in fact all historic relics relating to the Town of Huntington since 1653,” was the reason a group of women, some from Huntington’s founding families met at the home of Mrs. Frederic B. Sammis — known to her friends as Lizbeth — to form the Huntington Historical Society in September of 1903.

Visit seven historic homes this festive season
Visit seven historic homes this festive season.

Every December, the Huntington Historical Society collaborates with local owners of historical homes, offering tours that display the history of each home and their eclectic and architectural designs, as a service to the community. This year’s event will be held on Dec. 4.

Those who take part in the tour can exploit the chance to not just have something to do on a Sunday afternoon but also to see distinctive design styles.

“It’s a great way to spend the afternoon and to get some inspiration for your own house as far as decorating ideas. Typically, when we ask our homeowners to open up their homes, we do ask that they do some type of holiday decorating,” said Claudia Fortunato-Napolitano, executive director at Huntington Historical Society.

Each year the tour is presented with a different theme. This year’s theme, Huntington’s History Lives Here, will feature five decorated homes along with the Dr. Daniel W. Kissam House Museum (circa 1795) and the David Conklin Farm House Museum (circa 1750).

“At the Kissam house we do have an exhibit called Wedding Days and Wedding Nights. Basically, it’s wedding attire from the late 1800s through the 1950s,” said Fortunato-Napolitano. “It’s not just gowns, it’s night wear as well. There’s other things too, like accessories, clothing that men wore, and information about weddings during that time.”

The homes on this year’s tour roster are not in walking distance of each other. “It is a driving tour,” said Fortunato-Napolitano. “After you purchase your tickets, you get the addresses and the map, and then you can view them in any order you want.”

Visitors of the tour can take a break from the tour or end the tour by visiting the Conklin Barn, where they can enjoy an array of scrumptious refreshments. Participants can expect to walk away with a good demonstration of the colonial lifestyle throughout America’s history. Fortunato-Napolitano said, “They’re all historic houses. They have a good story to them. They all cover different periods of Huntington’s history. And then of course too, there’s a snapshot of Huntington’s history through the architecture.”

The Huntington Historical Society’s 2016 Holiday House Tour will be held Sunday, Dec. 4 from noon to 4 p.m. Tickets are $40 for the general public and $35 for members through Dec. 2. For more information, please call 631-427-7045, ext. 401 or visit www.huntingtonhistoricalsociety.org.

By Rita J. Egan

Wine lovers can enjoy a fun night out as well as a bit of history at the Huntington Historical Society’s 25th annual Evening of Wine Under the Stars on Friday, Sept. 18.

Claudia Fortunato-Napolitano, executive director at the society, said the organization’s biggest fundraiser of the year will honor the 100th anniversary of Huntington Hospital.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity to get to know your hometown a little bit more,” Fortunato-Napolitano said.

In addition to a selection of fine wines available for tasting, Blind Bat Brewery will be offering its craft beers. The historical society has also planned a night filled with gourmet food tasting from neighboring restaurants including Black & Blue, The Culinary Studio, Christopher’s Crew, Cinque Terre, IMC, Old Fields, Reinwalds and XO. With business owners from the local area participating, Fortunato-Napolitano said, “It’s always fun to try the new restaurants. It gives you a great idea of where you want to go and get dinner.”

The event, which takes place outside on the property of the Dr. Daniel W. Kissam House at 434 Park Avenue, will give guests the opportunity to view the historical society’s museum. The director said, in the early part of the evening, attendees will be able to tour the house, which on an everyday basis is only open by appointment.

Maria DeLeo, public relations manager at the society, said there will be plenty of opportunities to dance under the stars, too. Local band The Modern Age will be on hand, and the society is planning to include a floor so partygoers won’t have to dance in the grass.

Rounding off the night will be a raffle with an array of items including restaurant and spa baskets and a silent auction that includes an item donated by Disney World.

The public relations manager said in prior years guests have traveled from out east, Nassau County and Queens, but the majority of the wine and gourmet food tasters are locals interested in preserving the history of the community.

“We’ve had people in the past who are new to Huntington so they want to meet other Huntonians. So it’s a great place for people to meet other people from the neighborhood,” DeLeo said.

Evening of Wine Under the Stars will be held from 7 to 10 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 18. For more information, contact the Huntington Historical Society at 631-427-7045 or visit its website at www.huntingtonhistoricalsociety.org. Tickets are $70 for society members, $85 for nonmembers and $100 at the door.

 

Claudia Fortunato-Napolitano. Photo from HHS
Claudia Fortunato-Napolitano. Photo from HHS

Meet the new director!
This year’s Evening of Wine Under the Stars will be the first one Claudia Fortunato-Napolitano will be attending as the society’s executive director.

Fortunato-Napolitano stepped into her new position on June 1 of this year. The Huntington Station native is no stranger to the society having worked there as the special events coordinator from 2009 to 2010 and then taking on the role of director of operations from 2011 to 2012. She left the historical society for a couple of years to work for the Seamen’s Church Institute and in the past has worked as a former assistant historian for the town of Huntington and at The Long Island Children’s Museum, The Museum of the City of New York, the Huntington Township Chamber of Commerce and the Huntington Rural Cemetery.

The director said growing up surrounded by Long Island’s rich history she cultivated an early appreciation for the subject. Her interest in history as well as preservation was solidified when she attended a summer program at the University of Oxford in England. She explained that while studying abroad after learning about history in the classroom, she was able to go outside the university and actually experience it. Something she recognized as being capable of doing in her own hometown.

Fortunato-Napolitano said she enjoys playing a part in educating residents about their community, and Huntington is a great example of how most people don’t even realize how much history is practically right in their own backyards. The director said there have been many times while leading the society’s pub crawl that many participants were surprised to learn historical facts about buildings that they passed every day.

The new executive director said she looks forward to increasing awareness of the town’s history, creating new exhibits and programs and having the historical society return as a mainstay in the community.

“My overall vision is to have the Society become the kind of integral part of the community that it was in the first half of the 20th century. Just to really increase awareness, to offer new public programs and try to get more people involved,” Fortunato-Napolitano said.