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Historical Society

A view of the interior of the Panfield Manor House. Photo from Maria DeLeo

By Victoria Espinoza

Plan on decking the halls this season with the Huntington Historical Society.

The group will be hosting its annual holiday house self-guided tour this Sunday, Dec. 6, when participants will take a tour of five private houses and two museums in Huntington.

“It’s a nice way to kick off the holidays and get into the spirit,” said Maria DeLeo, office coordinator of the Huntington Historical Society. “Many families and big groups of friends come together to celebrate.”

Participants at a previous year’s tour view one of the houses. Photo from Maria DeLeo
Participants at a previous year’s tour view one of the houses. Photo from Maria DeLeo

All houses will be decorated for the holidays and will have a representative from the historical society to answer any questions, DeLeo said.

Each house is at least 100 years old, according to DeLeo, and displays different kinds of architecture with many aspects of the homes in their original form.

The oldest house by far on the tour is the Cornelia Prime House, with construction beginning back in 1760. According to the historical society, Prime donated money to the Huntington Trade School, was a benefactor of the Huntington Hospital and donated the famous tower clock to town hall.

The Panfield Manor House is another stop on the tour. Its original owner led the incorporation of the Village of Lloyd Harbor in 1926 and became its first mayor, according to the historical society.

The Dr. Daniel Kissam House Museum and the David Conklin Farmhouse Museum will also be decorated for Christmas and open to all participants of the holiday house tour.

A view of the exterior of the Panfield Manor House. Photo from Maria DeLeo
A view of the exterior of the Panfield Manor House. Photo from Maria DeLeo

DeLeo said the tour itself is more than 20 years old, and the society expects as many as 500 people to come this year.

“We have people calling in October asking about the event,” DeLeo said. “It’s very popular and many people come back year after year.”

The Huntington Holiday House Tour Committee starts searching for properties to feature over the summer, and DeLeo said the event is possible because of the generous people who open up their homes to her group.

The Huntington Historical Society was created in 1903 as an exclusively female organization. DeLeo said the founders were inspired by the town’s 250th anniversary celebration, which they took part in, as well as President Theodore Roosevelt, who was the featured speaker.

The first charter named the group the Colonial Society of Huntington, and when the organization received a new charter in 1911, they renamed themselves the Huntington Historical Society.

The interior of the Kanestrin house, c. 1874, one of the stops on last year’s Candlelight House Tour. Photo by Chris Ryon

By Sue Wahlert

The Three Village Historical Society is eager to “set the mood for the holidays” at its 37th annual Candlelight House Tour on Friday, Dec. 4, and Saturday, Dec. 5. This year’s theme, titled “Visions of Stony Brook: A Look Back in Time,” will connect ticket holders with five festively decorated Stony Brook homes, the quaint All Souls’ Episcopal Church and the newly opened Reboli Center for Art and History.

For over three decades the Candlelight Tour has been proudly produced by the Historical Society, which was innovated by Eva Glaser.  Glaser began the tour as a fundraiser for the Setauket Neighborhood House. Proceeds from the tour now go to the Three Village Historical Society’s educational programs. Each year the Candlelight Tour committee works tirelessly to plan and carry out this mélange of history, holiday and décor. “This is an annual tradition and for many it starts the holiday season,” said Patty Yantz, who co-chairs the event with Patty Cain. 

Each year, selected homeowners allow individual decorators into their homes, each of whom will adorn the homes with their artistic take on this joyous time of year. Visitors will be treated to tables set for a celebration, homeowner’s art collections and ideas for personal holiday decorating. This tour reflects, “the yesterday, today and tomorrow of the area,” said Yantz.

Barbara Russell, Brookhaven Town historian, carefully researches each location on the tour and furnishes historic and architectural details of each destination. Ticket holders can expect to be greeted by volunteer docents who will share details about the homes and their specific rooms. A ticket to the tour is complete with a map and a historical overview of each location as well as details of Stony Brook’s history.  If you are an ambitious walker, it is possible to follow the tour on foot, as it is basically centered near the Main Street area in Stony Brook. Visitors can take a break at the Village Center shops and restaurants as well.

“From a charming cottage to stately homes, the tour brings community members together,” said Cain. “The cherry on top is the new Reboli Center for Art and History,” continued Cain. “We are so grateful to the homeowners, sponsors, decorators, office staff and volunteers without whom this wouldn’t happen,” said Yantz. The tour is a preholiday delight full of visual treats for all the visitors.

There are multiple options for those interested in attending. Friday evening, Dec. 4,  includes a tour with wine and hors d’oeuvres served at each home from 6 to 9 p.m. followed by a reception at The Old Field Club in Setauket from 8:30 to 11 p.m. Tickets are $80 per person for members of the Three Village Historical Society and for nonmembers are $100 per person. Guests will find walkways lined with luminaries leading the way to the excitement.   

The Saturday, Dec. 5, tour includes two options: an early breakfast from 8:30 to 10:30 a.m. plus the tour ($50 for members, $60 for nonmembers) or the tour-only option from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. ($40 for members, $45 for nonmembers). 

Tickets may be purchased online at www.threevillagehistoricalsociety.org and picked up at the Historical Society located at 93 North Country Road in Setauket. For further information, visit the website or contact the TVHS at 631-751-3730.

Tour guide Dan Sheehan on one of his tours with the Northport Historical Society. Photo from Northport Historical Society

The Northport Historical Society is hosting a Jack Kerouac-guided walking tour through Northport Village on Sunday, Nov. 1, at 2 p.m. and 4 p.m.

The Kerouac Crawl event will include stops at various drinking establishments including Gunther’s Tap Room, where the famous literary figure frequented, as well as Rockin’ Fish, Skipper’s Pub and more.

Northport resident Dan Sheehan will lead the tour and he will include a thorough history of Main Street’s dynamic during Kerouac’s time in Northport.

The fee is $25 for members and $30 for nonmembers, and includes the tour, refreshments at the museum and a souvenir.

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AASLH says thanks to Frank Turano

Center, Frank Turano, project manager of the Chicken hill Exhibit Committee, receives the AASLH Award of Merit. Photo from Beverly Tyler

By Beverly C. Tyler

The Three Village Historical Society received the American Association for State and Local History’s Award of Merit for the exhibit Chicken Hill: A Community Lost to Time at the AASLH’s annual meeting in Louisville, Ky., on Sept. 18.

The Award of Merit is presented to recognize excellence for projects ranging from civic engagement to exhibits and publications.

The Award of Merit is one of the AASLH’s Leadership in History Awards. AASLH bestows Leadership in History Awards to establish and encourage standards of excellence in the collection, preservation and interpretation of state and local history.

AASLH maintains the awards program to recognize good history that changes people’s lives by helping them make connections with the past. Recipients can take pride in the fact that they are recognized by their peers. Winners use the award to promote their institution in their communities and beyond, including leveraging needed funds.

Chicken Hill project manager Frank Turano and I traveled to the AASLH annual meeting to receive the award and to participate in the annual meeting. Staff members and volunteers at history museums, historical societies and related organizations from all over the United States attend the annual meeting to take part in sessions about all phases of local history and to exchange ideas, problems and successes.

The awards dinner on Friday was attended by recipients from 31 states, and the range of their efforts was detailed as each individual or group came up to receive their award. This year, AASLH conferred 61 national awards honoring people, projects, exhibits, books and organizations.

“The Leadership in History Awards is AASLH’s highest distinction and the winners represent the best in the field,” said Trina Nelson Thomas, AASLH awards chair and director, Stark Art & History Venue, Stark Foundation. “This year, we are pleased to distinguish each recipient’s commitment and innovation to the interpretation of history, as well as their leadership for the future of state and local history.”

The Three Village Historical Society Chicken Hill exhibit was designed and installed by members of the society’s Three Village Rhodes Committee, many of whom had a personal connection with the Chicken Hill area and the people who lived and worked there over the past century and a half.

The exhibit includes stories of the evolution of the Chicken Hill area and its religious, social and cultural development. It especially details family life and the passion that surrounds the Setauket baseball teams based there. One of the most dramatic parts of the exhibit is a touch screen computer station featuring interviews with former members of Chicken Hill, who relate their personal stories and recollections of the events that engaged the entire community.

The Chicken Hill exhibit, as well as the companion SPIES! exhibit, are open every Sunday from 1 to 4 p.m. at the Three Village Historical Society Headquarters, 93 North Country Road in Setauket.

Beverly Tyler is the Three Village Historical Society historian.

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The restored Judge John Lawrence Smith Homestead porch is in Smithtown. Photo from Kris Melvin-Denenberg

In April, the Smithtown Historical Society began groundwork on a buildings and grounds project made possible by an anonymous donor. After receiving some much- needed preservation work, the Judge John Lawrence Smith Homestead was ready for the restoration of its front porch.

Once a beautiful gathering spot for the family, this architectural feature was lost over time, as the structure underwent multiple renovations. Under the guidance of Mancini Architecture and the craftsmanship of School House Remodeling, the physical reconstruction is complete, and the house is back to its original glory.

“To have this porch be completed, to have this building be completed, is such an achievement for the Smithtown Historical Society. With this new structure, we are now able to tell another chapter of the story of the families that lived here,” said Executive Director Marianne Howard. “We are very grateful to our anonymous donor, Mancini Architecture and to School House Remodeling for helping to make this dream a reality.”

A ribbon cutting ceremony was the centerpiece of the Smithtown Historical Society’s annual community summer barbecue. More than 100 residents gathered around the porch to celebrate its completion and to enjoy an all-you-can-eat barbecue, catered by Panico’s Community Market.

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.  

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Above, the Northport Historical Society. Photo from Heather Johnson

By Eric Santiago

Over the last year, a group of Northport-East Northport teachers and students have worked to preserve an overlooked piece of Long Island’s history.

Eaton’s Neck was home to a leading patriot, forgotten except by a few local history buffs. Yet the biography of John Sloss Hobart (1738-1805) reads like the résumé of a Revolutionary War hero. Born in Connecticut, Hobart went on to graduate from Yale University, join the American resistance, help draft the New York State Constitution, briefly becoming a U.S. senator and eventually accepting a federal judgeship.

Unlike Revolutionary War-era icons like Nathan Hale or Paul Revere, Hobart’s name largely faded into obscurity.

“For some reason his name didn’t stand out the way theirs did,” Peter White, a retired social studies teacher who taught at Northport Middle School, said.

But there are pieces of Hobart’s legacy that survive. After his death in 1805, a close friend of Hobart’s, the judge Egbert Benson, commissioned a marble tablet in Hobart’s honor.

Bearing an inscription that praised his work in life, the Hobart tablet spent about the next 150 years in the basement of New York City Hall, according to a letter White co-wrote to the Northport-East Northport school board. This was until Richard Streb, a teacher at Northport High School, discovered the tablet in 1963. He convinced then-Mayor Robert Wagner’s administration to sell the tablet to the Northport-East Northport school district for $1.

A view of the tablet honoring John Sloss Hobart. Photo from Kathleen Cusumano
A view of the tablet honoring John Sloss Hobart. Photo from Kathleen Cusumano

It’s bounced around Northport-East Northport schools ever since, most recently embedded in the wall of the auditorium at Northport Middle School. When Streb retired in 1981, he asked White, his close friend and protégé, to look after the tablet.

It gathered dust in the back of the auditorium until last December when music department chairperson, Izzet Mergen, considered dedicating the space to former music department chairperson, Robert Krueger.

Realizing that moving the tablet would be a sensitive issue, Mergen contacted White, who then contacted Kathleen Cusumano, a permanent substitute teacher at Northport Middle School. A former student of White’s and a local history expert, Cusumano and the others formed a group to decide the tablet’s fate. The goal was to find somewhere the tablet could be seen and appreciated.

“We had the task of trying to figure out what to do with it,” White said.

Sensing this could be a valuable learning experience, Cusumano started recruiting students to help with the search.

“We have middle school students who are living on Hobart land,” Cusumano said. “There’s always that connection when you’re trying to teach history — that tangible connection of actually seeing something that really existed and didn’t just come out of a textbook.”

Now with a dozen students in tow, the group began exploring possible homes for the tablet. Several places were considered, with the Northport Historical Society, Northport Library and Huntington Town Hall as some of the most popular contenders. The students visited these locations before voting on where they would recommend the tablet be placed. Ultimately the school district, which owns the tablet, had the final say.

Heather Johnson, the director of the historical society, remembers when the students visited. She was particularly impressed with their thoughtful questions.

“For somebody who works in a historical society, we’re always trying get people involved of all ages interested in history,” she said. “There’s nothing more heartwarming and positive to see — really any group — but certainly a young group who are trying to make a difference.”

After the visit, the students started to lean toward the historical society, but they were reluctant to declare a permanent home for the tablet, Cusumano said. What if no one came to the historical society? Could they guarantee that some place like the library wouldn’t guarantee more visibility?

But the students managed to come up with a compromise, according to Cusumano; they decided to ask that the tablet only be loaned for a year. If the historical society turned out to be a poor fit, the tablet could be moved elsewhere at the end of the year.

The school board approved this recommendation at a recent meeting. According to district clerk, Beth Nystrom, the tablet will be moved to the historical society once the attorneys from both parties draft the formal agreement to loan the tablet.

For their part, Johnson said the historical society was proud and excited to add the tablet to their collection.

“When we found out we were the top choice, we were delighted and honored,” she said. “[The students] did their research, and that made it even more meaningful to be chosen.”

Cusumano also praised the students’ dedication. She stressed that some of the best learning can only be done outside of the classroom.

“I think when you experience — when you have experiential learning — it stays with you,” she said. “More things like field trips where [the students] can get involved, I believe, makes for a lifelong learner.”

File photo

By Elizabeth Kahn Kaplan

It’s been quite a journey since sea captain Edward Reginald Rhodes and others launched the Three Village Historical Society in the mid-1960s — a time when this community was undergoing rapid change and expansion. “It was important to the founders that the area’s rich history be recognized, honored and preserved,” said Brookhaven Town Historian Barbara Russell, and for 50 years the Society, with its hundreds of volunteers, has done just that.

“The Society has, from its beginning, regarded the Three Village area as its museum; the homes, people and natural environment as its collection; and the home owners as its curators. One of the primary goals of the Society has been to actively work together with other community organizations to preserve and maintain the historic fabric of our Three Village community,” added Beverly C. Tyler, historian for the TVHS.

Annual events that pay tribute to our rich history include the Long Island Apple Festival each September at the Sherwood-Jayne Farm in Setauket, in cooperation with Homestead Arts and the Society for the Preservation of Long Island Antiquities; the Spirits Tour during the third weekend in October, and the Candlelight House Tour during the first weekend of December.

The Society’s educational programs include frequent walking tours conducted by trained volunteers, in-school educational programs and Sunday afternoon docent-led tours at the Society’s headquarters — the c. 1800 Bayles-Swezey House at 93 North Country Road, Setauket — that was funded in large part by a state grant obtained by Assemblyman Steve Englebright in 1998.

Two current exhibits are: Spies! How A Group of Long Island Patriots Helped George Washington Win the Revolution, and Chicken Hill: A Community Lost to Time, for which the Society received an award of merit from the American Association for State and Local History.

A primary objective since the Society’s founding was the collection and preservation of documents and artifacts that would otherwise be lost. Housed in the Society’s Rhodes Collection in a separate area at the Emma S. Clark Memorial Library, they are shared with researchers and overseen by the Society’s professional archivist.

Fifty years of distinguished contributions to this community is cause for celebration and what better way than at the Three Village Historical Society’s 50th Anniversary Spy Gala at St. George’s Golf and Country Club, 134 Lower Sheep Pasture Road, in E. Setauket this Saturday evening, Sept. 12 from 7 to 11 p.m. You are invited to the party; come join the fun. Delicious tapas, an open bar, music and a champagne toast await. Come dressed as your favorite spy if you wish.

Celebrate the contributions of 17 past presidents and Boards of Trustees — dedicated men and women determined to preserve Three Village history while expanding the Society’s offerings, from its origins in 1964 to the present day. It’s time to recognize the Society’s achievements and contributions to our community. Tickets are $125 per person and may be purchased in advance by calling 631-751-3730, online at www.tvhs.org or at the door.

A farmers market is sprouting up on the Three Village Historical Society grounds, offering fresh options for North Shore natives. File photo

It’s fresh in every sense of the word.

Healthy, fresh foods sold by local vendors are available on the grounds adjacent to the Three Village Historical Society in East Setauket every Friday afternoon from 4-7 p.m. The East Setauket Farmers Market started nearly five weeks ago by Melissa Dunstatter, founder of Sweet Melissa Dips & Gourmet Catering of Rocky Point. Dunstatter also runs farmers markets in Port Jefferson and Sayville, and said she’s been a vendor for eight years and running farmers markets for about five.

The East Setauket Farmers Market started when a group of students from the Three Village school district chapter of the National Junior Honor Society wanted to do a fundraiser for a noble cause. What was supposed to be a one-day event back on May 16 to benefit a foundation called Hope for Javier, a nonprofit organization created to fund research for the disease Duchenne muscular dystrophy, has turned into a weekly occurrence.

“The location is really, really nice,” Dunstatter said in a phone interview this week. The success of the May 16 event, coupled with a void left by the departure of Ann Marie’s Farm Stand to Port Jefferson Station, made the site attractive for Dunstatter to set up shop from June all the way through October.

Some of the products from local vendors available at the farmers market include dips from Dunstatter’s company, fresh produce, olive oil, eggs, pickles, jams, beef jerky, fresh bread and much more. The Dip Lady, as Dunstatter is known, also has a kids day planned for sometime in August that will feature face painting, among other family friendly activities.

Dunstatter also mentioned plans for the site by the historical society headquarters that include some of the North Fork wineries, a pig roast, and a tomato and garlic festival, all at dates still to be determined later in the summer.

“So far it seems to be pretty successful,” president of the historical society John Yantz said. He mentioned the fresh baked breads from a vendor who travels east from Brooklyn every Friday as his favorite item to bring home from the market. “The stuff they have is very unique and very health conscious,” Yantz said of the overall selection at the market.

Dunstatter mentioned health consciousness as an important theme for the market as well. “My whole goal is to help families eat better,” she said. Providing local vendors with an opportunity to sell their products without the burden of sky-rocketing rents is another pleasant side effect of the market, according to Dunstatter. She said she plans to expand west into Nassau County at some point, which is an area devoid of quality farmers markets, she said.

“There’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes,” Dunstatter said about the challenges of opening and running a farmers market, especially this one that she said was set up in about a week. “I always say I want to start a reality TV show with all of these farmers markets,” she added with a smile.

The East Setauket Farmers Market is held at 93 North Country Road in Setauket. For more information visit the farmers market Facebook page.

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Town acquires remainder of notable property

A ticket to a race at the Gentlemen’s Driving Park in Terryville on July 4, 1892. Photo by Elana Glowatz

Long Island’s last harness horse racing track is a step closer to being preserved, after the Brookhaven Town Board voted last week to spend $1.18 million from its land acquisition fund to purchase almost 6 acres of land at the site in Terryville.

Once the town closes on that property, it will own the entirety of the 11-acre plot off Canal Road at Morgan Avenue, less than half a mile east of Route 347.

The Gentlemen’s Driving Park is now an overgrown path in the woods, but during the Victorian Era it was a place where bettors gathered as men raced the half-mile loop counterclockwise behind their horses in carts called sulkies. The track, which was part of a circuit of harness racing tracks in the Northeast, was adjacent to the Comsewogue stables, which were owned by well-known area horse trainer Robert L. Davis and are now the Davis Professional Park.

Now that the town is acquiring the rest of the site, Cumsewogue Historical Society President Jack Smith said in a phone interview last Thursday that he would like to partner with the parks department to clear the track and he would like to “develop programs and events that are appropriate for the site to educate” visitors. He gave examples of placing signs around the track detailing its history so that people may learn while walking around it, and holding an annual fair with vintage sulkies re-enacting the horse races from the late 1800s or participating in a carriage parade.

Councilman Steve Fiore-Rosenfeld, who was a driving force behind the site’s acquisition, said last Thursday that preserving the track is important from an environmental standpoint as well — maintaining open space helps replenish the underground aquifer from where the area gets its drinking water.

Councilman Steve Fiore-Rosenfeld and Cumsewogue Historical Society President Jack Smith on a recent trip to the Gentlemen’s Driving Park in Terryville. Photo by Elana Glowatz
Councilman Steve Fiore-Rosenfeld and Cumsewogue Historical Society President Jack Smith on a recent trip to the Gentlemen’s Driving Park in Terryville. Photo by Elana Glowatz

In addition to working with the historical society to preserve the track, the councilman said he would like to see a stewardship agreement with the Woodcrest Estates apartments, which abut the property. Fiore-Rosenfeld said the senior residents could use the track, “a relatively tranquil place,” to go for walks without having to go into the street.

Smith discovered the Gentlemen’s Driving Park a few years ago using Google Earth. He said in a previous interview that he had heard rumors of a racing track in the area, and while looking at the aerial view of Terryville he saw a faint oval shape in the woods off Canal Road. The next day he was walking on the 25-foot-wide path in the woods.

The track is mostly whole — a Long Island Power Authority right-of-way cuts into its southwestern curve.

The historical society president reached out to Fiore-Rosenfeld and the two have since worked together to preserve the site.

“This was not some backwoods, good ol’ boy, local kind of thing. This was a big deal for its time,” Smith said last winter, as the town was still working to acquire the rest of the property. He called it the NASCAR of its day and said, “This was an era when the horse was king. The horse was everything to everyone,” including transportation, sport and work.

The historian has uncovered a few artifacts, including a pair of Victorian-era field glasses near the finish line on the track’s west side. They were broken, likely after being dropped and trampled. Smith also has a ticket from a July 4, 1892.

Ironically, the rise of the automobile likely caused the track’s demise, but cars also helped preserve the track so it could be discovered today. According to Smith, local kids raced jalopies at least through the mid-1950s, which prevented the track from becoming completely overgrown. Those kids left signs of their activities — around the track there are rusty frames of wrecked cars.

“Maybe we should keep one there as a monument,” Smith said last Thursday, with a laugh. “In a strange way we owe a lot to those kids.”