Tags Posts tagged with "History Close at Hand"

History Close at Hand

36 Bayview Ave. in East Setauket on the morning after the ‘38 hurricane, the house’s chimney obliterated by the storm. Photo courtesy of Beverly Tyler

By Beverly C. Tyler

Author Beverly C. Tyler

Eighty-five years ago, on Wednesday, Sept. 21, 1938, just past noon, a tidal wave swept over Fire Island and the Long Island South Shore, the advance wind and waves announcing the arrival of a hurricane, later named the “Long Island Express.”

It swept across eastern Long Island and continued across Long Island Sound to have even greater destruction and loss of life in southern New England.

That evening at 10 p.m., my grandmother, Edith Tyler, then Setauket’s postmaster, wrote on a penny postcard describing the storm’s local impact. She postmarked the card the following morning and sent it to my father in Brooklyn.

Edith wrote, “Beverly – Did you have a storm today? We have had a northeaster followed by west wind – no lights, telephone – and what a wreck Setauket is – about a dozen trees down. … The green was a wreck – 25 trees from here to Catholic Church down – 100 they say down at Wide Water … mail didn’t get in until 8 p.m. … Jimmy says the Bridgeport boat hasn’t been reported since 2 p.m. Never saw anything like it before – tree blew down on Brennan’s house – wind changed and blew it off … general destruction all around – Mother.”

The hurricane was the subject of Three Village Historical Society oral history interviews. A few were printed in the society’s journal, “The Three Village Historian.”

East Setauket’s Forrest West described the hurricane. “I was commuting in those days on the [Long Island Rail Road] from East Setauket to Brooklyn,” he said. “On my usual afternoon train that day, my head was buried in my newspaper. Only at Huntington did I look up briefly. Noting people braced into the wind and umbrellas being blown inside out – or away – I mildly noted to myself that there was quite a wind blowing and returned to my paper.”

He continued, “Nearing Smithtown, I laid my paper aside and noted that we seemed to be held up going into the station. Held up we surely were for the remainder of the trip, as trees had to be cleared from the tracks. The immensity of the storm was finally getting into my consciousness. Arriving hours late at the Setauket station, I by then knew that my wife would not be meeting me. Surprise, though! There was a fellow I knew there in a pickup, and he offered me a ride. There were so many trees down that we hardly used the streets but rather detoured constantly through people’s yards. Home safely, the night was beautiful and quiet … We were without electricity for 13 days, but we had bottled gas for cooking and a little heat.

“My wife, Peg, was then teaching in the old high school on the hill. She recalls how she and her class watched from the second-story windows as bricks flew out of the walls of the old brick (rubber) factory building on Chicken Hill. No buses, the teachers were obligated to get the students home. She drew a crew that lived in Old Field. With trees crashing alongside and behind, she made her last delivery, advised at one point by an official to ‘get out of here fast. This is the last road open.’ Aside from the safety of her kids, she had one concern on her mind: ‘Please don’t hit this car; we are trading it in tomorrow.’”

Elizabeth R. Medd, from Stony Brook, noted, “The Old Field Club was to have a bridge luncheon that day to start at 11:30 a.m. In spite of the warnings on the radio, we decided to attend, thinking we could drive quickly to our homes if the storm became really threatening. We soon realized we all should go home as the tides were rising, and the winds became fierce from all directions very suddenly.

“I live on Christian Avenue. When I made the turn off Quaker Path, a huge tree fell across the road directly in front of me. I quickly got out of the car and somehow managed to reach my house, dodging other falling trees or climbing over them. In a similar fashion, my older son managed to reach home from The Stony Brook School.

“Suddenly, there seemed to be a lull in the storm. We decided to try to get to the village to find our young son, who was at the village school. At the corner of Cedar Street, we saw a neighbor with five children – two of his own, two who lived in Old Field and our son. He had abandoned his car and was trying to get home by climbing over fallen trees. He continued with his children, leaving the other two with us. As the hurricane soon returned, they had to spend the night, and my heart ached for their parents, who, of course, had no idea where their children were until the next day when the town did a great job repairing communications and clearing roads.”

William B. Minuse, who lived on Shore Road in East Setauket, said, “That day, I went to work for Robartes in Port Jefferson. It was storming. Too rainy and windy to work outside … I really wasn’t aware that it was such a severe storm. The wind blew very hard, but the area where I was was rather sheltered.

“I worked until 5, then I started home. At that point, I realized that there was something more serious going on than an ordinary storm. There were limbs down on the road and some trees down, but I got home without any real difficulty.

“By that time, I believe the electricity was off … I ate dinner, and by that time, the wind had gone down. I got in my car and drove to Stony Brook after dark. … A great many trees [were] down, although I managed to get through Christian Avenue. … Prior to that storm, Stony Brook used to have a beautiful growth of locust trees along Christian Avenue. A great many of them were destroyed and were lying across and alongside the road. Somehow, I managed to get through right down into the village.

“Next morning, I went back to Robartes’ office to go to work. Got there without any difficulty, and he sent myself and my helper, George Brown … to survey some lots in Mastic Beach. … We got into where the lots were located, not far from the Great South Bay. There were trees down there more seriously than there were over here, I would say.

“While we were working there, this bleary-eyed figure came out of one of the houses. It was a man. He told us that he had been in the house all night long. The water had come up around the house, and he had sat on a table waiting for the water to go down, and he had a bottle of whiskey. I think he must have emptied the bottle because he was just about able to stagger when he came out to talk to us. I guess he had a pretty good scare.

“We finished the survey … and started home. At that time, the police had formed a roadblock around the entire Mastic Beach area to prevent looting. We established our identity. … We had no problem with the police, but at that time, the seriousness of the situation was really felt.”

The Port Jefferson-Bridgeport steamer ferry boat, Park City. Photo courtesy Beverly C. Tyler

In Port Jefferson, concern was for the Port Jefferson-Bridgeport steamer ferry boat, Park City, which left Port Jeff at 2 p.m. on the day of the hurricane and was not heard of again until she was discovered anchored in the Sound. The boiler had been flooded, but the crew and passengers had kept the pumps going. She was subsequently towed back into Port Jefferson Harbor by a U.S. Coast Guard cutter. In addition to the crew, two men, three women and a baby were on board, who arrived on the little 40-year-old vessel after a harrowing 18 to 20 hours.

 Beverly C. Tyler is a 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.

Former New York State Assemblyman Steve Englebright begins his Aug. 18 talk on Joe Reboli’s paintings. Photo by Beverly C. Tyler

By Beverly C. Tyler

At the Reboli Center in Stony Brook on Friday evening, Aug. 18, former New York State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) presented a love letter to Long Island and its people through the landscape paintings of Joe Reboli. 

Englebright, a geologist also running against Anthony Figliola (R-East Setauket) for Suffolk County’s 5th Legislative District, opened for each of us who attended a new, personal and intimate view of Reboli’s paintings.

In his opening comments, Englebright touched on the importance of Reboli’s work as a local artist. 

“Joe Reboli speaks directly to us through his paintings, through his art,” Englebright said. “Joe also speaks now and forever to all who would live here in our community. I believe that open space is the beginning of our story. It’s what attracted the first colonists here, and … I believe that Joe’s paintings suggest that open space should continuously be an important part of our story.”

Englebright noted that he was initially surprised and then intrigued by Reboli’s detail in painting the most ordinary features of nature, including rocks and mud, in how they form and react to the forces of wind and waves. 

The first and largest painting was described thus:

“It is likely the Montauk Till — I call it an ice contact deposit — which means that the upper third of the painting is the till that was dropped directly, melted directly, out of the ice, and it included all of the different grain sizes — everything from clay to silt to sand to pebbles to cobble to boulders — that range of that spectrum of different grain sizes is all contained inside of that pumpkin-colored fill,” the former state assemblyman elaborated. “But when the waves break on it, they take away the small stuff, and we have a lag deposit of the boulders and cobbles.”

Englebright also noted the simple beauty and the importance of what Reboli included in his works. “Joe’s paintings speak to us regarding our exquisite coastal heritage,” he said. “Each of his natural images is a journey into nature’s splendor.”

Describing the middle painting, Englebright added, “This is quite amazing. It is a remarkable painting. Avalon is lovingly cared for, and Joe painted this before Avalon was there. They are either red oak or chestnut oak.”

Englebright described the third painting as “the convergence of a manmade feature and a natural feature. The pushed-down fence invites you into the natural world.”

With a series of slides of Reboli’s paintings, Englebright noted how Reboli placed fences, gates, chairs and even old rusting gas pumps into his images of the natural world. Sometimes, they were items that we could imagine belonged in an area of human habitation. In others, such as the images of rusting gas pumps juxtaposed in the foreground of a beach scene, Englebright suggested Reboli illustrated the permanence of the natural world over manufactured objects.

Noting that “respect for this place is infused into Joe’s paintings,” a few of Englebright’s thoughts show Reboli’s love of Long Island. “With the body of his work, Joe Reboli’s Long Island is imaginative, inviting, and I ask the question: Is he not Long Island’s most imaginative storyteller through his paintings?”

Englebright concluded, “Many of Joe Reboli’s paintings have become iconic images representing our sense of place. Joe’s paintings have defined what it means to be a Long Islander. Joe Reboli’s paintings enable us to focus upon the beauty of our community’s natural wonders. Joe’s body of work is breathtaking in its expanse and its beauty,” adding, “Joe painted sites and landscapes that should be saved for all time.”

Beverly C. Tyler is a 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.

Kevin and Helen Sells, above, at the Setalcott Nation Corn Festival and Powwow. Photo by Beverly C. Tyler

By Beverly C. Tyler

[email protected]

Two of the events which bring family members back to Setauket from all over the country are the Hart-Sells reunion, held during Labor Day weekend in September, and the Setalcott Nation PowWow and Corn Festival held this year on July 8 and 9 on the Setauket Elementary School field.

Kevin Sells pictured in front of the Three Village Community Trust’s restored rubber factory houses. Photo by Beverly C. Tyler

Kevin Sells, now retired and living in Tucson, Arizona, made the trip east this year to renew his connection to Setauket and to be with the cousins and other relatives he usually communicates with from a distance. Kevin’s cousin, Helen Sells, who suggested Kevin come to this year’s powwow said he and I should meet as he is a fellow family historian who spent a lot of time in Setauket when he was growing up. Helen introduced me to Kevin, and we spent a few hours together around Setauket, in the Chicken Hill exhibit at the Three Village Historical Society History Center and at the Three Village Community Trust’s rubber factory houses.

Kevin commented while viewing the Chicken Hill exhibit, “The biggest part of it I remember is my great-aunt Mamie, my grandfather’s sister.” He remembered Mrs. Hart lived in a big old house just a few yards south of 25A along Old Town Road. “The place, it wasn’t as sturdy as it could have been but the place was full of love — of laughter … My mother used to tell me stories, my mother — all my aunts and uncles — used to tell me stories about how as soon as school let out over in [Bridgeport] Connecticut, all the parents got their kids together and marched them down to the ferry, which my great-grandfather worked on for many years. His name was John E. Sells, everyone around here knew him as Dass … He worked on the ferry for 25 or 30 years. So all the kids, they get shoved up the gangplank onto the ferry and great-grandpa was there to make sure they behaved and no one fell over the side and so on and so forth. And we had another family member … who had a cab company. They’d be two taxis to meet the kids when he herded them down the gangplank … we’re talking about 15-20 kids … everybody piled into that one little house … parents would come over on the weekend. That was always a great thing.”

Painting of Sarah Ann Sells by Ray Tyler in the Chicken Hill exhibit at the Three Village Historical Society.

He noted they would always come over for the Hart-Sells reunion as well. “We’d all meet at the hall. The hall was in pretty good shape at that time. There’d be just hundreds of us that would show up and all us kids would run around. Eventually we’d all end up running up and down the hill of Laurel Hill Cemetery.”

Kevin noted that when he came to Setauket as an adult the first thing he would do was to climb up Laurel Hill to talk to Sarah Ann. There was no stone for her for many years but he would find a place close to where he thought she was. He mentioned the lack of a stone. He continued, “It was years before Sarah Ann got a stone … She was the matriarch of the whole darn family … Last time I’d seen her I was probably five years old. She was living in the house on Gnarled Hollow … we didn’t know her that well because we were little kids.”

Looking at the painting of Sarah Ann in the exhibit, Kevin noted that the smell on her tobacco was one of his most vivid remembrances. “That memory sticks after all these years … That smell just permeated the air around her … any time I smell that particular type of pipe tobacco it snaps me right back. 

“She kind of doted on me and Mamie’s granddaughter. We were like the last of the great-grandchildren she got to cuddle and play with — spoil a bit … How many people did she deliver in this town as a midwife? She made sure they came into the world … She was a trusted individual.”

I truly appreciate that the historical society is putting this exhibit together … this is forgotten history … Chicken Hill is — most people who drive up and down the road have no idea whatsoever that all that existed — that all those lives were affected.”

At the rubber factory houses Kevin commented, “I’m really impressed with what’s being done around here, there seems to be like a critical mass of people who come together to say ‘well no — maybe we shouldn’t do that …’ A town that remembers its past is always going to have a good future.” 

Beverly C. Tyler is a 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.

By Beverly C. Tyler

[email protected]

Celebrating Thanksgiving Day as the end of the season of harvest was and still is an important milestone in people’s lives. Diaries, journals and letters provide some of the earliest records of seasonal activity and how people connected with each other to mark occasions. In America, before the telephone became a standard household item, family members and friends stayed in touch through the U.S. Postal Service.     

In 1873, a new phenomenon began when the United States Postal Service issued the first penny postcards. During the first six months, they sold 60 million. With the postcard, brevity was essential due to the small space provided. Long descriptive phrases and lengthy expressions of affection, which then were commonly used in letter writing, gave way to short greetings. 

The postcard was an easy and pleasant way to send a message. A postcard sent from one town in the morning or afternoon would usually arrive in a nearby town that afternoon or evening. A postcard sent from another state would not take much longer.

The feasting aspect of Thanksgiving has continued to be an essential part of the holiday and many of the postcards that were sent reflected that theme. In addition, the postcard helped to tie the family members together with those who were absent during the holiday.

As the telephone became more widely used, the postcard became less and less important as a means of daily communications. However, it provided us with a view of the early years of the 20th century that became a permanent record of contacts between family members and friends.

Beverly C. Tyler is a 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. 

— Postcards from Beverly C. Tyler’s collection

A view of the Hawkins-Mount House, on the corner of Route 25A and Stony Brook Road. Photo by Beverly C. Tyler

By Beverly C. Tyler

[email protected]

Major Jonas Hawkins, son of Major Eleazer and Ruth (Mills) Hawkins, was born in Stony Brook, Long Island, on April 28, 1752, in what is now known as the Hawkins-Mount House at the intersection of 25A and Stony Brook Road. Jonas married Ruth Mills on Jan. 1, 1775, a little more than three months before the first shots were fired at Concord and Lexington, Massachusetts on April 18 and 19, 1775, dates that marked the beginning of the Revolutionary War. 

Jonas was one of 73 men who signed the Association on June 8, 1775. The men who signed pledged themselves to protect against British tyranny. The list also included Selah Strong, Jonathan and Samuel Thompson, who supplied intelligence to General Washington in 1777 before becoming refugees in Connecticut after their spying was discovered. 

It appears that during the entire Revolutionary War, Jonas and Ruth remained at their home and farm in Stony Brook as six of their children were born there between 1776 and 1783. It is also known that Jonas made several trips into New York City to gather information that he supplied to General George Washington through the Setauket-based Culper Spy Ring. Hawkins also needed to make trips to New York City to purchase dry goods and other items he needed for the general store and ordinary he ran out of his home in Stony Brook. 

A view of the Hawkins-Mount House, on the corner of Route 25A and Stony Brook Road. Photo by Beverly C. Tyler

Major Hawkins’ home was built in 1757, and the loading door on the third-story gable end still reads “Jonas Hawkins Store and Ordinary.” We don’t know exactly when the general store was started, but by 1780, and probably by the end of 1778, it was in full operation with Hawkins making frequent trips to New York City.

The bill of credit below, part of the Three Village Historical Society’s Local History Collection, is one of a number of handwritten bills that indicate the range of products that rural general store merchants stocked and had available. Bills of Credit for Jonas Hawkins from 1780 through 1784 indicate that he also made purchases from a number of wholesalers such as “Elijah & Isaac Cock,” “Woodhull and Dickinson,” “Pearsall Glover” and “Willet Seaman.” 

“Bought of Peter Smith & co .. Brooklyn, N.Y., Nov 17th 1780 

5 Razors at l/9 … 8 .. 9 (8 shillings, 9 pence) 

1 gross sleeve buttons 19..

1 Bladder Snuff 4/6 18..7

6 u(units) pepper @ 3/6. 1. .. 1 (1 pound, 1


Mr. Jonas Hawkins” 

The range of items Jonas purchased is quite extensive and indicates that local residents, especially after the Revolutionary War (1775-1783), had a wide range of goods available from the country general store. Jonas Hawkins, bought quantities of “Callico” (imported’ cotton textile), “Linnen,” “Superfine cloth” (finely woven linen), “Durant” (A variety of worsted wool),” “Cambruk” (cambric, linen or fine white cotton glazed on one side), “gause, thread, narrow Blk binding, cordarry” (corduroy) (and) calimmink” (calimanco-a European woolen cloth of satin weave in an imitation of camel’s hair). 

Hawkins also purchased tea, nutmegs, clover seed, barrels of sugar, raisins, rum, gin, wine, and tobacco. From another supplier, he received “twist” (mottled woolens), buttons, bibles, pins, writing paper, shoe bindings and sewing silk as well as other cloths called “blue Tabareen” (Tabbinet-an Irish-made poplin), “Blue Morine” (Moreen:-a stout ,water- embossed finished fabric of wool or wool and cotton), and “black Tafaty” (taffeta-a rich thin silk). From yet another supplier, he received sickles, scythes, pen knives, tobacco boxes, and something listed as “1 doz Tomatum.” From Andrew Van Tuyh he received over 100 yards of green, brown and “mixt German Sarge” (serge) as well as metal buttons and 1 doz silver spurs. Locally, “Mr. Hawkins bought of Edward Dayton — 8 paire of shoes at 7s (shillings a) pair.”

Before the Revolutionary War, the seemingly inexhaustible supply of American lumber and timbers, plus a few manufactured items such as barrels went from U.S. ports to the West Indies where they were traded for rum, molasses and sugar. This island produce was then shipped to England to be traded for manufactured goods; clothing, glass, china, and tea, to name just a few. This movement of goods was known as a “Triangle Trade.” 

After the Revolutionary War, this Triangle Trade, was extended to other European countries and to China as American ships began to bring their own tea, spices and other commodities back to the United States from all corners of the world. This increased trade brought the country general store into its own as an institution. It was an original American idea, an outgrowth of independence, an example of Yankee know-how and frontier enterprise at its best. 

In large part, no money changed hands between the country general store owner and the importer or between the merchant and the local seller of eggs and bacon. Bills of credit were commonly given by the importers and continued to be the general practice until late in the 19th century. The country merchant’s major asset was the produce that he collected by barter. The general store owner was in contact with the large general stores in New York City, which sold both wholesale and retail, as well as, with the coast-wise schooner captains, freight shippers, money brokers and various jobbing houses. 

The country general store was a natural gathering place for residents of the community, especially in the cold winter months, when many farmers, farmhands and seaman had nothing better to do. There was often a bench in the store, placed outside in the warmer months, called the liar’s bench. In the colder weather, the men who came to the store would find places close by the stove, which often sat in the open near the middle of the room. It was here that stories were told, tall tales were spun, and the latest information on the state of the nation and the world was discussed. It was often the store owner who had the latest newspaper from New York City or there was a ship captain who had just arrived with fresh news from one of the major ports. 

Benjamin Franklin Thompson (his father called him Franklin) was just 16 years old in 1801. He was a hard, if not willing, worker on his father’s farm in Setauket, and he was often sent to “Jonas Hawkins Store and Ordinary” for a variety of items. “November 18, 1800 – Tuesday … Franklin rides to Major Hawkins to carry 36 yards of cloth, gets half a pound paper of tobacco at 0/9 (0 shillings/9 pence) carries 2 bushels of wheat to mill (Stony Brook Grist Mill) and fetches it home.” 

About half the entries in Samuel Thompson’s diary, which detail trips to the general stores in Setauket and Stony Brook, indicate that Samuel went himself. “July 23, 1800 – Wednesday . . . Ride to Major Hawkins yesterday fetch 2 gall Rum pay 17/. Buye six yards of callonnick for my wife a pettecoat pay 24/ for it.”

It was usual for Samuel Thompson to visit the home and store of Jonas Hawkins since he was one of the few doctors in the community, and the general store was a vital source of news about local residents, as well as being the source of many of Dr. Thompson’s medicines. “October 9, 1800 – Thursday . . . I ride to see Betsey Kelly then to Major Hawkins in the afternoon pay 10/ for a gallon of rum get 10 oz common Peruvian Bark pay 3/11.” Dr. Thompson also listed Senna, Quaccuim and white viltrol as medicines that he purchased during the year 1800 from Major Hawkins Store. 

The country general store owners were usually a fairly easy-going lot, and they put up with a great deal of tomfoolery from the bench warmers. They were also a very no-nonsense breed who recognized a good product or a good worker. One general store owner, the story goes, was sweeping out his store under the watchful eye of an early morning customer. “Where’s Benny? Sick today?” asked the small, thin woman as she reached across the counter to inspect the latest calico. “Gone two days,” the merchant said. The lady, seemingly absorbed in her inspection, added, “Anyone you considering to fill the vacancy?” The store owner went on with his sweeping and, without pausing to reflect on the question, replied, “Not expecting to, Benny didn’t leave no vacancy.” 

Samuel Thompson recorded in his diary an average of one trip a month to the general store of Major Jonas Hawkins. His purchases for 10 months included 12 gallons of rum, (Dr. Thompson had a 200-acre farm and at least 5 farmhands, most of whom were slaves) 1½ gallons of [gugg], plus small quantities of sherry, gin and brandy. He also records the purchase of earthen cups, pipes, a pitcher and pins.

As the 19th century began, the country general store began to change and grow. In 1805, Artemas Kennedy of Arlington, Massachusetts, (near Boston) started the Kennedy Biscuit Company. The first “sea biscuits” were supplied to clipper ships as a staple for sailors on the long voyages around the horn to California. The sea biscuit or cracker soon became popular on land as well as at sea, and the cracker barrel soon became a standard item in the country stores.

Beverly C. Tyler is a 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.

'Down the Ways' cover

Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

“The success of Long Island shipbuilding was due in part to its rural location and the three things Long Island had in abundance — water, men and material. Surrounded by water, Long Island was an ideal location for shipbuilding.”

Above, author Beverly C. Tyler at the helm of America’s Cup yacht NZ41 in the Hauraki Gulf, from Auckland, New Zealand in September, 2002. Photo courtesy of NZ 40/41

Last fall, History Close at Hand published Beverly C. Tyler’s informative Setauket and Brookhaven History Through the Murals of Vance Locke. His most recent offering is Down the Ways – The Wooden Ship Era. Subtitled “East Setauket Shipbuilders, Ship Captains, Maritime Trades and Dyer’s Neck Homes,” the book is a celebration of an industry seen through a very local prism. 

As with his earlier work, Tyler leads with the deepest and sincerest respect for the indigenous people of Long Island — and, in particular, the Setalcotts. And while the title suggests a narrow exploration, the introductory pages place the topic in context. Fiscal, political, and agricultural information is presented, including the influence of the Erie Canal and the effects of the War of 1812.

Tyler references a wide range of sources, some dating back to the seventeen century. His research is meticulous, organized, and marvelously well-documented, with facts and figures as well as many dates to give the arc of the shipbuilding experience. Here are shipbuilders and ship workers, captains and crewmen. The rise and fall of the whaling industry and life on the sea give additional scope. Tyler does not shy away from touching on complicated issues, including slavery and the freed descendants whose treatment onboard was little better.

The focus of the book is on one area adjacent to Setauket Harbor. Tyler has cleverly constructed Down the Ways as a tour of the Dyer’s Neck Historic District. There are thirty-two stops, beginning on Bayview Avenue and ending with Scott’s Cove. A history of the place, its relationship to the shipbuilding industry, and the home’s inhabitants are vividly presented with each location. Facts blend with interesting trivia. These include Thomas W. Rowland, who had twelve children — six by each of his two wives; Mary Swift Jones’ voyage to eastern Asia, including Japan and China; Town of Brookhaven historian Barbara M. Russell’s account of Shore Acres boarding house; among other anecdotes. 

In addition, detailed but succinct descriptions of a range of careers and businesses, including blacksmith, ship joiner, carpenter, and ship chandlery, are explained. (A special note of the use of color in the text will make it easier for younger readers to discern the shift in focus and allow for easy location of information. Little doubt that this book will be an excellent resource for both the general reader and the student studying Long Island history.)

A special section focuses on the author’s grandfather, Captain Beverly Swift Tyler, who was a ship captain, boat builder, racing sailor, and boarding house owner. This unique and personal inclusion further brings to life the living history element of the writer’s undertaking.

Visually, this is a striking tome. Down the Ways includes reproductions of maps, paintings, murals, clips of period newspapers, and a wealth of beautiful photos, both historical and current. All of them have been richly integrated into the text. In addition, dozens of pictures juxtaposing the current residence with those from early periods display both the changes and what remains the same. 

Down the Ways is more than just a book. It is an opportunity to explore a Long Island neighborhood in a completely different way. So, pick up a copy of the book, make your way to 41 Bayview Avenue, and let Beverly C. Tyler guide you on a course that will take you on an enlightening journey through time and place


Beverly C. Tyler is a writer, author, photographer and lecturer on local history. He has conducted walking tours and field trips as Revolutionary War farmer and spy Abraham Woodhull and as a 19th-century ship captain. 

Mr. Tyler writes a local history column “History Close at Hand” for the TBR Newspapers’ Village Times Herald. He has written more than 900 local history articles since 1975. His most recent book, Setauket and Brookhaven History through the Murals of Vance Locke was published in November 2020.

Down the Ways — The Wooden Ship Era is available through the Three Village Historical Society online gift shop at www.tvhs.org.


The Setauket Neighborhood House when it was known as the Lakeside House

By Beverly C. Tyler

While the wooden shipbuilding era was ending on Long Island and in the Three Village area in the 1870s, the Long Island Railroad was completing the North Shore line. The coming of the railroad made it possible for people and products to travel quickly overland.

Until the railroad came, most travel and commerce to and from Long Island ports was conducted by ship. As the railroad became more efficient and reliable, tourism began to increase, especially during the summer months. Hotels, tourist homes and summer cottages opened in Stony Brook and Setauket, as they did throughout Long Island, to accommodate the influx of visitors.

Beverly Swift and Edith Griffin Tyler at West Meadow Beach around 1912

By 1902, there were six hotels or tourist homes in Stony Brook and ten in Setauket-East Setauket that offered weekly rates. In Stony Brook, the Pine View House run by Israel Hawkins was advertised as a family recreation summer boarding house with accommodations for 25 guests. Guests at the Pine View had the use of a beach house at West Meadow Beach.

In East Setauket, Shore Acres was a large boarding house overlooking Setauket Harbor. Shore Acres was run by Mr. and Mrs. William D. Oaks and had 30 rooms and one bathroom with a washbasin in each room. “In the large dining room on Sundays, the meal was usually chicken, slaughtered on Saturday evening, fresh garden vegetables and homemade ice cream.” (Long Island Museum 1981 exhibit Summer at the Shore). Boating and bathing were popular activities during these summers, and Shore Acres had docks and boats for the use of guests.

In Setauket, the Lakeside House, now the Setauket Neighborhood House, had accommodations for 25 guests at $6 to $8 per week. The Lakeside House was run by my grandfather Captain Beverly Swift Tyler. In 1879, he was master and 3/8 owner of the Willow Harp. She was a coastal schooner and carried coal from New Jersey to East Setauket. Beginning about the turn of the century Captain Tyler, who then spent much of his time running the Lakeside House and general store, would take guests on sailing outings on his catboat Madeline, which was anchored in Setauket Harbor.

The catboat Setauket rigged with a canopy and engine to take Lakeside House guests on excursions.

After he married my grandmother Edith Griffin in 1912, who first came to Setauket to stay a week at the Lakeside House with her sister Carolyn, she became the Lakeside hostess and manager of the kitchen and boarding house staff. Lucy Hart Keyes, born 1900, commented that she worked at the Lakeside house as a young girl and that Mrs. Tyler was “an easy person to work for.”

In 1906, my grandfather built the catboat Setauket in an area behind the Lakeside House. The Setauket was the second boat he built — the first being the Madeline — which, according to Roger Tyler, Captain Tyler’s nephew, “was built with the comments and help of friends and neighbors whose advice he took and later regretted. When the Setauket was being built and comments were again offered, Captain Tyler this time pointed out that the Madeline was their community boat and that he was building the Setauket by himself.”

Sailboats and the harbors and inlets of the Three Village area were part of the attractiveness of the community at the turn of the century. Captain Tyler used the Setauket to take guests on excursions on the Sound and around Setauket and Port Jefferson harbors. The Setauket was also built to race in local competitions in Port Jefferson Harbor. When the Setauket was built, Captain Tyler sold the Madeline, which was a fairly good racing catboat. Roger Tyler said that the Setauket was raced in Port Jefferson and was a consistent winner against all competition including the Madeline. Tyler commented that, “it got to be so that they wouldn’t tell Bev when a race was to be run and a few times he found out about them only just an hour or so before the race, but raced and won anyway.”

Beverly C. 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.

by -
0 1512
The Thompson House in Setauket on North Country Road was once the home of Dr. Samuel Thompson who documented the winter of 1800 to 1801. Photo by Beverly C. Tyler

By Beverly C. Tyler

Our winter weather has been mostly mild so far this year, and we don’t expect any significant snowfall until later in the season. Nowadays we are also protected from the effects of the weather in our homes and in our cars as we travel from place to place.

During the winter of 1800 to 1801, Dr. Samuel Thompson noted the changes in the weather as he ran the operation of his extensive farm in Setauket and cared for the sick. He wrote in his diary, “Thursday, November 13, 1800. Wind [from the] west, cloudy and very thick air with smoke and so dark at nine or ten o’clock as to light a candle to eat breakfast by. Some rain — but breaks away and the weather is cool.”

“Thursday, November 13, 1800. Wind [from the] west, cloudy and very thick air with smoke and so dark at 9 or 10 o’clock as to light a candle to eat breakfast by.”

— Samuel Thompson

Later in the month the weather changed, and Thompson continued, “Friday, November 21, … [It] begins to snow long before day [light and] continues to snow all day — very cold storm.” On Saturday, the northeast wind continued to blow and on Sunday he wrote that the snow fell all day.

The life of the farmer and other residents of the Three Villages continued to be busy through the winter months. There were no crops to tend, as in the summer, but the animals had to be taken care of and the weather seemed to make little difference in the routine. The weather moderated after that early snow and the remainder of 1800 brought only occasional days of snow and rain.

Heat for the family homes in 1800 consisted of a wood fire in the fireplace. Large amounts of wood were cut and stacked each fall but had to be supplemented by trips into the woods to gather more firewood. Thompson’s house (the restored Thompson House on North Country Road in Setauket) has a great central chimney with four fireplaces that provided the only heat for the large saltbox-style farmhouse. The activity at the Thompson farm continued despite the weather as the doctor wrote Dec. 30, 1800. “… kill my cow and ten sheep. George Davis’ wife came here and bought eight pounds of flax. Mr. Green [Rev. Zachariah Green, pastor of the Setauket Presbyterian Church] came here [and] said [that] Mrs. Akerly was better … Snow this night.”

It was a normal part of the farm routine for local residents to come to the Thompson farm to buy flax to spin and weave into cloth or to buy hay for their animals or meat and other farm produce. Thompson and his wife would often have visitors who would spend the night at the farm and leave the next day.

On Dec. 31, 1800, Thompson wrote, “… Robbin and Franklin [his oldest son Benjamin Franklin] cut up the cow and the sheep. Sharper salts them. Salla (Sarah) Smith works here at taloring [sic]. Makes a coat and jacket for Killis [Robbin, Sharper and Killis were black slave farmhands], made a pair of trowsers [sic] for Franklin. Miss Lidda Mount and Miss Sissa Mount come here for a visit, dined here and drank tea here. Mrs Akerly remains much [sick] so I make her the third phial of antimonial solution [a medicine containing antimony].”

The daily routine of life at the Thompson farm continued much the same through the winter. Friends were entertained at tea or dinner, neighbors and relatives arrived to buy farm produce, and Thompson prescribed for the relief of the residents. Life in the wintertime was hard for these early residents, the cold was a constant companion, and the wood fireplaces could not provide the warmth that we consider to be regular part of our lives now.

“Tuesday 16th. West wind — pleasant sleighing — gone warm.”

— Henry Hudson

Winter weather did not prevent residents from maintaining their regular activities in spite of cold or snow. In 1819, Henry Hudson was teaching school in Stony Brook in the “Upper School” located on Main Street south of the mill pond. On Friday, Feb. 12, he wrote in his journal, “… I tend school [about 40 students] … snow at 4 this afternoon — grows cold — storms hard. I spend the evening at Benah Petty’s with company of young people. Go to Nath. Smith’s to lodge — severe storm. Saturday, February 13th 1819 … Snow storm — cold. I tend school — continues to storm. At 4 [in the] afternoon I go to Joseph Hawkins’ and stay. Sunday, February 14, 1819. Clears off, snow about 10 inches deep — drifted very much. I go to Mr. Green’s meeting [Rev. Zachariah Green, pastor of the Setauket Presbyterian Church] — return to Nath. Smith’s then go to Charles Hallock’s. He tends the meeting and [we were] much engaged [talking about the meeting] and time pleasingly spent. Go to Jedidiah Mills’ this evening.

“Tuesday 16th. West wind — pleasant sleighing — gone warm. I tend school — 42 schollars [sic] — I leave Nath. Smith’s, make 3 days board … I make a beginning to the Wido(w) Mount’s to board on the second quarter. Wedn. 17th … Comes on to snow at 9 this evening — sharp night — some sleighing though poor in the road, considerable snow. Thursday, February 18th … I tend school — 41 schollars [sic]. This cold day. This is the appointment for the bible class. Mr. Green (Zachariah) comes here at 5 O’clock with a missionary priest. I return to Mount’s.”

Hudson taught three of the Mount children, Robert Nelson, William Sidney and Ruth Hawkins. He boarded about three days with each family of his students while he taught in Stony Brook. His travels during the week included going, usually on foot, from the Widow Mount’s, known as the Hawkins-Mount house on Route 25A and Stony Brook Road, to the Setauket Presbyterian Church. As a school teacher on a limited income, Hudson did not have a horse and would often walk great distances. His home at the time, until 1846 when he moved to East Setauket, was at the family’s farm in Long Pond in the Wading River area. After the quarter was over, he walked back to his home and during the following years, he taught school in South Setauket (Nassakeag), Moriches and East Setauket often walking from home to school each week. In some years he would walk to Patchogue or Riverhead and back in the same day.

Beverly C. 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.

A parade of tall ships into Galveston, Texas, includes the Picton Castle, left, and the Oosterschelde, based in Rotterdam, Netherlands. Photo by Beverly C. Tyler

By Beverly C. Tyler

In “Two Years Before the Mast,” R.H. Dana Jr. wrote in 1840, “However much I was affected by the beauty of the sea, the bright stars, and the clouds driven swiftly over them, I could not but remember that I was separating myself from all the social and intellectual enjoyments of life.”

Sail handling aloft the Picton Castle is accomplished by its experienced sailors. Photo by Beverly C. Tyler

I spent a week this April as a crew member on the training barque Picton Castle. This square-rigged sailing ship is similar in size and function to the Mary and Louisa that my great-grand-aunt Mary Swift Jones sailed on to China and Japan in 1858.

I wanted to experience, in a small way, what my Aunt Mary experienced and observed as the wife of Captain Benjamin Jones on their three-year voyage. I know, of course, that a week on the Picton Castle is not really comparable to an almost round-the-world voyage, but I also knew that it would have to do. I came away from the experience with a new understanding of life aboard one of the many tall ships that travel the world today with crews learning sail handling and working together to achieve the goal of maintaining a historic ship under sail.

Having visited the Picton Castle in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia; Auckland, New Zealand; and Greenport, Long Island, between 2011 and 2015, I felt the romance of the old sailing ship and hoped I would have a chance to sail on her. I thought that seeing and feeling her with full sails moving almost silently through the water would be the part I would enjoy the most.

After a week on board, handling lines under close supervision and doing all the necessary chores that keep this tall ship functioning, I came away with an appreciation of the crew members with whom I worked. This is a hard-working and dedicated group from the officers and lead seamen to the advanced trainees who together instructed the new trainees in the basics of safety, line and sail handling and the myriad of jobs that have to be done every day. One I became fairly good at — whipping the bitter ends of lines to finish them off and prevent unraveling.

John the sailmaker works every day to maintain Picton Castle’s inventory of sail and teaches sailmaking to some crew members. Photo by Beverly C. Tyler

My first days on duty I shadowed one of the trainees who had been on the Picton Castle for a year, including a winter trip through the North Atlantic when ice covered much of the running rigging, making it very difficult to move the lines through the blocks that control the sails. There were no beginning trainees on this leg of the voyages to and from Lunenburg, the home and training port for most of the regular crew, as they had to function quickly and decisively under severe conditions.

I asked my instructor why he chose this type of work. He told me that he had been boating along the Atlantic coast with his grandfather since he was a child and growing up had done all the things that were expected of him — an education, a degree and a resulting steady job. By the time he was 30, he realized he needed a change and the sea was calling him back. He said he has found what he wants to do with his life — he loves to be at sea and he knows he is good at it. He has picked up the routine and the skills quickly and is proud of the work he is doing on Picton Castle, working the deck and teaching new trainees.

On watch we worked lookout and helm together as well as working lines from the complicated array of gear — lines and equipment — that controls the spars and sails. We were fortunate to have our watch group of 11 assigned to the 4 to 8 watch, both a.m. and p.m., on the trip from Galveston, Texas, to Pensacola, Florida. My instructor noted that this was the best watch this time of year since we are on duty for both sunrise and sunset. On the first 4 to 8 a.m. watch after two days of rain, wind and 4- to 6-foot seas, we were in the Gulf of Mexico 60 miles from the nearest land.

During his trip learning how to be a ship crew member, historian Beverly Tyler experienced two days of rough seas. Photo by Beverly C. Tyler

The sky was clear, and the stars were brighter than any sky I had seen since crossing the Atlantic in the U.S. Navy in the late 1950s. The Milky Way shone brightly, and there were so many stars it would be difficult to add more stars between the ones I could see. It made me realize how important the sky was to the ancient civilizations who observed it every night that was not overcast. All the various constellations were easily identified along with the planets.

After a week on the Picton Castle, I had to reevaluate what I had gained from the experience. The most important to me was the people I met, especially the officers and crew who spend countless hours instructing and reinstructing us no matter how long it took and how many times they had to go over the same information. My fellow new trainees, many of whom became friends for a week, were dedicated to learning and the hard work that went with it. Next in lasting importance and wonder was the night sky and the changeover from dusk to dawn in the morning as the crescent moon rose followed by the sun. Next was this beautiful sailing ship itself that inspired all of us with its abilities, functionality and beauty.

Beverly C. 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.

by -
0 1727
A postcard of a family canal boat on the Erie Canal being pulled by mules. Image from Beverly C. Tyler

By Beverly C. Tyler

The changes in transportation that began in the early 1800s were dramatic and far-reaching. They made it possible to lower costs of food and fuel, expand settlements, open western New York and the Midwest and provide employment for thousands of immigrants. Before steam power, transportation on land was limited to walking, riding horses and going by horse and wagon. On the water there were sloops, schooners and larger ships that traveled around the world. All of these were dependent on organic modes of transportation: wind, current, animals and feet.

By the 1850s and 1860s schooners, barks and full-rigged ships were setting speed records on the China trade route and around Cape Horn to the California coast. Sloops and schooners brought goods to and from Long Island, carried cordwood into New York City and eventually carried coal from Jersey City and Newark to communities on Long Island.

Because it was so difficult and time consuming to sail upstream, great American rivers such as the Hudson in New York and the Connecticut River remained underutilized. It was realized that the steam engine applied to a boat would allow for on-demand propulsion for the first time in human history. In the first decade of the 1800s, New York State offered a prize, the exclusive commercial route up the Hudson River, for the first steamboat to travel the route at an average of 4 mph.

May 1895 the schooner Commerce, loaded with 91 tons of eggs and stove coal, left Perth Amboy and sailed with the cargo to New London, Connecticut. Painting by Ron Druett; photo by Beverly C. Tyler

Robert Fulton, an artist in Paris and a self-styled engineer, with financing by Robert R. Livingston, realized that a large paddlewheel, attached to the side of the vessel, rather than a screw propeller at the stern, was the answer to go upstream. In August 1807, Fulton’s North River Steamboat achieved 5 mph from Manhattan to Albany, and he received the prize.

DeWitt Clinton, mayor of New York and former U.S. senator, was elected governor in 1816. He began construction of the Erie Canal from Lake Erie to the Hudson River with state and private funding on July 4, 1817. The canal opened in sections and every section became proof of the canal’s value as a propeller of commerce. Completed in 1825, the canal quickly exceeded all expectations. Goods from Cleveland got to Manhattan within days. Chicago was easily accessible from New York. The Erie Canal was the first large commercial canal in America.

By 1862, the canal had a depth of 7 feet and could handle boats carrying 240 tons. In 1882, the canal was made free. It had earned $42 million above the original cost and the expenses of enlargement, maintenance and operation. The success of the Erie Canal set off canal mania in other states: the Ohio and Erie Canal from Cleveland to the Ohio River 350 miles south and the Miami and Erie Canal from Toledo to Cincinnati. By 1830, the population in the Northwest (now the Midwest) doubled to 1.6 million and by 1840 doubled again to 3.3 million. Canals had opened what is now known as the Midwest. By 1850, the two major American ports were New York and New Orleans.

Now areas near the Great Lakes — from the Allegheny River to Pittsburgh and the Monongahela to the Ohio to the Mississippi, to the Gulf of Mexico — were commercially more connected to the American south than to the Atlantic coast with its population in the millions. The Wabash and Erie Canal was a shipping canal that linked the Great Lakes to the Ohio River via an artificial waterway. The canal provided traders with access from the Great Lakes all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. Over 460 miles long, it was the longest canal ever built in North America. Due to canal mania in the north, the railroads were slow in starting, lacking investment and behind the British in the manufacture of iron. By 1837, there were only 1,500 miles of track in America. Track construction accelerated right after the panic of 1837. By 1840, Cornelius Vanderbilt had bought and sold enough steamships and steamship routes to amass a fortune. Running through Long Island Sound, Vanderbilt had the fastest boats from Manhattan to Providence to Boston. Canals and steamboats made long-distance transportation viable, but canals were a temporary solution. The railroads would soon become the vehicle that united America with steam power.

In the next History Close at Hand article, railroads, specifically the Long Island Rail Road, will be explored. Beverly C. 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.