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John Cunniffe

Photo by Abigail Choi/ Councilmember Kornreich's office

The delicious aroma of fresh coffee filled the air as Emma S. Clark Memorial Library in Setauket held a ribbon cutting for its new Level Up Kitchen Library Café on Jan. 7. 

Library board members and staff, Level Up Kitchen Library Café owner Chelsea Gomez, Town of Brookhaven Councilmember Jonathan Kornreich, architect John Cunniffe, and Thomas Pirraglia of Urban Village Contracting, Inc., were all in attendance.

Library Director Ted Gutmann thanked everyone involved in the entire three-part construction project.”We stayed open the whole time [during construction]. We didn’t have to close…[the cafe] has been open now a few weeks, and it’s been very popular with our patrons.” 

“Seeing the library evolve and meeting the changing needs of the community is very heartening, and this place continues to be very relevant and continues to be the absolute heart of this area,” said Councilmember Kornreich.

Library patrons will be able to grab a quick snack on-the-go, or stay for a bite to eat and enjoy a more leisurely experience at the library in the new, indoor seating area adjacent to the historic 1892 reading room. Café customers will also have access to the outdoor seating terrace, which opened in August 2022 and looks out over the library’s beautifully landscaped grounds and the historic Setauket Village Green.

The extensive menu features soup of the day, wraps, grilled cheese, frittatas, bagels, croissants, and rolls as well as scones, cookies, brownies and cakes. Drinks include hot and iced coffee, hot and iced tea, hot cocoa and more with many nut-free, gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan options.

Pictured at the ribbon cutting, from left, are Joan Kahnhauser (Head Adult Services Librarian), Councilmember Jonathan Kornreich, Chelsea Gomez (Level Up Kitchen Library Café owner), Angeline Yeo-Judex (Library Board Member), Ted Gutmann (Library Director), Anthony M. Parlatore (Library Board Member), Suzanne Shane (Library Board Secretary), Linda Josephs (Library Board Member), John Cunniffe (Architect), Linda Pirraglia, Thomas Pirraglia (Urban Village Contracting), and Lisa DeVerna (Library Marketing & Communications Manager).

Operating hours for the café are Mondays  to  Fridays from 9:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.; Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. For more information, please call 631-941-4080 or visit www.emmaclark.org/cafe/.

Chelsea Gomez, a Three Village native and chef, is ready to serve patrons at the newly unveiled Level Up Kitchen Library Café at Emma S. Clark Memorial Library. Photo courtesy Emma S. Clark Memorial Library

Emma S. Clark Memorial Library has unveiled its new café, the much-anticipated final phase in a construction project announced in 2021. It includes the café, a new outdoor terrace and better flow for the library’s main reading room.

This two-year undertaking is helping to make the library even more of a community center than before, inviting those to come and stay while meeting the various needs of the library’s constituents.

The café, now open to the public, is run by Level Up Kitchen, a local business selected from a pool of candidates to be the food and beverage vendor, as was publicized by the library in May.

Owned and operated by Three Village native and chef Chelsea Gomez, Level Up Kitchen Library Café promises fresh coffee and healthy, handcrafted fare that meets various dietary needs. The menu includes nut-free, gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan items, avoiding cross-contamination with allergens. 

Gomez places importance on sustainability, working with local farms and purveyors where possible to stimulate the local economy and provide the freshest, highest-quality ingredients. Gomez possesses extensive food safety knowledge, and all her employees are Suffolk County Department of Health-certified food managers.

In addition to the outdoor terrace, which opened last summer, a new indoor seating area was added adjacent to the café. Architect John Cunniffe, a Stony Brook resident with experience in preserving historical accuracy, ensured that the café and seating area showed architectural sensitivity to the historic section with the same refined feel.

Urban Village Contracting, a local company, executed the construction. The library completed the entire construction project without closing for its patrons.

A café is a very popular addition among today’s libraries. It allows for more flexibility and options for the public to visit the library more often and extend their stay.

The library is not solely a building full of books but a place where individuals or groups may leisurely enjoy the beautiful space. Those studying or working may now take a break for a quick snack or meal without having to leave the library.

Before or after a library program, attendees may have something to eat or drink. Those who live or work in the neighborhood may stop in to grab a coffee or a bite to eat. Friends may meet at the library for coffee or a meal and browse books together. The café enhances that welcoming feel and accommodates those who want to stay longer.

This “new” Emma Clark Library is not so much a transformation as a rejuvenation of the library, staying true to its historic roots while accommodating its 21st-century constituency. The library’s Board of Trustees and staff are thrilled to offer these improvements to the community here in Three Village.

Norma Watson and Steve Englebright shake hands as Johanna Watson, John Cunniffe and Three Village Community Trust board member Robert Reuter look on. Photo by Herb Mones

Abraham Woodhull’s ancestral property to be preserved, showcased to the community

By Mallie Jane Kim

Several blue-and-yellow historical markers dot Setauket streets, and the hamlet can truly boast “George Washington slept here.”

But none of these signs feels more out of the way than the one on the road to Strong’s Neck, in a peaceful corner of town overlooking Little Bay. And yet this sign marks the ancestral property of an important player in the Revolutionary War: Abraham Woodhull, “chief of Long Island spies under Gen. Washington,” the sign reads. In coming years, the marker won’t be the only way history buffs can enjoy this important piece of the past, which was at the heart of the historic Culper Spy Ring.

Three Village Community Trust is in the process of purchasing this property, with plans to preserve and eventually use it as a setting for community historical events. In a press release about the purchase, TVCT President Herb Mones wrote that he wants to “have children walk in the very steps of the founders of our country.”

Woodhull, code name Samuel Culper Sr., was one of the primary members of the group that tracked British troops and provided key information to Gen. George Washington and the American forces during the Revolutionary War, using espionage tradecraft like secret codes, invisible ink and dead drop secure communications. An article on the Central Intelligence Agency’s website identifies the Culper ring among “the founding fathers” of intelligence gathering by Americans.

“It’s a tremendous win for the community to be able to protect it and preserve it going forward,” Mones added. 

The trust, a community organization focused on preserving local natural resources and historical properties, owns several Three Village spots with Revolutionary War-era significance, including Patriots Rock Historical Site and the Smith/de Zafra House, home of Timothy Smith who, according to the TVCT website, mounted a broken musket over his fireplace to divert attention of suspicious British soldiers from his real cache of weapons hidden nearby.

“We’ve had a collection of properties that represented the foundations of the American experience,” Mones said. Thanks in part to “Turn,” the AMC television series about the spy ring popularizing Setauket’s history, the Woodhull property has the potential to draw even more interest in local history. “It’s important — it’s a feather in the cap,” the trust president said.

TVCT confirmed in a press release that the sales contract has been signed. The trust is in the process of submitting other required documentation to the state to finalize the purchase, which was made possible by a $825,000 grant secured in 2022 by then-New York State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket).

Norma Watson, who currently owns and lives on the property, will have a life tenancy, according to Mones. Watson herself has a history of advocating for natural and historical preservation, and she was involved with the trust at its inception.

According to Mones, the Woodhull property currently houses a pond and a barn — with a history of its own — that was reclaimed and converted around the 1950s into the home where Watson now resides. Woodhull’s original 1660 house burned down in 1931.

The Gamecock Cottage exterior will soon undergo renovations. File photo

A popular landmark in the Three Village area is about to get a facelift.

Local architect John Cunniffe updated attendees at the Three Village Civic Association April 3 meeting on the renovations that are set to begin at the end of May or early June on the historic Gamecock Cottage at Shipman’s Point at the tip of the West Meadow Beach peninsula.


Cunniffe estimated the work on the cottage would take two to three months. Once the cottage restoration is completed, the Three Village Community Trust will take over as steward. TVCT officially entered a stewardship agreement with the Town of Brookhaven in 2010.

Work on the cottage will be supervised by the town. Cunniffe said a maintenance program would be developed for Brookhaven and the trust. The architect said the allotted budget for the work is $175,000.

“From 1990 to today, there was very little maintenance and upkeep on the building, and we’re at a 30-year lifespan on material, paint, with dilapidation. I think we’ve all seen what has happened to the Gamecock Cottage, and it seems to be getting progressively worse, exponentially by the month.”

William J. Solan Contracting, of Stony Brook, with Walter Dwan will be responsible for all decorative work. Solan and Dwan worked on the 1990 renovation, according to Cunniffe. Statewide Roofing, of Ronkonkoma, will be in charge of roofing, while the town’s Parks & Recreation Department will work on siding, painting and additional work.

Cunniffe added material will be pre-primed or pre-painted, so there will be no staging or scaffolding at the site. Custom-milled material will provide the full length needed so the roof and seams allow no water penetration.

Currently, the budget covers exterior renovations. While many have voiced concerns about beach erosion in the area and possibly elevating the cottage, Cunniffe said after talking to town historian, Barbara Russell, he feels it may be best to keep it at its current level for now.

Robert Reuter, a local architect, added that the building for decades flooded and dried. “It was designed essentially to do that,” he said, adding the salt water may have helped preserve it.

Cunniffe said the current staircase on the building doesn’t belong there architecturally, but it was added for utilitarian needs. As for an ADA-compliant ramp, that would be something for a future conversation, the architect said.

Herb Mones, community trust president, added once the trust takes over as steward, part of an agreement with the town is to aim to have a seasonal caretaker living in the second-floor apartment.


Cunniffe said Ward Melville bought the Gamecock Cottage in the 1940s and sold it to the town. The Ward Melville Heritage Organization took stewardship over the lease in the mid-1980s and in 1990 the cottage was renovated. Cunniffe said the roof was replaced, the cupola, gingerbread trim and windows were rebuilt, and 45% of siding was removed and replaced.

For decades, Gamecock Cottage was a boat storage facility, honeymoon getaway and rental unit, according to the TVCT website. WMHO relinquished the lease after 2004, and soon afterward the trust offered to assume stewardship. While the nonprofit was in discussion with the town, Brookhaven applied for and received the State and National Registers of Historic Places designation for the 1870s Gamecock. Cunniffe said Russell was instrumental in securing the designation for the town.

John Cunniffe in his Stony Brook Avenue office. Photo by Donna Newman

To John Cunniffe, a person who lacks a knowledge of history is like a tree without roots.

So to make sure the history of the Three Village community is alive and vibrant, he’s spent the last decade offering his considerable architectural acuity to various organizations dedicated to doing just that.

Cunniffe sees the value in preserving heritage. He pays attention to the smallest of details, striving for historical accuracy while providing renovations that work in today’s world.

“There are many professionals in our community who give generously of their services to our local nonprofit organizations, often pro bono or for reduced fees, but none quite like John Cunniffe,” said Robert Reuter, president of the Frank Melville Memorial Foundation. “He has helped jump-start and advance more important historic building projects throughout the Three Villages than I can count.”   

For his considerable contributions to the work being done by courageous nonprofits in preserving local historical edifices, for his unflagging willingness to lend his expertise to important local architecture projects and for his extreme generosity of time and spirit, John Cunniffe is one of Times Beacon Record News Media’s People of the Year for 2016.

“When someone essentially does ‘pro-bono’ work in their area of expertise — that made John’s involvement just that much more selfless.”

— David Sterne

Raised on Long Island, the 45-year-old Stony Brook resident received his architectural degree from the New York Institute of Technology. He has worked for the Weiss/Manfredi firm where he honed his design pedigree.

The Cunniffes decided to return to Long Island from Virginia 10 years ago and settled not far from the Soundview area of East Setauket, from which his wife Colleen Cunniffe hails. There they are raising their two daughters.

Now known for prestigious residential projects that value historic preservation, while creating contemporary architecture for his clients, he has also become the go-to architect for important restoration and preservation projects throughout the Three Village area, Reuter said.

Cunniffe donated his services to create the documents and secure the permits necessary to relocate and restore the historic Rubber Factory Worker Houses for the Three Village Community Trust. Soon he was handling work for the Setauket Neighborhood House, the Three Village Historical Society, the Frank Melville Memorial Park, The Long Island Museum, projects in the Bethel–Christian Avenue–Laurel Hill Historic District as well as the Caroline Church, Reuter added.

“They all needed an architect,” Reuter said. “They got more than they asked for — they got thorough project planning and exceptionally good design, as well as the necessary documents and permits.”

Along the way, Cunniffe represented the Stony Brook Historic District as a volunteer on the Town of Brookhaven’s Historic District Advisory Committee and advised the Setauket Fire Department on planning and design for the new headquarters building on Route 25A in Setauket.

Setauket Fire District Manager David Sterne said he feels grateful to have had Cunniffe’s participation in the planning for the new fire department structure.

“John was an integral part of the community committee for the planning and design of the new firehouse,” he said. “He attended most meetings and his insights, especially from his architect’s point of view, were invaluable. It’s one thing for a person to take part as a volunteer, but when someone essentially does ‘pro-bono’ work in their area of expertise — that made John’s involvement just that much more selfless.”

Brookhaven Town Historian Barbara Russell remembers where and when she first encountered Cunniffe. 

John Cunniffe constructed plans for the new Setauket Fire Department Headquarters on Route 25A in Setauket. Phto by Desirée Keegan

“I first met John when he was the representative from the Stony Brook Historic District to the Town’s Historic District Advisory Committee,” she said. “He always brought sound knowledge of architecture, a willingness to hear out the applicants and helpful suggestions to the meetings. Beyond his education in architecture, he has a sense of the importance of historical structures and how they fit into our community today.”

Russell said it is unique how Cunnife considers style, materials, location and history of a structure as well as how it has to conform to fit in today’s world.

“Whether it be its location in the community or the owner’s lifestyle, balancing all those variables takes a keen eye, and a heart for the type of work he does,” she said.

Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) said the Three Village area is a special place because of people like Cunniffe.

“Our extraordinary community is defined by caring people like John Cunniffe, whose professional architectural vision and personal commitment to volunteerism is a gift that enhances our sense of place,” he said. “We are indeed fortunate that John has chosen to invest his considerable talent and energies here.”

Reuter compared the architect’s work to another famous designer who worked in the area: Ward Melville’s architect.

“Richard Haviland Smythe did these sorts of community projects for his patron who generously funded them,” he said. “John Cunniffe is our modern day Smythe — if only we had modern day major patrons to move these many projects forward. John has been a wise, good-humored and essential partner.”