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Kate Wheeler Strong

Holly Griesel as Etta Sherry talks about the Old Stone Jug in Stony Brook — now The Jazz Loft — during the spirits tour Oct. 21. Photo by Beverly C. Tyler

By Beverly C. Tyler

The Spirits of the Prohibition: Setauket in the Roaring 20s provided the overall theme for the Three Village Historical Society’s 23rd Annual Spirits Tour in the graveyards of the Setauket Presbyterian Church and Caroline Episcopal Church Oct. 21.

“My family was traditionally Episcopalian but my father Melville Havens Bryant had become a rabid prohibitionist, and the Methodist Church embraced temperance so we changed affiliation,” George Overin, playing William Washington Bryant (1859-1937), said. “Father was so committed to the cause that he would cross the street rather than walk in front of a saloon.”

George Overin as William Washington Bryant talks about the Prohibition during the spirits tour. Photo by Beverly C. Tyler

More than 300 attendees followed guides that took them on a walk to meet 14 colorful but deceased local residents who entertained them with stories of their lives and the people in the Three Village communities. Guided tours began at 5 p.m. and a new group stepped out from the Setauket Presbyterian Church social hall every 15 minutes through 7:45 p.m.

In addition to the tours through the cemeteries, tour participants were treated to an exhibit on Prohibition with many artifacts and visuals from The Long Island Museum’s Prohibition exhibit, Midnight Rum, on view in the Setauket Presbyterian Church social hall. The exhibit featured a 1933 beer keg from Trommer’s Brewery, which Trommer’s rebranded and pressed this pre-Prohibition keg into service to help satisfy its large number of beer orders.

Tour groups were also treated to an evening of jazz in the hall by the Ward Melville Honors Jazztet with Andrew Cavese, Max Liueberman, Miles Bruno and Jared Gozinsky providing the delightful jazz on bass, sax, guitar and drums.

“It was a court room, meeting hall, lecture hall, but most notably what it was used for was square dancing and late at night, if the spirit got my papa, you would see some fancy footwork at the Stone Jug,” Holly Griesel as Etta Sherry (1855-1956) said, talking about the Old Stone Jug in Stony Brook — now The Jazz Loft.

Donna Smith as Kate Wheeler Strong talks to tour participants about her “True Tales.” Photo by Beverly C. Tyler

Stony Brook was also celebrated with stories about Robert Cushman Murphy. He and his wife Grace Barstow Murphy are buried in Rhode Island, but Robert Murphy was here as a visiting spirit along with lifelong Stony Brook resident Etta Sherry, who is buried in Oak Hill Cemetery in Stony Brook.

“Suffolk County, right here where you are, was the very first county in the entire world to have DDT banned in 1956, and Grace and I spearheaded that effort with some other people,” Art Billadello, playing Robert Cushman Murphy (1887-1973), said.

Setauket’s Kate Wheeler Strong (1879-1977), historian, teacher and storyteller, who is buried in the Smith-Strong cemetery on Strong’s Neck, wrote articles on Long Island local history for the Long Island Forum from 1938 until 1976. She also put her articles into a series of booklets she called “True Tales.”

“My love of history came from my father who knew every story about the family and the local people living here,” Donna Smith as Kate Wheeler Strong said. “He’s the one who inspired me to write about ‘True Tales.’”

Participants, especially those who took the early tours before dark, were treated to a view of the restored Caroline Church Carriage Shed adjacent to the church parking lot. Built in 1887, it is a unique example of a seven-bay carriage shed that was an important feature in the community during the era of the horse and buggy.

This year’s Spirits Tour was also special for the beautiful weather and starry skies that made for a pleasant, fun and informative event for everyone who participated.

Beverly 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.

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Kate Strong sits on her front porch on Strong’s Neck in December 1899. Photo from Beverly C. Tyler

By Beverly C. Tyler

Kate Wheeler Strong was born in Setauket March 21, 1879. She was the daughter of Judge Selah Strong and a descendant of Revolutionary War spy Anna Smith Strong, as well as of Setauket settler William “Tangier” Smith. As Dr. Percy Bailey wrote in October, 1977, “As a historian, ‘Miss Kate’ has probably done more than any other in popularizing and humanizing the history of this beautiful Long Island which she loved.”

Kate Strong wrote local history articles for the Long Island Forum from 1939 through 1976. Most of these articles she had published in small booklets which she sold or gave away to friends over the years. These booklets, called “True Tales,” have provided a special look into the past for many generations of Three Village residents. Kate Strong died at her home The Cedars on Strong’s Neck July 22, 1977. In 1992, William B. Minuse (1908-2002) wrote about Kate Strong in the 1992 Three Village Historian:

A photo of Strong taken in May of 1897. Photo from Bev Tyler.

“Miss Kate Wheeler Strong was one of the most remarkable persons I have ever known … Miss Kate loved young people. For many years, she told stories to groups of children at the Emma S. Clark Memorial Library. When the Stony Brook School opened, she organized a stamp club there.

“Her chief interest over the years was local and family history … She wrote extensively, most of her articles being based on family papers and information gathered from older residents … Even after she lost her sight she persisted. We will always be in her debt for the wonderful anecdotes and the invaluable accounts she left us of our Long Island communities and people.

“From time to time she gave me artifacts for the Three Village Historical Society. Among them were a pair of snow shoes her father had used during the blizzard of ‘88.

“Toward the end of her life her neighbors celebrated each of her birthdays, and I was always invited. I shall always remember her most fondly. She was kind and generous.”

After Kate Strong’s death, her personal papers and her family papers going back to her second-great-grandfather were donated to the Three Village Historical Society. The Strong collection contains more than 3,000 papers of the Strong family of Setauket, dating from 1703 to 1977. Included in the collection are deeds, diaries, 224 handwritten pages of court cases by State Supreme Court Justice Selah Strong, letters about their daily lives, politics, travels, farm matters, business records, school records, payments, receipts, Setauket Presbyterian Church records and weather bureau records. There are approximately 2,250 photographs of families, friends, relatives, places
and scenes.

In the 1980s and ‘90s, I was the editor for yearly publications of The Three Village Historian: Journal of the Three Village Historical Society. The issue of 1992 included nine of Kate Wheeler Strong’s “True Tales,” and a complete listing of the 38 years of “True Tales” booklets she produced between 1940 and 1976. This 24-page publication is still available for $1 at the Three Village Historical Society History Center and Gift Shop.

Beverly C. Tyler is Three Village Historical Society historian and author of books available from the Three Village Historical Society, 93 North Country Road, Setauket. For more information on the society’s exhibits and gift shop hours, call 631-751-3730 or visit www.tvhs.org.