Community members enjoyed a blast to the past during the annual Country Fair hosted by the Miller Place-Mount Sinai Historical Society Oct. 15-16.
The program was held at the historical society’s c. 1720 headquarters, located within the area’s historic district on North Country Road. Outside, live music played as the society’s volunteers educated the crowds of spectators.
In a vivid recreation of an era without running water or electricity, some prepared baked goods and stews over an open flame, offering spectators a taste of history. Others brought out toy sets, reliving the pastimes of their local forebears.
Antoinette Donato, vice president of MPMSHS, was overjoyed by the number of community members who turned out throughout the day. She described the event’s purpose and its place in honoring the region’s history.
“We share a step back in time with the community,” she said. “We have demonstrators who demonstrate old crafts from years and years ago that no longer exist. We have our barn open, which is full of historical artifacts.” She added, “We feel it’s really important to share this experience with the community. It’s an opportunity to share what early America was like.”
Mark Sternberg, a local historian who specializes in the American Revolution, was among those who joined the festivities. In an interview, Sternberg shared the unique place Miller Place occupied during the Revolutionary War.
“There were patriots here, loyalists here, but there is definitely a huge amount of Revolutionary War history here,” he said.
At this historic site in Miller Place, Sternberg described the experience of being transported through time. He emphasized the need to preserve historical artifacts and structures, and celebrate local customs — all a function of the historical society.
“It’s tough when you don’t have a touch point,” Sternberg said. “The saving of these historic structures is one key way of connecting to history, giving people an idea of imagining the event happening there.”
He added, “What’s great about this area is a lot of these houses are exactly where they were initially, so you can also position the whole landscape as tying into how you would imagine that place being throughout history.”
Donato believes that events such as these keep local history alive, making it engaging and entertaining for the next generation. She also stated that there is no substitute for the immersive experience offered through the fair.
“You can read about it in a book, look it up on Facebook and Google it, but there is nothing like coming here and seeing it in person,” she said.
Joseph Vandall was a well-known resident of Port Jefferson and one of the village’s prominent businessmen.
In 1892, he was hired as a butcher at Lester Davis’ Meat Market, which was located on today’s East Broadway. After purchasing Davis’ shop in 1916, Vandall found that he needed more space for his growing business.
Vandall bought land to construct a modern store in 1923 and broke ground the next year. The building was situated on the south side of East Broadway between the Harbor View Hotel and Smith’s Plumbing.
The brick and concrete structure, known locally as the Vandall Building, provided room for three shops on the first floor. A large meeting area, Vandall’s Hall, filled the entire second floor.
The Vandall Building opened in 1925 and was occupied on the ground level by Vandall’s Meats and Groceries, Lerch’s Music Shop and Azenaro’s Fruits and Vegetables.
While these establishments were important to the local economy, Vandall’s Hall quickly gave the building its identity. Soon a landmark in Port Jefferson, the hall became “the” place for a variety of events including dances, fundraisers, recitals, musicals and wedding receptions.
In February 1929, local businessmen exhibited their products and services at Vandall’s Hall during the village’s first Industrial Show. Sponsored by the Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce, the event proved so popular that another show was held in March 1930.
In one of the more unusual uses of the Vandall Building, a miniature golf course, requiring all of the space on the second floor, opened at the hall in November 1930 but closed the following year.
In 1932, the Port Jefferson Moose Lodge leased the hall and, in turn, rented the venue to other groups, reducing Vandall’s active involvement in the business.
Following Vandall’s retirement in 1940, the South Bay Consolidated Water Company moved its Port Jefferson office into what had been Vandall’s Meats and Groceries. The Suffolk County Highway Department rented the entire second floor for its quarters, ending the hall’s days as a place for social gatherings.
After Vandall’s death in July 1945, the Vandall Building was sold and rented to various tenants with one redefining the East Broadway property.
Max “Mac” Snyder opened an Army & Navy Store in the Vandall Building on Sept. 3, 1954, days after Hurricane Carol wreaked havoc in Port Jefferson.
Born in Pennsylvania in 1912, Snyder had moved to Brooklyn in 1932 with his wife Florence. The couple and their children later relocated to Valley Stream before being drawn to Port Jefferson.
Snyder saw the village’s downtown near the waterfront as an ideal location for his store, believing that harbor improvements, suburbanization, population growth, road construction and cultural tourism would bring potential buyers to Port Jefferson.
These customers found a variety of merchandise in Snyder’s store, which was stocked with clothing, footwear, fishing rods, camping gear, marine supplies and military items.
Snyder also developed a niche market, advertising his store as a skin-diving center where sportsmen could purchase scuba equipment, wet suits, masks, fins and snorkels.
Snyder became so well known in Port Jefferson that the Vandall Building was soon called “Mac Snyder’s,” supplanting the original owner’s name in the local vocabulary.
By 1968, Snyder’s Army & Navy Store was still on the ground level of his building, but the first floor was also occupied by a laundromat. The Mary Beth dress manufacturing company, which specialized in piecework, filled all of the second floor.
While the Vandall/Snyder Building had survived hurricanes, a fire on Jan. 21, 1968, left the property in ruins. What remained was later demolished.
The blaze brought an end to a building but not to one business. Just months after the fire, Snyder opened a new Army & Navy Center in Port Jefferson at 214 Main St., opposite what was then the Brookhaven Town Tax Office.
The approximate site of the former Vandall/Snyder Building is now occupied by what was formerly Ecolin Jewelers, across from Brookhaven Town’s Mary Bayles Park.
Kenneth Brady has served as the Port Jefferson Village historian and president of the Port Jefferson Conservancy, as well as on the boards of the Suffolk County Historical Society, Greater Port Jefferson Arts Council and Port Jefferson Historical Society. He is a longtime resident of Port Jefferson.
American history and local tradition are on a collision course here in the Village of Port Jefferson.
Last month, public officials announced that the village government would partner with the Port Jeff-based Bayles Boat Shop to recreate a whaleboat from the American Revolution era. The boat shop is an offshoot of the Long Island Seaport and Eco Center, also known as LISEC, a nonprofit dedicated to the preservation of maritime history on Long Island.
Mayor Margot Garant said the village government entered into conversations with LISEC because it sought a way to promote the story of Port Jefferson’s role in the Culper Spy Ring.
“We would have never considered it without having LISEC as a partner,” Garant said. “They just absolutely loved the concept. We brought it to them for the historical component and for helping us tell the story about Port Jefferson’s instrumental role — and the Roe family’s role, in particular — in the spy ring.” She added, “We felt the whaleboat would be a unique way of embracing the history, telling the story and engaging the community.”
In an interview, LISEC president Len Carolan indicated that the buildout would last for up to two years or so. “The boat will be a little bit longer than 25 feet, 6 feet wide, and it will weigh up to a ton,” Carolan said. He added that a project of this scale will also require additional steps: “This is the first time we’re going to be using a lofting platform.”
Lofting is a practice in wooden shipbuilding that enables designers to produce full-scale drawings used as templates. These renderings will help the builders to cut wood pieces with precision and to create a vessel that is as true to the source as possible.
The designers even hope to use the same building materials as the original whaleboats. “Typically, the boats then were built with white oak and white cedar,” Carolan said. “We have access to white oak because that grows here on Long Island. The white cedar, though, is no longer available here, so we’ll have to go a little further north to get the kind of wood we need.”
The term “whaleboat” is a misnomer, denoting the style of the vessel rather than its intended function. Carolan stressed that the operators of the original whaleboats did not use them for hunting whales.
“It’s similar to the design of the boats used to hunt whales, but those boats were much bigger — they were like 32 to 36 feet long,” he said. However, the boat’s design likely offered the patriots certain tactical advantages at sea. “It was easy to maneuver and row, and they were able to raid British ships and get away quickly using these whaleboats.”
Local historian Mark Sternberg is among the key figures involved in this project. Sternberg said he cultivated an interest in local history while growing up in the Port Jefferson School District. Back then, the stories of local patriots left an early impression upon him, inspiring him to pursue the subject more deeply.
“I’m from Port Jefferson … and grew up surrounded by the history here,” he said. “There is a lot of stuff here in Port Jeff that hasn’t been well documented. We have barely even started to scratch the surface of what we know about the spy ring.”
Sternberg foresees the whaleboat serving an array of educational purposes. An operational whaleboat makes possible various historical reenactments, such as Valentine Rider’s misguided plundering of the Roes — whom he had falsely believed were loyalists — and scenes of the numerous whaleboat battles fought in the Long Island Sound.
Sternberg added the whaleboat would help to tell the story of Caleb Brewster, a Setauket native who assisted the American war effort through his participation in the spy ring. Brewster also joined in the famous whaleboat fighting on the Sound.
Though the name of Brewster’s whaleboat is lost to history, Sternberg recommends naming it “Resolution.” He said this title could still honor the Brewster legacy.
“My recommendation is to call the boat Resolution,” he said in an email. “This was the name of Valentine Rider’s whaleboat; [he was] a patriot privateer who launched from Connecticut to harass perceived loyalists on Long Island. It will work for plundering reenactments, as Valentine Rider and his men plundered the families of Nathaniel and Phillips Roe in May 1781 — the Roes were portraying themselves as loyalists as part of their roles in the Culper Spy Ring.” He added, “The name will also work if we ever try to reenact the intense whaleboat fight of 1782, as Valentine Rider fought alongside Caleb Brewster in that battle.”
Port Jeff village historian Chris Ryon also supports the whaleboat project. He sees the whaleboat as a unique opportunity to showcase two previously distinct strands of local history, connecting the village’s shipbuilding roots to its contributions to the Revolutionary cause.
The whaleboat “pulls it all together,” Ryon said. “It’s one of the earliest histories we have and pulls our Revolutionary War history in with our maritime history.”
Carolan expressed similar enthusiasm for the project. He said he hopes for the public to be able to follow the various stages of the buildout, from the construction of the lofting platform to the completion of the whaleboat.
He also holds that the whaleboat could be a precursor to similar projects down the road, generating momentum and boosting confidence among those working on it. “We are hoping that it becomes a visible sign to students and local school districts,” the LISEC president said. “And that the entire build from beginning to end is open for the public to see the progress.”
Carolan added that he hopes the build is the first of many large undertakings for the Bayles Boat Shop and added, “I think it’s going to give us so much more exposure.”
For Garant, sharing the local history of Port Jefferson is essential. By educating locals about their historical origins, she believes residents can better understand who they are, where they come from and their place within that history.
“I think the history is key to who we are,” the mayor said. “I feel one of the responsibilities of local government is to not only embrace that history, but to enrich and save it and work with the community to celebrate it and talk about it.”
Dozens of Sound Beach residents learned much more about their community on Monday, Aug. 8, during a second screening of the new local film, “The History Upon Our Shores: Sound Beach, NY,” at the Heritage Center in Mount Sinai. The well-received premiere was shown on June 10 at the same venue.
The film, produced and directed by resident Leon Adler, is based on the book, “Sound Beach: Our Town, Our Story,” authored by Bea Ruberto, president of the Sound Beach Civic Association.
“It’s exciting to be a part of sharing the town’s history with everybody, but I think it’s hard to say I’m among the first,” Adler said. “I imagine over many years, people were always telling stories through family members about the history, but I’m probably among the first to wrap it all up in a bow.”
The film tells the story of the quaint hamlet, from its beginnings as a summertime escape from 1929 onward to its present form as a community of over 7,000 residents.
Adler, who also narrates the film, infused humor throughout, keeping the audience laughing and learning as they digested plenty of information about Sound Beach.
Despite a runtime of under an hour, Adler devoted immense effort to getting the film over the finish line. According to him, two minutes of on-screen time could take up to four days of work to edit.
Furthermore, Adler put in months of his time to ensure that the narration, music and photos all synchronized perfectly. However, he said the finished product was well worth it to him.
“I think that when people know the history of where they live, it gives them a greater appreciation for it and just the whole background of it,” Adler said.
Ruberto was pleased by the interest that the movie garnered among the public. Despite living in Sound Beach for 45 years, she still considers herself a newbie to the area.
“I really began to appreciate Sound Beach when I got on the civic board,” she said. “Before that, I didn’t appreciate what a wonderful place it is to live.”
By joining the civic association, Ruberto realized the importance of local issues to both her and her peers. For her, in order to help keep the community beautiful, residents must remain active and engaged in it.
The inspiration to write the book came to Ruberto about a decade ago when she was looking to get better bus stops for Sound Beach. “We were reviewing the stops, and a lot of them were wrong,” she said. “One of the bus stops was called Scotty’s Corner, and I had no idea where that was. I can’t tell you how long I spent trying to find it, and that’s when I realized that a lot of people didn’t know either.”
The seemingly nonexistent bus stop drove Ruberto to the realization that much of the history of Sound Beach was passed down by word of mouth. However, as the older generations passed on, the precious history they carried went with them. Ruberto has made it her mission to keep that history alive: to research it, write it down and to preserve it. With the help of Adler, she has done just that.
As the film concluded, the audience gave Adler a long round of applause. For some, the film brought back memories of the town that they knew while growing up. For others, it sheds new light on a place where they are only beginning to establish their roots.
As we prepare for Fourth of July festivities, it is important that we keep in mind what this day celebrates: The signing of the Declaration of Independence, primarily authored by Thomas Jefferson, whose legacy continually evolves.
Jefferson was born April 13, 1743, in Shadwell in the Colony of Virginia into a privileged family supported by the labor of slaves.
His father was a planter and a surveyor. Jefferson later inherited his father’s land and slaves and began a lifelong project to construct his well-known estate, Monticello. But Jefferson was destined for a higher calling and was thrust into public life, where he would shape the course of American history.
The American revolutionary penman
Jefferson was a tall young man, but also awkward and reserved. He demonstrated, however, an early penchant for writing, a skill that served him well as he climbed the ranks of the Virginia House of Burgesses and later the Continental Congress.
Colonial leaders quickly grasped Jefferson’s compositional brilliance, but also observed he said very little. John Adams, who had worked closely with Jefferson in the Continental Congress, once said, “During the whole time I sat with him in Congress, I never heard him utter three sentences together.” Jefferson was a man of the written — not spoken — word.
While serving in Congress in 1776, Jefferson captured the spirit of his era and produced the Declaration of Independence, a radical pronouncement of America’s uniqueness from the rest of the world, justifying why it was necessary for the 13 American colonies to break off from Great Britain.
Jefferson wrote, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Millennia of human conflict and conquest had emphasized man’s separateness in the eyes of his fellow man. America is the only society in history predicated on the notion of human equality, the only place on Earth that had the audacity to proclaim that humans can harmoniously coexist regardless of their religion or race or ethnic background or any other criterion.
While Jefferson presented Americans this challenge, it is worth noting that he did not embody the ideals of the Declaration in his own life. Jefferson was a slaveholder, his place in society secured by the labor of slaves.
As we reflect upon the Declaration, it is questionable whether its author even believed in its principles. Despite the conflict between his head and his heart, Jefferson’s words impact us to this day.
Inspiring generations on Long Island
Jefferson’s patriotic fervor was felt undoubtedly here on Long Island. Most notably, the great Long Island patriot William Floyd had joined the revolutionary cause, becoming the only Suffolk County resident to sign the Declaration of Independence. Floyd served in the Suffolk County Militia and was a representative to the Continental Congress. He risked his life and property to resist British authority.
Setauket native Maj. Benjamin Tallmadge is another local hero of the American Revolution. Tallmadge is best known for his reconnaissance efforts, collecting information from the Setauket Culper Spy Ring.
During a daring raid in 1780, Tallmadge landed near Cedar Beach in Mount Sinai with a contingent of American soldiers. Undetected, they marched to Smith’s Point, attacked, and took this British supply base at Carmans River and the Great South Bay. Under orders from Gen. George Washington, Tallmadge destroyed large quantities of hay that was stored in Coram.
Floyd and Tallmadge are just two of the many local examples of service and sacrifice that occurred on Long Island during the revolutionary period. These figures fought to form a new nation, a nation that was first articulated by Jefferson.
Tour of Long Island
The first administration of the United States was headquartered in New York City, not far from Long Island. For this reason Jefferson, Washington and James Madison all visited the local area, a place that had sacrificed much and contributed greatly to the independence movement.
Jefferson and Madison traveled extensively throughout New York state and New England, eager to meet their new countrymen. Both leaders stayed in Center Moriches, where they met with Floyd near his estate. All his life, Jefferson had an unquenchable thirst for knowledge. Intrigued by the various Native American dialects and cultures, he met with several tribes in eastern Long Island.
Jefferson notably encountered the Unkechaug [Patchogue] Indian Nation. Because most of this tribe spoke English, Jefferson successfully transcribed many parts of their language. His research has helped keep alive cultural studies into one of the two remaining Native American groups here on Long Island today.
From Drowned Meadow to Port Jefferson
Jefferson’s influence can also be felt through the history of Port Jefferson, formerly known as Drowned Meadow. This now-bustling village was first settled in 1682, located within the heart of Suffolk County and the Town of Brookhaven. In 1836, the people of Drowned Meadow renamed their community in Jefferson’s honor.
During his address to Congress in 1806, Jefferson highlighted the importance of connecting the United States through infrastructure programs. He said that “new channels of communication will be opened between the States; the lines of separation will disappear, their interests will be identified, and their union cemented by new and indissoluble ties.”
Port Jefferson has always been known for the industriousness of its people, as a productive and forward-looking community. Look no further than its shipbuilding history or The Bridgeport & Port Jefferson Ferry to see how infrastructure investments from the past keep us connected to this day.
Port Jefferson is one of 30 towns and counties across the United States that have been named in Jefferson’s honor. Jefferson surely appreciated Long Island — its natural beauty, its indigenous cultures and the local patriots who provided necessary intelligence to gain tactical advantages over the British forces.
This Fourth of July, as residents and visitors enjoy fireworks shooting above Port Jefferson Harbor, they should remember their own place in history and the figure in history whose name their community bears today.
Rich Acritelli is a history teacher at Rocky Point High School and adjunct professor at Suffolk County Community College.
By early July 1940, after Germany quickly defeated France, Hitler and his military leaders were photographed gazing across the English Channel.
Many feared Hitler would order an invasion against the last remaining nation in Western Europe: Britain. While his senior military leaders planned for Operation Sealion, Hitler had always feared the might of the British navy, and a full-scale assault was never carried out.
Instead, Europe suffered through four years of brutal German occupation, which included the Nazi air blitz on London and a genocide across the continent which sought the annihilation of Jews in Europe. The liberator of Nazi tyranny came in the form of a farm boy from Abilene, Kansas.
Dwight D. Eisenhower was an affable character among his fellow officers. He was a talented football and baseball player, a writer and later an aide to Gen. Douglas MacArthur. By 1941 it was now his turn to lead the effort to dismantle the German war machine and to bring the war to a successful conclusion.
Gen. Eisenhower ran his headquarters with a team-first mentality. He considered the British, French, Canadians, Norwegians, Polish and even Soviets as comrades rather than foreigners. These nations that had suffered through Hitler’s subjugation would be key elements to achieve total victory.
By the spring of 1944, the war plans were laid to invade Nazi-occupied Europe from England.Major weaponry and reinforcements of soldiers, primarily from the United States, were sent to England to reinforce Eisenhower’s Operation Overlord. To cope with the stress of planning the invasion, Eisenhower smoked over five packets of cigarettes a day.
Once living in poverty, the military commander had emerged as one of the most powerful men in the world, entrusted by President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill to change the tides of war in their favor.
By 1941, Eisenhower had grown into a dependable officer who embodied the necessary skills to work well with the Allies. A talented strategist, he was the right man for the task. Although he was not as battle hardened as Gens. MacArthur or George S. Patton, Eisenhower possessed unique attributes that aided his planning.
A graduate of U.S. Army Command and General Staff School, he was highly regarded for his writing skills and his clear understanding of fighting campaigns. Eisenhower was not only preparing an immense invasion, but a road map for the continued invasion after getting ashore. Having traveled extensively through France as a younger officer, his past experiences again proved invaluable.
Always a likable figure, Eisenhower had the unique ability to resolve conflicts amongst his own senior command. His good friend Patton understood the value of this trait for he was a gifted commander but with an uncontrollable temper.
Perhaps Eisenhower’s greatest challenge was seen through his relations with Gen. Charles de Gaulle. This renowned French leader refused to endorse the earliest speeches that called for his people to revolt against the Germans in the name of the Allies. De Gaulle was supported by the Americans and British, but he believed he deserved greater authority over the major fighting in France. Dealing with this French leader was an obstacle only Eisenhower could surmount.
In the days leading up to the D-Day invasion, terrible weather conditions threatened to further delay Eisenhower’s plans. The delays could prove to be catastrophic as the Germans were bound to learn of the true intention of this invasion, where they originally viewed Calais as the key spot that would be assaulted by this cross-channel attack.
With the weight of the invasion and outcome of the war upon his shoulders, Eisenhower ordered 1,213 naval combat ships to move across the channel. 132,000 soldiers, stocked with supplies and equipment of every kind, headed off the Normandy beaches into the interior. By the end of the day, on June 6, 1944, the final chapter of Hitler’s rule was being written as American, British and Canadian soldiers executed Eisenhower’s plans.
Today, fighting rages on in Ukraine. But the resolve of the United States should never be doubted. On the 78th anniversary of D-Day, America remains a beacon for the world, always there in the darkest hour to oppose tyranny abroad and to prevent its expansion. We must remember the example of Eisenhower, who gave us the road map for a future of peace.
Rich Acritelli is a history teacher at Rocky Point High School and adjunct professor at Suffolk County Community College. Written in conjunction with members of the high school’s History Honor Society.
Nearly six decades ago, the residents of Port Jefferson made a pivotal decision: to incorporate as a village.
On a snowy day Dec. 7, 1962, villagers voted 689-361 in favor of incorporation. After court challenges, the vote was made official in April 1963.
Philip Griffith, co-editor of Port Jefferson Historical Society’s newsletter, said the incorporation of Port Jeff had been under discussion as early as 1960.
“At that time, Port Jefferson was part of the Town of Brookhaven,” Griffith said in a phone interview. “They were concerned that things happening in Brookhaven were being done independently of the residents of Port Jefferson. A lot of people were starting to feel, ‘Why don’t we incorporate as Belle Terre had done.’ Then we can make our own decisions, we can raise our own money through taxation and we can use those tax monies locally.” He added, “Instead of relying on representatives of the Town of Brookhaven, we would have our own elected representatives, all of whom would be residents of the village.”
While there were many proponents of incorporation, Griffith said there were also persuasive arguments made in opposition: “The main arguments against were people having a fear of leaving Brookhaven and not having the ability to raise sufficient finances to carry a village.” He added that opponents of incorporation were mainly driven by fear: “Fear of something that’s new, fear of change, fear of losing the umbrella of Brookhaven — and the fear of going on out your own.”
Legacy of Belle Terre
This week, TBR News Media sat down with state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), who shared his perspective of the legacy of incorporation in Port Jefferson and beyond.
One of the first village incorporations in the area was Belle Terre, a coastal community preyed upon by industrial dredgers. In the early 1920s, hydraulic sand miners dredged large swaths of Belle Terre’s coastline to support the growing concrete industry which helped in the expansion of New York City.
“The sand had to come from somewhere and it came in the 1920s and ’30s mostly from the North Shore of Long Island,” Englebright said. “It was very threatening to the people who had homes and dreams of continuing to live in those homes and pass those homes on to their children. They lived in fear of having the sandy grounds under their homes sandblasted away.”
“The sand had to come from somewhere and it came in the 1920s and ’30s mostly from the North Shore of Long Island.” — Steve Englebright
Endangered by the sand miners right in their backyards, the residents of Belle Terre were advised to incorporate.
“The relationship with the town had become fraught because the town was basically trading against the best interests of the people who lived where the resources were extractable,” the assemblyman said. “It was clear that sand dredging was a real threat to the quality of life for these North Shore communities.” He added, “It wasn’t just Brookhaven that was trading against the best interests of the North Shore residents, but all of the towns were doing this.”
After its successful incorporation in 1931, mining in Belle Terre had stopped altogether.
The incorporation movement
Port Jefferson accommodated a prosperous shipbuilding industry from the 1790s until the 1920s. After it wound down, the residents of the area were left with little choice but to adapt to the changing circumstances.
With the construction of a new power plant between 1948 and 1960, villagers were motivated to incorporate to draw from this as a revenue stream. “They said if they incorporated as a village, they would be able to draw some revenue from that industrial facility and it would only be fair because they were hosting that facility and it served all of the town,” Englebright said. “They rationalized that it would be reasonable to draw the tax benefits from the imposition of such a heavily industrialized facility because it served for improving the quality of life for the village, most particularly the school district.”
This is the first story of a series on the incorporation of the Village of Port Jefferson. If you would like to contribute to this continuing series, please email [email protected].
Correction: In the original version of this story, it was reported: “The first village incorporation in the area was Belle Terre.” This statement is historically incorrect as Old Field had incorporated in 1927, four years before the incorporation of Belle Terre in 1931.
A flag once flown outside of the post office in the former Echo area of Upper Port has been returned to Port Jefferson and now resides at the Village Center.
The flag is unique in that it contains only 46 stars. It had flown outside the Echo post office between 1908 and 1912. Chris Ryon, village historian, charted the timeline of the 46-star flag.
“The 46-star flag came about when Oklahoma became a state in 1907,” Ryon said. “The following July Fourth in 1908 produced the 46-star flag, as stars are always added to the flag on July Fourth. In 1912, it jumped from 46 to 48 stars because two more states were added, Arizona and New Mexico. That flag lasted until Hawaii and Alaska were added in the late ‘50s.”
Before the present boundaries, “the post office was right up against the railroad tracks in Upper Port Jefferson,” Ryon said. “That area was called Echo — Echo was a racehorse and that’s what it was named after. The post office was the building on the right when you crossed over the railroad tracks into Port Jefferson Station. That building is still there, but it’s an empty building right now.”
On April 10, Lee Squires Sussman and her son Grayson Sussman Squires met with Ryon to exchange the flag. “This has been in the family and has been passed down through the generations,” Ryon said. “She decided it belonged back in Port Jefferson.”
A journey through time
Last week, TBR News Media reached out to Lee Squires Sussman for an exclusive interview. Through our correspondence with her, which included a phone interview and an email exchange, she detailed her genealogical background and her family’s place in the local history of Port Jefferson.
“I grew up outside of Washington D.C.,” she said. “My father, Donald Fleming Squires, was the deputy director of the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History when I was a child. When I was 12, we moved back to Long Island, to Stony Brook, because my dad had decided that he really wanted to get back to his roots, and back to science, not administration.” She added that by returning to Long Island, her father sought “to give back to his home community, so he went to work for Stony Brook University.”
In 1965 Donald Squires helped found SBU’s Marine Sciences Research Center, the predecessor of today’s School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences. A renowned marine biologist, he wrote several books investigating the waters outside of New York City and Long Island. “Interestingly enough, as a sidenote, when we moved back to Stony Brook, we moved into a rental house while we looked for a place to permanently live,” Sussman said. “That house was a house that my other great-grandfather, Harry Fleming, built in Stony Brook.” She added, “We really were going back to our roots.”
A family keepsake
“My great-grandfather was Charles A. Squires and he was the original owner of the flag,” Sussman said. “It flew outside the post office at Echo, New York. Following his retirement, my granduncle, Dwight Squires, took over as postmaster. When he retired, my understanding is that my great-grandfather had left it with my Uncle Dwight.”
At some point in time, Dwight had given the flag to Sussman’s grandfather, Charles W. Squires. Charles W. held onto the flag into his mid-90s and passed it along to her father, Donald. When Donald moved to Tasmania, he gave the family artifacts to her.
“All of the pictures, the certificates, the family Bible, the flag and all of that came to me when my dad moved overseas,” Sussman said. “I’ve had [the flag] stored in my living room in a sea chest that has also been passed down through the family.”
After years of storing the flag, she started considering what to do with this family memento. During the COVID-19 pandemic, a high school friend had referred her to Ryon. The two got in touch and agreed to meet in Port Jefferson to exchange the flag.
“I have five Squires-related children,” Sussman said. “I discussed with the kids what to do with some of these possessions. We all agreed that the flag would be best back home where it could be viewed. It really was just a matter of finding the right time to get out to Long Island and get it to Chris so that he can display it for Port Jefferson.”
At around the time when Sussman began having children, she and her father took up a deep interest in the Squires family history. Her father contacted Tiger Gardiner, author of “The South Fork Squires, Long Island, New York.”
“I would say her life’s work was the genealogy of the Squires family,” Sussman said. “She documents the Squires from really early on in Long Island. When my dad left me all of the photographs and items when he went overseas, that’s when I started getting involved in the Squires family research. It was very easy because I had all of the stuff.”
Sussman described the pride of continuing this Squires tradition, documenting and sharing her genealogy for future generations. When asked how she would like the Squires to be remembered, she said for their hard work, altruism and outlook on education, which she said were central to their system of values.
“The values that the Squires family brought to me were that public service and hard work are the foundations for success,” she said. “There were times when members of my family had money and there were times when members of my family lost all their money. When money was tight, they offered help and shelter to people who were less fortunate.”
Sussman also recalled the renovations made to her grandfather’s house to accommodate and shelter the needy, adding, “During the Depression, the attic had been made into two apartments and the basement had been made into two other apartments where people who were less fortunate lived. Those values really sunk in for all of us and they’re very clearly part of what made my family members click.”
Civic engagement and public service also mattered deeply. “They were very involved in their community and they also never quit exploring,” she said. “Those are things that are a gift to any community, beyond philanthropic gifts — a sense of pride in your local surroundings and a willingness to help.”
Sussman said her family members were acutely aware of the significance of education and passed down this value to their offspring.
“History is so much bigger than us all. It doesn’t do anyone any good to leave it in a box in the house.”
— Lee Squires Sussman
“There was a sign that was printed in my great-grandfather’s printing shop in Echo that we had a copy of in our house,” she said. “I gave one to Chris. It says ‘We study to please,’ which was an old-fashioned way of saying the more modern ‘we aim to please.’” Interpreting the meaning of this sign to her, she said, “To me this was always an indicator of how important study was to my family.”
Today, the Squires family flag hangs inside the Village Center. Reflecting upon her joy in seeing the flag once again on display for the residents of Port Jefferson, Sussman said, “History is so much bigger than us all. It doesn’t do anyone any good to leave it in a box in the house. This makes me incredibly happy. I’ve shed more tears over the pictures of that flag hanging in the Village Center than I can believe. It makes me incredibly happy to see it back home.”
Huntington history buffs and town officials gathered downtown on Tuesday to commemorate a historic rally turned family feud that played a critical role in the women’s suffrage movement.
Huntington Town officials unveiled a new historic marker sign at the corner of Wall and Main streets April 24 that tells the tale of a 1913 women’s suffrage rally in what’s now Huntington village.
“Here we are now, 105 years later, and this controversial event for women’s rights is going to be commemorated for all to see,” Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) said. “Signs like this show you what a progressive area Huntington was and continues to be, especially when it comes to civil rights.”
In July 1913, there was a clash in the fight for women’s voting rights in downtown Huntington. It was fueled by a family feud between a mother and daughter over a wagon and whether women should have the right to vote.
Activists Rosalie Jones and Edna Buckman Kearns staged a suffrage rally at the intersection of Wall and Main streets that was attended by more than 1,000 people. There was a wagon named the “Spirit of 1776” used by the women who were upset about taxation without representation. Mary Jones, Rosalie’s mother and a virulent anti-suffragist, stepped in front of the wagon and began to heckle the crowd. She was upset that the suffragists were using a wagon that was once owned by members of her family, all of whom were against giving women the vote.
There were less anti-suffragists compared to women suffragists in the early 20th century according to Antonia Petrash, president of the Long Island Woman Suffrage Association, but they were just as adamant and animated as their counterparts.
“They were very vocal and active,” Petrash said. “They used the same tactics as the suffragists such as hosting conventions and calling politicians.”
Women in New York State would be given the right to vote in 1917, three years before the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was passed.
“I think it’s so fantastic that we have this monumental placement of the marker,” Jillian Guthman, Huntington’s receiver of taxes, said. “But it does leave me in awe that in this wonderful country that we’re in, that just a short time ago, there was an issue of the right to vote for women.”
The sign was funded by the William G. Pomeroy Foundation, a Syracuse-based foundation that provides grants for historic signs. Petrash and Marguerite Kearns, a historian and granddaughter of Edna Buckman Kearns, helped secure the funding for the historical marker.
Town Historian Robert Hughes said that signs like these are part of an effort to give historical notoriety to minorities and other overlooked groups in Huntington.
“This is the 125th historical marker in the town of Huntington,” Hughes said. “In the early years they would always commemorate Colonial sites, but in more recent years we’ve tried to make a concerted effort to commemorate those unknown parts of our history, such as African American sites like the Jupiter Hammon House, and now with this marker for women’s suffrage.”
The wagon involved in the July 1913 parade was donated by Marguerite Kearns to The New York State Museum in Albany. It will be on display through May 13.
Huntington Town officials are seeking the public’s help in putting back together forgotten pieces of African-American history in Cold Spring Harbor.
Located off the east side of Harbor Road, there is a small plot of town-owned land that’s only known as Jones Cemetery. Huntington Town Historian Robert Hughes said it is named after the Jones family that owned extensive pieces of land in the area in both the current towns of Huntington and Oyster Bay through the 20th century. They’re also famous for starting Cold Spring Harbor Whaling Company.
“We knew he was most likely buried at that cemetery. We could not find it. There was a lot of brush covering up the graves and headstones.”
Hughes said he believes most, if not all of those buried in the cemetery are African-Americans who once worked for the Jones family — some as slaves.
“The Jones Cemetery is one of 56 historic cemeteries located throughout the Town of Huntington,” Hughes said. “Unfortunately, many have become overgrown over the years. Other priorities often take precedence over cemetery cleanups.”
Hughes, Huntington’s director of minority affairs Kevin Thorbourne and volunteers from St. John’s Church in Cold Spring Harbor cleaned up the cemetery grounds March 3. Their work revealed about three dozen graves marked only by simple field stones and two traditional marble headstones.
One of the marked headstone is for Alfred Thorn, an African-American who worked for Charles Jones, and then Oliver Jones as a coachman. Thorn died Feb. 3, 1900, at age 55. The other marble headstone is for Patience Thorn, who is believed to be Alfred’s mother, according to Hughes. The identities of the three dozen others buried in the cemetery are unknown.
Denice Evans-Sheppard, the new director of the Oyster Bay Historic Society, said she has reason to believe one of her ancestors is buried in Jones Cemetery.
“It’s like finding the missing piece to the puzzle,” she said.
Evans-Sheppard said growing up she was told her family originally worked on the Jones family estate. Her great-great-great-grandfather, Lewis Carll, once worked as one of the coachman for the Jones family. He’s the only member of her family not buried in Oyster Bay, according to Evans-Sheppard.
“To to learn who was buried at Jones Cemetery will help us put the missing pieces of Huntington’s history back together.”
— Chad Lupinacci
“We knew he was most likely buried at that cemetery,” she said. “We could not find it. There was a lot of brush covering up the graves and headstones.”
She was invited to tour the grounds with Gideon Pollach, pastor of St. John’s Church; Hughes and Thorbourne after the cleanup March 7.
“It was beautiful to finally make that connection,” she said.
Evans-Sheppard said she knows some descendants of other African-American families who worked for the Jones, including the Jacksons, the Seamans and her own, the Carlls. Many related individuals still live in nearby areas of Huntington, Oyster Bay and Amityville, she said.
Along with Huntington Town officials, Evans-Sheppard is hoping families will step forward to help identify their remains.
“The Town of Huntington has a rich history of contributions from the African-American community, and to learn who was buried at Jones Cemetery will help us put the missing pieces of Huntington’s history back together,” said Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) in a statement.
Anyone with information on individuals who may be interred in the cemetery is encouraged to contact Hughes at 631-351-3244 or email at [email protected]tonny.gov