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Mather House Museum

Beneath gorgeous weather on the grounds of the historic Mather House Museum, The Historical Society of Greater Port Jefferson hosted its 34th annual outdoor country auction on Saturday, Oct. 15.

The country auction is a yearly local tradition that has endured for over three decades due to its unique format. Attendees are seated beneath a tent, holding their bid cards before a professional auctioneer. 

Beth Pranzo is an officer of HSGPJ. She discussed the country auction’s role as bringing community members together while raising funds for the historical society.

“It’s a community event that we really, really like to promote,” she said. “It is a big fundraiser for us as one of the two major fundraisers of the year at the historical society.”

Pranzo outlined the many programs and activities the proceeds will go toward throughout the year. “They go to educational programs. They go to exhibits. They go to our functions here — the many bills for all the buildings we support.”

Barbara Russell, the Brookhaven Town historian and member of HSGPJ, has participated in the country auction since its inception. She described the unique structure of the auction, its elegant venue, and how the program ties into the historical society’s mission.

“We are very lucky that we can hold it here on the Mather museum grounds,” she said. “We try to sell it as an old-fashioned country auction outside and under the tents.”

While the auction has added some innovations and tweaks over the years, it resembles the original country auction held over three decades earlier.

“It’s basically the same format that we started with,” Russell said. “We just have it a little more computerized now. We have a bigger mailing list, more consignors, that kind of thing. But the items that sell change over the years.”

According to Russell, an item sold at auction can follow one of two tracks. The historical society collects 100% of the proceeds generated by a donated item’s sale at auction. For consigned items, the consignor receives a percentage of the profits and the historical society collects the difference.

Russell says she returns yearly because she believes in the historical society’s stated purpose. “It’s a great organization,” the town historian said. “We started [the society] in the 1960s, and we maintain a museum right here in the village. We do take the artifacts that show Port Jefferson’s history. And the backbone of these organizations is the volunteers.”

Pranzo has participated in the country auction since 1995. For her, the event has evolved for the better, bringing a broader range of bidders into Port Jefferson.

“It’s just a very fun event because the whole community comes together,” she said. “People come back year after year from other places. They come from Connecticut on the ferry. They come from Nassau County.” She added, “It’s a country auction, so everything sells no matter the price. If there aren’t two bidders for something, then you get a really good deal.”

— Photos by Raymond Janis

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Photo by Julianne Mosher

After missing out in 2020, the Historical Society of Greater Port Jefferson was finally able to host their annual Outdoor Country Auction.

On Saturday, Oct. 16, dozens of interested buyers came together outside the Mather House Museum at 115 Prospect St. to bid on more than 200 unique items. 

Nick Acampora, president of the historical society, said that they were “so happy” to hold the event after COVID-19 canceled last year’s auction.

“We love doing the auction because it’s a part of the community,” he said. “It’s so important to us because it’s a great time for everyone, while providing the funds to keep the historical society going.”

Acampora said that everything from costumes to furniture was available for auction, many of the items being donated or sold on consignment. Some of them dated as far back as the 1800s, as well as coins from the Greek and Roman empires. 

While the final figures of money raised for the historical society wasn’t immediately available, Acampora said he thinks the organization did extremely well — but what was most important was bringing the community back for a fun-filled and interesting get-together. 

“It was wonderful to welcome everyone back,” he said. 

Mather House Museum

The Mather House Museum reopens for the season on Saturday, July 3. The museum, located at 115 Prospect St., Port Jefferson, will be open on Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 4 p.m. through Oct. 10. Come see the new exhibit, Salute to Essential Workers, and visit the consignment shop loaded with treasures. A docent guided tour is available for the main museum and all of the complex buildings. Donation requested. For more information, call 631-473-2665.

Marshall Irving poses with a clock that belonged to his grandfather. Photo by Susan Risoli

By Susan Risoli

You don’t reach the age of 90 without learning a thing or two about living. For Setauket resident Marshall Irving, life is a bit like his favorite pastime of fixing antique clocks: value teamwork, be willing to listen and don’t forget to apply critical thinking when difficulties arise.

“Figure out what is going on and what you can do about it to make it better,” Irving said recently in an interview at his home. “And whether it’s a mechanical issue or something to do with people, bring an open mind about the problem you’re working on.”

Marshall Irving with his wife, Arline, recently celebrated his 90th birthday. Photo by Susan Risoli

Irving is an antiquarian horologist — someone who restores and maintains antique timekeeping devices. The Ward Melville Heritage Organization relies on his skills to keep its tower clock and landmark eagle in good running order. WMHO president, Gloria Rocchio, called Irving “one of the Three Village area treasures, just like the eagle.”

Irving has always been fascinated by the carved wooden eagle, which since 1941 has flapped its 10-foot wingspan from a vantage point atop the Stony Brook post office.

“The Stony Brook eagle is the only one we know of in the world,” Irving said.

He started working on the clock and the eagle 20 years ago.

“When I first got involved, the eagle was in such bad shape, it was shaking the building,” he recalled. “I put in a chain drive and a new gearbox to drive its wings.”

Back then he would climb up four flights of stairs to get to the big bird. “Then I made it, so we could work it out of a closet in the office by pushing buttons, rather than physically going up there,” he said.

“When I first got involved, the eagle was in such bad shape, it was shaking the building.”

— Marshall Irving

Irving was trained as a steamboat engineer at the Kings Point Merchant Marine Academy. He and his wife, Arline, moved to the Three Villages when he went to work at the Dayton T. Brown company. He also served as a naval intelligence officer, which he said “was kind of fun.” The Irvings have four children, six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren with a third great-grandchild on the way.

The Irvings’ home is filled with clocks, each playing a soft chorus of chimes that sound at different times with different notes. Hanging on the wall is “the first clock I got serious about fixing,” an 1860s Seth Thomas clock that was in Irving’s grandfather’s office at the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad.

The Mather House Museum in Port Jefferson has an antique clock collection that Irving restores and maintains. He runs a “clock school” there, where he teaches people how to restore antique clock mechanisms and finishes, and how to make the clocks look their best for public display. Irving said he teaches his students that patience and teamwork are essential to diagnosing and treating the problems of these delicate clocks.

“We have people come into our clock school and run out screaming because it doesn’t fit their mindset,” he said. “They don’t realize it takes years to learn these things.”

He added, “I’ve been doing this for 50 years, and there are still things I’m learning, every day.”

Irving said he will continue being an antiquarian horologist for his own pleasure and to spread the word about the beauty of aging clocks.

“I enjoy talking to people about it, because the ability to do this is starting to die out,” he said. “A sad thing for me is that we don’t teach children how to tell time anymore from an analog dial on a clock.”