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New York State Assemblyman Steve Englebright

From left, Three Village Community Trust member Norma Watson looks on as Brookhaven Town Councilmember Jonathan Kornreich, New York State Assemblyman Steve Englebright and Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn unveil a new sign at Patriots Rock on Nov. 3. Photo by Rita J. Egan/TBR News Media

By John L. Turner

John Turner

Perhaps you remember the parable of the six blind men, standing alongside a road when an elephant passes by. They desire to know what an elephant feels like so they reach out, each man touching a different part of the animal — one strokes a tusk believing it’s a spear, another a stout leg proclaiming he’s touching a tree trunk, yet another the side of the elephant stating he’s touching a wall, while a fourth grabs the tail, thinking he’s grabbed a rope. The fifth touches an ear believing he’s made contact with a fan while the sixth man feels the trunk and announces he’s grabbed a snake. Based on their unique individual impressions, they argue vigorously about what the elephant looks like, each understandably, but firmly, convinced their own impression is correct and the others are wrong. 

Coming across this parable recently got me thinking about how it’s possible to have such differing, even disparate, impressions about the same subject. And it made me think of an individual: so let’s replace the elephant at the center of the discussion with New York State Assemblyman Steve Englebright, because just like the elephant being so many simultaneous things, Steve is too. 

If you’re familiar with his long standing involvement for preserving historic structures in the Three Villages, like the Roe Tavern or the Rubber Factory houses, or his interest and expertise regarding local history, you would say he’s a history buff, passionate about preserving historic structures. 

Get him over to the bluffs at McAllister County Park at the mouth of Port Jefferson Harbor and listen to him explain what he’s seeing in the wind-blasted rocks on the beach or the features of the bluff face itself and you’d know him to be a geologist, deeply informed about, and interested in, Long Island’s unique geology. 

Or if you were a student at Stony Brook University, perhaps your connection to Steve was as a professor through one of the courses he teaches, learning about contemporary environmental issues or the history of environmental politics learning about the influential role played by John Muir, Rachel Carson, and Aldo Leopold. 

Furthermore, if you’re a saltwater fisherman or general enthusiast of the marine waters surrounding Long Island, then your connection to Steve might be through the legislation he carried to stop the harvest of menhaden (also known as bunker) in New York water’s, thereby fueling a resurgence in the food chain as evidenced by the sharp increase seen in the numbers of humpback whales, tuna, sharks, and birds-of-prey. Breaching whales are now part of our ocean landscape. 

Or perhaps it might be through an earlier connection you have with Steve — when he was Director of the Museum of Long Island’s Natural Sciences. Situated on the Stony Brook University campus, the museum introduced the wonders of the natural world to countless students and visitors. Steve the educator was at work.   

But perhaps it is through his efforts to preserve land that most people know of Steve Englebright’s work. Following in the footsteps of one of the Three Village’s favorite sons — Robert Cushman Murphy — Steve amplified Murphy’s call for the preservation of the Long Island Pine Barrens, the extensive pine forests stretched over tens of thousands of acres of pine forest in Suffolk County; pine trees that knit together a rare ecosystem and which sits over much of the County’s drinking water supply. 

In honor of R.C. Murphy, Steve sponsored a resolution, while a Suffolk County Legislator, to rename Peconic River County Park to Robert Cushman Murphy County Park. As a county legislator he played a key role in shaping the County’s $70 million Open Space Bond Act that resulted in the preservation of about two dozen environmentally significant properties throughout the County. 

If that’s not enough, he also was critical to the success of the  Drinking Water Protection Program, funded by a tiny percentage of the county sales tax, still in force today. This program has made a huge difference in protecting Suffolk County’s open spaces and drinking water supplies. And closer to home Steve was an open space champion in successfully advocating for the preservation of Patriot’s Hollow and Rock.

So just like the elephant is a “tree,” a “fan,” a “wall,” a “spear,” a “snake,” and a “rope,” Steve Englebright is a professor,  geologist,  historian, hydrologist, an educator, a legislator for both Suffolk County and New York State, and a conservationist. But here’s where the parable and reality diverge; while with the parable different experiences led to radically different points of view, different experiences with Steve all point to the same thing … what a remarkable difference maker he has been in safeguarding what is special about the Three Village community and the Long Island environment. 

We all owe a huge debt of gratitude to Steve for what he’s accomplished on our behalf. Thank you Steve!! 

A resident of Setauket, John Turner is conservation chair of the Four Harbors Audubon Society, author of “Exploring the Other Island: A Seasonal Nature Guide to Long Island” and president of Alula Birding & Natural History Tours.

Brookhaven Town Councilmember Jonathan Kornreich, state Assemblyman Steve Englebright and county Legislator Kara Hahn unveil the new sign. Photo by Robert Pellegrino

A sign featuring photos and a historical narrative now marks the spot of a local landmark.

Three Village Community Trust members celebrate the unveiling of the new sign at Patriots Rock. Phot by Rita J. Egan

Elected officials, members of the Three Village Historical Society and a handful of residents joined the Three Village Community Trust in the unveiling of its new interpretive sign at Patriots Rock. The trust has been working to install signs at its properties throughout the Three Village area.

The 18-inch-by-24-inch sign at Patriots Rock, across from the Setauket Post Office on Main Street, sits atop a small metal pedestal and provides information about the area’s local importance, including the spot being a Native American meeting place and the grounds of the Battle of Setauket. During the Revolutionary War, American Patriots used the rock as a base to launch an attack against British soldiers occupying Setauket Presbyterian Church.

Signs also are situated at the Smith/de Zafra House, Brookhaven’s original town hall, and the Factory Worker Houses. TVCT began the project a few years ago, and the trust’s president, Herb Mones, said the project was based on three ideas.

“One was our hope to educate and inform residents about the history, the architecture, the economy and the culture that existed in our ever-evolving community,” he said.

The president added the hope was also to show how unique the area was, and the signs demonstrated TVCT was an active organization.

At the unveiling, Mones thanked those who worked on the project, including Robert Reuter, Greg de Bruin, Norma Watson, Paul D’Amico, Peter Legakis and Gretchen Oldrin Mones. He added Three Village Historical Society historian Beverly C. Tyler and Town of Brookhaven historian Barbara Russell assisted in verifying the information, and Tammy Burkle of Studio 631 finalized the design of the plaques.

A county cultural grant obtained by Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) and a matching-challenge state grant from Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) funded the project, according to Mones. He added Town of Brookhaven Councilmember Jonathan Kornreich (D-Stony Brook) provided guidance during the process. All three were on hand for the unveiling.

Mones said the property once belonged to Tyler’s family, and when TVCT acquired the property the trust was able to do so with a grant through Englebright’s office.

Community members joined the Three Village Community Trust in the unveiling of a new sign at Patriots Rock. Photo by Rita J. Egan

Hahn said she often wonders what was going through the minds of the soldiers who hid behind Patriots Rock during the Battle of Setauket.

“[That kind of history] is why this community is so special — it’s that strong sense of place tied to the birth of this great nation. Helping to remind folks of the significance of this spot, and every other spot that we were able to place signs at, is important to educate about and honor the tradition and history here.” Hahn said.

Englebright, who is a geologist, said in addition to remembering the history of the site, he said, “I can’t help but get excited about it because it’s very geological.”

He said Patriots Rock is only one or two main rocks in the community, and “this is the one with the greatest significance.”

“The first thing we had to do was save it,” Englebright said. “The next thing we have to do is what we’re doing today, which is to make sure that it’s properly interpreted, and that it is accessing the public’s excitement about our history because the history of our community helps you find a sense of place — and our sense of place is integral to our quality of life and a sense of community pride.”

Pictured from left, Tasha Boehm, Lois Reboli, Assemblyman Steve Englebright, Ned Puchner, and Alex Badalamenti Photo from Assemblyman Engelebright's office

New York State Assemblyman Steve Englebright recently presented the Reboli Center for Art and History in Stony Brook and Gallery North in Setauket with grant funding obtained through the New York State Assembly Community Capital Assistance Program. 

Pictured from left, Tasha Boehm, Lois Reboli, Assemblyman Steve Englebright, Ned Puchner, and Alex Badalamenti. Photo from Assemblyman Engelebright’s office

Through the efforts of Assemblyman Englebright and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, these two cultural art centers will each receive $150,000 from this funding program to support their organization’s infrastructure improvement projects.

“I am proud to have nominated both Gallery North and the Reboli Center to receive these grant funds,” said Assemblyman Englebright. “Investment into our cultural art centers is essential to cultivating a deeper sense of place and setting our community apart — attracting people to its uniqueness. Artwork helps express a community’s values and creates an elevated sense of awareness for community members and visitors. I would like to thank both organizations for their tremendous work uplifting local artists and empowering our community through art and creativity.”

The two organizations plan to utilize their respective grant funding to maintain, improve and expand their buildings’ public viewing space and areas where educational programing and the actual creation of art occur. The competition of these projects will provide an enhanced experience for families, children and community residents. 

As staples in the community, the Reboli Center and Gallery North host many arts-centered events and programs throughout the year that are available for the public to attend. For more information about these organizations and to learn about upcoming events, visit www.gallerynorth.org and www.rebolicenter.org.

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Herb Mones, right, announced the Three Village Community Trust’s new challenge grant in honor of Maria Hoffman. Her husband, George, above left, was on hand for the announcement on Sept. 27. Photo above by Rita J. Egan

Three Village Community Trust members gathered in Setauket for a special announcement Sept. 27.

Maria Hoffman. Photo by Robert Reuter

Standing in front of the Bruce House headquarters on Main Street, TVCT president Herb Mones announced the kickoff of the Maria Hoffman $50,000 Challenge Grant campaign. Hoffman was a land trust member and an aide to state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket).

Mones said nearly $10,000 had already been raised toward the goal. A $50,000 matching grant was acquired from the state by Englebright earlier this year, and Mones said the funds raised would go toward the restoration of historical properties in the Three Village community and the land trust’s operational costs. 

Mones said Hoffman “impacted so much of what we have inside of this community on a continual basis, and provided the services that often we needed through a legislative office. She did it with grace, she did it with dignity and she always did it quietly.”

Englebright described Hoffman as “the right-hand side of my brain.”

“I think it’s appropriate that we recognize her and remember her to continue her legacy,” the assemblyman said, adding she was the “brains behind the whole operation” at his office.

He also talked about Hoffman’s sense of place that she memorialized through her work and with her photography and artwork, too.

Hoffman’s husband, George, was also in attendance. He said his wife loved the Three Village area and Setauket Harbor. The Bruce House was a spot Maria Hoffman always cherished. When the home was up for sale before they met in 2009, she was looking for a house but knew it would be too small if she were to marry one day. He added she was also excited when the immigrant worker homes were moved to the location from their former site near the Setauket firehouse down the street.

In addition to the state matching grant, Investors Bank recently gave TVCT a separate $4,000 grant. These funds will go toward restoring the immigrant worker houses which need work, such as replacing deteriorated exterior siding and damaged interior wallboard.

Toast Coffeehouse held a ribbon cutting on Sept. 9. Photo from Town of Brookhaven

Town of Brookhaven Councilmember Jonathan Kornreich and NYS Assemblyman Steve Englebright attended the grand re-opening of Toast Coffeehouse at its new location at 650 Route 112 in Port Jefferson Station on Sept. 9. 

Owners Terence and Jennifer Scarlatos opened their first restaurant in downtown Port Jefferson in 2002 and have been growing their business ever since, with additional locations in Patchogue and Bay Shore. 

“As Port Jefferson Station continues to flourish, I’m seeing more and more interest from business owners in starting up there or relocating to the area. Terry and Jennifer Scarlatos are experienced restaurateurs with a strong aesthetic vision and deep operational experience. I have every confidence they will be successful and that their new location will enhance life here in Port Jefferson Station. They say breakfast is the most important meal of the day and Toast is a great place to enjoy it with friends and family. The food is amazing,” said Councilmember Kornreich.

“We are humbled and full of gratitude for the warm welcome into our new home in Port Jefferson Station by our local community and die-hard fans. We look forward to many years and memories here,” said Terry Scarlatos.

Pictured front row from left, Melissa Reinheimer, Evan Castillo, Councilmember Kornreich, Chanelle McGourty, Jennifer Scarlatos, Terry Scarlatos, Assemblyman Englebright, Eleuterio Hernandez, Katelyn Gray, Madison Graupman, Nicole Short, Erick Hernandez, Alexis Zuniga-Gomez. Pictured back row, left to right are Dave March, Branden Tabbitas, David Martinez, Mario Fuentes, Lorenzo Cabrera, Aidan Johnson, Jessica Giannotti, Lewis Flores Antigua. 

Restaurant hours are 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday and 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on weekends. For more information, call 631-331-6860 or visit www.ToastCoffeeHouse.com.

Gallery North’s Ned Puchner joined state Assemblyman Steve Englebright and the Reboli Center’s Lois Reboli for a special announcement regarding the oil painting ‘Bellport Gate’ by Joseph Reboli. Photo from Steve Englebright's office

The Reboli Center is celebrating a homecoming.

Joseph Reboli’s 1985 “Bellport Gate” painting will soon join the artist’s collection at the Stony Brook center that bears his name.

Gallery North’s Kate Schwarting, Ned Puchner and Nancy Goroff joined state Assemblyman Steve Englebright and the Reboli Center’s B.J. Intini and Lois Reboli for a special announcement regarding the oil painting ‘Bellport Gate’ by Joseph Reboli. Photo by Rita J. Egan

At a small gathering at Gallery North in Setauket, an announcement was made that the oil painting would be permanently gifted to the Reboli Center for Art & History. The event included Reboli’s widow, Lois; state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket); Gallery North’s Executive Director Ned Puchner, board of trustees President Nancy Goroff and curator Kate Schwarting; also B.J. Intini, vice president of the Reboli Center’s board of trustees.

Gallery North in Setauket has owned the painting since 2007. When “Bellport Gate” became available for sale in Chicago, the gallery became the steward of the artwork due to a state grant secured by Englebright for $10,000. Additional donations to secure the purchase were raised with $5,000 from Lois Reboli, who is the founder and president of the Reboli Center, and $100 each from friends and neighbors of the Rebolis as well as other community members. The fundraiser became known as the Reboli 100 Fund.

The Reboli Center didn’t open until 2016, and since Joseph Reboli once sat on the board of Gallery North and his first art shows were there, many felt that this spot was an appropriate home for “Bellport Gate.”

Lois Reboli remembered when she first saw the painting at Gallery North.

“It was hanging right there on that wall in the other room, and when I saw it, I almost felt like I could see Joe in front of it,” she said. “It’s something that we really needed to keep in the community, and we’re very grateful that Gallery North had it — and that we’re going to be able to have it.”

Reboli added that the plan is to keep it on display most of the time. Her husband was inspired by a white gate featuring wrought iron hardware in Bellport when creating the painting. The gate was crafted in the 1800s by blacksmith Joseph Merritt Shaw.

“I think Joe just found a lot of different things interesting, but I think he liked the fact that there was a lot of depth to it,” Reboli said, adding that she believed he loved the coloring and light.

Goroff agreed.

“One of the things that is a characteristic of Joe Reboli’s paintings is the attention to light and finding interesting light,” Goroff said. “You see that very well here in this painting.”

Lois Reboli thanked Englebright for his help in facilitating the original purchase and transfer of the painting, as well as Reboli 100 for raising funds. She also thanked Gallery North for being willing to give the painting to the Reboli Center.

Englebright said the collaboration was heartening.

“It’s wonderful that these two major art centers for our community are cooperating and collaborating and coming together,” he said. “Ned has called this the beginning of an arts summit for the community. I think that’s quite accurate, and it’s something that really is going to reinforce the identity of the community.”

Puchner said it was a pleasure working with everyone at the Reboli Center.

“We see the arts community as a family, we want everyone to work together,” he said. “As the title of this painting sort of suggests, we’re hoping that it opens the gate to more collaboration within the arts community moving forward.”

Englebright added Joseph Reboli had a strong sense of place and credited the artist for being one of the reasons the area is considered an arts destination.

“Assembling his collection is really heartening, and the symbolism, for all practical purposes, means that this community is enhanced, still,” the assemblyman said. “Even though Joe Reboli is no longer with us, he continues to be a gift to the community.”

The painting is scheduled to be moved to the Reboli Center at the end of the month.

Backstage School of Dance ribbon cutting. Photo from Councilmember Kornreich's office

The Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Chamber of Commerce hosted a ribbon cutting ceremony on Aug. 12 to celebrate the grand opening of the new location of Backstage Studio of Dance. 

Located at 200 Wilson Street in Port Jefferson Station, the studio is described on its website as “a place where kids of all ages, shapes and sizes learn to dance and perform and where creativity, individuality and self-expression is encouraged through a community of teachers, students and families who are passionate about the performing arts.” Serving the community for 35 years, the studio’s motto is “We don’t just teach you to dance, we teach you to love dancing.”

The event was attended by Brookhaven Town Councilmember Jonathan Kornreich, New York State Assemblyman Steve Englebright, students and staff. 

“Thank you to the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Chamber of Commerce, especially Jennifer Dzvonar, Joan Nickeson and Kristin Winter for their assistance in organizing the ribbon cutting and to Assemblyman Englebright and Councilmember Kornreich for their support,” said Gwenn Capodieci, the executive director of the studio. She also thanked her “incredible staff who make up the backbone of Backstage Studio of Dance and all the loyal families that support BSD and trust us with their children. It takes a village to run a dance studio and we are truly blessed with ours!”

“Backstage Studio of Dance in Port Jefferson Station is home to a passionate group of teachers and trainers who have made it their life mission to not just teach dance, but to teach students to love dancing. They have been committed to serving our community’s kids for over 35 years and are starting a new chapter in their new location,” said Councilmember Kornreich. 

“Having a stage and her own location for the studio has been owner Gwenn Capodieci’s lifelong dream. I was so honored to be a part of their grand opening and can’t wait to see their next musical theater production performed at this new location. Congratulations to Gwenn and her amazing team,” he said.

Pictured in center from left, Gwenn Capodieci, partners Nicole Lattanza Terlizzo and Pamela Christopher Strain, Councilmember Kornreich and New York State Assemblyman Englebright.

For more information, call 631-331-5766 or visit www.backstagestudioofdance.com.

A view of Stony Brook Harbor from Cordwood Park in Head of the Harbor. Photo by Rita J. Egan

A rally held at Head of the Harbor’s Cordwood Park Aug. 27 combined a bit of history, nature’s beauty and activism in one short hour.

Protesters at the Aug. 27 rally in Head of the Harbor. Photo by Rita J. Egan

The Rally to Block the Docks, organized by Head of the Harbor resident Lisa Davidson, attracted dozens of local residents, environmentalists and Stony Brook University students. Village residents have voiced concerns over the possible construction of a 186-foot dock on private property next to Cordwood Park and the potential of another 200-foot dock a few houses away. The footage includes a combination of permanent and floating docks. A Sept. 6 Village of Nissequogue Planning Board meeting currently has a vote scheduled regarding the 186-foot dock.

Protesters cited among their concerns the 186-foot spoiling the view of Stony Brook Harbor and restricting access to those walking along the beach or using their canoes and kayaks in the water. Many also feel it may encourage other homeowners to build similar private docks, leading to harbor pollution due to more or large boats.

“One property owner should not be allowed to ruin what is cherished and loved by an entire community,” Davidson said.

Among the speakers at the event were state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket); Kevin McAllister, founder and president of Defend H2O; John Turner, conservation chair of Four Harbors Audubon Society; and Head of the Harbor/Nissequogue historian Leighton Coleman.

Davidson is a member of the Joint Village Coastal Management Commission, a waterfront board of the villages of Head of the Harbor and Nissequogue. She said she recused herself from the commission on the matter of private docks.

“Because after seeing the numerous petitions we get for private docks, I realized that this beautiful bay is in grave danger if we as a community do not come together and take action now before it is too late,” she said.

She encouraged residents to reach out to the Town of Smithtown and New York State Department of Conservation, both of which approve first-phase private dock permits, to prevent future approvals. Davidson said homeowners might argue that they have riparian rights. She said those rights are satisfied when walking in the water or taking a kayak or canoe out on it, and do not include building docks.

Because the harbor is shallow, the dock must be meet DEC requirements that it stands in 3 1/2 feet of water even at low tide, hence the lengths of the proposed docks.

McAllister said, based on his experience, when one dock is built, there tends to be a push for more docks and bigger boats in the body of water, which he said leads to issues in the water such as prop dredging and salinity problems where the water is always cloudy.

Coleman said commerce once took place at the park, which had a negative impact on the harbor.

Head of the Harbor/Nissequogue historian Leighton Coleman talks about the history of the Cordwood Park location. Photo by Rita J. Egan

“We are now standing at the site of what was once an active boatbuilding yard and shipping port, where New York City’s manure was traded for cordwood to fuel the city’s numerous town houses,” the historian said.

He added, eventually, a boatyard’s use of arsenic to cure wood along with human and livestock waste runoff affected the harbor’s health. It was in the 1870s that Smith siblings, descendants of Smithtown’s founder, bought up large parcels of land. The harbor was then used for more leisurely activities, he said, until the 1920s brought to the area “commercial dredging for mining of sand and gravel, and the subdivision of the large estates into developments,” which threatened the waterway’s health once again. This led to the formation of incorporated villages, which in turn created zoning laws to protect the harbor and, in the 1940s, the Stony Brook Harbor Association was created.

“Sadly, the old guard has passed on, and we were left, apparently, with a false sense of security that our harbor’s healthy future was in safe hands, but thankfully as of today I see that we have a new generation of stewards stepping forth,” he said.

In the 1920s and ’30s, when there was dredging of the harbor as well as others on the North Shore, Englebright said, it was important that villages were formed to protect them. He called those who wanted to dredge the waters “essentially gangsters” who were “buying influence” with the towns, and “the towns were selling out the harbors.”

“That is the legacy of this village,” Englebright said. “That’s your birthright. That’s how you came into existence as a municipal jurisdiction in state law. There was no other way at the time to prevent the disposition of the permits by the towns.”

He added, “The Town of Smithtown has sold out the harbor bottom with approving the initial permit for a dock.”

Englebright said the body of water’s bottom is public property and “to give away public property is illegal.”

“It’s an echo of the outrage that led to the creation of these villages,” he said.

While waiting for the rally to begin, Turner said he saw a bald eagle, osprey, snowy egrets and more.

“Any time hiking the harbor, you know that the harbor, from an ecological and biological perspective, it’s just a really vibrant ecosystem,” he said.

Turner added there are several diamondback terrapins in the harbor, too. The DEC has listed the decrease in the animals a concern. They come ashore in June to lay their eggs, Turner said, and a dock could increase human traffic which in turn could have an adverse impact on the terrapins.

“We hope that the villages and the Town of Smithtown will not grant private access to a public trust resource that could ultimately have a really adverse impact upon the harbor,” he said.

Turner added he looked at the Suffolk County GIS viewer and counted approximately 54 properties around the harbor.

“If these are approved, what prevents those other 52 or 50 owners down the road from requesting permits to build docks — docks that are on the same scale as what these are,” he said.

To pay homage to the history of the location, rally organizers served ginger ale and root beer, and the Once Upon a Tyme Barbershop Quartet performed for the attendees at the beginning and end of the rally.

Davidson said she and others have been working on circulating a petition which they will present to the Nissequogue Planning Board on Sept. 6.

By Heidi Sutton

Walt Whitman Birthplace Association State Historic Site in Huntington Station hosted a time capsule ceremony on Aug. 5 in honor of Walt Whitman’s 200th birthday. Conducted by the WWBA’s board of trustees and WWBA Executive Director Cynthia Shor, the historic event was attended by many public officials on state, county and town levels, members of the chambers of commerces, Walt Whitman personator Darrel Blaine Ford and members of the public. Guest speakers included Long Island Parks Regional Director George “Chip” Gorman, NYS Assemblyman Steve Englebright and Town of Huntington Deputy Supervisor John McCarron. 

The event also celebrated the life of William T. Walter, Ph.D. (1931-2020) who served on the WWBA Board of Trustees in 1980 and was Trustee President from 1980-1984 and again from 2010 to 2020. Described as “a visionary” at the ceremony, Walter was instrumental in the creation of the WWBA Interpretive Center which opened in 1999. He also served as the Chairman of the Town of Huntington Beautification Council for over 40 years. Walter’s widow, Sukey, her three sons and family were in attendance for the event. William R. Walter spoke fondly of his father and recited Whitman’s poem “From Montauk Point.”

The idea for the time capsule was initiated by WWBA Trustee Jo-Ann Raia in recognition of Walt Whitman’s 200th birthday in 2019. A committee consisting of Raia, Dr. Maria Basile and Mark Nuccio was formed and funds were obtained from the Town of Huntington’s Cultural Affairs Division with no additional cost to taxpayers. The COVID pandemic sidelined the event until now. 

When buried in the near future, the 12” by 12” stainless steel time capsule will contain Whitman memorabilia including a mug and medallion, a boxed original Nathan Hale bicentennial coin from the Town of Huntington along with a photocopy of the original wax seal from the establishment of the Town of Huntington signed by Supervisor Ed Smyth, two coins honoring Long Island State Parks staff, a copy of the Suffolk Hotel Motel bill sponsored by Assemblyman Englebright, manuscripts commemorating the life of William T. Walter, written historic texts and books along with newspaper articles of the current times reflecting a significant economic, political, or social news event and a scroll containing all the names of the event’s attendees on acid-free paper. The time capsule itself has a shelf-life of 200 years.

“The historical materials that we have put into the time capsule tell the story of the Walt Whitman Birthplace Association. It is a story of our success in bringing to life the voice and values of “The Good Gray Poet” for generations to come,” said Trustee President Jack Coulehan, MD.

A boulder donated by WWBA Trustee Steve Gittelman will be placed at the site with a commemorative plaque inscribed: “I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love, If you want me again look for me under your boot-soles.” — W.W., Song of Myself, Section 52. The time capsule will be opened during Walt Whitman’s 250th birthday celebration in 2069 and then every 50 years henceforth.

“It’s really an incredible cultural asset that we are here to support and to make sure Walt Whitman is remembered 50 years from now when this time capsule is opened. I don’t think anyone is going to forget Walt Whitman. He is one of the literary giants of Western civilization. He is America’s poet,” said Englebright.

Flax Pond Boardwalk. Photo by John Turner

A bill currently awaiting Gov. Kathy Hochul’s (D) signature will help to protect a local tidal wetland.

Flax Pond Tidal Creek. Photo by John Turner

Bill A10187 will establish the Flax Pond tidal wetland in Old Field as a sanctuary and also amend the navigation laws to prohibit the use of motor boats within that sanctuary.

The bill was sponsored by state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) in the Assembly and state Sen. Mario Mattera (R-St. James) in the Senate.

The bill states that “hunting, fishing, trapping and the use of motor boats are not compatible with the primary purposes and management goals of the sanctuary.” Once enacted, signs will be posted to warn boaters that they cannot enter. The law will not apply to emergency and rescue vessels.

Anyone found guilty violating the provisions will be fined up to $100 and/or imprisoned up to 10 days.

The Flax Pond tidal wetland area is about 150 acres and was acquired by the state in 1966. Is it under the joint jurisdiction of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and Stony Brook University. SBU uses the wetland area as a field laboratory for research and education, while the DEC maintains it for habitat protection and for public use. 

In addition to the wetland, the property includes the SBU School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences Flax Pond Marine Lab and the Childs Mansion. The home once belonged to Eversley Childs, who was president of the Bon Ami cleaning products company in the early 1900s.

Englebright said for about four decades he has been trying to get legislation passed to protect Flax Pond and said Mattera was a big help in getting it through the state Senate.

“We basically have joined together to put our shoulders to the wheel to get this bill through each of our respective legislative houses,” Englebright said. “And there it is, for the first time in all of these years.”

Mattera said he was happy to help to get the bill passed, and he’s optimistic that the governor will sign it.

“I don’t think there’s going to be any kind of an issue,” Mattera said, adding he feels its passing is crucial not only for the wetland but also for the surrounding area.

Mattera said securing state money to dredge the inlet at Flax Pond is next as there are concerns that the continuation of terrible storms hitting the area could close up the inlet.

Englebright said the Flax Pond tidal wetland area was created for the original purpose of academic research and education, and also for the public’s passive enjoyment. He said the bill makes permanent what the original premise was.

“The marsh has been degraded,” he said. “It has lost much of its usefulness due to unregulated activities there and extraction activities. It has undergone some considerable negative consequences.”

The assemblyman added that extraction activities include people taking oysters, blue mussels and crabs, especially in large quantities, and the shooting of birds makes it difficult for researchers to measure what’s left of the marine life. Motorboats and jet skiing in the wetland also complicate matters.

He said proper research depends on “having a pristine unspoiled place.”  


Englebright said it was important to protect tidal wetlands such as Flax Pond because they “are highly stressed due to climate change and sea level rise, as well as pollutants that are entering the estuaries and the pressure of extraction activities.”

He explained that a tidal wetland is a bio-geological phenomenon.

“The biological part is, of course, all of the organisms that grow in the marsh that contributed to the creation of the wetland itself,” he said. “The most prominent of that is a series of grasses. These are grasses that are able to tolerate salt.”

There are two dominant high marsh grasses that when the first settlers arrived here and there was no hay from a previous season, they were able to use them to feed their livestock. The high marsh grass — “salt hay” — continued to be harvested on Long Island until the 1920s.

Childs Mansion. Photo by John Turner

“The geological part of the marsh is why we don’t want the boats because the salt marsh is a sediment trap,” he said.

He added, sediment is important as it creates beaches such as those at West Meadow and Old Field. Tides carry into inlets silt and clay fractions which become the soil component of the wetlands.

Englebright said motorized boats or jet skis that generate “wave slap,” reenergize the movement of sediment or disturb the movement of the sediment, which in turn reelevates and suspends into the water the silt that can be up to 60% of the soil.

He added, “If it gets resuspended on the outgoing tide, the result is the loss of the marsh.”


Robert Cushman Murphy, who was an ornithologist, loved Flax Pond and was a close friend of philanthropists Ward and Dorothy Melville. For a while, he lived on the Melville estate in Old Field.

After the Childs estate went into probate in the early 1960s, according to Englebright, the executors almost sold Flax Pond to developers, who would have built condominiums along the periphery of the pond. Englebright said Murphy talked to Melville and then acting president of SBU, Karl Hartzell, to see what could be done to save the Flax Pond area. Cushman appealed to the Village of Old Field trustees, and when he realized they might side with the developers, Melville reached out to then New York State Gov. Nelson Rockefeller (R). The Stony Brook resident had just donated land to the State University of New York for the Long Island college to move to its current location.

“He had some clout and he used it on behalf of our community,” Englebright said. “It was political muscle that basically led to acquiring the property.” 

He said when the state university acquired half of the property they had to set up marine studies which justified their purchase.

“Of course, that has led to one of the great marine research centers of the hemisphere, if not all of Earth,” Englebright said. “It’s a globally significant research center. It’s an entire division now within the university.”