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Northport Historical Society

Photo from Northport Historical Society

The Northport Historical Society recently presented a historic map of Huntington to Suffolk County Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport) in recognition of his support and efforts on behalf of the residents and community organizations within Suffolk’s 18th Legislative District. 

The map was created in 1873 by cartographer Frederick W. Beers as part of his “Atlas of Long Island.” It is a “snapshot” of the area and captures the Town of Huntington during a time of very rapid growth, which was spurred by the coming of the Long Island Rail Road in 1868.  

Spencer was quick to recognize that the boundaries on the 1873 map are almost exactly the same as his legislative district today and include parts of Lloyd Harbor, Huntington, Centerport, Northport, Asharoken and Eaton’s Neck.

With the map, above, are, from left, board member Carolyn Hyatt-Basche, Leg. Spencer, Society Director Andrea Miller and Society Vice President Philip Ingerman.

Reprints of the 1873 Beers map are currently available for sale in the society’s Museum Shop, located at 215 Main St. in Northport. For more information call 631-757-9859.

The Northport Historical Society will present a day of evaluation and intrigue as expert appraiser Lark Mason comes to Northport’s Village Hall, 224 Main St., Northport, on Saturday, Nov. 10 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. A celebrity appraiser who has provided appraisals for the PBS traveling antiques show and iGavelAuctions.com, Mason and his team of experts will offer professional appraisals of antique furniture, collectibles, textiles, paintings, silver, jewelry, art and more.

Lark Mason

Last held in 2016, the historical society’s version of the PBS antiques show created quite a stir when a West Hempstead man found a simple pot he had inherited from his great aunt was actually an imperial Chinese brush pot valued at $30,000. As Mason said, “appraising is like trying to unravel a mystery … the thing that’s really joyful about what we do is to find things that have value and that someone is unaware of. … To share that with them sometimes dramatically changes the person’s life.”

A fee of $40 per item will be charged, $30 members, with a maximum of two items allowed per attendee. Along with Mason who will be appraising paintings and American and European works of art, are Lark Mason III who will be appraising Asian art and Niki Tiliakos who will handle jewelry and silver. All proceeds from the event will benefit the Northport Historical Society. Tickets for each item are available on the day of the event or may be reserved at www.northporthistorical.org/events.

In addition to the actual Appraisal Day, a Meet the Appraisers kick-off reception will be held the evening before the event from 6 to 8 p.m. at the society’s museum, 215 Main St. in Northport village. Tickets are $60/$50 for members and include beverages and hors d’oeuvres. To reserve, please call 631-757-9869 or visit the website listed above.

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A photo of Corporal Christopher Scherer of East Northport and some of his personal items on display in the Monuments Men exhibit.
Exhibit honors those who made the ultimate sacrifice

By Kevin Redding

For years, they were neglected. Passersby barely shot a second glance at the nearly 100 names of brave men and women from Northport and East Northport engraved on stone monuments on Main Street and in John Walsh Park — locals who lost their lives in service to their country in every conflict from the Civil War to the Iraq War.

But that all changed in recent months thanks to the efforts of Terry Reid and exhibit committee members of the Northport Historical Society.

Donated uniforms from the museum’s permanent collection, from left, World War II Army Air Force; Alan Salzman, Signal Corps, Vietnam War; and Peggy Zumbach, Navy Waves, World War II are in the exhibit.

“We don’t want people to just walk by these monuments anymore,” said Reid, curator of the historical society’s new and expansive Monuments Men exhibit, which opened Sept. 3. The exhibit showcases the stories behind these heroes with regiment and battle information, personal memorabilia, photographs, letters and mannequins draped in authentic uniforms and jackets — which Reid said is like “having our own troops standing guard.” World War II memorabilia includes a German hand grenade and a gas mask.

Items were pulled from military databases and museum records, while others were donated directly by family members of the fallen. “We wanted to put a face to every single name listed on each of those monuments so their memory would live on,” she said. “A lot of what we received must be priceless to these families but I think they knew the importance of this. Really, the whole gist of this exhibit for the veterans is: We won’t forget you.”

Reid, who was part of an exhibit put on by the historical society in 2015 marking the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War, sought out any and all objects pertaining to the conflict at the time and began researching the names on the monuments. She was struck by photographs she found of soldiers and touched by their heartbreaking stories. It was then that she crafted the idea of shedding a light on all the local soldiers.

Once she got the green light from the historical society to helm the project, Reid reached out in search of anybody who had connections to the names, from members of the community on Facebook to the American Legion to Atria nursing home in East Northport. At the nursing home, she found and conducted a video interview with a Korean War veteran who detailed what he and his fellow troops went through during what’s been deemed “The Forgotten War,” which visitors can watch at a kiosk in front of the Korean War cabinet in the exhibit.

Multiple pieces of personal items belonging to Corporal Christopher Scherer, from East Northport who died in Iraq in 2007, is also highlighted, including the veteran’s lacrosse gloves from when he attended Northport High School, his Boy Scout lanyards, dog tags and even a photograph of his old bedroom — all provided by his family.

In mapping out a more personal exhibit, Reid also contacted Kevin O’Neill, a longtime friend of the museum and the co-owner of the John W. Engeman Theater in Northport. The popular venue was named in honor of O’Neill’s brother-in-law, an Iraq War veteran and East Northport native who died in 2006 at 45. Engeman’s medals and awards, as well as other pieces of memorabilia, were donated by his widow.

A photo of Stephen Scudder who fought in the Civil War on display in the exhibit

“It stirs up a lot of emotions when you walk through something like this,” O’Neill said of the exhibit. “It was 11 years ago that John was killed but it feels like yesterday. I think the historical society and Terry did a first-class, wonderful job with this exhibit. It’s very impressive, powerful and beautiful display. I encourage people to go and learn about these men and women.”

Steven King, the chairman of the Exhibits and Collection Committee at the historical society, said the public so far has responded extremely well to Monuments Men.

“We’ve been getting a lot of compliments because of the nature of the exhibit,” King said. “It’s kind of a difficult subject to take on, as it represents a lot of pain for families that have lost soldiers in recent years, but they’ve all come forward and helped us with the exhibit to make sure the War on Terror period is well-represented. Including the most recent heroes has special poignancy for many of the visitors who have spoken to us about their appreciation for this.”

The entire exhibit takes up half the museum and is made up of 10 fully stocked cabinets of items. While no women from the area have lost their lives according to the monuments, the exhibit highlights the history of their roles within the military throughout the years, including the Women’s Army Corps and Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service, Reid said.

In conjunction with the exhibit, the society will host a special Veterans Weekend Trolley Tour on Nov. 12 (see below). In addition, a lecture by Ret. Col. Al Vitters, who served in Vietnam and was a powerful figure at the United States Military Academy Preparatory School in West Point, will be held on Sunday, Nov. 19 at 2 p.m. at the society’s headquarters. Vitters will reflect on his military career, which will cover when women were first admitted to the school in 1976. Admission is $5 per person, free for members.

“I just want people to stop and take a pause and really reflect and feel some gratitude for what these people do for us,” Reid said. “It’s important to the families that they are not forgotten and that their sacrifices stay in our hearts and minds. We all should be a little more thankful for our freedoms, as they come at a price, and we’re hoping this exhibit illustrates just how lucky we are.”

The Northport Historical Society, located at 215 Main Street in Northport, will present Monuments Men through May, 2018. Admission is free. Hours are Tuesday through Sunday from 1 to 4:30 p.m. For more information, call 631-757-9859 or visit www.northporthistorical.org.

Photos above by Heidi Sutton

Veterans Day Weekend Trolley Tour

All aboard! Have you ever noticed the trolley tracks that run through Northport? They’re all that is left of the trolley that ran from Woodbine Avenue to the Northport Railroad Station from 1902 until 1924.

On Sunday, Nov. 12, thanks to its sponsor Nolan & Taylor-Howe, the Northport Historical Society will run a trolley tour giving Long Islanders a chance to relive this important part of Northport’s past. Guided tours of the monuments in town honoring the Northport area fallen will be offered aboard a replica trolley generously provided by Mark of Elegance Limousine Service.

The tour, led by Northport Historical Society curator, Terry Reid, is a great family-friendly way to celebrate Veterans Day and learn about local history. Reid will share the stories of many of the brave men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country and who are currently also honored in the society’s new Monuments Men exhibit. Tours, which are approximately 45 minutes long, will depart from the Northport Historical Society at 215 Main Street at 1, 2 and 3 p.m.

Tickets are $20 for members, $25 for nonmembers, and $10 for veterans and children under 15. Refreshments will be served. To purchase tickets please visit www.northporthporthistorical.org/events or call 631-757-9859. Proceeds from the tour support the society’s mission to preserve and promote the history of Northport and its surrounding communities.

Above, members of the Northport Historical Society and the Gardiner Foundation. Photo from Northport Historical Society

Northport Historical Society recently announced that the Robert David Lion Gardiner Foundation has awarded the Society a capacity building grant in the amount of $37,271. The funding will be used to strengthen and enhance the stewardship of the Society’s historic collection and resources and provide for greater outreach to the communities it serves, namely Northport, East Northport, Asharoken, Eaton’s Neck, Crab Meadow, and Fort Salonga.

Funds earmarked for the Gardiner capacity building grant center around the development of a comprehensive business plan designed to expand awareness about the Society’s projects, services, and events; determine methods to catalogue and share its Collection; and develop exciting ways to incorporate technology into its exhibits.

“We’re elated that the Gardiner Foundation awarded the NHS this substantial grant and in doing so, validates the Board’s belief that it is imperative for the Society to develop a long range business strategy at this moment in time,” said NHS President, Ted Kaplan. “We’re intent on growing the NHS’s audience and engaging the communities we serve to the best of our ability — and this grant lays the foundation for doing just that,” he added.

“The Robert David Lion Gardiner Foundation views the Northport Historical Society’s location, collections and programming as a vital part of its community and a key to the economic growth of downtown Northport. This grant will prepare them to move forward to a new era of outreach and engagement,” said Kathryn M. Curran, Executive Director of the Robert David Lion Gardiner Foundation.

In order to meet the needs of its community and better prepare for future audiences, The Society’s Board of Directors has determined that its single most important capacity building requirement is to make the 100-year old Museum building ADA accessible. By instituting the methods and goals outlined in the Gardiner grant, the NHS is confident that the development of a multi-tiered business plan will increase community involvement in the project and provide the framework to make that goal a reality.

Located in the historic 1914 Carnegie Library building on Northport Village’s Main Street, the NHS is the only local organization dedicated to preserving and promoting the history of the communities comprising the Northport-East Northport School District.

Open six days a week, year-round, and operating with a part-time staff and numerous volunteers, the Society provides educational programs for both children and adults, and its Museum building serves as a central repository for the historic objects, photos and papers which encompass the heritage of the area. NHS exhibits and programs like their “Sunday at the Society” lecture series, historic walking tours, and quarterly Book Club meetings, encourage interest and appreciation for all things historical in the Northport area and make the Northport Historical Society one of the most active organizations in the area.

For more information, call 631-757-9859 or visit www.northporthistorical.org.

The Northport Historical Society hosted its annual Holiday House Tour this past Sunday, Dec. 12. Several houses in the area were decked out in Christmas decorations, with musicians playing and treats for each guest.

A decorated mantle rings in the holidays at a Northport home during a previous tour. Photo courtesy of the Northport Historical Society

By Melissa Arnold

For many families, nothing says it’s the holiday season quite like admiring the neighborhood in lights. If you agree, then Northport is where you’ll want to be on Sunday, Dec. 11, as they celebrate their annual holiday tour.

The self-guided tour is a highly anticipated event in the village with several hundred attendees coming out last year, according to Tracy Pfaff, director of the Northport Historical Society.

Previously called “Homes for the Holidays,” the tour has been renamed “Deck the Halls Holiday Tour” this year to reflect the inclusion of more than just decorated homes.

“Our inclusion of historic sites as well as private homes is a different spin on the house tour concept,” said Pfaff, who assumed the role of director earlier this year. “It allows us more freedom to welcome vendors, offer refreshments and entertainment without inconveniencing a homeowner.”

The iconic 1883 Thompson Building will be one of the stops during the holiday tour. Photo courtesy of the Northport Historical Society
The iconic 1883 Thompson Building will be one of the stops during the holiday tour. Photo courtesy of the Northport Historical Society

The iconic Thompson Building, located on Woodbine Avenue, is one of the properties set to be decorated to the nines for the tour. While there, visitors will be treated to live music and the opportunity to purchase a variety of gifts from local vendors. The building served as headquarters for the Thompson Law Book Company when it was first built in 1883, Pfaff said.

The company quickly became the largest employer in Northport — well-educated lawyers, writers and editors came to work at the company and would later settle in Northport, which led to the construction of homes, businesses and facilities to support the growing population.

Brú na Bó, a store featuring art, home decor, furniture and more designed by local craftsmen, will also be a stop on the tour this year. Located at 33 Scudder Ave., the property was completely transformed after once serving as storage space for the Thompson Law Book Company.

Another stop on the tour is the historic Lewis Oliver Farm, which is located on Burt Avenue. Since the 1800s, the farm has raised a variety of animals, including cows, alpacas, sheep, geese and more. In the past, it was also a dairy farm. While dairy production has ceased now, the farm is still home to a variety of animals and features a country store.

A scene from a previous house tour. Photo courtesy of the Northport Historical Society
A scene from a previous house tour. Photo courtesy of the Northport Historical Society

Of course, elaborately decorated homes are still a crucial part of the tour, with three families graciously opening their doors to visitors for the occasion. Each home is decorated exclusively by the residents, and each has its own unique story, Pfaff said.

“The houses we showcase on this tour are a combination of historically significant and beautifully decorated for the holidays. Naturally, there are only so many homes that have significant ties to [the village’s] earliest days, but every home still has a story to tell and a part to play in the history of Northport, including the recent past and today,” she said.

Tour attendees will receive a map on their arrival identifying the locations of each decorated home and building. They are free to travel from place to place at their leisure between noon and 4 p.m. Volunteers will greet visitors at each stop to share information and answer questions. There will be something different to enjoy at each stop on the tour, including entertainment, sweet treats, raffles and opportunities for shopping.

“Northport is such a charming town with an interesting history, beautiful homes and exquisite harbor views,” Pfaff said. “This tour is a perfect way to experience it.”

“Deck the Halls Holiday Tour” will be held on Dec. 11 from noon to 4 p.m. Tickets purchased by Dec. 10 are $31, $26 members. Tickets purchased on the day of the tour are $36, $31 members. For more information or to order tickets, visit www.northporthistorical.org/events or call 631-757- 9859.

Northport Historical Society’s latest exhibit gets personal

Eight of Northport’s Civil War veterans, from left, Roy Ackerly, Gus Gerard, Charlie Smith, Bill Mulfort, unidentified man, unidentified man, A.G. Tillotson and Barney Fox.

By Rita J. Egan

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the end of the American Civil War, and to commemorate the sesquicentennial, the Northport Historical Society is hosting the exhibit Northport and the Civil War: A Few Good Men. Visitors to the historical society’s museum can follow the lives of 12 Northport men from when they mustered in until the war ended for them.

The historical society joins other organizations in the township of Huntington hosting Civil War events. Both historical society Director Heather Johnson and Terry Reid, consultant to the collections and member of the exhibit’s committee, said when town representatives first approached the organization about hosting an exhibit they were a bit hesitant. They admitted they weren’t confident if they could pull together a full exhibit since they weren’t aware of many Civil War artifacts in their collection. However, Reid said once the committee started culling through items, they found muster rolls with very detailed information about young men from Northport who fought in the war.

The consultant said the muster rolls not only include information about what battles the young men fought in but also if they were injured, their eye color and hair color, names of their parents and occupations. With the discovery of the muster rolls, Reid said the exhibit became a possibility as the committee began writing the stories of each man.

“I thought that here are these men we can focus on, telling their specific stories. So we did it as more of a storybook as opposed to here’s a bullet,” Reid said.

Some of the Civil War items on display at the Northport Historical Society’s Civil War exhibit. Photo by Rita Egan
Some of the Civil War items on display at the Northport Historical Society’s Civil War exhibit. Photo by Rita Egan

The committee, which in addition to Reid includes Candy Hamilton, Christine Doll-Wagner, Rhoda Wright and Darcy Little, then set out to find the artifacts to complement the stories. An email was sent out to members of the historical society asking if anyone owned memorabilia. Chris Cierski and Ben Meyburg, Civil War enthusiasts, stepped forward to lend some of the pieces from their collections, including a uniform Meyburg has used in reenactments.

Reid said once the society had artifacts to illustrate the men’s stories the exhibit really came together. Visitors to the museum will not only find photos and letters but also equipment the soldiers would have received such as canteens, belt buckles and guns.

Once the artifacts were in place, knowing that the men belonged to the 48th and 127th infantries, the consultant said the committee members were able to create maps for each cabinet to show the troops’ movements.

“One of our main goals in this whole exhibit was to get people to really stop and think what these men, these boys, did at their young age of 18, 19. They all enlisted and ran off to war immediately to help the cause. Unfortunately it didn’t end well for most of them,” Reid said.   

The consultant said there are arrows on the floor to help visitors view the cases in order so that they can follow each soldiers’ journey in chronological order, and at the end, find out their fate.

“It was a very bloody, awful war, and the things they went through. . . . So, my heart was just breaking when I would read what happened to each one of them. I got emotionally attached to these boys. It was heartbreaking really to imagine what they must have gone through,” Reid said.

The exhibit also touches on the contributions the survivors made to Northport after their discharges such as Alfred C. Tillotson who owned a dry goods store on Main Street in the village.

The subject of whether a soldier will return from war is one that Johnson said she believes still strongly resonates with people.

“The idea of coming home, or unfortunately not coming home, it’s been going on since war began and continues to go on, unfortunately. I think because of that though it’s a universal theme. It’s something that  we can all relate to even if you haven’t anyone really close to you or in your family who has fought in a war, you probably know someone who has or at least feel for those who are currently fighting,” Johnson said.

The director said visitors will find many interesting items on display including a metal heel plate with a shamrock cutout that Irish soldiers would use on their boots. Johnson said when she saw it she was touched by the fact that despite the horrors they faced, the soldiers still enjoyed some whimsy.

Some of the Civil War items on display at the Northport Historical Society’s Civil War exhibit. Photo by Heather Johnson
Some of the Civil War items on display at the Northport Historical Society’s Civil War exhibit. Photo by Heather Johnson

Johnson said visitors will also find letters from Francis Sammis to a friend in Northport. The solider wrote about his memories of the girls in Northport and the get-togethers the young people would have.

“He’s still a young man. He may be a soldier and he may be fighting in a horrible, horrible war, but he’s still thinking about those good times. Similar to what a young man might do today,” the director said.   

Both Johnson and Reid hope visitors will take the time out to experience each of the soldiers’ stories and that it will have the same impact on guests as it did on them. Johnson said while everyone at the historical society learned a lot, she said she noticed the biggest impact on Reid.

“Terry in particular became very connected to those soldiers. She had read enough about them and it took on a different meaning for her,” Johnson said.

Reid said she found herself feeling protective in a motherly way of the young men as the committee discovered more about each of them.

“I hope that other people will come away the same way, will have the same sort of change as well. How could you not after you see these men’s faces,” she said.

Northport and the Civil War: A Few Good Men will be on view at the Northport Historical Society, 215 Main Street, until the end of the year. For more information, visit www.northporthistorical.org or call 631-757-9859.

Elsa Posey is to be honored by the Northport Historical Society at the Northport Yacht Club next week. Photo from Posey

By Susan Risoli

Elsa Posey, founder and director of Northport’s Posey School, will be recognized by the Northport Historical Society next week for her lifelong commitment to dance education.

A dinner and dance in Posey’s honor will be held on May 30 at 7 p.m. at the Northport Yacht Club. Proceeds from the event will support the historical society’s community and education programs.

In an interview this week, Posey said she was grateful to be honored and pleased that the recognition would bring attention to the dance school she opened in 1953. She brought her love of dance to Northport because it is her birthplace, she said, and because “I love it here. I’m a sailor. Just being near the water is important to me.”

Posey describes herself as a dance historian. She and her staff teach the legacy of choreography and the freedom of improvisation. Building on tradition in dance means the individual dancer is “never alone. You are supported by all the dancers that went before you,” Posey said.

Dancing is alive with what she called “the spirits, the ancestors” of those who have performed and loved dance through the ages. Posey School students often recreate historic dances, the founder said, including minuets from the 1400s and 1500s. Posey said her students will perform excerpts from the ballet “Swan Lake” — a work from the 1800s, she pointed out — at Northport Middle School on June 6.

A distinguishing characteristic of her school is the lack of recitals. Posey is not a fan, she said, of recitals where children are not really dancing but merely reproducing steps by rote. Instead, “we do performances when the dancers have something to show,” she said. “They’re performing with the music, to bring out the elements that were intended in the role.” That flow between dancer and music is achieved through performance plus education, Posey said. She herself was trained at the School of American Ballet in New York City as a youngster. Today her students — who range in age from preschoolers to seniors — take classes in ballet, modern dance, jazz, folk and country dances.

Elsa Posey is to be honored by the Northport Historical Society at the Northport Yacht Club next week. Photo from Posey
Elsa Posey is to be honored by the Northport Historical Society at the Northport Yacht Club next week. Photo from Posey

The school is not about competition among students. “We don’t compare one person with another,” Posey said. “It’s not that you’re better than somebody else.”

Dance inspires in many ways, Posey said, and can even improve lives. “I help the children understand dance as a part of history and their culture,” she explained. Appreciating cultural differences, and the values held by those who live in other places, “is what makes us better people.”

Make no mistake — though dance is surely physical, it’s much more than athletics, Posey said. “Dance is not a sport. It’s an art.” Musicians, too, she said, know that music and movement can create “an opening of the mind.”

Posey was the founder and first president of the National Dance Education Organization, which gave her its Lifetime Achievement Award. She is current president of the National Registry of Dance Educators, a group of master teachers of dance.

Heather Johnson, director of the Northport Historical Society, said the organization is honoring Posey because “she always talks about how great the community is here. But she’s part of what makes it wonderful.” Posey “is so very dedicated to her students,” Johnson said. “And she’s also been a supporter of the historical society.”

In a press release from the historical society, Steven King, president of the society’s board, said, “The entire Northport community has benefited greatly from Elsa Posey’s commitment to providing dance instruction and performance.”