The Village of Port Jefferson reignited a time-honored tradition last weekend during its 26th annual Charles Dickens Festival.
Hundreds of community members, visitors, business groups and local organizations participated in the festivities from Friday, Dec. 2, to Sunday, Dec. 4.
The show went on despite hard rains and gusting winds throughout the morning and early afternoon Saturday. Mayor Margot Garant, decked out in traditional Dickensian garb, commented on the turnout in the face of these conditions.
“To me, it just shows how important this festival is to not just this community but kids coming from St. James and beyond who are coming to see Santa,” she said. “It’s just magic, and rain or shine we’re going to be doing Dickens.”
Deputy Mayor Kathianne Snaden concurred with this positive outlook, regarding the festival as another means for community-building. “It’s heartwarming to see everybody still supporting this festival,” she said.
Trustee Stan Loucks commented on the uniqueness of the opportunities afforded through the festival and the steady growth of the events over its nearly three decades in existence.
“It’s grown every single year, and it’s just the most festive time of the year,” he said, adding, “I love the whole atmosphere, the village center. It’s a very special place, and I look forward to this every year.”
The program across all three days was loaded with special events featuring the various elements that formulate this distinct village’s character. The heart of Port Jeff was on full display, from its downtown business sector to its local history, public institutions and more.
At the Bayles Boat Shop, local shipbuilders showcased their ongoing work to construct a 25-foot whaleboat honoring the village’s Revolutionary War heritage.
John Janicek, treasurer of the boat shop’s nonprofit arm, the Long Island Seaport and Eco Center, detailed how the whaleboat ties together various threads of Port Jeff’s historical roots.
“It not only ties in the historical aspect that Caleb Brewster performed here during the Revolutionary War and [the role] Port Jefferson played, but it also ties in our shipbuilding aspect, too,” Janicek said. “We’re getting a lot of support from the village on this. They see this as something the whole village can get their arms around and embrace, similar to the Dickens Festival.”
Over at the Drowned Meadow Cottage on the corner of West Broadway and Barnum, local historians greeted visitors with guided tours detailing Port Jefferson’s strategic position during the Revolutionary War. They shared stories of local patriots whose involvement in the Culper Spy Ring helped advance the cause of American independence.
Village historian Chris Ryon discussed how the Dickens Festival offers a platform to promote local history to residents and visitors alike.
“We take the people from Dickens and tell them how Port Jefferson was involved in the Culper Spy Ring,” he said. “It’s another group of people that we can bring in.”
Mark Sternberg, Culper Spy Ring historian at the Drowned Meadow Cottage, offered a unique take on Dickens. He remarked upon the intersection of the Dickensian and Revolutionary periods and how people today can relive tradition and rehear the lore of the past.
He said, referring to the American spies, “A lot of these people survived into the 1800s, and the stories of the American Revolution were told during the 1800s. For us to tell stories about the American Revolution as part of the Dickens Festival, it’s what they would have done.”
The historian added, “It’s keeping with the tradition of telling a story about the founding of our nation, even in later periods. Now Charles Dickens may not have talked about it because he was British, but here in America during the Victorian era, we would have.”
Along with stories of the past, the village exhibited the musical talents of local students. At the Port Jefferson Free Library, the Edna Louise Spear Elementary School chamber orchestra delivered moving string performances, filling the library with festive tunes.
Their music teacher, Christian Neubert, summarized this Dickens custom. “For a number of years now, we’ve been coming to perform here at the library during the Dickens Festival,” he said. “It’s a great opportunity to get our students out for a performance and to get the community involved with our music program.”
Jessica Schmettan, superintendent of schools for Port Jefferson School District, was among the dozens of audience members at the library. She expressed pride in seeing the students perform before their fellow community members.
“It’s just amazing that our students can be performing in the village in which they live,” she said, adding that the festival “gives them a different avenue to perform in, not just the auditorium or the classroom but in front of a real audience.”
At Suffolk Lodge No. 60 on Main Street, the oldest Masonic lodge on Long Island, brothers treated guests to magic shows and a dance festival. Downstairs, they served freshly baked cookies and hot chocolate.
Chris Connolly, master of the lodge, said the lodge dates back to the late 18th century. He expressed delight at seeing this historic organization maintain an active community presence through Dickens.
“Being a part of the community is a big part of who we are and helping others,” Connolly said.
Jason Intardonato, senior deacon of Suffolk Lodge No. 60, discussed Dickens as a means of strengthening local connections and a time for selflessness.
“The Dickens Festival provides us with an extraordinary opportunity to interact with our neighbors here and with the community in Port Jefferson and to allow them into our space, entertain them for a while during the holidays, and give back,” he said.
Farther along Main, Jeffrey Sanzel’s annual production of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” at Theatre Three is an active reminder of the historical background to the Dickens Festival.
The festival also provided a platform for some to communicate their message on a larger stage. For the second month in a row, protesters from the farmworkers union Local 338 RWDSU/UFCW gathered outside the Pindar wine shop in yet another call of action to negotiate a contract. The dispute is part of more than a year of negotiations between the union and Pindar Vineyards, the wine store’s parent company.
John Durso, president of Local 338, joined the picketers on Main Street during the festival. “We knew that today was the Dickens Festival,” he said. “We knew that there would be a lot more people around, so we decided to … bring attention to the fact that these workers, like everybody else, are entitled to the same dignity and respect that all workers should have.”
Coordinating the annual festival is a monumental task for the village and the various stakeholders involved in its planning. Kevin Wood, the village’s director of economic development, parking administrator and communications committee head, thanked the sponsors who supported the festival and commented on the event’s success despite the inclement weather conditions.
“Because this has been [going on for] 26 years, people understand that this is one of the most unique events on Long Island, so they’re going to fight the rain to be here,” Wood said. “To support the production and the infrastructure, there are so many volunteers but there are also so many people staffing to make it work.”
Snaden concluded by offering how the Dickens Festival advances some of the village’s highest aims. She said the community uncovers its sense of place through an event such as this.
“It really goes to the sense of community that we all have,” she said. “All the work that goes into this festival and how everybody comes together, it’s a beautiful thing to see.”
Registration is now open! The Port Jefferson Free Library, 100 Thompson St., Port Jefferson hosts an Author Panel featuring Sarah Beth Durst, Catherine Asaro and Kelley Skovron on Wednesday, Dec. 14 at 7 p.m.
Join them for an evening filled with mystery, interstellar fantasy, misfit animals, and a ghost with a vengeance. Hear from these award-winning authors about their newly published novels, writing process, behind the scenes info, and more in this panel-style event.
Moderated by Salvatore J. Filosa, Head of Technical Services and Marketing & Outreach Librarian,newly released titles to be discussed include: The Jigsaw Assassin, 2022,published by Baen Books, by Catherine Asaro (perfect for adult readers); The Shelterlings, 2022, published by Clarion Books of Harper Collins, by Sarah Beth Durst (perfect for kids); and The Ghost of Drowned Meadow, 2022, published by Scholastic, by Kelley Skovron (perfect for kids).
The event is open to all. To register, call 631-473-0022 or visit portjefflibrary.org/authors.
The Port Jefferson Free Library, 100 Thompson St., Port Jefferson presents The Homegrown String Band in concert Sunday, Nov. 6 at 2 p.m.
The Homegrown String Band™ celebrates the American tradition of families making music together. This family band’s repertoire includes a healthy portion of early country music classics by the likes of The Carter Family and Delmore Brothers, along with a tasty sprinkling of original material inspired by the rural American string band and folk traditions of the nineteenth, twentieth, and twenty-first centuries. Comprised of husband and wife plus daughter, this dynamic trio adds their own musical DNA to an American tradition, taking you on a musical journey from ancient ballads of the British Isles to blues and bluegrass of the twentieth century.
The family has been performing together for twenty-five years, playing such venues as The National Theatre in Washington DC to the Festival of American Music in Branson Missouri.
Open to all. Pre-registration is necessary to keep the music flowing. Sign up at portjefflibrary.org, or call 631-473-0022 to reserve a seat.
The Port Jefferson Free Library has been named as one of America’s star libraries for 2021, according to the Library Journal.
Recently announced, the Journal stated, “This is the 14th year in which LJ has scored U.S. public libraries on the LJ index of public library service and awarded star library ratings.”
“Because of the unavoidable delay in data collection and analysis, that means this year’s star libraries once again represent not our current pandemic realities, but a sort of pre-pandemic time capsule,” the release noted.
While the ratings come from before the coronavirus, the award is still noteworthy.
“They represent a useful point of comparison,” the release continued. “We’ve interviewed library directors to learn how the pandemic has changed things since these numbers were collected.”
PJFL director Tom Donlon said that last year, in 2020, the library was rated at a four, so the 2021 five-star rating is certainly a win.
“We couldn’t have done it without our staff,” he said. “They were able to pivot quickly from in-person to virtual, along with our great base — our patrons who support us.”
Donlon said he and the rest of the library staff feel “fantastic” about the rating.
“We’re so grateful,” he said.
He added that the library is continuing to offer exciting programs for residents of all ages. Masks are still required inside the library at all times to help keep staff and the community safe.
“We’re here to support our community in any way we can,” he said.
The Port Jefferson Free Library, 100 Thompson St., Port Jefferson invites the community to view its latest art exhibit in the Meeting Room titled Celebration of Art/Coming Out of the Pandemic by artist Joseph Rotella through the month of December. The exhibit will feature landscape and floral narratives which were all created during the pandemic. For more information, call 631-473-0022.
The Port Jefferson Free Library Board of Trustees recently announced that one seat is due to expire.
Trustee Jennifer Schaefer’s term expires January 2022 and she will not be seeking re-election. One petition has been filed by Carl Siegel who will be running unopposed.
Siegel served two five-year terms on the board of the Port Jefferson Free Library from 1994-1999, and again in 2016-2021. He was involved in multiple projects and initiatives including the creation of the Children’s Library and the Adult Reading Room.
He states that experience gave him a strong understanding of the building development, its fiscal requirements and challenges, and he gained a solid understanding of the village population’s needs and priorities.
Siegel is a retired English teacher who was employed at Port Jefferson High School for 23 years and taught dozens of literature courses over the past several years in the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Stony Brook University.
The Port Jefferson Free Library’s annual meeting and election will be held on Wednesday, Jan. 12 from 10 a.m. until 9 p.m.
Voters must be of at least 18 years of age, a resident of the Port Jefferson School District and a member of the PJFL Association with a library card in good standing
Recently, the Suwassett Garden Club partnered up with the Port Jefferson Free Library to bring the community together with plants.
“What we’re doing is we are encouraging the community to swap plant cuttings,” said Susan Lobacz, co-president. “We’re asking people to bring them in, and then take a new one home.”
Inside the library, a small table stands with mason jars filled with leaves and roots. Plastic cups are on the bottom shelf, so people who want to plant something different at home can bring a piece of it back with them.
The fun and different idea comes with the hope that new members could potentially join.
“We’re hoping that with this collaboration, we’ll be able to encourage people to become part of this Suwassett Garden Club,” said co-president Kim Olenick. “So, there’ll be applications right next to the plants.”
The Suwassett Garden Club is a small local club, started in the 1940s, that serves Port Jefferson, Belle Terre and the surrounding communities. Known for their annual fundraisers, Antiques and Garden Weekend — with the historical society — and wreath makings for holidays and the Port Jefferson Dickens Festival, things were different over the last year.
Lobacz said that pre-pandemic, the club would host field trips and hands-on gardening tips. They have sponsored fashion shows, luncheons and participate in an annual “garden therapy” program with veterans at the Stony Brook Veterans Association.
Alternate years, the garden club plants a tree in either Port Jefferson or Belle Terre and on Arbor Day this year, they planted a new one by the basketball courts near Rocketship Park.
On top of all that, the Suwassett Garden Club also sponsors a high school scholarship and maintains the flower garden at the Mather Museum. They are currently supporting a new children’s garden that is being pursued by the village.
Meetings are usually the first Wednesday of the month at 11 a.m. in the Belle Terre Community Center. Due to COVID, meetings have been held via Zoom.
Past co-president Joanne Wright said she joined the club years ago because it sounded different.
“I had recently retired and wanted to meet new people,” she said. “Even though I was local, I didn’t know a lot of people and it was a good way to meet new people.”
Other perks are learning new things with different workshops.
People who are interested in joining can pick up a plant at the library, or email [email protected]
The Friends of the Port Jefferson Library recognizes the role and contribution of libraries in the lives of young people.
For this reason, they offered an opportunity for graduating high school students, with a Port Jefferson Library card, who have contributed to the library as well as the Port Jefferson community a chance to win a scholarship.
Winners were selected by members of the Friends of the Library after reading scholarship applications and essays. Awards were given to those that exemplified having been part of the library community.
We are excited to announce the winners of the second annual Friends of the Port Jeff Library’s scholarship are Hailey Hearney and Peggy Yin.
Both applicants showed that the library has been an essential part of their lives and how it has guided them in their future pursuits.
Organized in 1998, The Friends of the Port Jeff Library have actively supported the library with special events and programming over the last few years. The Friends of the library is a group of individuals, families and organizations working to improve the library’s facilities, technologies, collections and special programs to benefit the community.
Congratulations Hailey and Peggy!
Photos and caption from the Port Jefferson Free Library
Port Jefferson Free Library will be hosting photographer Harper Bella for her one night only online exhibition “Flower of Honor” on Wednesday, Jan. 20 from 7 to 8 p.m. The show examines the role of black and brown essential workers throughout the uprise of COVID-19 and social injustices across the United States. Centered around New York, this series highlights their experiences and recognizes their efforts in one of the most uncertain times in history.
Harper Bella is an international photographer. Born in Queens, New York to Trinidadian and Barbadian parents, she was raised in Trinidad and Tobago until the age of six, when her family settled in Long Island, New York. Enamored with the arts from an early age, Harper pursued her first degree in Advertising and Marketing Communications at the Fashion Institute of Technology. It was during a black and white film photography course that she knew she found her calling.
Bella graduated from FIT in 2012 and went on to intern for various photographers in New York City. In 2014, she created the Angela Davis-inspired project, “Reflective Souls: Women in Society.” Well received upon release, Harper was given the opportunity to present her work at the Copiague Public Library. Her work has gone on to be exhibited at the Huntington Arts Council. Harper’s photographs have also been featured in KODD and Epsilon Magazine.
From her Caribbean background to travels to over 25 countries, including Vietnam, Germany, and Morocco, a global perspective is at the heart of Harper’s work and life purpose. Harper’s aim is to initiate conversation and spark growth through powerful visuals. She also values community building through amplifying less prominent voices in art.
Harper Bella currently serves as a freelance photographer and a Board of Director for the American Society of Media Photographers, New York City Chapter. To see more of Bella’s work, visit https://www.harperbella.com/
This project is made possible with funds from the Decentralization Program, a regrant program of the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature, and administered by The Huntington Arts Council.