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Preservation Long Island

Meet Big Bill Tory at the Sherwood Jayne House during Culper Spy Day. Photo from Preservation Long Island

UPDATED! This article was updated on 9/17/21 to reflect a change to the schedule of events (in bold).

By Heidi Sutton

On Saturday, Sept. 18 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., the Three Village Historical Society, Tri-Spy Tours and the Long Island Museum will host a day of spy-related tours and activities for the 7th annual Culper Spy Day, named for the Culper Spy Ring founded by Benjamin Tallmadge, George Washington’s chief intelligence officer during the Revolutionary War.

The annual event is the brainchild of Margo Arceri, who first heard about George Washington’s Setauket spies (including her favorite spy Anna Smith Strong) from her Strong’s Neck neighbor and local historian, Kate W. Strong, in the early 1970s.

Diane Schwindt of Stirring Up History, pictured with Margo Arceri, will offer colonial cooking demonstrations during Culper Spy Day. Photo from Mari Irizarry

“Kate W. Strong, Anna Smith Strong’s great-great-granddaughter, originally told me about the Culper Spy Ring when I used to visit her with my neighbor and Strong descendant Raymond Brewster Strong III. One of her stories was about Nancy (Anna Smith Strong’s nickname) and her magic clothesline. My love of history grew from there,” she said in an interview in 2015.

Seven years ago Arceri approached the Three Village Historical Society’s President Steve Hintze and the board about conducting walking, biking and kayaking tours while sharing her knowledge of George Washington’s Long Island intelligence during the American Revolution.

Today, Arceri runs the popular Tri-Spy Tours in the Three Village area, which follows in the actual footsteps of the Culper Spy Ring. “I have to thank AMC’s miniseries Turn because 80 percent of the people who sign up for the tour do so because of that show. And now that Turn has come to Netflix it has taken this community to an entirely other level,” she said. 

It was during one of those tours that Arceri came up with the idea of having a Culper Spy Day, a day to honor the members of Long Island’s brave Patriot spy ring who helped change the course of history and helped Washington win the Revolutionary War. After a successful five-year run, last year’s event was sideswiped by COVID-19 and was presented virtually on Facebook Live. 

Meet costumed docents from Oyster Bay’s Raynham Hall on the grounds of the Three Village Historical Society. Photo by TVHS

This year the family-friendly event returns but on a smaller, more intimate scale as participants will have the opportunity to visit eight locations in Setauket, Stony Brook and Port Jefferson to learn about the patriots who risked their lives through tours, spy stories, colonial cooking demonstrations, historic letters, musical performances, and many children activities. 

Escorted by Arceri, Mrs. Q of Karen Q. Patriot Tours of NYC will be on location live on social media and in costume visiting many of the locations. With the exception of the Sherwood Jayne House, all events are free.

While the Three Village Historical Society has remained closed since last January, it will reopen for the one-day event. Mari Irizarry, Outreach and Communications Manager at the Society, is ready to welcome visitors. “We miss our community. There is so much rich history, heritage and culture that is part of the Three Villages and beyond and we are excited to share it on Culper Spy Day,” she said.

Arceri’s favorite part of the day is “seeing all these organizations coming together as a whole. It really is our Revolutionary story,” she said. “Everywhere you turn in the Three Villages you are looking at an artifact, and as the historical society believes, the community is our museum and I would really love to put that on the forefront of people’s minds.”

Schedule of Events:
View Revolutionary War artifacts from the collection of Art Billadello at Emma S. Clark Memorial Library on Culper Spy Day.

1. THREE VILLAGE HISTORICAL SOCIETY, 93 North Country Road, Setauket. Located in the circa 1800 Bayles-Swezey House. Here you can take part in oudoor events including an invisible ink demonstration; Spy Stories on the TVHS Porch from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m.; view a patriotic quilt display and demonstration and take part in colonial crafts with the Daughters of the American Revolution Anna Smith Strong Chapter; Author’s Row: come meet authors Beverly C. Tyler, Selene Castrovilla and, Claire Bellerjeau, available for book signings; view Revolutionary War letters from Stony Brook University’s Special Collections; take part in spy games and meet costumed docents who will talk about Raynham Hall, Culper Jr. and their Culper Spy connections; and enjoy a live colonial cooking demonstration and samples with Diane Schwindt of Stirring Up History. 631-751-3730.

2. THE STUDIO AT GALLERY NORTH, 84 North Country Road, Setauket. Visit The Studio to enjoy free Revolutionary War era arts and crafts for children throughout the day. Guests will have an opportunity to create a Tin Punch ornament or a chance to create a decoder & color a quilt square. Activities will occur on the patio, just outside the Studio. 631-751-2676. 

3. EMMA S. CLARK MEMORIAL LIBRARY, 120 Main St., Setauket. The library (circa 1892) will present a concert featuring 18th century songs the trio Rose Tree from 12:30 p.m. to 2 p.m. on the Library lawn. View Revolutionary military paraphernalia from the collection of Art Billadello in the Library’s lobby. Kids can enjoy a craft from noon to 3 p.m. 631-941-4080. Please note the previously scheduled bubble and comedy show on the lawn from 11 a.m. to noon has been canceled.

4. CAROLINE CHURCH AND CEMETERY, 1 Dyke Road, Setauket. Built in 1729, this timber frame building has maintained its Colonial appearance. Now an Episcopal church, during the Revolutionary War the Caroline Church was Anglican and a Colonial extension of the Church of England. The graveyard contains the remains of six Patriot soldiers as well as soldiers from World War I and II. View the inside of the church from the vestibule and tour the cemetery with docents from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Just added! Setauket Presbyterian church next door will be offering tours of their cemetery from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.. 631-941-4245.   

5. PATRIOTS ROCK HISTORIC SITE, Main Street, Setauket (across from the Setauket Post Office). This glacial erratic boulder is said to be the location of the Battle of Setauket on Aug. 22, 1777. Stop here between 10 a.m. and noon to meet representatives from the Three Village Community Trust who will discuss the importance of Patriots Rock and its local and environmental history. 631-689-0225.

6. THE LONG ISLAND MUSEUM, 1200 Route 25A, Stony Brook. The museum is a Smithsonian Affiliate with permanent and changing exhibitions on American history and art, along with the finest collection of horse-drawn carriages in the country, some of which belonged to Revolutionary War heroes. Visit the History Museum between noon and 5 p.m. to view the newly uncovered Culper Spy Ring letter and see LIMarts Collaborative Art Group doing a plein air painting / sketching on the grounds that day. 631-751-0066.

7. SHERWOOD-JAYNE HOUSE, 55 Old Post Road, East Setauket. Originally built around 1730 as a lean-to saltbox dwelling, the house and farm were maintained as an operational farmstead for over 150 years by members of the Jayne family. Visit with Big Bill the Tory aka William Jayne III, who will explain the noble intentions and virtuosities of King George III and tells you the TRUTH about Washington’s pesky band of renegade spies! Program runs continuously from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Masks must be worn inside. $5 per person, children under 5 free. Pre-registration is recommended at www.preservationlongisland.org.

8. DROWNED MEADOW COTTAGE MUSEUM, corner of West Broadway and Barnum Avenue, Port Jefferson. The Revolutionary War-era Roe House was originally constructed circa 1755 and Phillips Roe, a member of the Culper Spy Ring along with his brother Nathaniel and cousin Austin, was known to have lived there. Visit the cottage between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. and attend an unveiling with Mayor Margot Garant at 11 a.m.

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Participating organizations for the 7th annual Culper Spy Day include Tri-Spy Tours, Three Village Historical Society, Stony Brook University Special Collections, Emma S. Clark Memorial Library, The Long Island Museum, Raynham Hall, Drowned Meadow Cottage, Preservation Long Island, Gallery North, Karen Q’s Patriot Tours NYC, Anna Smith Strong Chapter of the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution, Stirring Up History, Three Village Community Trust, and Caroline Church of Brookhaven

For more information, call 631-751-3730 or visit www.tvhs.org

 

Peter Crippen House front façade, January 2021. Courtesy of Preservation Long Island
List includes properties in Sag Harbor, Port Jefferson, Huntington, St. James, East Hampton, Southampton and East Hills.

 Preservation Long Island’s Endangered Historic Places List for 2021 includes seven sites and one district facing a variety of threats from demolition and overdevelopment, to a lack of municipal funding and support for historic preservation in communities throughout our region.

Important historic places across Long Island are threatened by a variety of adverse conditions, from outright demolition to a lack of appreciation for their historic value, or the inability to develop sustainable long-term plans for preservation and stewardship.  Preservation Long Island (formerly the Society for the Preservation of Long Island Antiquities), established the Endangered Historic Places Program (EHPP) with the goal of raising region-wide support for historic places facing precarious circumstances.

“The program offers Long Islanders an opportunity to advocate for preservation in their communities while learning how to use tools like landmark designation, tax incentives, and public outreach,” said Alexandra Wolfe, Preservation Long Island’s Executive Director. “Our program partners receive priority technical assistance from our professional staff and their listings are featured on our website and social media”.

The pandemic did not have a negative impact on the public response to the open call for nominations issued last November. “This year marks the largest number of nominations received in a single program year since the establishment of the program in 2010,” said Sarah Kautz, Preservation Long Island’s Director of Preservation and Advocacy. A total of 18 nominations were submitted for the 2021 program year from communities across Long Island.

A panel of Preservation Long Island staff and trustees, as well as experts in architecture, historic preservation, and other related fields selected the properties based on three key criteria: overall historic significanceseverity of the threat and impact the EHPP listing will have on efforts to protect the nominated site.

Each of the eight sites will be showcased in a series of free virtual programs that will include interviews and panel discussions open to the public in June and July. Visit the 2021 Endangered Historic Places page on our website to learn more about each of the selected sites, and to register for the free virtual events.

Preservation Long Island invites all Long Islanders to join us in celebrating and supporting the important sites on Long Island’s List of Endangered Historic Places for 2021:

James Brooks & Charlotte Park Home & Studios, Springs, East Hampton Town Community Preservation Fund. Purchased by East Hampton Town in 2014, this landmarked home and studios of Abstract Expressionist artists in Springs is threatened by vandalism, disrepair, and demolition.

John Mackay III’s “Happy House”, Village of East Hills, Nassau County. One of the few remaining Gilded Age country houses in East Hills Village is threatened by demolition and subdivision.

Peter Crippen Home Site, Town of Huntington, Suffolk County. A rapidly deteriorating property owned by Huntington Town with strong ties to Long Island’s early colonial development and African American history.

Pyrrhus Concer Home Site, Village of Southampton, Town of Southampton Community Preservation Fund. Purchased by Southampton Town in 2015, restoration of this nationally significant site of African American history in Southampton Village is threatened by inter-municipal delays and other issues.

Rogers/Remz Grain & Feed Building, Port Jefferson Station, Town of Brookhaven, Suffolk County. This early industrial farming structure at the heart of Port Jefferson Station is threatened by demolition and urban renewal.

Sag Harbor Hills, Azurest, Ninevah, Subdivisions (SANS) Historic District, Village of Sag Harbor, Suffolk County. Demolition and intensive redevelopment threaten one of Long Island’s most significant Jim Crow- and Civil Rights-era historic districts in the Village of Sag Harbor.

Saint James Firehouse, Town of Smithtown, Suffolk County. A historic firehouse in active service since 1925 threatened by a lack of resources and municipal support for much-needed repairs.

William Tooker House, Village of Port Jefferson, Suffolk County. A rare pre-1750 structure in Port Jefferson Station with strong ties to Long Island’s colonial past threatened by neglect, demolition, and urban renewal.

Preservation Long Island’s Endangered Historic Places Program is made possible in part by a grant from the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.

About Preservation Long Island

Preservation Long Island is a not-for-profit organization that works with Long Islanders to raise awareness, appreciation, and support for the protection of our shared past through advocacy, education, and the stewardship of historic sites and collections. http://preservationlongisland.org/

 

Image credit: “Peter Crippen House front façade, January 2021. Courtesy of Preservation Long Island.”

Preservation Long Island in Cold Spring Harbor has announced the gift of a group of important early American portraits from descendants of the Nelson and Lloyd families of Boston and Long Island. 

For over three hundred years, portraits of Elizabeth Tailer Nelson (1667–1734), John Nelson (1654–1734), Henry Lloyd I (1685–1763), and James Lloyd III (1769–1831) remained in the possession of the same family that commissioned them centuries ago. The artworks, an extraordinary gift from the collection of Orme Wilson III and Elsie Wilson Thompson, in memory of Alice Borland Wilson, have joined Preservation Long Island’s collection and are now available for the public to view in a new digital exhibition titled Facing Slavery: The Lloyd Family Portraits in Context.

“We are honored to be the new stewards of these important pieces of American history and to make them available to the public for the first time,” said Alexandra Wolfe, Preservation Long Island Executive Director. 

In gifting the paintings, the donors wrote, “After being in family care all these years, we believe that these portraits are going to the right place with you and your colleagues at Preservation Long Island, where we hope that they will be useful in your development of a deeper historical understanding and contextualization of the issues and events that swirled around the Long Island area in colonial times and later”.

This gift coincided with the launch of the first phase of the Jupiter Hammon Project, a long-term initiative that will transform how Preservation Long Island engages future visitors to Joseph Lloyd Manor (1767) with the entangled stories of the Lloyd family and the individuals they enslaved for more than a century at the Manor of Queens Village on Long Island (Lloyd Neck today), among them, Jupiter Hammon (1711–before 1806) one of our nation’s first published Black American writers.

This multi-generational collection of portraits is a visual reminder of the region’s colonial and early national history, but the individuals they represent reflect only a fraction of the people, both enslaved and free, who lived, formed families, and established communities on Long Island and New England during the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries.

“We are grateful to the descendants for recognizing the important work of the Jupiter Hammon Project and for giving the portraits a new, permanent home with Preservation Long Island,” said Lauren Brincat, Curator, Preservation Long Island. 

“There are no known portraits of Jupiter Hammon or any of the men, women, and children the Lloyds enslaved. By interrogating the hidden history behind these painted surfaces, however, we can uncover a complex story of one family forcibly bound to another across generations,” she said.

Facing Slavery: The Lloyd Family Portraits in Context is now on view at www.preservationlongisland.org. For more information, call 631-692-4664.

In photo, from left:

Elizabeth Tailer Nelson (1667–1734) by an unknown American artist, ca. 1685. Oil on canvas. Preservation Long Island, 2020.5.2.

John Nelson (1654–1734) attributed to James Frothingham (1786–1685) after John Smibert (1688–1751), before 1824. Oil on panel. Preservation Long Island, 2020.5.3.

Henry Lloyd I (1685–1763) by John Mare (1739–ca. 1803) after John Wollaston (active ca. 1742–1775), 1767. Oil on canvas. Preservation Long Island, 2020.5.1.

James Lloyd III (1769–1831) by an unknown American artist, 1800-50. Oil on canvas. Preservation Long Island. 2020.5.4.

The Long Island Museum has partnered with Preservation Long Island for a moderated conversation to coincide with the release of the LIM’s publication Long Road to Freedom: Surviving Slavery on Long Island written by LIM Curator, Jonathan Olly. The event will be held via Zoom on Wednesday, March 10 from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m.
The evening will feature:
  • A live panel discussion moderated by Darren St. George, Director, Education & Public Programs, Preservation Long Island featuring Jonathan Olly, Curator of The Long Island Museum, Mark Chambers, Visiting Assistant Professor of Africana Studies at SUNY Stony Brook, and Lynda Day, Professor of Africana Studies, Brooklyn College-CUNY.
  • The new publication and discussion on the ways historians, museums, and professors are working to make Long Island’s past more accessible.
  • Current approaches to teaching Black history, as well as how conversations around Northern (and specifically Long Island) slavery has changed over the last few decades will be examined.
Registration is FREE, but limited and will be taken on a first come, first served basis.
To reserve your place, please email: [email protected]
You will receive an email within 48 hours to confirm your spot and a Zoom link before the event.

Big Bill the Tory at the Sherwood-Jayne Farm in East Setauket. Photo by Darren St. George, Preservation Long Island

Preservation Long Island, a regional preservation advocacy group, was awarded a $2,000 reimbursement grant from the Robert David Lion Gardiner Foundation. The announcement was made in a press release on Jan. 28. The grant has helped Preservation Long Island to preserve valuable operating funds and redirect a portion of funding towards improving online programming capacity.

“We are so grateful for the continued support from the Gardiner Foundation, especially during this challenging time”, said Alexandra Wolfe, Executive Director of Preservation Long Island. “In light of the pandemic, Preservation Long Island, like most of its institutional colleagues, has had to swiftly transition to online platforms to implement our educational and advocacy programs. Relief funds from the Gardiner Foundation have supported technology upgrades and the purchase of video production equipment to improve the quality of programs that have been reformatted for online engagement and feature prominently at our website and Vimeo channel”.

Preservation Long Island initiatives with expanded virtual offerings and enhanced online components include the Jupiter Hammon Project (which now incorporates a growing collection of virtual discussions about salient topics related to the study of enslavement in the north); “Historian’s Stories” where town historians present local history; virtual exhibitions and events with regional partner organizations; and tutorial presentations to help communities and individuals navigate our many preservation advocacy tools including the new Local Landmark Law Locator that provides an easy way to explore local landmark laws in our region.

“The Robert David Lion Gardiner Foundation hopes that these funds will alleviate at least a small part of Preservation Long Island’s financial burden during these extraordinary times,” said Kathryn M. Curran, Executive Director of the Robert David Lion Gardiner Foundation. 

Preservation Long Island maintains and interprets historic sites and collections that embody various aspects of Long Island’s history including:

Joseph Lloyd Manor, Lloyd Harbor http://preservationlongisland.org/joseph-lloyd-manor/

Custom House, Sag Harbor http://preservationlongisland.org/custom-house/

Sherwood-Jayne Farm, Setauket http://preservationlongisland.org/sherwood-jayne-farm/

Old Methodist Church and Exhibition Gallery http://preservationlongisland.org/methodist-church/

 For more information, visit www.preservationlongisland.org.

 

Three Village Historical Society’s Director of Education Donna Smith and historian Beverly C. Tyler. Photo from TVHS

Margo Arceri first heard about George Washington’s Setauket spies from her Strong’s Neck neighbor and local historian, Kate W. Strong, in the early 1970s. Arceri lights up when talking about her favorite spy, Anna Smith Strong.

“Kate W. Strong, Anna Smith Strong’s great-great-granddaughter, originally told me about the Culper Spy Ring when I used to visit her with my neighbor and Strong descendant Raymond Brewster Strong III. One of her stories was about Nancy (Anna Smith Strong’s nickname) and her magic clothesline. My love of history grew from there,” she said.

Seven years ago Arceri approached the Three Village Historical Society’s President Steve Hintze and the board about conducting walking, biking and kayaking tours while sharing her knowledge of George Washington’s Long Island intelligence during the American Revolution.

Today, Arceri runs Tri-Spy Tours in the Three Village area, which follows in the actual footsteps of the Culper Spy Ring. “I wanted to target that 20- to 60-year-old active person,” she said.  “I have to thank AMC’s miniseries ‘Turn’ because 80 percent of the people who sign up for the tour do so because of that show,” she laughs.

It was during one of those tours that Arceri came up with the idea of having a Culper Spy Day, a day to honor the members of Long Island’s brave Patriot spy ring who helped change the course of history and helped Washington win the Revolutionary War.

“Visiting places like the Brewster House, which is owned by The Ward Melville Heritage Organization, the grave site of genre artist William Sidney Mount at the Setauket Presbyterian Church cemetery (whose paintings are at The Long Island Museum) and the Country House, which was built in the 1700s,” Arceri thought “there has to be a day designated to celebrating all these organizations in the Three Villages and surrounding areas; where each of us can give our little piece of the story and that’s how Culper Spy Day developed.”

After a successful five-year run, plans were underway for the sixth annual Culper Spy Day when the pandemic hit. At first the event was canceled out an abundance of caution but now has been reinvented and will be presented virtually on Facebook Live on Sept. 12 and 13 to be enjoyed from the comfort of your home.

The Three Village area is full of hidden intrigue and stories of how America’s first spy ring came together secretly to provide General George Washington the information he needed to turn the tide of the American Revolution.

Over the course of the weekend, you will have the chance to visit many of the cultural organizations from years past who will share their story, including the Three Village Historical Society, Tri-Spy Tours, Ward Melville Heritage Organization, Special Collections and University Archives at Stony Brook University, Preservation Long Island, Emma S. Clark Memorial Library, Drowned Meadow Cottage, Caroline Church of Brookhaven, Ketcham Inn Foundation and more in a virtual format.

Join Margo Arceri from Tri-Spy Tours live from the Village Green on Saturday at 9 a.m.

Meet Big Bill the Tory live at the Sherwood-Jayne House.

Take a Virtual Spies! exhibit tour with TVHS historian Bev Tyler.

Visit the famous Brewster House with Ward Melville Heritage Organization Education Director Deborah Boudreau.

View a resource guide to everything Culper Spy Day courtesy of Emma Clark Library.

Watch a short film on Long Island’s South Shore from the Ketcham Inn Foundation.

Make your very own periscope with Gallery North.

Read up on the Revolutionary War History from the Caroline Church of Brookhaven.

Look back at the festivities from 2016 Culper Spy Day.

Don’t miss the five part virtual spy tour series with historian Bev Tyler.

Listen to the lecture “Spies in the Archive: A history of two George Washington Culper Spy Ring letters presented by Kristen Nyitray Special Collections, Stony Brook University Libraries.

Learn about SBU’s two Culper Spy Ring letters and access images and transcripts Special Collections, Stony Brook University Libraries

Dive into George Washington & the Culper Spy Ring A comprehensive research and study guide Special Collections, Stony Brook University Libraries

Find out who Agent 355 was from historian Bev Tyler.

Listen to the story of Nancy’s Magic Clothesline, written by Kate Wheeler Strong, and told by Margo Arceri.

No registration is necessary. For more information, visit www.tvhs.org/virtualculperday.

'Mandush, Shinnecock Sachem of the 17th century' by David Bunn Martine

Preservation Long Island will launch a new virtual exhibition, Indigenous History & Art at Good Little Water Place, beginning Sept. 3. Artwork from nine contemporary Indigenous artists centers the exhibit. Offering an inquisitive look at the history and on-going relations between Indigenous people and land, the show reminds viewers of a shared responsibility to recognize our common histories and know how they impact our connections to place.

Organized by Preservation Long Island with guest curators, Jeremy Dennis, artist and a tribal member of the Shinnecock Indian Nation in Southampton, and Dr. Gwendolyn Saul, Curator of Ethnography, New York State Museum, the exhibition features objects from the collections of Preservation Long Island, the New York State Museum, and the Southold Indian Museum.

“We are thrilled this important exhibition, that began as a collaborative endeavor with the New York State Museum in the Fall of 2019, could be reimagined in the virtual realm,” said Alexandra Wolfe, Preservation Long Island’s Executive Director. “Thanks to the efforts of the project curators, partner museums, and artists, the provocative insights that Long Island Indigenous art offers about history and environment, and the future of our relations to both is now accessible to a wider audience online.”

“The exhibit features indigenous presence and expression from 10,000 years ago to the present — and I am proud and excited to be a part of representing this collective,” said Dennis. “I’m honored to be part of a project that directs attention to the diligent, on-going, and talented work of Indigenous artists and intellectuals of what is now known as Long Island,” added Saul.

Sponsored by an Action Grant from Humanities New York, the exhibition will open with a special Curator Conversations virtual event on Sept. 3 from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. Visit www.preservationlongisland.org to register for this free program.

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Joseph Lloyd Manor. Photo courtesy of Preservation Long Island

Preservation Long Island, a regional preservation advocacy nonprofit based out of Cold Spring Harbor, recently announced the launch of The Jupiter Hammon Project, an initiative that aims to expand interpretive and educational programming at the Joseph Lloyd Manor, an 18th-century Long Island manor house owned and operated by Preservation Long Island.

The goal is to engage the site more fully to reflect the multiple events, perspectives, and people that shaped the house’s history including Jupiter Hammon (1711– ca.1806), the first published African American author who was enslaved by the Lloyd family and whose work was published during his lifetime.

Jupiter Hammon’s life and writings offer an exceptionally nuanced view of slavery and freedom on Long Island before and after the American Revolution. His works are especially significant because most literature and historical documents from the eighteenth century were not written from an enslaved person’s point of view. Consequently, Hammon’s writings provide powerful insights into the experience of the enslaved, as well as the social and moral conflicts slavery raised in the newly formed United States.

The Project will include a series of collaborative roundtables discussing the legacy of enslavement on Long Island and the life of Jupiter Hammon. Three public roundtable events have been tentatively scheduled during the summer of this year. Moderated by Cordell Reaves, Historic Preservation and Interpretation Analyst, New York State Department of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, the discussions will be held at the Weeksville Heritage Center in Brooklyn on June 20; the Suffolk County Historical Society in Riverhead on July 11; and the Joseph Lloyd Manor in Huntington on August 8 in an effort to bring together scholars and professionals with local residents, descendent communities, and other diverse stakeholders across Long Island. 

These discussions will help develop a new interpretive direction for the historic Joseph Lloyd Manor that encourages responsible, rigorous, and relevant encounters with Long Island’s history of enslavement and its impact on society today.

This innovative project will also provide educational content for the development of revised school curricula and serve as a model approach to program development for other sites of enslavement in the region. It will foster collaborative relationships with local descendants and community stakeholders so that their voices continue to shape PLI’s mission of stewardship, advocacy, and education.

Kicking off the Jupiter Hammon Project is the Literary Landmark Ceremony tentatively scheduled for Saturday, May 30. United for Libraries and the Empire State Center for the Book will recognize the house where Jupiter Hammon lived and wrote (the Joseph Lloyd Manor) as a Literary Landmark. The unveiling of the bronze plaque recognizing Jupiter Hammon and the significance of the Joseph Lloyd Manor will take place as well as poetry readings and tours of the house.

For more information or to register for this free event, call 631-692-4664 or visit www.preservationlongisland.org.

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Downtown Port Jeff circa 1906. Both original photos by Arthur S. Green. Digitized images from Preservation Long Island.

Time destroys all things. Photos fade, film degrades, buildings crumble. To stop entropy and the inevitable march of time, local historians, both local and regional, have been working to digitize a number of vintage Port Jefferson films and photos for more people to enjoy.

The Port Jefferson Train Station circa 1900. Original photos by Arthur S. Green. Digitized images from Preservation Long Island.

Cold Spring Harbor-based Preservation Long Island purchased a collection of glass slide photographs from renowned late 19th- and early 20th-century photographer Arthur S. Greene, who took photos from all over Brookhaven Town, many of which ended up on postcards and in books promoting Long Island as a tourist destination. 

It wasn’t until 2018 that Preservation LI curator Lauren Brincat said the historical nonprofit was able to place the very delicate glass slides where people could see them. The Palmer School of Library and Information Science at Long Island University supplied Preservation with a grant as part of the school’s Digitizing Local History Sources project, funded by the Robert David Lion Gardiner Foundation. The grant brought two LIU students to Preservation’s headquarters to digitize the photographs. 

Only one problem, there was no guide or template on how one should scan something as fragile as a glass slide. Brincat said the two LIU students had to start from scratch, creating their own guides and frames for photos of different sizes, 4×6, 5×7, etc. The group covered the flatbed with Mylar and used spacers to prevent the scanner from touching the artifacts. 

It was a “tedious and labor-intensive” job, Brincat said, but the result is worth it. Hundreds of images are now stored online for anybody to peruse. 

The Port Jefferson Train Station circa 1900. Original photos by Arthur S. Green. Digitized images from Preservation Long Island.

“There are great benefits to this,” the curator said. “It prevents having to go back to the original material, which could result in breaking them, emulsion or impact on the negative which are very light sensitive.”

The collection of photographs, Brincat said, captures the Island at a different time, especially how it developed from an agricultural, rural setting into its suburban commercial-based future.

“These pictures show the introduction of electricity and the automobile,” she said. “Many of the streets were dirt roads, which is hard to imagine today.”

Other people closer to home have also set themselves to the task of digitizing Port Jefferson history, items that have helped both village residents and historians understand their roots. 

Chris Ryon, the Port Jefferson Village historian, has been working with Belle Terre historian John Hiz on numerous projects, including getting a number of donated film reels from the Childs family digitized. Ryon said Hiz was instrumental in negotiating that donation to the Port Jeff archive. 

“I just wanted to make sure they were kept in the community,” he said.

A video of Belle Terre includes reels of pergolas, things that Hiz said he’s only seen in print. Without such items, he said, historians don’t have that tangible way to look back on the locals’ past.

“It makes things come to life,” he said. “Having access is the most important thing. There’s probably tons of materials stored in people’s attics or basements, but being able to have access is critical.”

A woman and child burn leaves in a digitized film reel gathered by local historians. Video from Port Jeff Maritime Facebook page

The reels depict numerous scenes from 1928 through 1940, including of a woman in a fur coat burning leaves in Belle Terre, of parades, and even of a picnic in Montauk, among others. One reel even shows flooding in Port Jeff reminiscent of recent events from this year and last.

The reels were sent to a historical group in Chattanooga, which has digitized the reels at $15 a piece. The Port Jefferson Harbor Education & Arts Conservancy provided funds. 

“It blew my mind once I first saw it,” Ryon said. “Everyone I showed it to had the same reaction — to see it come alive is another level, another dimension.” 

The PJ historian is still waiting on five more reels to come back, which he expects will be in a few weeks. The videos are all being displayed in the public Facebook group Port Jefferson Maritime, though Ryon said he may look for some video to be posted to the Port Jefferson website. 

“Once it becomes digitized, we can send it all over the world,” Ryon said. “Everyone who wants to can see it.”

The Commerdinger home in Nesconset, as seen today, was expected in 2006 to become a living museum.

Instead of selling their property to a developer for nearly $2 million, the family of Walter S. Commerdinger, Jr. sold to Suffolk County in 2006 their property on the north side of Lake Ronkonkoma with its historic home, circa 1810, for a reported $1.2 million. The idea, said Commerdinger’s heir, Paul Albert, was to turn the site into a living museum to honor the legacy of the family, regarded as one of Nesconset’s earliest settlers.

The home, which was in pristine condition when sold, has sat vacant for more than a decade now and has been repeatedly vandalized. Despite being awarded $100,000 in grant money for repairs from the Robert David Lion Gardiner Foundation, the county has allegedly not yet followed through with its end of the bargain.

The Commerdinger home in 2006, when the county purchased the site.

Both parties aim to renegotiate the agreement. 

Marie Gruick is a member of Nesconset Chamber of Commerce and she’s been helping Albert navigate the situation he’s facing with the government.

“They keep saying they’re broke,” Gruick said. “It’s been a bunch of empty promises. They just gave other communities $500,000 for a parking lot.”

The situation, though, highlights the challenges of preserving history on Long Island and in New York in general. Commerdinger Park and Marion Carll Farm, in Commack, are two examples of families hoping to preserve history with gifts of historic homes and properties to public entities. Both sites have historic homes that have fallen into a state of disrepair. 

Sara Kautz is the preservation director of Preservation Long Island. The not-for-profit organization works with Long Islanders to protect, preserve, and celebrate cultural heritage through advocacy, education, and stewardship of historic sites and collections.  The organization offers many services for free.  She said that more and more places are at risk.

John Kennedy Jr. (R) served as Nesconset’s county legislator in 2006 and helped facilitate the initial transaction for the Commerdinger site. Kennedy now serves as county comptroller and is running for county executive. His wife Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset) now serves as county legislator for District 12. She said there are no new updates.

“There’s a contract that everyone is reading through, so Commerdinger can join up with Smithtown Historical Society,” Leslie Kennedy said. “But it’s all in the talk stage.”

Gruick said the park is the last green space in Nesconset and its trails stretch to Lake Ronkonkoma. If the county isn’t interested in maintaining the home, she said, they should give it back. The family formed a 501(c)3 nonprofit, W.S. Commerdinger Jr. County Park Preservation Society, in 2008 to serve as stewards for the site but have been unable to accomplish what needs to be done for the house and its buildings. They say they feel like they’re on a merry-go-round.

“How long is the county going to dangle carrots,” Gruick said. 

The most immediate task, Gruick and Albert said, is to get PSEGLI to hook up the electricity to the site, so they can install security cameras to prevent further damage and to get county water hookup. What Gruick doesn’t understand, she said, is why the county is telling them that hooking up to electricity needs to go to bid if PSEGLI is the business that connects electricity. 

The county said in response to our inquiries that the order is in with PSEG, which needs to schedule the work. They could not provide a time frame for electric hookup and could only say that the request has been in for a while. 

Albert said that he has collections of antiques, including pottery crafted in the first kiln brought to America. He had hoped to move the pieces into the site by now. Formerly a banker, Albert said that he needs a lawyer that specializes in preservation but is unsure who has that expertise.

Crolius family heirs hope to exhibit a rare pottery collection in the Commerdinger home museum.

Kathryn Curran is the executive director of the Gardiner Foundation, a philanthropic group that supports historic preservation projects for 501(c)3 organizations with an education mission, but not for schools. 

The foundation offers $5 million in grants annually and said that some projects go more smoothly than others. When a municipality owns a building, she said, they typically have a contract in place with a “friends” group to manage the property. 

“The money is allocated to the friends group, not the municipality,” she said. 

Because of the “friends” agreements with government, she said the group needs town approval for the work and the contracts it hopes to secure. For some reason, towns or government entities don’t always feel comfortable with the process.

“We’re trying to give historic educational experiences to enhance a community,” she said. “It’s a downtown revitalization gift.”

She said that local businesses benefit when these projects are completed, so she doesn’t always understand herself why governments are reluctant. She said that many people are willing to volunteer as part of a friends group. These people, she noted, are also a precious gift. 

“It appears they don’t want to be beholden to private money,” she said. 

Gruick and Albert said they are frustrated but remain hopeful. They plan to meet with officials in the Town of Smithtown in the upcoming weeks for help.