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Roe House

The historic Drowned Meadow Cottage Museum is open to the public. Photo by Wenhao Ma

By Wenhao Ma

Port Jefferson history buffs got a sneak peak back in time at an event July 21, which previewed new additions at one of the village’s most historic sites.

The exhibits on display at the historic Drowned Meadow Cottage Museum were revealed for those in attendance at the special event. The museum contains artifacts, including a handwritten letter legitimizing the involvement of Port Jefferson in George Washington’s Culper Spy Ring during the Revolutionary War.

The historic Drowned Meadow Cottage Museum is open to the public with some added attractions. Photo by Wenhao Ma
The historic Drowned Meadow Cottage Museum is open to the public with some added attractions. Photo by Wenhao Ma

The museum was first opened in 2011, though it was closed shortly after. The re­opening of the house in 2015 was tied to the discovery of the letter, which is displayed at the museum and was written in 1780 by Loyalist solider Nehemiah Marks. The July 21 event also debuted the museum’s second floor, which had never previously been safe for occupancy, according to Georgette Grier-Key, village historian and curator of the house. She described the new addition as a “peek-a-boo deck” because visitors of the second floor can see some of the house’s exposed architecture, in addition to more exhibits that demonstrate the house’s history.

“It’s very significant to our shared American history,” Grier­-Key said of the museum. “It’s a surviving Revolutionary War structure circa 1755.”

The house belonged to Philips Roe. He and his brother, Nathaniel Roe, according to the letter, were providing intelligence and supplies to Washington’s army.

The house, located today at West Broadway and Barnum Avenue across from Port Jefferson Harbor, has been moved several times during its history. The most recent move took place in 2008 when the house was restored and made into a museum with the help of Robert Sisler, Port Jefferson’s first historian who passed away earlier this month.

“It’s very significant to our shared American history…it’s a surviving Revolutionary War structure circa 1755.” —Georgette Grier-Key

A foundation had to be built under the house to raise it high above the ground because the house is in a floodplain, according to Jim Szakmary, who has been assisting Grier­-Key in setting up the museum. Szakmary also said the house is so old that when restoring it they had to use steel rods that went all the way from the roof to the cement foundation to secure it.

Szakmary said private collectors and other museums donated or lent their collections to the Drowned Meadow Cottage museum in advance of the re-opening July 21.

“With the significance of the Culper Spy Ring,” said Mayor Margot Garant, who attended and spoke during the event, “it’s really mind-blowing to actually be standing in the house.”

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Former Port Jeff Village Historian Robert Sisler leaves behind a lasting impact. File Photo

By Wenhao Ma

Port Jefferson Village mourned the death of its first historian and a proud, devoted community member earlier this month. Robert Sisler died July 2 at the age of 88.

Sisler was a Spanish teacher at Port Jefferson High School from 1953 to 1984 and headed the school’s Foreign Language and Reading departments. He served as a member and eventually became the chairman of the village’s Zoning Board of Appeals. He was also the chairman of the Harbor Committee, a village trustee and the deputy mayor in addition to being the first historian of the village.

“[Sisler] was a constant lover of the village…his love turned into action.” —Nomi Solo

“He was an integral and driving force for exploring, recording and documenting our local history,” Mayor Margot Garant said in an email. “His writings and lifelong work of preserving Port Jefferson will ensure that our children for generations to come will learn about our ship-building heritage, our car-building years and our influence and impact in the American Revolution.”

As a historian, Sisler wrote several books on the early years of Port Jefferson. Topics included shipbuilding, automobile manufacturing, moral ethics, the development of radio and television at RCA Radio Central in Rocky Point and other historical articles for TBR News Media.

Jack Smith, historian from the Cumsewogue Historical Society, shared an anecdote about one of his experiences with Sisler. He said he read an article on an automobile factory in Port Jefferson about eight years ago. He then contacted the author, who was Sisler, hoping to invite him to the society’s annual Heritage Day, which is meant to celebrate the history of the community, to give a group of fourth-graders a lecture. Sisler agreed.

“He was always willing to share,” Smith said. He recalled on that day Sisler didn’t just come talk to the kids about the factory, but brought his own old car. “It’s a very generous thing,” he said.

The historical society once received a unit brick from Sisler as donation, according to Smith. The unit brick is different from normal bricks because it’s shaped like the letter “U.”

“We always had a nice relationship,” Smith said. “He’s a very nice man … he knew so many different things about Port Jefferson.”

Sisler’s most recent contribution to Port Jefferson was the restoration of the two centuries-old Roe houses, named for the family of the first settlers in downtown Port Jefferson, according to the village’s historical society. The original owner, businessman Phillip Roe, used his resources to help George Washington pass information in the Culper Spy Ring during the Revolutionary War.

The reason for Sisler to restore historical sites, according to Nomi Solo, who said she had known Sisler since the 1970s, was because it’s better for people to experience the history themselves than to look at the remaining pieces in a museum.

“He was a constant lover of the village,” Solo said. She added that Sisler was instrumental in the construction of the Village Center.

“His love turned into action,” she said. “He was a very, very, very caring individual. It’s a loss for the community.”