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Smithtown 350

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Smithtown was swarming with history on Saturday in honor of the town’s 350th anniversary.

The Sesquarcentennial Parade marched down Main Street, starting at 11:30 a.m. and continuing into the afternoon. Residents new and old came together in tribute of the town’s founding 350 years ago and groups from throughout Smithtown marched down the parade route. Town officials and community leaders also participated in the festivities by donning colonial garb more commonly found 350 years ago.

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Smithtown celebrates its 350th anniversary with the unveiling of a new statue of founder Richard Smith. Photo by Eric Santiago

By Eric Santiago

Smithtown celebrated its 350th anniversary Saturday morning with the unveiling of a new statue– this time of the town’s legendary founder– Richard Smith.

Commissioned by the Smithtown-based Damianos Realty Group, the bronze sculpture joins the emblematic “Whisper the Bull” as the latest figure to immortalize the town’s history. The $300,000 statue stands outside of a Damianos-owned office building at the intersection of Main Street and Route 111.

“Here was a person who laid eyes on this land and said this is a great, great place,” Cristofer Damianos said. “It’s still true 350 years later.”

Local officials praised the Damianos’ efforts at a jam-packed ceremony on the building’s lawn.

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) said he was impressed with the attention that was drawn to the event.

“As you look at this crowd you are reminded with every glance how great of a town this is– that you all would be here on what is a beautiful Saturday morning” he said. “This is Smithtown.”

Town Supervisor Patrick Vecchio (R) added that hoped Smith would approve of how the town has evolved over the last three centuries.

Smithtown celebrates its 350th anniversary with the unveiling of a new statue of founder Richard Smith. Photo by Eric Santiago
Smithtown celebrates its 350th anniversary with the unveiling of a new statue of founder Richard Smith. Photo by Eric Santiago

“I don’t know if [Richard] ‘Bull’ Smith could ever have imagined Smithtown as it is today,” he said. “I don’t imagine he would think some guy with an ‘O’ on the end of his name would be making a speech about him,” he said to laughs from the crowd. “But I hope Mr. Smith would pleased with our stewardship of Smithtown.”

According to legend, Smith was an English colonist settling in the new world when he made a pact with a group of Native Americans. He could keep whatever land he managed to circle in a day while riding his now-famous bull, Whisper. As the story goes, Smith set out on the longest day of the year in 1665 and covered the borders of modern day Smithtown.

Historians have since debunked the story, but the myth still an important part of the town’s culture.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) referenced it in his remarks at the ceremony.

“It’s nice to see the man who rode the bull getting his own statue, right here in Smithtown,” he said. Bellone added the event was “an incredible occasion for the community to come together and celebrate the founding of this great town.”

The real story behind Smithtown’s founding is more complicated.

According to Smithtown historian Brad Harris, the land that would become the town was originally owned by the Nissequogue Native Americans. Grand Sachem Wyandanch awarded the land to Englishman Lion Gardiner in 1659. Gardiner had helped return Wynandanch’s daughter, the princess, after she was kidnapped by the Narragansett Native Americans.

Meanwhile Smith was living with his family in nearby Setauket. According to Harris, Gardiner and Smith were friends, and when the Narragansett finally released the princess to Wyandanch, it was actually done at Smith’s house in Setauket. Then in 1663 Gardiner sold the Nissequogue lands to Smith.

Two years after this Smith had his claim to the land ratified by New York Governor Richard Nicolls. Nicolls then awarded Smith “The Nicolls Patent of 1665,” which solidified the claim. This is the document displayed in the statue’s left hand.

“So now you know the real story,” said Harris. “And I would just like to point out, it had nothing to do with bulls.”

 

The Smithtown Bull is an integral piece of the town’s history. File photo

Smithtown has been celebrating its 350th anniversary through many celebrations and events this year, and there are still several more to come.

Bradley Harris, town historian, formed the Smithtown 350 Foundation committee almost two years ago. “I wrote a letter to Supervisor [Pat] Vecchio that the town should plan significant events to inform the residents of the history of Smithtown on its 350th anniversary,” Harris said in a phone interview.

Harris said Vecchio (R) then decided to have Harris form a committee specific to planning events for the anniversary.

“My objective is to try and make an exciting year to remember, that will make people more familiar with the town they live in,” Harris said in a phone interview.

The first event the 350 committee held was The People of Smithtown, where author and historian Noel Gish presented a program on the cultural heritage ethnic peopling of Smithtown, pulling from history, personal photographs and recollections.

In March a special town board meeting was held where board members, while wearing colonial garb, read the original patent for Smithtown in old English. Harris said it was “very funny.” At the meeting, a time capsule that was buried 50 years ago was opened up. The time capsule itself was an old milk can, and Harris said the smell “bowled everyone over.”

Inside were items such as an old telephone book and pennies from the 1950s and ’60s. The committee plans to bury a new time capsule sometime in November. Inside the new one will be a video of this year’s parade, as well as a video of the parade in 1965 to show contrast.

This past summer there have been concert series, heritage festivals, theatrical productions and more. The dedication of the statue of Richard Smythe will be held this Saturday, Sept. 19, at 10:30 a.m., which will be followed by a fireworks celebration later that night at 6:30 p.m. at Sunken Meadow State Park. The 350th parade is still to come in later September.

The Smithtown Historical Society has also been hosting many events to celebrate Smithtown’s anniversary.

The Heritage Country Fair is the society’s next big celebration.

This Sunday, Sept. 20, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. the society will host an old-fashioned fall festival, which will include an 1860s baseball team, antique cars and trucks, Civil War reenactors, pony rides and hayrides, according to Marianne Howard, SHS executive director. “It should be a great time,” she said.

There will also be a series of four fall harvest lectures, from late October to early November.

The first will focus on historic haunts and ghost legends, the second on Long Island’s involvement in the Civil War, the third on tales from a general store and the final on songs from 18th-century America.

The last event to celebrate Smithtown’s 350th anniversary, the Heritage Country Christmas, will be hosted by the historical society. It will feature a bonfire, caroling, a puppet show, colonial and contemporary Christmas music, children’s crafts and a visit from Santa. The event will be held on Tuesday, Dec. 1.

“I hope by the end of this year that the residents of Smithtown will have a greater appreciation and greater knowledge of their town,” Harris said.

Town Board members played along with Smithtown’s 350th anniversary celebration Tuesday night, dressing up in outfits similar to those when the town was first founded. Photo by Chris Mellides

By Chris Mellides

Take members of the Smithtown Town Board, dress them up in 17th century garb and the rest is history.

Officials commemorated the town of Smithtown’s 350th anniversary sponsored by the Smithtown 350 Foundation Tuesday with the opening of a time capsule and were joined by residents who braved the snow to attend the event at the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts.

Town historian Bradley Harris hosted the night’s proceedings and was joined onstage by Supervisor Patrick Vecchio (R) and his colleagues who wore elaborate 17th century period clothing and read passages from the Richard Nicolls Patent of 1665 — which outlined instructions for governance under English rule of what are now the states of New York and New Jersey.

Throughout the presentation Harris and those town officials that participated onstage engaged in playful

Town Board members played along with Smithtown’s 350th anniversary celebration Tuesday night, dressing up in outfits similar to those when the town was first founded. Photo by Chris Mellides
Town Board members played along with Smithtown’s 350th anniversary celebration Tuesday night, dressing up in outfits similar to those when the town was first founded. Photo by Chris Mellides

banter and delivered light-hearted jokes that often got a rise out of the Long Islanders who watched from their seats.

As the night progressed, Harris often pulled from the pages of history and delivered facts about the founding of Smithtown that those in attendance might not have otherwise known.

Despite the witty quips and wisecracks exchanged in the theater room of what used to be a local cinema, the 71-year-old historian and Saint James resident was quite serious and resolute about the importance of preserving history and the passion he holds for his community.

“This town is very interesting because it started with one man’s dream to carve out a niche for himself where he would be his own master and I think that’s [Smithtown founder] Richard Smith in a lot of ways,” Harris said. “He’s left us so many things to venerate.”

During the course of the event, eyes were drawn to a 50-year-old milk can worn with age, which sat to the far right of the stage. The dirtied metal time capsule was originally buried in 1965, and thanks in large part to the town Engineering Department, which had a precise map of its location, its contents were ready to be shared for the first time with audience members.

Town officials and residents were on their feet and the excitement filling the room was palpable. With a hard crack of a hammer, the time capsule was forced open and placed on the long table, where Vecchio and his colleagues were seated.

Among the contents contained within the milk can were: two dusty hats, a phonebook, a local newspaper, a flyer advertising tercentenary pageant tickets and an assortment of aged coins.

James Potts a resident of Smithtown, who has lived in the area for 63 years, was among those in attendance. Potts’ father was the town surveyor, and, due to this, Potts claims to have a very strong knowledge of the town’s history.

Asked about the night’s presentation, Potts said he was very happy with how things shaped up.

“As you can see from how the theater filled up, it shows you the extent of the connection in this town with the residents and basically the pride in the town that they live in,” said Potts.

While he enjoyed the event, Potts expressed some disappointment with the contents of the time capsule and felt as though there could have been more items included that could have better illustrated what life was like on Long Island in the early 1960s.

Town Board members played along with Smithtown’s 350th anniversary celebration Tuesday night, dressing up in outfits similar to those when the town was first founded. Photo by Chris Mellides
Town Board members played along with Smithtown’s 350th anniversary celebration Tuesday night, dressing up in outfits similar to those when the town was first founded. Photo by Chris Mellides

Also expressing his dismay with the time capsule finds was Harris, who as a historian expected a lot more.

“It was the era of Kennedy’s assassination, and I would’ve thought there would have been some commentary on that, but there was nothing and that’s a little disappointing,” said Harris. “The guys who made up the time capsule certainly were trying to stir interest in the past and they did that, but what we learned tonight was very limited.”