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Smithtown Historical Society

Eric Powers shows participants a bat specimen.

By Heidi Sutton

The Smithtown Historical Society (SHS) teamed up with Ranger Eric Powers last Friday night to give our local bats a much needed helping hand. The North Shore community was invited to the historic Frank Brush Barn to learn about our mosquito-eating friends, build a bat house to take home and then stroll the grounds in hopes of catching a glimpse of these fascinating mammals.

David and Susan Henderson with their bat house

And the turnout was impressive as residents of all ages embraced the batty subject and enjoyed a wonderful educational evening. Participants were able to ask questions, had the opportunity to see a bat specimen up close and learned about the different styles of bat houses before assembling one of their own using plywood, screws and wood stain.

Powers was invited to present this program by Melissa Clements, the director of education at the SHS, who attended a bat workshop led by Powers a few months ago at Sands Point Preserve in Port Washington. “I had such a great time and enjoyed it so much,” she said, and couldn’t wait to bring Powers to Smithtown.

An ardent nature lover, Powers moved from Greeley, Colorado, to Long Island 20 years ago partially because “we live in this cool sweet spot where we have northern species and our own species and also southern species that come up — so there is this awesome convergence right here.”

Accompanied by his trusty sidekick, Gangsta, a 100-pound mush of a therapy dog, the wildlife biologist passionately spoke about one of his favorite animals, bats, and his mission to help them. “I’m focusing on bringing back nature, helping to restore the balance of nature, and a lot of that means supporting our natural ecosystem,” he said. And what better way to do that than with bats?

According to Powers, bats are important in so many ways. The only mammals that can fly, bats eat tons of flying insects including beetles, flies, moths, hatching termites and, most importantly, mosquitoes. “They’re out there eating bugs that are bugging us,” he laughed. They also play an important role as pollinators and seed dispersers.

Children stain their bat houses under the watchful eye of mom.

Aside from cats that are allowed to roam free, humans are the bat’s biggest threat. On top of dealing with habitat loss, “Everyone is spraying their property. There is such a chemical soup happening right now, all for killing bugs, killing beneficial insects,” he said sadly, continuing, “The bat’s food, flying bugs, is way down. The vast numbers of bugs are just not there anymore. And now, because we’re so out of balance with our ecosystem, the one thing that is surviving very well are mosquitoes.”

Before they got their hands dirty, Powers showed participants how to assemble a bat house, stressing that, when completed, it should be positioned at least 15 feet high on a tree or post and should be placed where the yard gets full sun from around noon to sunset. “Bats need a safe, warm place to hang out all day long.” Each bat house can accommodate up to 50 bats.

Dominick Domino of St. James decided to bring his daughter Hannah to the event. “It’s an activity we can do together,” he said. Hannah, who will attending summer camp at the historical society this summer, “is always interested about bats. She loves them.” The Dominos will be putting their new bat house in their garden.

Dominick and Hannah Domino show off their completed bat house.

David and Susan Henderson of Kings Park learned of the program on Instagram and decided to attend. “We love bats, they are just cute” said Susan, who received a bat house for Christmas. “We put it in our yard but we haven’t had bats yet so we were hoping to learn what we need to fix [to attract them].”

“We are looking forward to getting bats,” said David optimistically, as the couple finished assembling their second bat house.

For SHS Office Manager Victoria DelVento, the program was a great way to dispel any stigmas people have about bats and she was pleased with the wonderful and enthusiastic turnout. “Bats aren’t just for Halloween and they don’t suck your blood,” she laughed. “That was the point of this event.”

All photos by Heidi Sutton

Smithtown residents can watch the Brooklyn Atlantics play for free through October

By Sara-Megan Walsh

“No gloves, no steroids” is the motto of the Atlantic Base Ball Club, which has a classic approach to playing America’s favorite pastime.

Smithtown’s vintage baseball club team hosted a two-day festival at the Smithtown Historical Society’s Atlantic Park off East Main Street May 5 and 6. The Atlantic Base Ball Club is a recreation of the 19th century Brooklyn Atlantics, wearing period-appropriate jerseys while remaining committed to playing the game by 1864 rules. The original team was organized Aug. 14, 1855, and played home games on the Capitoline Grounds in Brooklyn.

Spectators quickly noticed the hand-made baseballs are larger and made of rubber, and the wooden bats come in different lengths according to a player’s preference. Under the vintage rules, the catcher and field players don’t wear mitts, but a batter will be called out if a fly ball is caught on the first bounce. Runners must be careful not to overrun first base, or they can be called out. Those interested can find a full explanation of the rules changes on the team’s website at www.brooklynatlantics.org/rules.php. 

The Atlantic team is 7-2 at the start of its 2018 season with games running through October. Admission is free. The schedule of upcoming home games is:

May 20 @ 11 a.m.      Versus Talbot Fairplays
June 9 @  11 a.m.      Double header versus Old Dutch Day, Providence Grays
June 30 @ 11 am.      Double header versus New Brunswick Liberty
July 14 @ 11 a.m.      Versus Red Onion BBC
Sept. 15 [day-long]    Smithtown Heritage Fair event
Oct. 27 @ 11 a.m.     Annual ABBC Scrimmage

For those interested in attending, all games are held at Smithtown Historical Society’s Atlantic Park on Franklin Arthur Farm at 239 East Main Street in Smithtown.

Travel back in time to the glitz and glamour of Long Island in the 1920s with a party Gatsby himself would be jealous of! The Smithtown Historical Society will host a Roaring 20s Party at the Elks Lodge, 120 Edgewood Ave., Smithtown on Saturday, April 7 at 7 p.m Enjoy dinner and dancing — period appropriate costumes encouraged!  $75 per person, $140 couple. To RSVP, call 631-265-6768.

*For costumes, contact Nan Guzzetta at 631-331-2261.

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A historic look at Smithtown’s first LIRR trestle. Photo from the Smithtown Historical Society

By Marianne Howard

It wasn’t until the arrival of the Long Island Rail Road and a few transportation innovations that Smithtown began to flourish as a place to live.

Prior to the LIRR arriving in 1872, Smithtown was solely connected to New York City through the Long Island Sound transport and dirt roadways. With the railroad, travelers from New York City were free to access areas like St. James and Kings Park as day trips, which previously would have never been considered.

As more and more people began coming into town, economic and business development around town boomed. Local farmers could now load wagons full of produce onto flatbed railroad cars headed for New York City. Travelers who initially came east for fresh air eventually concluded that there were residential possibilities in Smithtown and settled into the area.  However, the horse and buggy was the most accessible way to travel on the area’s dirt roads.

Old Hauppauge Road in 1910. Photo from the Smithtown Historical Society

Country sleighing was a favored pastime by early residents, according to “Images of America: Smithtown” written by Bradley Harris, Kiernan Lannon and Joshua Ruff. The book cites Alma Blydenbyrgh’s 1833 diary entry for Jan. 17 , in which she wrote, “Mr. Floyd been to the river and took Em and myself for a sleigh ride. Good sleighing!”

Getting to and from Smithtown remained difficult for years to come. The main obstacle to Smithtown’s connection to the northern spur of the LIRR was the Nissequogue River. To accomplish fully connecting the LIRR, engineers crafted a trestle to span the river valley, the largest iron structure of its kind on Long Island. When completed, it stood over 50 feet high and spanned a distance of 490 feet.

In the 1890s, bicycles first became a popular fad in the area. Bicyclists were urging the town and the county to construct dedicated bicycle paths to improve riders’ safety. Millionare Richard Handley personally funded a bike path from his estate in Hauppauge out to Smithtown. Eventually, Suffolk County constructed a path along Jericho Turnpike. 

Bicycling quickly became a nuisance to town officials. In 1911, Smithtown’s town board issued a motion banning bicyclists from riding on town sidewalks. Any rider caught violating the order could be fined up to $5.

Thirty years after the railroad came to town, automobiles began appearing. By the 1920s, the automobile was replacing the horse and buggy. Town officials were eventually forced to pave the roadways, and by the 1930s, the town was primed for a boom in both population and land development.

Marianne Howard is the executive director of the Smithtown Historical Society. For more information on the society, its events or programs or on becoming a member, visit www.smithtownhistorical.org or call 631-265-6768.

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Students of all ages were able to learn about local history and engage in hands-on projects through the Smithtown Historical Society’s summer programs. Photo from Marianne Howard

By Marianne Howard

The Smithtown Historical Society was fortunate to be able to provide children of all ages an opportunity this summer to step away from the screens, iPads and TVs to take an active role in volunteering and participating in its programs, camps, and daily activities this summer.

The historical society offers a Portals to the Past summer camp for children ages 6-to-12 for nine weeks throughout the summer. Cooking, sewing, drawing, painting and helping on the farm are all a part of the regular camp offerings. This year, Melissa Clemens,  director of education, created a junior educator program which bridges the gap between the camp years and the college years to create a well-informed core of teens to act as ambassadors in their schools and communities to promote an interest in history and education. The first training session in June had eight teens who spent the summer learning all about the historical society and their community. These 13- and 14-year-olds will continue to assist the society at various events throughout 2017.

Students of all ages were able to learn about local history and engage in hands-on projects through the Smithtown Historical Society’s summer programs. Photo from Marianne Howard

The society had two college-age interns volunteering with its education department this summer: Robert Rock, a Smithtown resident attending Williams College who has not declared a major; and Jacqueline Michels, a Hauppauge resident attending Providence College as a history and secondary education major. The two students tackled every task given to them and were able to make headway in some of the historical society’s newest projects. Rock assisted at all of the public programs this summer from goat yoga and movie night to the community barbecue. He also initiated a butterfly garden and helped to oversee its planting by volunteers from the Smithtown Youth Bureau at the end of August.

Michels worked diligently to draft a new field trip curriculum for the society’s Obadiah Smith building in Kings Park and reworked the “Long Island Kids: Then and Now” field trip program, which was offered for the first time last year.

“It’s great to see that the future of museums is in great hands,” Michels said. “Based on my time at Smithtown Historical Society this summer, I feel that SHS presents a community-building mission to the public. The organization works to bring together Smithtown residents over their shared local history through community events and programs. This summer, I’ve watched the Smithtown Historical Society make efforts to reach out to Smithtown residents of all ages to bring them to the historic buildings on their property and to bring local history out to the public.  All of their efforts build community by bringing together the residents of Smithtown to experience their shared history.” 

Rock also agreed that increasing involvement of younger members of community is essential. 

“I see the historical society as continuing to provide these programs for public involvement but increasing the involvement of younger members of the community,” he said. “As SHS has made a strong, and so far successful effort to further the involvement of this group through programs such as goat yoga, history happy hour, the movies on the lawn, and yoga on the lawn, I see this trend as continuing to mark the society’s path.”

Marianne Howard is the executive director of the Smithtown Historical Society. For more information on the society, its events or programs or on becoming a member, visit www.smithtownhistorical.org or call 631-265-6768.

James Clinch Smith poses for a portrait with his sisters.

By Kevin Redding

For the Smithtown Historical Society’s upcoming fundraising event, residents are encouraged to dress to the nines, party like it’s 1912 and shout at the top of their lungs, “I’m the king of the world!”

The organization’s Titanic Gala will “set sail” Saturday, April 8, at 7 p.m. at the Smithtown Elks Lodge, where those in attendance will dine and dance in Edwardian-era costumes, provided by Port Jefferson’s Nan Guzzetta, as if they’re first-class passengers on the infamous ship that more than 100 years ago collided with an iceberg and sank in the North Atlantic Ocean.

James Clinch Smith

Upon entering the lodge’s expansive ballroom, residents will be able to pose for a photo with an actor portraying the Titanic’s Captain Edward Smith and survey reproductions of artifacts once seen in the massive ship, including china and jewelry. The event’s $85 entrance fee will go toward the historical society’s educational programs as well as the maintenance of its buildings.

Although the night will act as a celebration of the more joyous aspects of the Titanic — and give attendees an excuse to quote Jack and Rose — members of the historical society organized the event because the ship’s tragic end hits close to home in Smithtown.

James Clinch Smith, a descendant of the legendary Richard “Bull Rider” Smith, founder of Smithtown and one of town’s wealthiest and most prominent residents at the turn of the 20th century, was among the 1,517 passengers aboard the Titanic who died during its maiden voyage from Southampton to New York City in the early morning of April 15, 1912.

But before he ultimately drowned, the 56-year-old Long Islander saved as many lives as he could as the ship went down. “He was really a hero on that day,” Maureen Smilow, a board member on the historical society, said. “We want to remember the heroism and participation of [someone] from Smithtown at that time and remember him. And there were other people besides Smith on the Titanic who lived in this area. In addition to having a good time, we should remember the people who gave their lives.”

Brad Harris, the historical society’s president, said the group has long been in awe of Smith’s legacy and the idea of honoring him has been in the back of their minds for years. “As far as I’m concerned, I think it’s great to make people aware that we had in our midst an individual who got caught in this horrible tragedy and did his best to save others,” Harris said. “It’s a way to highlight the story of his life and commemorate his memory.”

Smith, alongside his friend Archibald Gracie, who survived the sinking, lifted women, children and babies into lifeboats as the water rose higher and higher on the ship’s deck. His heroics were documented in Gracie’s book “The Truth about the Titanic.” In it, Gracie wrote: “There could not be a braver man than James Clinch Smith … He was the embodiment of coolness and courage during the whole period of the disaster.”

Gracie added that words failed to express his feelings of admiration for Smith’s conduct amid such chaos. “The highest tribute I could pay him is this plain recital of what he did in the way of self-sacrifice,” he wrote, “knowing no such word as fear in saving the lives of others.” Born and raised in Smithtown Branch, Smith grew up to practice law with his father, the prominent Judge John Lawrence Smith. After both his parents died in the late 1800s he inherited 250 acres of land and millions of dollars, further fueling his passion for high-society living, which included horse racing and polo.

He wound up on the Titanic, heading back to Smithtown, following a visit with his sick wife in Cherbourg, France. Although his body was never recovered following the disaster, a memorial service for him was held at the St. James Episcopal Church in Smithtown on May 11, 1912. Photos of Smith and his family will be on display at the gala.

While not completely accurate, the gala’s dinner menu echoes what was served to first-class passengers on the Titanic, with dishes that include hors d’oeuvres, chicken marsala, sliced pork loin, steak with merlot reduction and a butter cream cake dessert. For further authenticity, the Kings Park High School orchestra will play live music that was performed on the ship during its maiden voyage.

The historical society’s executive director, Marianne Howard, said she’s thrilled that so many people so far have been enthusiastic about the event. “Everyone is getting excited and wanting to learn more about history,” she said. “People are doing a lot of research on the social and cultural aspects of history at that time [1912] in order to find out what people wore, what people would’ve eaten. I’m looking forward to seeing people enjoy themselves while celebrating and honoring our history.”

Tickets for the Titanic Gala are still available. To order, please call 631-265-6768 or visit www.smithtownhistorical.org.

Join the Mulvhill-Lynch Irish Dancers for an evening of fun. File photo by Heidi Sutton

Save the date! The Smithtown Historical Society will host an Irish Night at the Frank Brush Barn, 211 E. Main St., Smithtown on Monday, March 13 at 7 p.m. Enjoy a delicious meal of corned beef and cabbage, potatoes and carrots, courtesy of Faraday’s of Smithtown.

Enjoy traditional Irish music by John Corr, a performance by the Mulvihill-Lynch Studio of Irish Dance, raffles, a limerick contest and merriment for all ages. Admission is $30, $25 members. For further info, call 631-265-6768.

Joan Harris’ woodland-inspired wreath won Best in Show in a previous year. Photo from SHS

It’s back! The Smithtown Historical Society, located at 239 Middle Country Road, Smithtown is holding a Heritage Country Christmas Community Wreath Contest through Nov. 28 at 5 p.m. Wreath must be from 12 to 24 inches in diameter; materials can be artist’s choice. Drop off is at the Roseneath Cottage. Entry fee is the donation of your wreath to the Historical Society. Cash prizes for Best in Show and Honorable Mentions will be awarded on Dec. 3; public voting is between 3 to 6 p.m. with the announcement of the winners at 6:45 p.m. Open to all. For more information, call 631-265-6768.

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On Sunday, Sept. 18th, the Smithtown Historical Society hosted its annual Heritage Country Fair, keeping up with its long-standing tradition of carrying the past to the present.

The Fair entertained an assortment of appealing attractions, such as Antique Cars, Barn Animals, Children’s Craft, Civil War Soldiers, Hay Rides, Old Time Base Ball, Pony Rides, Live Music, Food, and much more. Demonstrations included the Island Long Riders, with mounted cowboy shooting as well as woodworking, spinning, quilting and ethnic folk dancing.

Christine Sweeney, with her band the Dirty Stayouts, performs at last year’s blues fest. Photo from Smithtown Historical Society

By Rebecca Anzel

Christine Sweeney, with her band the Dirty Stayouts, performs at last year’s blues fest. Photo from Smithtown Historical Society
Christine Sweeney, with her band the Dirty Stayouts, performs at last year’s blues fest. Photo from Smithtown Historical Society

There will be music in the air this weekend at the Smithtown Historical Society.

The third annual Smithtown Blues Festival kicks off on Saturday, July 9, from 1 to 10 p.m. at the society’s grounds on Middle Country Road.

The outdoor festival features more than 10 musical performances by community and professional bands, such as The Sweet Suzi Blues Band, Christine Sweeney & The Dirty Stayouts and Rock N Roll University’s Masterclass. This year, for the first time, artists will be playing on two stages.

Smithtown Historical Society director Marianne Howard said the festival has expanded from where it first started.

“We were able to build the festival even more from where it was last year,” she said. “And it’s growing in length too.” The several hundred expected attendees are welcome to bring food or try food from Chef Gail’s Italian food truck. About 20 arts and crafts vendors will sell blues music merchandise, jewelry, candles, soap and other goods, and The Wellness Nook will be providing free massages.

The festival is being held in conjunction with the Long Island Blues Society, All-Music’s Rock N Roll University, WUSB Stony Brook and Hertz Equipment Rentals. It will be held rain or shine, and tickets cost $15 for Smithtown Historical Society and Long Island Blues Society members; or $20 for nonmembers.