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Smithtown Historical Society

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.

From left, Lou Goold, Margaret Foster, Serena Brooks and Joan Wormell. Photo by Rita Egan

By Rita J. Egan

During the evening of the first night of the week, while many are wrapping up their weekends, the Sunday Nite Folk Dancers are kicking up their heels at the Smithtown Historical Society’s Frank Brush Barn. The welcoming group continues the teachings of leading 20th century folk dance teachers Mary Ann and Michael Herman as well as celebrates a tradition that has brought communities together for centuries.

Long-time member Lou Goold, who has been dancing with the group since 1985, said the members follow the folk dance program that the Hermans debuted at the 1939 New York World’s Fair. The couple started Folk Dance House in Manhattan, and in the 1970s, after the group changed locations a couple of times in the city, they moved to North Babylon. The Hermans began leading their folk dance classes in Bay Shore and West Islip. After the passing of the couple in the mid-90s, and several years of the dancers meeting in Bay Shore, the group brought their love for folk dancing to Smithtown.

Goold said there are approximately a dozen or more members on any Sunday night who are more than happy to help newcomers learn the 15 or 20 dances a night. He said dance leader Ching-Hui Wu teaches twice a month. On other nights, called co-ops, the members take turns showing their fellow dancers their favorite numbers. “That’s a lot of fun, because we have cooperation. If one person forgets a dance or something like that, somebody else will help them out. So, it’s a very friendly group,” Goold said.

Margaret Foster, a member since the 90s, said she has enjoyed the variety of teachers throughout the years who have shared their specialties. Besides dances from America, there are also pieces from Scotland, Scandinavia, Israel, Bulgaria and other countries. “We enjoy learning something about the dances and the culture of the different places,” Foster said.

Goold said that helping people understand other ethnic groups through dance was a mission of the Hermans. Their motto was: “You can’t hate people when you’re doing their dances.”

Juanita Wetherell, who joined the group about 20 years ago, said she took a few years off to take care of family members. When she returned to the group, she was looking forward to dancing again but was doubtful she could remember the steps.

“When I first came back, I was thinking, ‘I haven’t danced in so long. I’m not going to remember any of the steps. I’m going to be the newbie all over again.’ Yet, I remembered somebody saying, ‘you listen to the music and your feet are going to know what to do’. And, you know, that’s pretty much what happened. The music tells you,” Wetherell said.

Her return reminded the dancer of her early days, when she was confused about rhythms and patterns.

Wetherell said Goold’s wife Kathy, a former dance leader, would sit her down next to her and just show her the footwork. The dancer said learning the steps first while sitting made it easier once she joined other dancers on the floor.

Foster said the leaders go over the sequences, so those who have never folk danced before can easily learn.

“You can come and learn as you go, and you’ll enjoy doing what you can and then you’ll learn more. You’ll start getting used to it next time. It’s the sort of thing that grows on you,” the group member said.

Ziggie Wielunski, a former dance leader, and his wife Alice have been dancing since 1947 and have been members of the Sunday Nite Folk Dancers since the group started meeting on the South Shore. Ziggie explained that folk dances are not that intricate, so anyone interested should come to the barn and try out the dances. Alice added, “The important thing is not to give up after the first time, but to come for a number of times, and you’ll find each time it’s easier and easier.”

The Sunday Nite Folk Dancers meet every Sunday from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m., except the third Sunday of July and the month of August, at the Smithtown Historical Society Frank Brush Barn located at 211 Main Street in Smithtown. The fee is $8 and no partner is needed. All ages and dance levels are welcomed. For more information, call 516-781-3552 or 631-589-4203.

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The iconic Smithtown statue, “Whisper the Bull,” welcomes residents as they enter the township and is a symbol of the community’s long and storied past. File photo by Elana Glowatz

By Jenni Culkin

There is cause for celebration among Smithtown residents this year. The town was founded 350 years ago, and the Smithtown Historical Society is preparing to get its residents involved in festivities and immersion in the town’s proud history.

“This town has been inhabited for 350 years,” said Kiernan Lannon, executive director of the Smithtown Historical Society. “It’s self-evident that this is a milestone!”

Lannon said the Smithtown Historical Society’s mission is to “preserve and present the town’s history,” and in order to develop an itinerary for the 350th annual celebration, the town’s historical society developed the 350 Foundation — a group of volunteers comprised of representatives from various organizations in the town.

On March 3rd, 1665, Richard Smythe, the town’s founder, was granted the Nicholls Patent. The patent gave him the right to the territory that encompasses present-day Smithtown. Originally, it was believed that Smythe was told that he could have all of the territory that he could circumnavigate on the back of a bull.

The bull story is so important that it has become the icon that represents Smithtown. The bull statue, affectionately named “Whisper the Bull,” welcomes residents as they enter the town boundaries.

The story proved to be only a legend, but it still has a place in this year’s celebration of the town’s history.

The Bull Smythe Relay is proof that the bull story is still sentimental to the people of Smithtown. The relay is the first of the 350th anniversary events that the 350 Foundation is planning, scheduled for March 1, which will mimic the torch relays that are performed during the Olympics.

The relay will cover approximately 36 miles within the town, each mile sponsored by a different person, organization or family. The public is welcome to come and watch the Bull Smythe Relay and support the participants.

Town historian Bradley Harris helped spearhead the planning of this year’s 350th celebration after Town Supervisor Patrick Vecchio penned a letter to him asking him to help plan the events.

Only two days after the relay, on March 3, there will be a special town board meeting. A time capsule opening will follow the meeting. The capsule was buried in 1965, during the town’s 300th anniversary celebration.

Town Councilwoman Lynne Nowick says that she can remember attending the 300th anniversary and said the events were historically a great historical celebration for the Town of Smithtown.

“The 350 committee is doing a fabulous job,” she said.

The dedicated 350 Foundation has a tentative calendar of events stretching from late February to December of this year. Not all of these events are held by the historical society.

The Smithtown Performing Arts Center is also hosting a musical performance called “The Spirit of Smithtown,” which will be playing in late May and early June. The Smithtown Library is also formulating a schedule of events that is to be announced within the last few weeks of February. Even the public schools in Smithtown’s school districts are planning an art show and contest.