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Three Village Historical Society

Above, the Setauket Baseball Team. Hub Edwards is in the front row, center. Photo courtesy of TVHS
Photo from TVHS

The Three Village Historical Society had to make the difficult decision to cancel all of its in-person programs and events for the spring and summer. In light of the financial devastation caused by COVID-19, it recently launched a “Safe at Home” t-shirt campaign fundraiser in honor of Hub Edwards to help ensure that it can resume events this fall and continue to provide educational programs for years to come.

This limited run, made-in-the-USA t-shirt features the original 1950s Setauket Baseball Team logo with the words “Safe at Home,” a sentiment we can all relate to during the global pandemic. It is printed in a baseball diamond with Hub’s number on the community team, “24.” He has been riding out this quarantine, “safe at home,” and will be celebrating his 91st birthday later this year.

Hub Edwards: From Chicken Hill to the Three Villages, a man about community

The Three Village Historical Society works within the community to explore local history through education. Educational programs are developed by collecting and preserving artifacts, documents, and other materials of local significance. Ongoing research is conducted about the history of the people who have lived, from earliest habitation to modern times, in the Three Village area. 

A microcosm of the diversity of America, Chicken Hill was only one mile in diameter, but home to many different people, including Indigenous Persons, Eastern and Western European immigrants, and African Americans.  At its most robust, hundreds of people lived on Chicken Hill. Notable residents, such as Carlton “Hub” Edwards, called the neighborhood home. Chicken Hill and its residents continue to influence the Three Villages. 

Edwards was born in Stony Brook. When he was four years old, he and his family moved to Chicken Hill. A prolific baseball player, in eighth grade, he pitched for the varsity baseball team. In eleventh grade, he pitched for both the varsity team and the local semi-pro team. In 1950, his three no-hitters won him the attention of the Brooklyn Dodgers. Shortly thereafter, he got two draft notices: one from the Brooklyn Dodgers and one from the government.

After his service in the Korean War, he returned home to Chicken Hill. He met and married Nellie Sands. They lived with Edwards’ widowed mother and extended family in an apartment complex in Chicken Hill; in 1958, they purchased a house in the area formerly known as West Setauket. They still live there today.

Edwards’ baseball talents were fostered and nurtured in Chicken Hill. His maternal uncles played ball; one of them could have gone pro if not for the “color barrier,” according to Edwards. Games were held in the fields near the former location of the rubber factory, as well as at Cardwell’s Corner, and the Setauket School, which was “the best field, because it was level,” says Edwards.

He and Nellie remain pillars of the Three Villages, socially and civically engaged in many causes. For 40 years, he worked as a custodian in the Three Village Central School District before retiring in 2000. He has been a member of the Irving Hart American Legion Post for 64 years, and in non-pandemic times, speaks every Sunday at Three Village Historical Society’s exhibit, Chicken Hill: A Community Lost to Time.

To support the Society by buying a “Safe at Home” t-shirt, visit www.tvhs.org. T-shirts sell for $25 plus shipping. Shirts are available in 6 different colors, come in sizes Small to 4X and are proudly made in America. The fundraiser runs through Friday, July 31. 100% of the proceeds will be used to help support and fund the Three Village Historical Society’s education programs.

Above, attendees at Juneteenth celebration, Eastwoods Park, Austin, Texas, June 19, 1900. Photo courtesy of The Austin History Center

This article originally appeared on the Three Village Historical Society website and is reprinted with permission. 

By Tara Ebrahimian

Juneteenth, first established by the Black community of Texas in 1866, is now getting in New York State the recognition it has long deserved. On June 17, 2020 Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced that he would, by Executive Order, recognize Juneteenth as a state holiday, and put it before the New York legislature to make this mandate, law. Although Juneteenth began in the South, it is widely observed throughout the country. It is annually observed in New York, including on Long Island, through independent and collaborative celebrations. Juneteenth’s historic and cultural relevance impacts the entire nation and remains hugely significant for Black heritage and United States history. 

It commemorates June 19, 1865, when enslaved Blacks learned that they were legally free. Union Army General Gordon Granger arrived with his troops in Galveston, Texas, and made a profound announcement: the war and slavery were over. Technically the war ended when General Robert E. Lee surrendered on April 9, 1865, and the Emancipation Proclamation, effective January 1, 1863, freed enslaved persons in Confederate states, but the news had not been shared in Texas. It was the last stronghold of slavery. Since 1862, when New Orleans was captured, slave owners from Mississippi, Louisiana, and other southern states had moved with their slaves to Texas. There were approximately 250,000 enslaved people residing in Texas when the declaration was made. 

Granger’s delivery of the news did not result in an immediate end of slavery.  Blacks in Galveston initially celebrated the revelation, but the mayor contradicted the law and forced them to go back to work. It was largely left to the slave owners’ discretion whether they informed individuals that they were no longer enslaved. Many did not initially share the information and instead waited for the arrival of a government agent to tell them. Blacks were frequently not informed until after the harvest. A number of newly emancipated individuals ignored the censure to stay put and left for Arkansas, Louisiana, and Oklahoma. They did so at their own risk; there were numerous reports of Blacks being lynched as they tried to leave. 

In 1866 freed people in Texas, in conjunction with the Freedmen’s Bureau, organized formal celebrations for “Jubilee Day.” During the years immediately after the war, Jubilee Day was sometimes celebrated on January 1st, a reference to the enactment of the Emancipation Proclamation. It also functioned as a rally for political and social advancement; Jubilee Day frequently offered instruction for voter registration and participation. The day became a mainstream event in Black communities and featured festivities, activities, and food. 

Segregation in cities prohibited Blacks from going to public parks. Church grounds were often used as sites for the events. And, freed individuals pooled money to purchase land on which to hold celebrations. For example, Black community leaders, led by Reverend Jack Yates, raised $1000 in 1872 to purchase land that is now Houston’s Emancipation Park. These annual celebrations began drawing thousands of participants throughout Texas and expanding beyond the state. By the end of the century, Jubilee Day was known primarily as Juneteenth.  

During this period, many southern states enacted punitive and punishing Jim Crow legislation that undermined or undid the economic and political progress Blacks had made during and after Reconstruction. These local and state laws were designed to subjugate and stymie Black social, economic, and political development. They disenfranchised Black people through segregation and policies such as the Grandfather Clause that limited or eliminated voting rights.

Many freed people left Texas and the South in search of greater opportunities in the North. Juneteenth was a still Southern celebration and attendance outside of Texas began to wane. Younger generations, more removed from the war and seeking to distance themselves from the legacy of slavery, also started to distance themselves from participating in the unofficial holiday. As the twentieth century progressed, and people moved from agricultural to industrial employment, it was increasingly unlikely that people would be granted time off work for Juneteenth. The Great Depression, in particular, caused a migration from the country to the cities. 

The Civil Rights movement caused a resurgence in awareness about Juneteenth. Black youth joined their elders in the fight for Civil Rights. There was increased interest in and engagement with history and how the past informs the present. The Poor People’s March to Washington, D.C. served as a catalyst for renewed interest in Juneteenth. Participants returned to their home states and initiated Juneteenth celebrations in locations that had never before experienced them. 

In 1980, Texas was the first state to formally recognize Juneteenth; it declared the date a “holiday of significance…” At the end of the decade, California, Illinois, Wisconsin, Georgia, and Washington, D.C., were among the places that presented major events for Juneteenth. Although Congress has remembered Juneteenth in different ways over the years, it is not yet a national holiday. In New York, “Juneteenth Freedom Day” was first identified as a commemorative holiday in 2004, per a state law signed by Governor George Pataki.

Long Island hosts a growing number of events and programs dedicated to this occasion. Frequently celebrated on the third Sunday in June, modern events share certain traits with their predecessors, including picnics, cookouts, historical reenactments, street fairs, parades, etc. This year’s festivities are scaled back due to COVID-19, but certain celebrations, such as the Long Island Unity March on June 19, were still scheduled.  

Author Tara Ebrahimian is the Education Coordinator at the Three Village Historical Society in Setauket — www.tvhs.org.

Beverly C. Tyler, historian for the Three Village Historical Society, at the grave of Culper Spy Abraham Woodhull during filming on April 6.

By Beverly C. Tyler

The Three Village Historical Society’s virtual local history programming is kicking off this week with a series of virtual SPIES! bicycle tours to locations that include spy videos, ciphers, codes and the stories of the five principal Setauket members of the Culper Spy Ring. 

This will be followed by a series of virtual Founders Day tours that will take you to seven locations in the Town of Brookhaven Original Settlement area. Students, teachers and family members of all ages will be able to enjoy these local history explorations initiated every Monday for the next twelve weeks on the Society’s web site. 

For the next five weeks we will be exploring local sites of Setauket’s Revolutionary War Culper Spy Ring. At each site you will learn about a spy who played a key role in the ring and you will be able to decode a spy message and send your  decoded messages to the Three Village Historical Society. On Friday of each week the decoded message will be posted on the Society’s web site.

Following the Virtual Spies Tours we will take you to seven Founders Day locations in the original settlement area of Setauket, including the Village Green; Setauket Presbyterian Church and graveyard; Frank Melville Park Sanctuary at Conscience Bay; Caroline Church of Brookhaven graveyard and Emma S. Clark Library; Frank Melville Memorial Park, mill and historic miller’s home; Setauket Neighborhood House, general store and post office; and Patriot’s Rock. 

At these locations you will discover stories about Setalcott Native Americans, agents for the English settlers, artist William Sidney Mount, Setauket’s war heroes, Three Village immigrants, philanthropists, millers, farmers, ship captains and more.

We don’t know when we’ll open our doors to in-person programs again, but please know that we are doing everything we can to prioritize the services and programs that you love and enjoy during this time of social distancing. 

For more information check out our web site at: https://www.tvhs.org/.

To go directly to our virtual spy tours, visit https://www.tvhs.org/virtual-programming.

Lise and Steven Hintze. Photo from Three Village Historical Society

By Donna Newman

Lise and Steve Hintze have been caring, contributing, active members of the Three Villages for more than two decades. They are both generous givers, willing to share their energy and talents for the benefit of the community. It is with gratitude that we honor them as 2019 TBR News Media People of the Year.

Residents who frequent the Frank Melville Memorial Park in Setauket may or may not know of the Hintzes’ efforts to keep improving and growing this valuable community venue.

Lise Hintze at a recent event at the Bates House. Photo by Rita J. Egan

Steve Hintze has been a Frank Melville Memorial Foundation trustee since 2008. He served several terms on the board as secretary. At present, he chairs the Park’s Building and Grounds Committee.

“Steve has brought a firefighter’s grit, an MBA, and a wealth of knowledge of all aspects of building and site design to the role,” said FMMF President Robert Reuter. “He also brings an admirable collection of professional-grade tools, and he’s not afraid to get his hands dirty. Steve is always an absolute pleasure to work with and he knows how to complete a project to the high standard for which the park is known.”

His projects have included park lighting, the mill restoration, which is now in progress, and assisting Eagle Scout candidates with their endeavors for park enhancement.

Lise Hintze was recruited to join the park’s staff in 2011 in the dual role of office manager and director of the Bates House. Regular visitors know her as the friendly face of the Frank Melville Memorial Park. Her finger is always on its pulse, and she is ever on the lookout for potential improvements.

“The quintessential office manager, Lise efficiently handles park business,” Reuter said. “As director of the Bates House, she works with demanding brides and anxious grooms on wedding weekends — and then manages all manner of programs during the week. The full schedule of special events and gatherings keeps her on call, but her thorough planning makes it all look easy. A pioneer in social media reporting, Lise has enabled the park to keep Friends informed via a website.”

Lise Hintze has been described as a “Saint on Earth” and a “Super Hero” by folks who know her but wished to remain anonymous. They see her as “the height of humanity” always ready to help. Her credo: “What does anybody — or any animal — need that I can give them?” It is an attribute reportedly shared by her husband.

Steve Healy, president of the Three Village Historical Society, is happy to add his voice to those impressed with Lise Hintze’s abilities.

“Her work at the Frank Melville Park — between the Bates House and the Grist Mill and the growth in the park has been fabulous,” Healy said. “She synergizes the park with the community, is admired for her efforts and she does a great job taking the park to new levels.”

Lise Hintze does not let her job description limit her. If it’s happening in the park, it’s on her radar. Among her many contributions outside of official duties include the Wind Down Sunday outdoor concerts, begun with Katherine Downs and others and an ambitious schedule of three concerts. The park now offers nine. She has, when needed, instigated wildlife rescues. When drug abuse cropped up in the park a few years ago, she took a pragmatic stance and turned a potential security issue into an educational opportunity.

Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) lauded — and also joined in — that effort.

“Lise has a keen eye for what’s needed in the area,” Hahn said. “The opiate group she helped create in the fall of 2017 brought in speakers and provided a place for parents and students to openly and without judgment discuss the opioid crisis they were witnessing firsthand. It was a critical step for our community.”

The creation of this parent group was most likely the impetus for the Three Village school district’s hiring of a dedicated drug and alcohol abuse counselor, who began serving students and their families the following fall.

Steve Hintze, left, with Tim Smith of Old Field Landscaping preparing the site of Frank Melville Memorial Park’s new pollinator garden. Photo by Robert Reuter

These efforts alone would suffice to warrant community kudos, but there’s more.

Steve Hintze is still heavily involved with the Three Village Historical Society. A past president, he is currently the organization’s grants administrator and is busy gathering the resources to reconstruct the historic Dominick-Crawford Barn on TVHS property in Setauket.

Sandy White, office manager at TVHS had nothing but praise for her former boss.

“Steve was the president when I started working at TVHS. He hired me,” White said. “And to this day he is always there to help — willing to do anything. He’s working now with Steve Healy on the grants for the barn and comes into the office as often as he can. Willing to help anyone with everything, Steve tries to make a difference in everything he does.”

Healy and Hintze, who knew each other as firefighters in New York City before they became active in Three Village nonprofits, apparently share many of the same values. Healy has great respect for his colleague’s vast knowledge and willingness to share it.

“Steve is one of the people I have on speed dial,” Healy said. “When I call I know I’ll get a ‘Yes.’”

“If there’s ever a problem, he doesn’t just give me his input, he’ll roll up his sleeves and get involved in the solution. He’s a special breed with excellent leadership skills and creative ideas. The TVHS is blessed to get someone of his caliber and work ethic.”

Hahn completely agrees.

“Steve Hintze is a pillar of the community and a local hero,” Hahn said. “He contributes so much in real and tangible ways. His calming presence is valuable. He knows how to deal with people, how to motivate them, and how to find solutions, and he is always willing to do what’s necessary.”

There is general consensus with Reuter’s final assessment of these two exceptional individuals.

“They are remarkably modest people and would insist that what they do is nothing special,” Reuter said. “But they are, in fact – something special.”

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The old steeple is taken down Nov. 15 and replaced with a new one. Photo by Beverly C. Tyler

By Beverly C. Tyler

Setauket United Methodist Church at the corner of Main Street and Route 25A sits as a beacon and a guide to the historic community around it known as Chicken Hill. This is a place that had its roots in mid-19th century industrial America with first the Nunns & Clark piano factory and its primarily German workforce, followed in the same five-story brick factory by the Long Island Rubber Company which initially hired Irish and African American workers. Later Russian Jews and Eastern European Catholic immigrants flooding into New York City were hired for a workforce that, at its peak, totaled more than 500.

Setauket United Methodist Church steeple being painted in 1925 by Clinton West, left, Herman Aldrich, right, and Ray Tyler, at top. Photo from Beverly C. Tyler

Three Village Historical Society president, Steve Healy, said he was approached by the church’s pastor, the Rev. Steven Kim, who knew about the society’s exhibit, Chicken Hill: A Community Lost to Time. Kim asked if the society would be interested in the church’s steeple as it was to be taken down and replaced by a new one.

“I thought it would be nice to include a portion of the steeple, with the cross on top, in the exhibit, to show that this church was a focal point of Chicken Hill, right in the middle of these working-class immigrants,” Healy said.

The steeple, weighing about 700 pounds, consisted of the aluminum skin and the interior framing. The exterior skin was separated from the inside structure and moved by trailer to the historical society’s headquarters on North Country Road.

“We decided to take all 32 feet and later decide what will be used in the exhibit,” Healy said. “It’s a historical artifact that people can touch and a fascinating addition to our exhibit in the history center.”

One of the goals of the historical society is to bring the history of the local community to life and to excite and engage people. The society also wants visitors to its exhibits to discover what they want to remember and what they need to remember. The artifacts and documents in the Chicken Hill exhibit illustrate the cooperative community that existed at Chicken Hill as well as the societal problems that existed in and around that area. Bringing people of diverse ethnicity, race and religion here to live and work together provides a wealth of stories.

The Chicken Hill exhibit tells the stories of harmony and conflict together with individual stories of pride, compassion and humor. The addition of the church steeple will help to bring the storytelling full circle.

Beverly C. Tyler is Three Village Historical Society historian and author of books available from the society at 93 North Country Road, Setauket. For more information, call 631-751-3730 or visit www.tvhs.org.

The 25th annual Spirits Cemetery Tour: The Unforgotten will be long remembered as a great success for Three Village Historical Society and a night of spooky merriment for both volunteers and visitors. The event, co-chaired by Frank Turano and Janet McCauley, was sold out days in advance and attracted around 340 visitors.

The actors, dressed in period garb provided by Antique Costumes and Prop Rental by Nan Guzzetta, mingled among tombstones and tourgoers at the Setauket Presbyterian Church cemetery and Caroline Church of Brookhaven cemetery. Twelve “spirits” recounted stories of lives that spanned the centuries and crossed the continents, but all connected to Setauket.  

Before embarking on the walk, groups gathered in the Presbyterian Church community room. There they enjoyed complimentary donuts and cider, time period appropriate harpsichord music from Kyle Collins of Three Village Chamber Players, an exhibit curated by archivist Karen Martin of photos and other primary source materials about the people who were depicted on the tour and an interactive photo station. The tour ended at the Caroline Church carriage shed, where guests sampled cookies and apple cider. Food and beverages were provided by Ann Marie’s Farm Stand, Stop & Shop East Setauket and Starbucks East Setauket. 

Preparations are already underway for Spirits Cemetery Tour October 2020, which will feature the Spirits of Chicken Hill! If you are interested in volunteering as an actor or in some other capacity for the next tour, please call 631-751-3730 or visit www.tvhs.org.

Photos by Anthony White and Beverly C. Tyler

 

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Benjamin Tallmadge's home in Litchfield, Connecticut. Photo from Beverly C. Tyler

By Beverly C. Tyler 

The end of the Revolutionary War brought dramatic change for Patriots and for Continental Army officers. Benjamin Tallmadge was at the center of events as Gen. George Washington met with his officers at Fraunces Tavern in New York prior to resigning his commission as commander in chief. Tallmadge also resigned his commission and began a new life as a citizen of Litchfield, Connecticut.

Just prior to the British withdrawal from New York City Nov. 25, 1783, Tallmadge, head of Washington’s Secret Service, received permission to go into the city to protect his spies following the Treaty of Paris on Sept. 3, 1783. A little earlier he wrote to Washington:

“Should I not have the opportunity to pay my personal respects to your Excellency before you retire from the Army, give me leave at this time, with the warmest gratitude, to assure your Excellency that I shall ever entertain the liveliest sense of the many marks of attention which I have rec’d from your Excellency’s hands. Whatever may have been the result, it gives me great pleasure to reflect, that during my service in the Army, it has ever been my highest ambition to promote the Welfare of my Country & thereby merit your Excellency’s approbation.

“In the calm retirements of domestic life, may you continue to enjoy health, & find increasing satisfaction from the reflection of having conducted the arms of America thro’ a War so peculiarly distressing to the obtainment of an honorable peace, & of having been the Instrument, under God, in obtaining the freedom & Independence of this country. … Adieu, my dear General, & in every situation of life I pray you to believe that my best wishes will attend you, & that I shall continue to be, as I am at this time,

“With every sentiment of respect & esteem, Your Excellency’s most Obed’t & very H’ble Serv’t, Benj Tallmadge.”

Tallmadge’s farewell to Washington was written from his home at 47 North St., Litchfield, Connecticut, Aug. 16, 1783.

3V historical society tour

I will lead a bus tour, sponsored by the Three Village Historical Society, to Litchfield, Connecticut, Saturday, Nov. 9. Participants will tour the Litchfield Historical Society museum, including the exhibit Litchfield at 300 which closes Nov. 24. The party will visit the Tallmadge archival collection, walk through the town where the Tallmadge family lived and finally see the East Cemetery where he and his family are buried. Along the way attendees will learn more about the Setauket-based Culper Spy Ring and about Tallmadge, one of the genuine heroes of the Revolutionary War. For tickets and information, visit www.tvhs.org or call 631-751-3730.

Beverly C. Tyler is Three Village Historical Society historian and author of books available from the society at 93 North Country Road, Setauket. 

Stephanie Carsten portrays Maria Smith Williamson at last year’s event. Photo courtesy of TVHS

By Melissa Arnold

Ah, October. The perfect time of year to grab a light jacket, sip a hot drink, and go for a casual walk through a cemetery.

For a quarter of a century, the Three Village Historical Society has invited visitors from far and wide to explore the lives of some of our area’s greatest contributors, both famous and little known at its annual Spirits Tour.

The interesting twist is that the event brings guests on a walking tour through two of Setauket’s historic cemeteries — Caroline Church of Brookhaven Cemetery and the Setauket Presbyterian Church Cemetery — to meet each deceased community member and hear his or her story firsthand.

It’s a unique, fascinating and engaging way to learn more about the area’s rich history, and none of it is scary or Halloween-themed. They promise.

The long-running event, held this year on Oct. 19, is primarily the work of historical society board member Frank Turano who creates detailed scripts for each character and has written more than 400 pages over the past 25 years.

The historical society works hard to ensure that the tour is different each year, with some familiar faces as well as new people to meet. This year’s theme, The Unforgotten, focuses on names you might not know from history class but who still made a significant impact on the area.

“There were a number of people I knew about that never got any sort of notoriety,” said Turano. “So I decided to go about the process of finding interesting but obscure characters. It took several months to write the scripts.”

Volunteers from around the community, many of whom are involved with local theater productions, suit up for the evening in period attire from Nan’s Antique Costume & Props Rental in Port Jefferson for a true-to-life experience.

The cast

Greeter

(Tim Adams)

Richard Floyd 

(Michael Freed)

Anna Kopriva 

(Karen Overin)

Myra Lyons 

(Stephanie Carsten)

Edward Pheiffer 

(Tommy Ranieri)

Justice Carl Rhuland

(Steve Healy)

John Scott 

(Mort Rosen)

Gen. Francis Spinola

(George Overin)

Caroline Strong 

(Karin Lynch)

Hilma Wilson 

(Tara Ebrahimian)

Sarah Young 

(Theresa Travers)

Henrietta Shipman

(Cathleen Shannon)

Marjorie Cutler Bishop

(Stephanie Sakson)

“I live in the area, and it feels great to be connected to the place where I live,” said Janet McCauley, a board member of the historical society who’s also served as co-chair for the tour for more than 10 years. “It’s so much fun watching the actors portray these different figures in our history, and to see people from the community come back year after year.”

The 90-minute guided tour will include a dozen historical figures, among them Brookhaven town founder Richard Floyd, World War I nurse Caroline Strong, and Sarah Young, a woman with a curious story and shocking devotion to the man she loved. For the first time ever, this year’s tour features more women than men, a difficult feat considering the majority of historical records were written about and by men, Turano said. 

Even Three Village Historical Society President Steve Healy is getting in on the action with a portrayal of Justice Carl Rhuland, a local businessman and justice of the peace.

“The Spirits Tour is one of the longest-running events of its kind and it’s close to my heart,” Healy said. “You can go on this tour every year and learn something new. Everyone is so passionate about bringing these stories to life, from the costumes to casting to script writing and the fine details. Frank has incredible attention to detail and this time of year provides the perfect atmosphere for the tour.”

McCauley urges all tour goers to arrive early, dress for extended time outdoors and to wear comfortable walking shoes. And of course, help yourself to apple cider and donuts donated from local supermarkets and Ann Marie’s Farmstand in Setauket. An exhibit with additional information will be on display at Setauket Presbyterian Church throughout the night.

The 25th Annual Spirits Tour will be held on Saturday, Oct. 19 (rain date Oct. 26). Tours, which are approximately 90 minutes long, leave from the Setauket Presbyterian Church, 5 Caroline Ave., Setauket every 15 minutes starting at 5 p.m. Each tour lasts approximately 1½ to 2 hours. The last tour departs at 7:45 p.m. 

Tickets in advance at www.tvhs.org are $25 adults, $15 members; $10 children under 12, $8 members. Tickets on the night of the event, if available, are $30 adults, $20 members; $12 children under 12, $10 members. For more information, call 631-751-3730. 

The community came out in droves for the 5th annual Culper Spy Day on Sept. 14. The interactive self-guided tour of the Three Villages and Port Jefferson celebrated the members of Long Island’s courageous Culper Spy Ring who helped change the course of the American Revolutionary War. The event featured tours of historic homes and churches, Colonial cooking demonstrations, military drills, children’s activities, blacksmith demonstrations, book signings and more.

More than 40 organizations took part in the historical event which was hosted by Tri-Spy Tours, the Three Village Historical Society, The Ward Melville Heritage Organization and The Long Island Museum.

Photos by Anthony White

By Kevin Redding

‘Lucky is the child who listens to a story from an elder and treasures it for years.’

— Barbara Russell,

Town of Brookhaven historian

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.

Six 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 four-year run, the fifth annual Culper Spy Day will be held on Saturday, Sept. 14 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. offering self-guided tours of over 20 locations including the addition of the 42nd Royal Highland Regiment of Foot encampment with musket firing and battle drills on the Village Green for the ultimate Culper Spy Day experience. “The more the merrier,” laughs Arceri.

One of the highlights every year during the daylong dive into history is the opportunity to visit two neighboring and active churches in Setauket — the Caroline Church of Brookhaven and the Setauket Presbyterian Church, both on the National Register of Historic Places and prominent stomping grounds for soldiers and spies during the Revolutionary War. There will be docent-led tours through the historic structures and their premises, and visitors will be free to roam each church’s expansive cemetery, where some of the weathered gravestones stacked alongside each other belong to those who helped win our independence.

While the congregations have a good relationship these days, and together co-own and maintain the Setauket Village Green that separates the two sites, there was a time when the churches couldn’t have been more opposed. In fact, the conflict of the American Revolution was represented quite well, on a local front, by the two Setauket buildings.

Caroline Church of Brookhaven

The Caroline Church of Brookhaven. Photo by Anthony White

The Caroline Church’s congregation began in 1723 and was officially erected as a building six years later in 1729. Aside from some modern renovations, including the installation of colored glass windows around the interior of the church in the late 19th century, in terms of what it looked like during the war, “What you’re looking at was here,” Town of Brookhaven historian Barbara Russell tells church tourists when they inevitably ask upon enter the historic building.

“The original wood beams are still here,” said Russell, pointing out the hull-shaped ceiling of the beautiful and age-scented church. “I think it’s important to say that we’re still a church. Believe it or not, there are people who walk in here on Culper Spy Day thinking we’re just some kind of museum and we’re not. We value our historic building, but we’re still an active Episcopal congregation.”

“This is a special place,” Russell continued. “We’re coming up on the congregation’s 300th anniversary. Our country isn’t even that old yet!” According to the town historian, the Episcopalian church was an Anglican one before the Revolution, and was the house of worship for Loyalists in the area, those American colonists who remained supportive of the British crown during the fighting.

In fact, the original congregation’s staunch loyalty to Britain gave the building its current name. It was originally Christ Church, but, according to Russell, it is alleged that someone wrote to Queen Wilhelmina Karoline of Brandenburgh-Anspach, queen of George II throughout the early 18th century, informing her of the church when it was brand new, compelling her highness to send its members a silver communion service.

Barbara Russell outside the Caroline Church of Brookhaven. Photo by Kevin Redding

Although Russell said the royal gift is nowhere to be found within the church, there are Vestry minutes that record the unanimous decision “…that this Church and parish Shall in honour of our gracious Queen, her most Serene Britannic Majesty be hereafter called Caroline parish and Caroline Church, and this be entered upon record in Our Vestry books ad futuram rei Memoriam.”

A portrait of the queen hangs on the wall of the church’s lobby, on the left side when you enter. Also in that first room, encased in plexiglass, is a musket ball that was found embedded in a wall near the building’s southwest corner when the church was being restored by philanthropist Ward Melville in 1937. Assumed to be a remnant of the Raid of Setauket in 1777, the single, approximately 69-caliber projectile was, according to historians at the site, most likely fired from an American soldier’s French musket during the raid.

“It was either somebody firing at the church steeple or a soldier that didn’t have very good aim,” Russell laughed.

Among the gravestones in the church’s cemetery is one for Mary Longbotham Muirson, wife of Dr. George Muirson, a Setauket resident, physician, Loyalist and worshipper at the church. Although he was a medical doctor, Dr. Muirson was not welcome to stay in the town after the war due to his Loyalist beliefs; his lands were confiscated and he was banished. It’s not clear what happened to Mary Muirson, but there’s a letter that was sent to her from her husband in April 1784, so it’s most likely that she remained in Setauket.

The grave of Patriot Samuel Longbottom at the Caroline Church of Brookhaven

Most interestingly, Muirson’s son, Heathcote Muirson, from a previous marriage, fought on the Patriot side; he took part in the raid on Fort St. George in Mastic in 1780 under the command of Col. Benjamin Tallmadge — of course, East Setauket’s most famous hero and leader of the Culper Spy Ring — and ultimately died from wounds suffered at Lloyd Neck.  Muirson’s other son was a Loyalist.

“So there was a father and son on either side of the conflict. We saw that happen again and again, right?” Russell observed, overlooking the gravestones that include Revolutionary War veterans and Suffolk County Militia soldiers.

Russell said there are a total of six Patriot graves in the Caroline churchyard including Israel Bennett, Robert Jayne, Samuel Jayne, Benjamin Jones, Vincent Jones and Samuel Longbottom, all of which can be visited on Culper Spy Day. Participants are encouraged to walk through and explore the area on their own. However, docents will be in the church and in the church’s History Center on the lower level of the Parish House for tours and to answer questions.

Setauket Presbyterian Church

Setauket Presbyterian Church. Photo by Anthony White

High among the list of helpful experts on the premises is Art Billadello, a longtime member and past president of the Three Village Historical Society and the Setauket Presbyterian Church’s go-to representative. He’s been a member of the congregation since 1986 and, for more than 30 years, Billadello has taken great pride in preserving and sharing the history of the Federal-style church — as well as debunking any and all myths that surround it, of which there have been plenty.

Many of these falsities can be linked to “TURN,” which has been a blessing and a curse for the site, according to Billadello.

“When that [mini-series] was running, if I had 30 people on a Revolutionary History Walking Tour, the first thing I’d ask as soon as they got out of their cars was, ‘How many of you watched ‘TURN’?’,” Billadello recalls. “Out of those 30 people, 20 hands would go up. Then the second thing I’ll say to them is, ‘Well, I’m gonna turn you around 180 degrees to the truth …’ because they would believe everything on the show, which isn’t all accurate … that’s Hollywood.”

Despite letting down some faithful viewers of the AMC program by dispelling the “sexier” and more fabricated aspects of the show in favor of what really happened, Billadello agrees with Arceri that “TURN” has been beneficial by bringing hordes of visitors from all over to the church.

Art Billadello inside the Presbyterian Church. Photo by Kevin Redding

The truth is, the Presbyterian Church that stands at 5 Caroline Avenue today is not the one that was there during the American Revolution. “The new church,” as Billadello calls it, is at least the third structure on the site. The Revolutionary-Era Church, built circa 1714, looked more like the Caroline Church. It was destroyed and fortified in 1777 by the Loyalists who worshipped across the street and looked down on the Presbyterian, a congregation that was occupied by supporters of America’s independence.

In fact, Benjamin Tallmadge’s father was a pastor at the church from 1754 — the year of Tallmadge’s birth — until he died in 1786. His father and mother are among those buried in the church’s graveyard, along with Abraham Woodhull, another leading member of the Culper Spy Ring, whose commemorative monument is one of the most impressive on the property.

Arceri’s hero, Anna Smith Strong, is buried in the neighboring St. Georges Manor Cemetery in Strong’s Neck. According to Billadello, she once used her Loyalist connections to get her husband, Selah Strong, released from the prison ship where he was confined. The two lived in Setauket for the duration of their lives following the war.

“This history is so important because it was ordinary civilians, from this town, doing extraordinary things,” Billadello said. “All school kids know about George Washington, but these regular people who helped win  our independence are virtually unknown.”

Indeed, Woodhull was a farmer and Caleb Brewster was a blacksmith while Austin Roe was a tavernkeeper. “They could’ve been caught and hung,” explained Billadello.

The Presbyterian Church was built back up around 1781, but in 1811, it was struck by lightning and most of it burned down as a result. The structurally sound beams, which were exposed to the fire and appear charred, were re-used in the steeple of the church and remain on the property.

By the end of 1811, the church was rebuilt for a third time and was officially dedicated in the spring of the following year. While, as in the case of the Caroline Church, there have been some modern renovations of its interior, like carpeting, rail and pew replacements, the Presbyterian Church is irrefutably historic inside. There’s even a pew door from 1811 on display.

During Culper Spy Day, docents will be on hand to give tours of the historic church and cemetery.

Arceri’s favorite part of the day is “seeing all these different 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.”

Tickets are $25 adults, $5 children ages 6 to 12 and may be purchased in advance at the Three Village Historical Society (TVHS), 93 North Country Road, Setauket, by calling 631-751-3730 or by visiting www.tvhs.org. Veterans and children under the age of 6 are free.

Tickets may be picked up at the TVHS from Sept. 10 to 14. At that time, participants will receive a bracelet and a copy of the Culper Spy Day map with all event listings and include access to 21 Culper Spy Ring locations. If available, tickets may be purchased at the historical society on the day of the event.

Participating organizations:

The fifth annual Culper Spy Day is presented by Tri-Spy Tours, the Three Village Historical Society, The Long Island Museum and The Ward Melville Heritage Organization in collaboration with The Benjamin Tallmadge District of the Boy Scouts, Brewster House, Campus Bicycle, Caroline Church of Brookhaven, Country House Restaurant, Custom House, Daughters of the American Revolution Anna Smith Strong Chapter, Discover Long Island, 1750 David Conklin Farmhouse Museum, 1795 Dr. Daniel Kissam House Museum, Drowned Meadow Cottage Museum, Incorporated Village of Port Jefferson, East Hampton Library, Long Island Collection, Emma S. Clark Memorial Library, Fairfield Historical Society, Fairfield Museum & History Center, Frank Melville Memorial Park, Fraunces Tavern Museum, Gallery North, History Close at Hand, Huntington Historical Society, Joseph Lloyd Manor House, Ketcham Inn Foundation, Litchfield Historical Society, Old Methodist Church, Paumanok Tours, Preservation Long Island, Raynham Hall Museum, Rock Hall Museum, 42nd Royal Highland Regiment of Foot, Setauket Elementary School, Setauket Harbor Task Force, Setauket Neighborhood House, Setauket Presbyterian Church, Sherwood-Jayne Farm, Special Collections Stony Brook University Libraries, Stirring up History, Stony Brook Grist Mill, Three Village Community Trust, The Three Village Inn, The Thompson House, Times Beacon Record News Media and the Underhill Society of America.