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Timothy Smith House

The Three Village Community Trust closed on the historic Timothy Smith House, below, offered by Julia de Zafra for a nominal price. Attorney Gary Josephs, Assemblyman Steve Englebright, TVCT trustee Robert Reuter, Julia DeZafra, trust attorney Peter Legakis, and Cynthia Barnes, TVCT president, were on hand for the closing July 12. Photo from Three Village Community Trust

A local group has preserved a piece of history for future generations.

The Three Village Community Trust acquired the historic Timothy Smith House at 55 Main St., Setauket, July 12, according to a press release from the trust.

The Timothy Smith House will be renamed the Timothy Smith-Robert de Zafra House. Photo by Robert Reuter

“Because of its long history, its connection to town government in Brookhaven, and its remarkable degree of preservation over its 300-year life span, the Smith House is a valuable acquisition,” the release read. “The Three Village Community Trust is indebted to Robert de Zafra for acquiring it at the death of the previous owner, protecting it from being subdivided, and in so doing preserving the historic character of Setauket and this area’s contribution to the nation.”

In March, de Zafra’s widow, Julia, offered the house to the trust for a nominal price and will donate funds to help with continued restoration. According to the press release, de Zafra was a founding trustee of the Three Village Community Trust, and the Timothy Smith House, also known as the House on the Hill, has been recognized as a Brookhaven landmark and dates back to the early period of Setauket’s settlement starting in 1655.

Cynthia Barnes, president of the TVCT, said the trust will continue the restorations that de Zafra started and will be raising funds through contributions to the Robert de Zafra Restoration Fund and seeking grants. The house will be renamed the Timothy Smith-Robert de Zafra House. While the home will remain a private residence, Barnes said there are discussions about ways to make it available to the public periodically.

Robert Reuter, a TVCT trustee, said the house is “a treasure that figures prominently in our town’s earliest history” and he feels it offers an opportunity to interpret the best of design and craftsmanship in 18th-century colonial Setauket.

“The Timothy Smith House, a substantial two-story post-and-beam colonial building, remains original save for plumbing and electrical improvements.”

— Robert Reuter

“The Timothy Smith House, a substantial two-story post-and-beam colonial building, remains original save for plumbing and electrical improvements,” Reuter said. “It features immense structural timbers, floor boards — 24 inches and more in width, wrought iron hardware, primitive window glazing and simple but robust interior architectural details. A massive central chimney serves multiple fireplaces on both floors. The main kitchen fireplace incorporates a rare beehive oven with arched brick opening.”

According to the TVCT press release, the house, which dates back to 1695 to 1705, occupies one of the earliest farmstead plots in the area. It was laid out along both sides of a freshwater creek that was dammed to create the Setauket millpond. It is historically significant because it was the de-facto Brookhaven Town Hall during much of the 1700s due to successive Smith family members serving as town clerk. Timothy Smith occupied the house during the Revolutionary War, and it and the surrounding farm property remained in the Smith family until the death of Julia Sophia Smith in 1948. Forrest Bonshire, lived there from the 1960s to 2013, and the home was purchased by de Zafra from Bonshire’s estate to prevent it from being subdivided, and de Zafra was carefully restoring it before his death in October.

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The Three Village Community Trust will take over ownership of the Timothy Smith House on Main Street in Setauket. Photo by Robert Reuter

New ventures by some Setauket residents will make the area look a little different in the coming years.

The Three Village Community Trust announced plans to clean up Patriots Hollow State Forest and acquire the historic Timothy Smith House.

Patriots Hollow State Forest

The woods that run along Route 25A, across from Setauket’s Stop & Shop, have been the site of many downed trees over the years. The trust announced at its annual meeting March 14 that plans are in the works to clean up the woods and add a trail so people can walk through the forest, something that cannot easily be done in the property’s current state.

The land trust has partnered with the New York State DEC to clean up Patriots Hollow State Forest, which is the site of numerous downed trees. Photo by Cynthia Barnes

Setauket resident and former teacher Leonard Carolan said he walked into the woods one day and was disappointed to see how messy it was, not just because of the trees but the infestation of invasive plants. He approached the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, Three Village Community Trust President Cynthia Barnes and state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) to discuss working together to clean up the former farmland.

Those conversations led to the trust signing a stewardship agreement with the DEC. Carolan, the chair of the new stewardship, will steer a committee of 16 people, which will assess the forest’s conditions and seek the community’s input to develop a restoration plan, according to Carolan. He said after gathering wants of the community and addressing concerns, the next step would be to clear 100 feet into the woods and turn to experts to identify the plants and figure out which need to be dug up or trimmed back.

“We want to work it where we have enough clearing that we can plant native trees — the white oaks, the red maples, the black tupelos — and make that into a more native natural forest with a greater variety of trees and habitat,” Carolan said.

The trust also plans to build a split-rail fence with downed locust trees along the 25A side of the property. The committee chair said the work will take years to complete, and the community trust will spearhead fundraising campaigns in the future to fund the project.

Barnes said the trust is excited to join forces with the DEC and to work with Carolan.

“This former farmland in the heart of the Setauket community, devastated by neglect and storms over the years, is in dire need of attention,” Barnes said.

The Timothy House is known locally as the “house on the hill.” Photo by Robert Reuter

Englebright said he was happy to hear the trust and DEC working together on cleaning up the forest, which he considers an important part of the local landscape.

“I would like to see the community take emotional ownership of the property,” the assemblyman said. “The way you do that is make it accessible. The way you develop good stewardship is have people who are invested in the property — through their ability to walk on trails, to enjoy the natural beauty of the property, to discover its secret. There’s a reason why it’s called ‘hollow.’”

Timothy Smith House

The home known locally as the “house on the hill” was purchased by Robert de Zafra in 2012. Up until his death last October, de Zafra, the trust’s co-founder, was restoring the home that sits on 2.6 acres.

Trustee Robert Reuter reported that de Zafra’s widow, Julia, offered the house to the trust for a nominal price and will donate funds to help with continued restoration. The trust will also create the Robert de Zafra Conservation and Preservation Fund to preserve the house and other community landmarks.

Englebright said the house represents an important part of history in Setauket. The Smiths were among a group from Southold who settled Setauket in 1655 and created Brookhaven town. A clerk once worked out of the home, and it was considered Brookhaven’s town hall for decades. Englebright said de Zafra went to great lengths to ensure the house was protected and preserved, even using his own resources.

“It’s appropriate, I think, for the community trust — which he is a founding trustee of — to carry forward his legacy as well as the legacies of all the others who lived in the house preceding his acquisition of it,” Englebright said.