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Tri-Spy Tours

By Julianne Mosher

On June 17 and 18, visitors from across Long Island headed to Old Field Farm in Setauket for Gallery North’s 19th annual Wet Paint Festival, a fun-filled weekend to not only admire local artists practicing their craft en plein air, but to see the excitement of a derby. According to Sally Lynch, owner and farm operator, the festival couldn’t have come during a better weekend.

The 2023 Seaside Hunter Derby took place on June 18 on the campus and as the riders competed, over 40 artists took to their canvases to paint and sketch the local scenery and content. 

“All the horse people are thrilled to see their horses painted,” said Lynch. “There’s a reason why the horse remains a constant subject of the arts.”

She added that the day before, the farm hosted vintage riders (ones who ride side saddle) in full old-school costume who also modeled for the artists on-site. 

The two-day festival also featured nature walks courtesy of the Four Harbors Audubon Society, live music by Tom Killourhy and the Keenan Zach Trio, plein air art tours with Jim Molloy and Nancy Bueti-Randall, a history tour with Margo Arceri of Tri-Spy Tours and an animal presentation by Sweetbriar Nature Center.

The event was sponsored by bld Architecture, Jefferson’s Ferry and Suffolk County’s Department of Economic Development and Planning.

All of the artwork created at the festival will be on display at the Reboli Center for Art and History, 64 Main St., Stony Brook on July 5 through August 27. The public is invited to an opening reception on July 21 from 5:30 to 8 p.m.

The Three Village area and downtown Port Jefferson were filled with local history buffs Saturday, Sept. 10.

Culper Spy Day, presented by the Three Village Historical Society and Tri-Spy Tours in collaboration with more than 30 local historical and cultural organizations, returned in full force for its eighth annual event. Due to COVID-19, organizers hosted a downsized version last year and a virtual presentation in 2020.

The spy day celebrates Gen. George Washington’s spies who operated in Three Village and the surrounding area during the Revolutionary War.

The majority of activities, such as reenactments, readings, docent- and self-guided tours and more, took place on the grounds of the Three Village Historical Society headquarters. Other sites included Setauket Neighborhood House, Patriots Rock, Caroline Church and cemetery, Setauket Presbyterian Church and cemetery, Emma S. Clark Memorial Library, Setauket Elementary School auditorium, Sherwood-Jayne House, The Long Island Museum and Drowned Meadow Cottage Museum in Port Jefferson.

Mari Irizarry, TVHS director, said she estimated around 1,300 people visited the historical society grounds on Sept. 10.

Margo Arceri, of Tri-Spy Tours, said Irizarry was a huge help spearheading the planning of many of the activities. Arceri said she was grateful for all the volunteers, sponsor Heritage Spy Ring Golf Club and participating organizations, who were not just locally based but from all over Long Island, who made it a success. 

“We’re all telling our part of the Revolutionary story,” she said.

Arceri added she was impressed by the people from all different age groups she met at the event and showed interest in the Culper spies.

“This is not just one age group that enjoys and is attracted to this story,” she said. “It’s really for all ages.”

TVHS historian Beverly Tyler said he also noticed the age range of attendees.

“They were absorbing everything, asking questions and even proudly telling us their connections with ancestors in the Revolutionary War or things they have from the colonial period,” he said.

Tyler said he also saw children fascinated by demonstrations that included writing and mailing a letter in colonial times and hearing stories about youngsters during the era as well as recent local history.

In Port Jeff village, local historians greeted visitors with a tour of the Drowned Meadow Cottage Museum, a structure that dates back to the 18th century. 

The museum has been relocated twice before finding its way to its current resting place at the intersection of West Broadway and Barnum Avenue. During the Revolution, it was the former home of Phillips Roe, a known member in the Culper Spy Ring.

Mark Sternberg, the spy ring historian at Drowned Meadow Cottage, said he was elated by the day’s success and the public’s degree of interest.

“It has been awesome to have so much new information to share with people, specifically about [Phillips, Nathaniel and John] Roe and their involvement in the Culper Spy Ring,” he said. “A lot of Port Jeff residents don’t know that Drowned Meadow had such an important role during the Revolution, so the response has been great — and we have had so many people.”

Irizarry said she enjoyed all the organizations taking part in the day to tell their Revolutionary War stories. She added organizations such as Four Harbors Audubon Society discussed making ink from natural products, and Sweetbriar Nature Center representatives talked about birds of prey that existed during the 18th century.

“It wasn’t just talking about the spies and the war, but it was really just talking about life during the 18th century, which is the bigger picture also, which was nice to see,” Irizarry said.

Additional reporting by Raymond Janis.

Meet Big Bill the Tory aka William Jayne II (David Burt) , pictured with, from left, Major Benjamin Tallmadge (Art Billadello) and Abraham Woodhull (Beverly C. Tyler) at the Sherwood-Jayne House during Culper Spy Day. File photo by Heidi Sutton/TBR News Media

By Heidi Sutton

Mark your calendars! Culper Spy Day returns on Saturday, Sept. 10 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (rain date is Sept. 11). Presented by the Three Village Historical Society (TVHS) and Tri-Spy Tours in collaboration with more than 30 local historical and cultural organizations, the day will feature activities related to the Culper Spy Ring which was founded by Benjamin Tallmadge, George Washington’s chief intelligence officer during the Revolutionary War.

Kyle Parker of the 23rd Regiment of Foot. John Neely Photography

Now in its 8th year, the annual event is the brainchild of Margo Arceri, who first heard about Washington’s Setauket spies (including her favorite spy Anna Smith Strong) from her Strong’s Neck neighbor and local historian, Kate W. Strong, in the early 1970s. 

“My love of history grew from there,” Arceri explained. “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.”

Participants will have the opportunity to visit 10 locations in Setauket, Stony Brook and Port Jefferson (see list on right) to learn about Long Island’s brave Patriot spy ring through historic church, home and museum tours, spy stories, colonial cooking demonstrations, military encampments, historic letters, musical performances, children activities and more. Admission to all locations, with the exception of the Sherwood-Jayne House tour and the Spies! exhibit tour at the TVHS, is free.

“Culper Spy Day is an educational and fun day of adventure for the whole family, designed to honor and commemorate the ordinary men, women and children that risked their lives day to day to fight for what they believed in and in turn, helped win the American Revolution,” said Mari Irizarry, Director at the TVHS.

“Visitors will learn stories of how Patriots outwitted the British to win the American Revolution. They’ll also learn what life was like on Long Island during the 18th century — what they ate, what they wore, what kind of jobs they had, etc. Prepare yourself to hear the true story of sacrifice that many citizens of Setauket undertook on behalf of their new nation,” said Irizarry.

One of the highlights this year is the Revolutionary War encampment in the field next to the TVHS with the Huntington Militia and the 23rd Regiment of Foot (Royal Welch Fusiliers in America). After a reading of Redcoats and Petticoats by Anna Smith Strong at 12:30 p.m., children will be invited to join the 23rd Regiment in a march around the encampment at 1 p.m. Sample some colonial cooking, an authentic recipe of Mary Floyd Tallmadge, courtesy of Stirring Up History‘s Diane Schwindt, resident historic cook at the Ketcham Inn in Center Moriches, on the grounds as well.

 

Big Bill the Tory. Photo courtesy of Preservation Long Island

If you don’t have time to visit all the locations, Arceri recommends the Caroline Church of Brookhaven’s cemetery and history center which “is such a treat for visitors to explore and learn about” and Arceri and Irizarry both recommend the tour of the Sherwood-Jayne House with Big Bill the Tory. 

Rarely open to visitors, “it is one of the best examples of colonial living and the house is in pristine condition. It’s also one of the few times guests will get to hear ‘the other side,'” said Irizarry. “Additionally, we’re so excited that the Drowned Meadow Cottage Museum chose Culper Spy Day as their grand reopening day.” 

“I hope that we have new visitors to ‘Culper Country,'” said Arceri. “Setauket has really become a tourist destination and Culper Spy Day is certainly a highlight for these visitors as they are able to see many of the sites and visit with many of the organizations that make up our Revolutionary story.” 

The 8th annual Culper Spy Day is made possible by the generous support of Heritage Spy Ring Golf Club with additional sponsorship provided by the Three Village Chamber of Commerce. For more information, call 631-751-3730 or visit www.culperspyday.com.

23rd Regiment of Foot. Photo by North Island Photography
Participating locations for Culper Spy Day:

THREE VILLAGE HISTORICAL SOCIETY, 93 North Country Road, Setauket. Located in the circa 1800 Bayles-Swezey House. Here you can take part in outdoor events from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. including “building” a timber frame house with Abraham Woodhull; children’s story hour; colonial crafts with the Daughters of the American Revolution – Anna Smith Strong Chapter; an invisible ink demonstration; printmaking with Gallery North; Culper Spy-themed authors and book signings; Anna Smith Stron’s famed clothesline, a colonial cooking demonstration;  23rd Regiment of Foot (Royal Welch Fusiliers in America) and Huntington Militia encampment; a potato sack race; augmented reality demonstrations; mobile exhibits, and much more. Docent led tours of the Spies! exhibit will be held every 30 mintues at $10 per person. 631-751-3730.

SETAUKET NEIGHBORHOOD HOUSE, 95 Main St., Setauket. The original part of the house, where the central chimney is located, was built in the early 1700s. In 1820 it was moved to its present location from its original site on Setauket (Conscience) Bay by Dr. John Elderkin. The building has served as an inn, and has housed a general store, post office, bank and a Franklin Library. Docents will give tours of the historic home from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. 631-51-6208.

PATRIOTS ROCK HISTORIC SITE, Main Street, Setauket (across from the Setauket Post Office). This glacial erratic boulder is said to be the location of the Battle of Setauket on Aug. 22, 1777. Stop here between 10 a.m. and  2 p.m. to meet representatives from the Three Village Community Trust who will discuss the importance of Patriots Rock and its local and environmental history. 631-689-0225.

CAROLINE CHURCH AND CEMETERY, 1 Dyke Road, Setauket. Built in 1729, this timber frame building has maintained its Colonial appearance. Now an Episcopal church, during the Revolutionary War the Caroline Church was Anglican and a Colonial extension of the Church of England. The graveyard contains the remains of six Patriot soldiers as well as soldiers from World War I and II. The inside of the church will be open for guided tours from 10 a.m. to 3:45 p.m. from the vestibule and tour the cemetery your leisure with a docent present for questions.  631-941-4245. 

The grave of Abraham Woodhull at the Setauket Presbyterian Churchyard. File photo by Heidi Sutton/TBR News Media

SETAUKET PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH AND CEMETERY, 5 Caroline Ave., Setauket. The previous church (1714–1811) was a part of British fortifications during 1777. The fort was under the command of Loyalist commander Col. Richard Hewlett. The present building dates from 1812. Come tour the interior of the church from 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. and then tour the cemetery with the grave of Abraham Woodhull of  Washington’s spy ring at your leisure. 631-941-4271.  

EMMA S. CLARK MEMORIAL LIBRARY, 120 Main St., Setauket. The library (circa 1892) will present a concert featuring the trio Rose Tree, a traditional folk group which includes musicians Larry Moser, Mary Nagin and Maria Fairchild, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on the Library lawn. They will be performing 18th century songs and tunes from America, Ireland, England and Scotland. View Revolutionary War soldiers’ equipment in the Library’s lobby. Kids can enjoy a craft from noon to 3 p.m. and check out related materials at the information tent adjacent to the front entrance. 631-941-4080. 

SETAUKET ELEMENTARY SCHOOL AUDITORIUM, 134 Main St., Setauket. Completed in 1951, the auditorium contains the murals of artist Vance Locke. A gift of Ward and Dorothy Melville to the community, the murals tell the stories of Setauket/Brookhaven history. The auditorium will be open to the public for self-guided tours from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. 631-730-4600.

SHERWOOD-JAYNE HOUSE, 55 Old Post Road, East Setauket. Originally built around 1730 as a lean-to saltbox dwelling, the house and farm were maintained as an operational farmstead for over 150 years by members of the Jayne family. Visit with Big Bill the Tory aka William Jayne III, who will explain the noble intentions and virtuosities of King George III and tells you the TRUTH about Washington’s pesky band of renegade spies! Tours run continuously from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. $5 per person, children under 5 free. Pre-registration is recommended at www.preservationlongisland.org. 631-692-4664.

THE LONG ISLAND MUSEUM, 1200 Route 25A, Stony Brook. The museum is a Smithsonian Affiliate with permanent and changing exhibitions on American history and art, along with the finest collection of horse-drawn carriages in the country, some of which belonged to Revolutionary War heroes. Visit the History Museum between noon and 5 p.m. to view the newly uncovered Culper Spy Ring letter by Benjamin Tallmadge to Robert Townsend. Tour the museum’s galleries and grounds for free. 631-751-0066.

DROWNED MEADOW COTTAGE MUSEUM, corner of West Broadway and Barnum Avenue, Port Jefferson. The Revolutionary War-era Roe House was originally constructed circa 1755 and Phillips Roe, a member of the Culper Spy Ring along with his brother Nathaniel and cousin Austin, was known to have lived there. Visit the cottage between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. for their grand reopening and enjoy a new exhibit, Privateers: Pirates with Permission, tours, privateers re-enacting the plundering of the Roe family and colonial-themed storytelling for children.

* Please note: Public restrooms are located in the Setauket Neighborhood House and Emma S. Clark Memorial Library.

 

Meet Big Bill Tory at the Sherwood Jayne House during Culper Spy Day. Photo from Preservation Long Island

UPDATED! This article was updated on 9/17/21 to reflect a change to the schedule of events (in bold).

By Heidi Sutton

On Saturday, Sept. 18 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., the Three Village Historical Society, Tri-Spy Tours and the Long Island Museum will host a day of spy-related tours and activities for the 7th annual Culper Spy Day, named for the Culper Spy Ring founded by Benjamin Tallmadge, George Washington’s chief intelligence officer during the Revolutionary War.

The annual event is the brainchild of Margo Arceri, who first heard about George Washington’s Setauket spies (including her favorite spy Anna Smith Strong) from her Strong’s Neck neighbor and local historian, Kate W. Strong, in the early 1970s.

Diane Schwindt of Stirring Up History, pictured with Margo Arceri, will offer colonial cooking demonstrations during Culper Spy Day. Photo from Mari Irizarry

“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 in an interview in 2015.

Seven 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 the popular Tri-Spy Tours in the Three Village area, which follows in the actual footsteps of the Culper Spy Ring. “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. And now that Turn has come to Netflix it has taken this community to an entirely other level,” she said. 

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. After a successful five-year run, last year’s event was sideswiped by COVID-19 and was presented virtually on Facebook Live. 

Meet costumed docents from Oyster Bay’s Raynham Hall on the grounds of the Three Village Historical Society. Photo by TVHS

This year the family-friendly event returns but on a smaller, more intimate scale as participants will have the opportunity to visit eight locations in Setauket, Stony Brook and Port Jefferson to learn about the patriots who risked their lives through tours, spy stories, colonial cooking demonstrations, historic letters, musical performances, and many children activities. 

Escorted by Arceri, Mrs. Q of Karen Q. Patriot Tours of NYC will be on location live on social media and in costume visiting many of the locations. With the exception of the Sherwood Jayne House, all events are free.

While the Three Village Historical Society has remained closed since last January, it will reopen for the one-day event. Mari Irizarry, Outreach and Communications Manager at the Society, is ready to welcome visitors. “We miss our community. There is so much rich history, heritage and culture that is part of the Three Villages and beyond and we are excited to share it on Culper Spy Day,” she said.

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

Schedule of Events:
View Revolutionary War artifacts from the collection of Art Billadello at Emma S. Clark Memorial Library on Culper Spy Day.

1. THREE VILLAGE HISTORICAL SOCIETY, 93 North Country Road, Setauket. Located in the circa 1800 Bayles-Swezey House. Here you can take part in oudoor events including an invisible ink demonstration; Spy Stories on the TVHS Porch from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m.; view a patriotic quilt display and demonstration and take part in colonial crafts with the Daughters of the American Revolution Anna Smith Strong Chapter; Author’s Row: come meet authors Beverly C. Tyler, Selene Castrovilla and, Claire Bellerjeau, available for book signings; view Revolutionary War letters from Stony Brook University’s Special Collections; take part in spy games and meet costumed docents who will talk about Raynham Hall, Culper Jr. and their Culper Spy connections; and enjoy a live colonial cooking demonstration and samples with Diane Schwindt of Stirring Up History. 631-751-3730.

2. THE STUDIO AT GALLERY NORTH, 84 North Country Road, Setauket. Visit The Studio to enjoy free Revolutionary War era arts and crafts for children throughout the day. Guests will have an opportunity to create a Tin Punch ornament or a chance to create a decoder & color a quilt square. Activities will occur on the patio, just outside the Studio. 631-751-2676. 

3. EMMA S. CLARK MEMORIAL LIBRARY, 120 Main St., Setauket. The library (circa 1892) will present a concert featuring 18th century songs the trio Rose Tree from 12:30 p.m. to 2 p.m. on the Library lawn. View Revolutionary military paraphernalia from the collection of Art Billadello in the Library’s lobby. Kids can enjoy a craft from noon to 3 p.m. 631-941-4080. Please note the previously scheduled bubble and comedy show on the lawn from 11 a.m. to noon has been canceled.

4. CAROLINE CHURCH AND CEMETERY, 1 Dyke Road, Setauket. Built in 1729, this timber frame building has maintained its Colonial appearance. Now an Episcopal church, during the Revolutionary War the Caroline Church was Anglican and a Colonial extension of the Church of England. The graveyard contains the remains of six Patriot soldiers as well as soldiers from World War I and II. View the inside of the church from the vestibule and tour the cemetery with docents from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Just added! Setauket Presbyterian church next door will be offering tours of their cemetery from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.. 631-941-4245.   

5. PATRIOTS ROCK HISTORIC SITE, Main Street, Setauket (across from the Setauket Post Office). This glacial erratic boulder is said to be the location of the Battle of Setauket on Aug. 22, 1777. Stop here between 10 a.m. and noon to meet representatives from the Three Village Community Trust who will discuss the importance of Patriots Rock and its local and environmental history. 631-689-0225.

6. THE LONG ISLAND MUSEUM, 1200 Route 25A, Stony Brook. The museum is a Smithsonian Affiliate with permanent and changing exhibitions on American history and art, along with the finest collection of horse-drawn carriages in the country, some of which belonged to Revolutionary War heroes. Visit the History Museum between noon and 5 p.m. to view the newly uncovered Culper Spy Ring letter and see LIMarts Collaborative Art Group doing a plein air painting / sketching on the grounds that day. 631-751-0066.

7. SHERWOOD-JAYNE HOUSE, 55 Old Post Road, East Setauket. Originally built around 1730 as a lean-to saltbox dwelling, the house and farm were maintained as an operational farmstead for over 150 years by members of the Jayne family. Visit with Big Bill the Tory aka William Jayne III, who will explain the noble intentions and virtuosities of King George III and tells you the TRUTH about Washington’s pesky band of renegade spies! Program runs continuously from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Masks must be worn inside. $5 per person, children under 5 free. Pre-registration is recommended at www.preservationlongisland.org.

8. DROWNED MEADOW COTTAGE MUSEUM, corner of West Broadway and Barnum Avenue, Port Jefferson. The Revolutionary War-era Roe House was originally constructed circa 1755 and Phillips Roe, a member of the Culper Spy Ring along with his brother Nathaniel and cousin Austin, was known to have lived there. Visit the cottage between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. and attend an unveiling with Mayor Margot Garant at 11 a.m.

————————–

Participating organizations for the 7th annual Culper Spy Day include Tri-Spy Tours, Three Village Historical Society, Stony Brook University Special Collections, Emma S. Clark Memorial Library, The Long Island Museum, Raynham Hall, Drowned Meadow Cottage, Preservation Long Island, Gallery North, Karen Q’s Patriot Tours NYC, Anna Smith Strong Chapter of the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution, Stirring Up History, Three Village Community Trust, and Caroline Church of Brookhaven

For more information, call 631-751-3730 or visit www.tvhs.org

 

Three Village Historical Society’s Director of Education Donna Smith and historian Beverly C. Tyler. Photo from TVHS

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.

Seven 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 five-year run, plans were underway for the sixth annual Culper Spy Day when the pandemic hit. At first the event was canceled out an abundance of caution but now has been reinvented and will be presented virtually on Facebook Live on Sept. 12 and 13 to be enjoyed from the comfort of your home.

The Three Village area is full of hidden intrigue and stories of how America’s first spy ring came together secretly to provide General George Washington the information he needed to turn the tide of the American Revolution.

Over the course of the weekend, you will have the chance to visit many of the cultural organizations from years past who will share their story, including the Three Village Historical Society, Tri-Spy Tours, Ward Melville Heritage Organization, Special Collections and University Archives at Stony Brook University, Preservation Long Island, Emma S. Clark Memorial Library, Drowned Meadow Cottage, Caroline Church of Brookhaven, Ketcham Inn Foundation and more in a virtual format.

Join Margo Arceri from Tri-Spy Tours live from the Village Green on Saturday at 9 a.m.

Meet Big Bill the Tory live at the Sherwood-Jayne House.

Take a Virtual Spies! exhibit tour with TVHS historian Bev Tyler.

Visit the famous Brewster House with Ward Melville Heritage Organization Education Director Deborah Boudreau.

View a resource guide to everything Culper Spy Day courtesy of Emma Clark Library.

Watch a short film on Long Island’s South Shore from the Ketcham Inn Foundation.

Make your very own periscope with Gallery North.

Read up on the Revolutionary War History from the Caroline Church of Brookhaven.

Look back at the festivities from 2016 Culper Spy Day.

Don’t miss the five part virtual spy tour series with historian Bev Tyler.

Listen to the lecture “Spies in the Archive: A history of two George Washington Culper Spy Ring letters presented by Kristen Nyitray Special Collections, Stony Brook University Libraries.

Learn about SBU’s two Culper Spy Ring letters and access images and transcripts Special Collections, Stony Brook University Libraries

Dive into George Washington & the Culper Spy Ring A comprehensive research and study guide Special Collections, Stony Brook University Libraries

Find out who Agent 355 was from historian Bev Tyler.

Listen to the story of Nancy’s Magic Clothesline, written by Kate Wheeler Strong, and told by Margo Arceri.

No registration is necessary. For more information, visit www.tvhs.org/virtualculperday.

Meet historical figures including Anna Smith Strong, left, and Benjamin Tallmadge at Culper Spy Day
Meet Big Bill the Tory during Culper Spy Day

On Saturday, Sept. 14, 2019 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Tri-Spy Tours, the Three Village Historical Society, the Long Island Museum and the Ward Melville Heritage Organization will present a day of spy-related tours and activities for the 5th annual Culper Spy Day.

The event is named for the Culper Spy Ring founded by Benjamin Tallmadge of Setauket, which provided Gen. George Washington with the information he needed to turn the tide of the American Revolution.

A collaboration of more than 40 historical and cultural organizations, from Montauk to Manhattan, will gather in the Three Village area for a day of community events. Participants will have the opportunity to build their own Revolutionary War story and to visit the places where history was made during this self-guided tour. Activities throughout the community will include tours, a Revolutionary War encampment, Colonial cooking demonstrations, musical performances, crafts and more.

Featured events

The Three Village Historical Society will host Anna Smith Strong and her famous clothesline, invisible ink demonstrations, a Spies! exhibit, children’s book signing, Colonial music by the Three Village Chamber Players from noon to 4 p.m., an outdoor gift shop and Tavern on the Field featuring food trucks Eat Me, Drink Me, Fat Boys BBQ Bus and Food Nation Generation.

The Long Island Museum in Stony Brook will hold blacksmithing demonstrations in the Samuel West Blacksmith Shop from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. LIMarts artists Joseph Rotella and Lori Scarlatos will paint plein air in the carriage shed at the Caroline Church in Setauket from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Meet historical figure Robert Townsend, center, during the event

The Ward Melville Heritage Organization will have costumed docents guide visitors through their c. 1709 Thompson House and their c. 1665 Joseph Brewster House. Living historian Diane Schwindt of Stirring Up History will be serving up some tasty and authentic 18th-century treats from America’s past on the front lawn of the Brewster House. A miller will be on hand to demonstrate the workings of the c. 1751 Stony Brook Grist Mill throughout the day.

George Washington’s original letters to members of his spy ring will be on display at the Stony Brook University Library’s Dept. of Special Collections between 10 a.m. and noon.

The Three Village Inn and the Country House Restaurant in Stony Brook will feature a spy lunch for an additional fee. Reservations are required (not included in Spy Day ticket price).

Other Culper Spy Day sites and activities include historical cemetery tours, tea with Big Bill the Tory, viewing of the Vance Locke murals at the Setauket Elementary School and new this year, 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. Build your own Revolutionary War story and see history come to life at this fun-filled event.

If you go:

Tickets, which are $25 adults, $5 children ages 6 to 12, children under the age of 6 and veterans are free, may be purchased online at www.tvhs.org or in person at the Three Village Historical Society at 93 North Country Road in Setauket. Participants will receive a bracelet and a copy of the Culper Spy Day map with all event listings. Tickets are good for admission to participating organizations on Sept. 14. Some organizations include additional dates. 

For more information, please visit www.culperspyday.com.

All photos by Anthony White

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Tri-Spy Tours owner Margo Arceri with two young volunteers Culper Spy Day 2018. Photo from Margo Arceri

Her business activities may be associated with warmer temperatures, but a Strong’s Neck resident is keeping busy even in the colder weather.

Margo Arceri is known in the Three Village area for creating Culper Spy Day, an annual event in September, and Tri-Spy Tours, which takes participants to local historical sites. While the excursions include participants walking, biking, kayaking and paddle boarding — activities many may associate with summer — Arceri said the business keeps her busy year round. This year she was booked for private tours up until Thanksgiving, and she will be sponsoring the screening of TBR News Media’s “One Life to Give” at The Setauket Neighborhood House Monday, Dec. 10, which will be hosted by the Three Village Historical Society, something she said she’s looking forward to.

“I love the storyline, and the Times Beacon has been an incredible partner with Culper Spy Day,” she said. “In general, it’s kind of my way of giving back and also supporting something near and dear to my heart.”

Participants on a Tri-Spy tour visit Abraham Woodhull’s grave. Photo from Margo Arceri

During December, January and February, Arceri said she thinks about new ideas for the next year. Recently, she was inspired to apply for a grant for a trolley to use for tours after members of the Daughters of the American Revolution and Children of the American Revolution traveled from Connecticut to Long Island, and Arceri conducted a tour for them on a Coach USA bus.

She is also hoping to extend Culper Spy Day to a weekend and would love to coordinate a bus trip into New York City where ticket holders can visit the Fraunces Tavern Museum and go on a Revolutionary War-era walking tour in the downtown area with Patriot Tours, she said.

For Arceri, the winter months are ideal for researching in places like Fort Ticonderoga, West Point, Boston, Williamsburg and Philadelphia. She said there is always new information to discover.

“Somebody will ask me something on my tour, and like a good detective, I’ll have to find out the answer,” she said.

Arceri said Brookhaven Town historian Barbara Russell once wrote, “Lucky is the child who listens to a story from an elder and cherishes it for years.” It’s a quote she always starts her tours with because she said she is that child.

The Tri-Spy Tours owner said her love for history began while growing up in Strong’s Neck where she would listen to the stories of Kate Wheeler Strong, a descendant of Culper Spy Ring member Anna Smith Strong who was known for using her clothesline to send coded messages to her fellow spies.

Arceri initially volunteered giving walking tours with the Three Village Historical Society and served on its board three times through the years in roles such as vice president and recording secretary. Arceri said she is always grateful for former society president Steven Hintze, who helped her launch Tri-Spy Tours, and current historical society president Steve Healy for helping her take the business to the next level.

“He has been incredibly supportive, and he’s always listening to my ideas and giving me his feedback and his ideas,” she said. “They’ve just been incredible partners.”

“Somebody will ask me something on my tour, and like a good detective, I’ll have to find out the answer.”

— Margo Arceri

She also credits everyone at the historical society for always being helpful, and archivist Karen Martin, historian Bev Tyler as well as Russell for assisting her with research.

Healy said the admiration is mutual, as Arceri is always looking for new ideas and seeking to expand. He said he would love to see the historical society grow, and he credits Arceri with helping it do that.

“She has the vision to look at the bigger picture, and how we can tie things together,” Healy said.

Arceri said during her tours she intertwines Culper Spy history with fun facts about philanthropists such as the Melville family and Eversley Childs, because she said she feels that it’s important to point out that so many structures in the area are preserved because of someone’s generosity.

“I always like to stress on the tour from the natives, that people arrive here, and they fall in love,” Arceri said. “The early settlers did, the Melvilles did, and I try to make sure that anybody who comes on our tour falls in love a little bit with Setauket.”

Photo by Anthony White

The fourth annual Culper Spy Day was held Saturday, Sept. 15 offering participants self-guided tours of 24 locations in the Three Village area and Port Jefferson including eight more spots than previous years.

Margo Arceri, founder of the event and owner of Tri-Spy Tours, was pleased with this year’s turnout of more than 800 visitors.

Margo Arceri speaks to visitors about Culper Spy Abraham Woodhull at his gravesite in the Setauket Presbyterian Church Cemetery during the event. Photo by Michael Rosengard

“Culper Spy Day has grown beyond my wildest dreams,” she said. “From Manhattan to Montauk, attendees get to learn and understand just how the Culper Spy Ring helped change the course of the Revolution. These were ordinary people who did extraordinary things. Without the hard work and efforts of each individual
organization and their volunteers, it would not be what it is today.”

Tri-Spy Tours, the Three Village Historical Society, The Ward Melville Heritage Organization and The Long Island Museum hosted the  day with more than 40 organizations participating. Ticketholders experienced Revolutionary War encampments; docent-led tours of historic homes, churches and cemeteries; blacksmith demonstrations; Colonial cooking; children’s activities; invisible ink demonstrations, a TURN memorabilia auction and more.

Major Benjamin Tallmadge (Art Billadello) gives visitors a brief history about the Culper Spy Ring at a previous event.

On Saturday, Sept. 15 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., The Long Island Museum and The Ward Melville Heritage Organization in Stony Brook and the Three Village Historical Society and Tri-Spy Tours in Setauket will host a day of spy-related tours and activities for the 4th annual Culper Spy Day. 

The event is named for the Culper Spy Ring founded by Benjamin Tallmadge of Setauket, which provided Gen. George Washington with the information he needed to turn the tide of the American Revolution.

The Setauket Presbyterian Church will be open for tours during the event.

Visitors can learn what really happened while enjoying docent-led tours of historic homes, churches and cemeteries, Colonial cooking and blacksmithing demonstrations, reenactments, walking and bicycle tours, Anna Smith Strong’s famed clothesline, invisible ink demonstrations, a children’s book signing, time period music, military drills, a TURN memorabilia live auction and sale, mill grinding demonstrations and many more family-friendly activities in the Three Villages and along the North Shore.

In addition, Revolutionary War artifacts, including George Washington’s original letters to members of his spy ring will be on display in the Stony Brook University Library Special Collections. Ticket holders will have a chance to meet Benjamin Tallmadge, Abraham Woodhull, Samuel Culper Sr. and Anna Smith Strong as well.  

The Three Village Inn in Stony Brook will feature a spy breakfast (cost is $10 per person plus tax and tip and reservations are required)  and the Country House Restaurant, also in Stony Brook, will serve up a spy-themed lunch (not included in Spy Day ticket price). Call 631-751-0555 for breakfast and 631-751-3332 for lunch reservations. The Three Village Historical Society will also be offering snacks and lunch at its Tavern on the Field. 

Build your own Revolutionary War story and see history come to life at this fun-filled event. 

Tickets, which may be purchased at www.tvhs.org, are $25 for adults and $5 for children ages 6 to 12. Children under the age of 6 and veterans will receive free admission. Wristbands for entry and maps with the event listings and a schedule of activities can be picked up at the Three Village Historical Society at 93 North Country Road in Setauket from Sept. 10 through Sept. 15. Tickets are good for admission to most participating organizations for Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 15 and 16, and at The Long Island Museum through Sept. 23.

For more information, please visit www.culperspyday.com.

Margo Arceri, right, creator of Culper Spy Day, poses with Diane Schwindt, dressed as an 18th-century cook at the 2017 event. Photo from Mari Irizarry

By Rita J. Egan

With the help of those who appreciate history, events of the past have a chance to live on. Margo Arceri is one of those history lovers, and her passion has inspired others to learn more about their local landscape.

Arceri didn’t need the AMC series “TURN” to discover how instrumental the members of the Culper Spy Ring were in the Colonies winning the American Revolutionary War. While growing up in Strong’s Neck, she learned about the Setauket spies directly from Kate. W. Strong herself. The great-great-granddaughter of Anna Smith Strong would tell stories of the patriot who used her clothesline to send messages to her fellow spies, and through those tales, Arceri developed a deep curiosity for history and the local intelligence group.

Three Village Historical Society historian Beverly Tyler said Arceri’s passion is so strong her car features “Culper” license plates.

“She loves the Revolutionary War,” Tyler said. “She loves Anna Smith Strong, and the whole idea of the spy ring.”

A few years ago, Arceri, a former vice president and past secretary of the Three Village Historical Society, created Tri-Spy Tours, where participants follow the footsteps of the spies by walking, biking and/or kayaking through the area.

Steven Hintze was the president of the society when Arceri came to him with the idea of the tours. He said he liked the concept and discussed it with the board members.

Hintze said it was while conducting Tri-Spy Tours that Arceri realized there was more to share about local history, so she developed Culper Spy Day, an annual event that sponsors a self-guided tour where attendees visit various structures and museums in the area to learn how the Setauket spies assisted President George Washington during the Revolutionary War. Hintze said the day, which marked its third year in September, has greatly grown in popularity, attracting history lovers from all over the tristate area. According to historical society records, the event attracted twice as many people in 2017 than it did the year prior.

Hintze said he isn’t surprised how popular it has become through Arceri.

“She’s one of those people who has a great personality, she’s friends with everybody,” Hintze said. “She knows a lot of people, and she knows how to put them together.”

Margo Arceri, standing left, with volunteers Janet McCauley, standing right, and Barbara Lynch at the 2017 Culper Spy Day. Photo from Mari Irizarry

Tyler agrees that Arceri has done a wonderful job, especially in getting various organizations involved in Culper Spy Day. Arceri reached out to local groups such as The Long Island Museum, The Ward Melville Heritage Organization and Drowned Meadow Cottage in Port Jefferson, which once was owned by the Roe family, members of the ring. The happening has also grown to include organizations outside of the Three Village area, such as Raynham Hall Museum in Oyster Bay and Ketcham Inn in Center Moriches. Tyler said Arceri is working with a historical society in Fairfield, Connecticut, to take part next year.

“I think it’s very important to the area,” the historian said. “It’s starting to bring in people.”

Steve Healy, the Three Village Historical Society’s current president, said when it comes to questions he may have about local history, in addition to Tyler and Town of Brookhaven historian Barbara Russell, he considers Arceri one of his go-to people.

“It’s difficult in today’s environment to dedicate time to history, and she seems to have found a good mix with history and with [her] work,” he said.

Arceri has a knack for getting people to think about history, Healy added, saying it’s apparent during both the Tri-Spy Tours and Culper Spy Day. He said the history buff connects with people by allowing them to ask questions and have a dialogue. She’s known for asking participants: “What do you think happened? What do you think are the elements that drove this situation?” because she doesn’t see historical events in black and white.

“Margo likes to engage people, and that’s one of her strong points, too,” Healy said. “She has many, but one of them is to engage people in a situation where they can have an honest, educated discussion.”

Healy believes the future looks bright for Arceri and her Culper spy ventures.

“I think she’s found a great niche where she can introduce local history to people and grow that further, because she’s always looking to grow,” Healy said. “That’s one of the things that I really like about her. She’ll have a conversation with me and say: ‘Steve, I want to expand. I want to get more people involved in this. I want to teach more people to let them know what happened here.’”