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Victorian Era

Many of Port Jefferson’s buildings have a Victorian-era architectural style, but one trustee wants to establish the style as a standard for future construction. Photo by Alex Petroski

By Alex Petroski

A Port Jefferson Village trustee wants to look to the past for inspiration while visualizing future construction.

Village board member Bruce Miller publicly introduced a draft of a resolution Dec. 4 born out of a meeting of the Architectural Review Committee, which if passed would require new buildings in the village’s commercial districts both uptown and downtown to adhere to designs consistent with Port Jeff’s “Victorian, maritime heritage.”

“We have a village for which there are a lot of reasons for people to come to Port Jefferson, either to visit, to live or to establish a business, and we believe that the charm of the community is part of that,” Miller said during the meeting. “We feel that we would want to emphasize our strong points. Development has been somewhat haphazard in the past, and we have a number of architectural styles. The core architectural style is a Victorian style.”

Miller, one of three members of the architecture committee, was outspoken about the look of various construction projects already underway in the village in February.

“We have a village for which there are a lot of reasons for people to come to Port Jefferson, either to visit, to live or to establish a business, and we believe that the charm of the community is part of that.”

— Bruce Miller

“This is a Victorian village but we’re turning it into hodgepodge lodge here,” he said during a meeting. “There’s just no cohesion here.”

Miller admitted after reading the drafted resolution during the meeting he didn’t expect immediate action from the board on the matter, but rather to begin a conversation with the hope of a resolution similar to the one proposed eventually reaching the point of a board vote.

“We have a number of mixed styles that have been constructed over the years in the village, and we, the committee, feel that establishing a brand — establishing Port Jefferson as a Victorian, maritime village as far as image is concerned and architecture — is important and helpful,” he said. “Sometimes developers want to build things that are maybe in the style that they prefer. Maybe they want to build things that are just cheaper to construct. We feel that this resolution highlights some direction for the future in terms of what will be more attractive to bring people to Port Jefferson in terms of visiting, tourism and property values.”

The committee’s other two members also attended the meeting and voiced support for Miller’s resolution.

“Because of the recognized history of the Victorian architecture in Port Jefferson Village, and because I believe that upper Port and lower Port should be coordinated in that effort, I feel that trustee Miller’s suggestion has merit and I would appreciate some thoughtful consideration be given to that,” said Kathy Schiavone, a six-year member of the committee.

Jackie Mooney also spoke during the meeting, calling her committee member’s suggestion “a very good one.”

Heritage Open Days, England’s largest festival of history and culture established in the mid-1990s to increase appreciation for the country’s cultural assets according to its website, points out several architectural characteristics considered to be of Victorian style, including patterned bricks, terraces, stained glass, front porches and high towers with pointed roofs. Many homes in the village share the characteristics associated with Victorian-era architecture. Certain village events, like the Charles Dickens Festival, are even billed as odes to Victorian-era culture..

None of the other Port Jeff Village board members commented on Miller’s proposal during the meeting.

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The Gentlemen’s Driving Park is currently overgrown and hidden, but will soon be restored. Photo by Elana Glowatz

By Elana Glowatz

Officials are on track to restore a piece of Long Island history, bringing an abandoned and forgotten horse-racing site back to life.

The Cumsewogue Historical Society has a ticket to the Gentlemen’s Driving Park from July 4, 1892. Photo by Elana Glowatz
The Cumsewogue Historical Society has a ticket to the Gentlemen’s Driving Park from July 4, 1892. Photo by Elana Glowatz

Brookhaven Town finished purchasing a swath of wooded land off of Canal Road in Terryville at the end of 2013, after Cumsewogue Historical Society President Jack Smith discovered the faint outline of the horse track and dug up information about what was once called the Gentlemen’s Driving Park. The town now owns the entire 11-acre site.

Today it’s an overgrown path hidden among trees, but the Gentlemen’s Driving Park used to be a place where Victorian Era bettors watched men race around the half-mile loop — counterclockwise — behind horses in carts called sulkies. It was part of a circuit of harness racing tracks in the Northeast, according to Smith, but likely fell into neglect with the rise of the automobile.

But cars have also helped keep the track viable: Smith previously reported that at least through the mid-1950s, kids raced jalopies around the track, preventing it from becoming completely overgrown.

Smith said on Monday the effort to restore and preserve the track is moving slowly, but there has been progress since the town finished acquiring the property. There are plans in place to clear the track to about 20 feet wide, although leaving larger trees in place, and to move up the southern curve of the oval, he said.

Jack Smith takes a closer look at a wrecked car on the Gentlemen's Driving Park track around the time he first discovered the forgotten historical spot. Photo by Elana Glowatz
Jack Smith takes a closer look at a wrecked car on the Gentlemen’s Driving Park track around the time he first discovered the forgotten historical spot. Photo by Elana Glowatz

Currently, a small PSEG Long Island facility cuts into that southern tip. Rather than moving the facility or leaving the track incomplete, the town would retrace that small section of track, slightly shortening the loop but completing the oval so as to make a walkable path for visitors.

“The town is in the process of working on the track to restore the track as closely to the original footprint as possible,” Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) said in a statement this week. “There will be some adjustments needed and the town is actively working on that.”

If all goes according to plan, the councilwoman said, the restored track could open late in the summer or early in the fall.

“The important thing is that it will be an oval,” Smith said Monday. “We want to keep some of the historical integrity.”

His goal is to put informational signs around the track that will teach people about its history.

The Gentlemen’s Driving Park is currently overgrown and hidden, but will soon be restored. Photo by Elana Glowatz
The Gentlemen’s Driving Park is currently overgrown and hidden, but will soon be restored. Photo by Elana Glowatz

The driving park was adjacent to well-known horse trainer Robert L. Davis’ Comsewogue stables, now the Davis Professional Park. After hearing rumors of such a track in Terryville, Smith discovered it by looking at an aerial image of the neighborhood taken during the winter, when the foliage was less dense. He saw the faint shape in the woods near Canal Road and went walking in to find it. Since that visit, he has uncovered a broken pair of Victorian-era field glasses near the finish line on the track’s west side, which may have been dropped and trampled. He also has a ticket from a racing event on July 4. 1892.

Once restoration work is completed, Cartright said the town hopes to work with the historical society and the community “to hold a kickoff event to highlight the track and its history.”

For his part, the historical society president has said he would like to hold a fair in which people will re-enact the late 1800s horse races with vintage sulkies or participate in a carriage parade.

“We can’t be happier that it’s been preserved,” Smith said.

Port Jefferson jumped into a time machine over the weekend, hosting a new event that celebrated the local culture, traditions, history and achievements.

Heritage Weekend saw historical fun at several locations throughout Port Jefferson and Belle Terre, including at the library on Thompson Street, at the Cedar Hill Cemetery and at the Port Jefferson Village Center, where vintage cars lined up for the Hill Climb on Sunday before making the 2,000-foot ascent of East Broadway to Belle Terre Road.

 

Historic Hill Climb to be highlight of the weekend

Car 8, a 1909 Alco-6 racing car driven by Howard Kroplick of East Hills, followed by 1907 Fiat driven by Manny Dragone from Connecticut leads the pack at the last hill climb up West Broadway in 2010. Photo by Richard Solo

By Rita J. Egan

Port Jefferson Village will host its first Heritage Weekend Saturday, Aug. 22, and Sunday, Aug. 23. The event will give residents the opportunity to visit over 15 locations in the village, as well as Belle Terre, to learn about the stories behind the participating venues as well as the history of the village.

Jill Russell, public relations and marketing consultant for the village, said each location involved in the weekend has planned a variety of activities that celebrate the local culture, traditions, history and achievements.

“You’ll be invited to come in and learn a little bit of history about Port Jefferson. It’s really a phenomenal thing for families to come and do,” Russell said. The consultant said one of the featured events will be the Port Jefferson Fire Department, 115 Maple Place, opening its museum to the public. She said most people don’t even realize the museum exists unless their children have visited the firehouse on a school field trip.

Charlie Russo, assistant chief of the Port Jefferson Fire Department said, “The fire department has great history with the village.” The assistant chief explained that many of the members have followed in the footsteps of relatives and can trace their family’s involvement in the department for decades.

Russo said the museum will be open Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Sunday 3 to 5 p.m. Among the items on display, visitors will find uniforms, helmets, tools and more equipment used by firefighters since Hook and Ladder Co. 1 was established in 1887. One of the featured items is a hand fire pump that once needed two firefighters to operate it.

Those heading over to the Port Jefferson Free Library, 100 Thompson Street, on Saturday will feel as if they are actually going back in time. Nikki Greenhalgh, who’s in charge of the library’s marketing and communications, said visitors will be able to enter the building through the original front doors, which are normally closed off. The former entrance leads into the front room, now known as the quiet room, which was the first library at the current location when it was built in 1925. Here library patrons will find no electronic devices and a historical reference desk.

The Port Jefferson Fire Deparment Museum will be open to the public this weekend. Photo by Richard Solo
The Port Jefferson Fire Deparment Museum will be open to the public this weekend. Photo by Richard Solo

“We just want to take everyone back in time and reiterate the history and how we still use that building as a quiet area,” Greenhalgh said.

The library is offering period-themed activities for kids such as paper dolls and hopscotch. While the children play, longtime employees, including Earlene O’Hare, who recently retired after 30 years, will be on hand to answer visitors’ questions about the history of the building.   

The library will also be exhibiting the work of Leon Foster Jones, a local artist of the early 1900s, in the front room. Greenhalgh said the library had acquired the artist’s sketchbook, and in addition to his original paintings scanned drawings of his will also be on display.

Nan Guzzetta, owner of Antique Costume & Prop Rental by Nan, 709 Main Street, encourages history buffs to stop by her store, which normally is open to potential customers by appointment only, and learn about the structure’s unique history. The store owner, who has been in business on Main Street for 20 years and 40 years in total, said the patio, garden and porch will be open and visitors can view the parlor. She said customers will get a peek at the historical Civil War era structure constructed by Captain Henry Hallock, who built many ships in Port Jefferson.   

The house known by many as the Chambers Mansion has not only sheltered those of local historical significance but also of musical importance. In the ‘70s the band Foghat took up residence there, and Guzzetta said the rock group transformed a stage that once existed in the home into an echo chamber. Not only did the band produce 12 gold records here, but they also would rent out rooms to other artists who would stay at the house and record. Musical greats such as Billy Joel and Bruce Springsteen have been known to create albums at the mansion, and during Foghat’s heyday, the home was one of the foremost recording studios in the Northeast and became known as the Boogie Hotel in the area, according to Guzzetta.

The Drowned Meadow House, on the corner of West Broadway and Barnum Avenue, will also provide a look at interesting aspects of the village’s history. Port Jefferson Mayor Margot Garant said a letter will be on display of historical importance at the Revolutionary War era “post and beam” constructed home, which once housed spy ring members.

“The significance of discovering the revolutionary letter directly ties other Roe family members, and Drowned Meadow then and present day Port Jefferson, to George Washington’s Spy Ring. In particular the letter was sent to Loyalist Oliver Delancey and states Nathaniel Roe and Phillips Roe supplied intelligence to Caleb Brewster, and the Roe family harbored supplies in our very own Drowned Meadow,” Garant said. 

Russell said the culmination of the weekend will be the Port Jefferson Hill Climb, which will begin at 11:00 a.m. on Sunday. Spectators lined up on East Broadway can view 60 antique cars as they ascend a 2,000-foot climb to Belle Terre Road. After the climb, the automobiles will be part of a parade from Myrtle and Belle Terre Road down to Main Street, then to East Main and back to the Village Center.

This will be the sixth re-creation of the historic Hill Climb, which originally took place in 1910 and in the recent past has been recreated every five years on E. Broadway, according to the consultant. Russell said during the weekend, car and history buffs can stop by the Village Center, 101A East Broadway, where reproductions, as well as actual photographs of the original Hill Climb, on loan from the Detroit Public Library, are on display.

During Port Jefferson Heritage Weekend, residents will be able to utilize the Port Jefferson Jitney to travel from venue to venue if they wish. Most locations will be participating from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. For a complete list of participating venues and more information, visit www.portjeff.com.

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Work will add parking spots, greenery near historic area

The parking lot east of Mariners Way will get a makeover. File photo by Elana Glowatz

Village officials have lined up a construction company to redo the parking lot behind the Fifth Season restaurant, recently dubbed the Baker’s Alley lot, as part of a larger project that aims to restore a downtown historical area.

The Port Jefferson Village Board of Trustees hired East Moriches-based Rosemar Construction, the lower of two bidders on the work, at its meeting on Monday night. At the municipal lot by Mariners Way, the work includes repaving and striping, putting in a pedestrian walkway and adding landscaping.

In addition to the parking field east of Mariners Way, the lot includes 14 spaces in a strip on the road’s western side.

Restriping will make room for seven to eight more parking spots, Mayor Margot Garant said at the meeting.

It will also eliminate a dead end in the middle of the parking lot, improving access for public works employees when they remove snow from the village’s lots in the winter.

East Coast-based engineering firm VHB — the group that put together the construction drawings and plans for redoing the metered parking lot based on designs by Port Jefferson’s Campani and Schwarting Architects — still has to review Rosemar’s bid, which came in close to $350,000 and will be funded by village parking meter revenue.

“I’m told that this is quite a good price,” Trustee Larry LaPointe said. “VHB expected it to come in significantly higher.”

Officials are now calling the area the Baker’s Alley parking lot, making it the namesake of a nearby path the village is working to restore. Baker’s Alley was, in turn, named as a nod to Port Jefferson’s so-called bakery wars that took place there in the early 1900s, in which William West’s New England Bakery famously competed with another local shop. The feud fully erupted in 1916, when both owners changed the establishments’ names to Port Jefferson Bakery.

The now-overgrown and often overlooked dirt path starts at East Main Street, heads down to the parking lot and turns north toward East Broadway. Village officials are looking to turn the alley into a brick walkway, with classic lighting and native plants along the way. After turning north, it would run along a short stone wall as it passes between the parking lot and adjacent businesses, then connect with the small Founders Park at East Broadway.

The village has not yet received bids on the alley portion of the project, LaPointe said, but officials want to get moving on the parking lot work.

“We need to get started as quickly as possible so we don’t interfere any more than necessary with the use of that lot in the high season.”