Don’t pass by these pieces of North Fork history

07/28/2014 10:00 AM |
Zachary Studenroth, president of the Cutchogue New Suffolk Historical Council, notes that the settlers in the 1600's were quite a bi shorter than now. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch photo)

Zachary Studenroth, president of the Cutchogue New Suffolk Historical Council, notes that the settlers in the 1600′s were quite a bi shorter than now. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch photo)

As you can walk near the library on Main Road in Cutchogue, it’s easy to overlook the collection of buildings scattered, almost haphazardly, on a gentle hill at the nearby Village Green.

But three structures on the green — the old schoolhouse, the Wickham farmhouse and the “Old House” — are much more historic than they seem, offering a glimpse of centuries of North Fork living.

“We were a farming community,” said Zachary Studenroth, president of the Cutchogue-New Suffolk Historical Council, which owns the Village Green. “We still are a farming community.”

The historical council recently began observing its summer hours and is offering free tours to educate locals about their often-forgotten histories.

None of the site’s three buildings were built where they now rest. They were placed on the lawn some 50 years ago as a way to preserve historic architecture.

That’s why the council hosts free tours, lecture series and more in the buildings: to hold onto the common thread that runs through the neighborhood’s history.

The first and oldest building on the property, the “Old House,” has certainly earned its name. Built in Southold in the 1640s, the two-story residence is an example of a well-to-do home from the 17th century.

Some of Southold’s earliest and most prolific families lived there, including the Budds, Hortons, Wickhams and Cases. The house was later converted into a barn and “rediscovered” by architectural historians in 1938, when the Long Island Express hurricane wiped away the trees shrouding it from view, Mr. Studenroth said.

In 1960, the “Old House” was moved to its new home just a few hundred feet from Cutchogue-New Suffolk Free Library. The structure still faces south, a building practice from the 1600s that was employed to minimize the effects of Long Island’s harsh winters.

Inside the house, Cutchogue-New Suffolk Historical Council volunteers set up an exhibit with furniture and artifacts from different centuries of North Fork living. This fall, they will begin researching how the rooms were originally furnished; they hope to redo the interior by sometime next year, Mr. Studenroth said.

Across Cases Lane, which was named for one of the Old House’s former inhabitants, sits the Wickham farmhouse, a classic Cape Cod built in the mid-18th century. Its living room and bedrooms are furnished with relics from a wealthy farming family, the Fleets. A Chinese silk wedding gown worn by Ida Rudolph Fleet on her wedding day in 1895 hangs inside a glass case in one of the rooms.

Upstairs in the Wickham farmhouse’s attic, amid spiderwebs and the musty smell of humid wood, small marks have been carved into the oak beams. They match those on the studs.

Mr. Studenroth said the marks prove the house’s authenticity and age, as if the leftover nails jutting through the roof from each new set of shingles weren’t proof enough.

Last in the council’s collection of historic structures is the old schoolhouse, which was built across the street, north of Main Road, in 1840 and used until 1910. Visitors can sit at replica desks in the building, where Native American arrowhead displays created by 19th-century collectors adorn the walls.

If glances into Cutchogue and New Suffolk’s pasts aren’t interesting enough, the council also has two vintage cars on display in its recently constructed garage: a Model TT truck and a car owned by the late J. Parker Wickham, who turned the family potato farm into the Mattituck airbase.

Mr. Studenroth said the council moved the buildings to bring the area’s history to one location, away from the “development pressures” as the villages grew.

“We’ve been able to step in and restore all these buildings — whereas otherwise they would’ve been torn down,” he said.

psquire@timesreview.com

When to visit: The historical council gives free tours from 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday through Monday until Labor Day. The carriage house gift shop is also open during those hours. Group tours are available by appointment; call 734-7122.

More photos of the historical buildings on the Village Green, head on to the next page:

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