Meet the Tuesday Crew — volunteering from Northville to Greenport since 1990

05/17/2016 9:00 AM |

Tuesday Crew

At 8 a.m. Tuesday morning, a construction crew descended on Hallockville Museum Farm in Northville like clockwork, installing new columns on the Hallock Homestead’s front facade. But instead of hard hats and overalls, the 13 men wore flannel button-down shirts and khakis. Some sported caps proudly declaring their service in World War II.

They are the “Tuesday Crew,” a mostly retired band of North Fork handymen and tradesmen — some as old as 92 — who spend every week working at historic sites and museums throughout the area. And they do it all for free.

“We don’t take a 15-minute coffee break,” Willy Martin warned with a laugh. “And we take longer lunch breaks, too.”

The group was initially formed by civic-minded neighbors in the early 1990s to keep Greenport’s tall ship, the Regina Maris, afloat. The men worked to restore and repair the ship, but ultimately saw their prize sail away as part of a plan to rejuvenate Glen Cove’s waterfront. It sunk in the village’s harbor years later.

Rather than be discouraged, the newfound friends decided to keep volunteering. Since then, they’ve helped nearly every historical society and museum on the North Fork.

The Tuesday Crew has repaired and restored the caboose at the Railroad Museum of Long Island, fixed up the Fresnel lens from the Little Gull Lighthouse, expanded the East End Seaport Museum and helped relocate an old blacksmith’s hut in Greenport Village, among various other efforts.

In 2004, the group was honored as The Suffolk Times’ People of the Year. They haven’t slowed down in the years since.

Gary Richau helps install a new facade on the historic Hallock homestead at Hallockville Museum Farm last Tuesday morning. Mr. Richau and the 12 other crew members take on carpentry and woodworking projects for nonprofit groups across the North Fork. (Credit: Paul Squire)

Gary Richau helps install a new facade on the historic Hallock homestead at Hallockville Museum Farm last Tuesday morning. Mr. Richau and the 12 other crew members take on carpentry and woodworking projects for nonprofit groups across the North Fork. (Credit: Paul Squire)

In total, 77 projects have been completed since the Tuesday Crew was founded, said 75-year-old volunteer David Higbee of Southold. He maintains a document of all their previous work that he said is now close to 30 pages long.

“Everyone has a good time and we do good things,” said John Anderson, 90, of Sag Harbor, who has been part of the effort since 1992.

The opportunity to meet up for a chat over coffee and doughnuts helps, too.

“I want to stay active to some degree and have some of the companionship you have with the men,” said Otto Schoenstein, an 88-year-old crew member.

Despite volunteering every week for nearly two decades, the crew members have yet to tire of each other. On the contrary, said Don Cutler, 88, who joined in 2001.

“Never has there been an argument,” he said earlier this week. The other men nodded.

The group’s latest project has brought the crew back to their “home base” of sorts: Hallockville Museum Farm. The site is a popular spot for the men to work. They’ve built sheep enclosures, designed a small structure for a bell in the front yard and built a replica pig pen from scratch.

The dozen or so men gather every week to work on renovations at the Hallock homestead, said Beth Motschenbacher, assistant director at Hallockville Museum Farm. Later this year, they’ll turn their focus to repair work at the Southold Historical Society.

The Tuesday Crew has even uncovered a bit of history at Hallockville. According to historian Richard Wines, a member of the museum’s board of directors, the volunteers were doing floor work in the rear wing of the old Hallock homestead when they discovered framing that dated to the 1700s, as well as evidence of a brick fireplace.

The discovery shocked local historians, who had dated that part of the house to an 1830 extension. Thanks to the crew’s discovery, Mr. Wines said, the museum was able to learn the rear wing of the home was actually the site of the original house, which was later moved around the property.

“The crew provides invaluable time and expertise, especially for groups like ours,” Ms. Motschenbacher added. “It’s a very skilled, dedicated group of guys.”

They’re also good for an on-the-job joke. As one of the crew members blasted nails into the homestead’s new facade with a nail gun Tuesday, another volunteer teased him for making it too hard on “the next group that comes here to replace it.”

The men also like to leave a calling card. At every work site, they hide an empty Beefeater gin bottle filled with scraps of paper with their names on them. That way, future historians will discover their contributions.

“In 50 years, we’re going to be famous!” Mr. Higbee exclaimed.

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