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07/28/14 10:00am
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. (more…)

05/25/14 8:00am
05/25/2014 8:00 AM
A modern painting depicting the October 1814 military engagement off Northville. (Credit: U.S. Coast Guard Academy Collection)

A modern painting depicting the October 1814 military engagement off Northville. (Credit: U.S. Coast Guard Academy Collection)

It’s 1814, and the United States is at war.

British frigates and brigs clog the East Coast’s trade routes, preying on merchant vessels and shutting down commerce.

On an October morning, an American cutter called the Eagle finds itself face-to-face with a Royal Navy brig nearly twice its size off Northville.

Below is a detailed account of the encounter that followed.  (more…)

12/08/13 8:00am
12/08/2013 8:00 AM

Town of Riverhead sign

Riverhead certainly has its share of quirky news items.

From silly police blotters to the colorful characters who make headlines, sometimes the news here just makes you laugh or cry or both.

Sure, that can be said for most places, but sometimes in Riverhead it seems like there’s something in the river.

In the past few months alone, there’s been a handful of zany stories, from the multi-million dollar pot operation in a house on Osborn Avenue to the Calverton teen who said he and his friends brought a deer home to “clean it up and give it water,” but admitted they took a break to drink some Natty Ice and pose for Instagram photos before releasing the animal back to the wild.

Certainly, these are not the stories that define Riverhead — a spirited community with more heart than a Hallmark store on Valentine’s Day and more soul than a James Brown record — but there’s something to be said for the volume of unusual news items that pops up in this town of 33,500.

It turns out, that’s always been the case, even back in the days when everyone’s name was Reeve or Tuthill or Wells or Howell or Hallock or Young. (No, seriously, it was even worse back then.)

Recently, while combing the archives of the New York Times, studying local history, I was overwhelmed by the number of weird-but-true news items pertaining to Riverhead. Perhaps the bizarre was the only way city folks paid any attention to this tiny farming community around the turn of the past century, but it sure seems they had plenty of items to choose from. The archives leave you with the impression that when The Gray Lady — a nickname for the Times — wasn’t poking around Tammany Hall, it was poking fun at Polish Hall.

Here’s five of my favorite tales of mostly silly Riverhead news, all courtesy of the Times, and all more than 100 years old.

School children use tobacco

Jan. 7, 1901

If you went to school in Riverhead in the first week of the last millennium it was probably not a good idea to smoke cigarettes.

Sure the addictive nature of nicotine and the many health issues associated with smoking weren’t so well known back then, but there was a whole other reason not to smoke in those days: principal George Brown.

When Mr. Brown learned that many of the boys in the school had developed the habit of smoking, he sent a letter home to parents. He warned the parents that smoking on public property could lead to a $2 fine and that “tobacco has a bad effect on the mind and body of a growing boy.”

But what really makes this Times story stand out is the final paragraph:

“[The letter] is said to be the first intimation many fathers had that their boys smoked, and during the last couple of days many of the lads have preferred to stand when they might sit. It is also said that although there is usually a falling off in attendance at Sunday school after the Christmas tree exercises, many new faces appeared in the classes today, and the circular is believed to have started a moral wave in the young.”

$10,000 if he won’t preach

Dec. 15, 1910

When Helen C.H. Stone of Riverhead died at the age of 80 in 1910, she left in her will a hefty sum of money to her great nephew, Thomas Gilbert Osborne.

But the inheritance came with a string attached.

You see, Ms. Osborne’s brother Thomas, for whom the boy was named, had been a Reverend. The lifestyle of the clergy, as Ms. Stone saw it, didn’t require hefty sums of money.

She believed a clergyman of the Methodist faith had no fixed residence and didn’t need money for “settling down.”

So when she left $10,000 for 17-year-old Thomas, Ms. Stone added a stipulation that the teen not get the money if he opted for life as a minister. The boy’s father told the Times he saw no indication his son would join the clergy.

As for her house, Ms. Stone left that to someone else, but upon that person’s death, young Thomas was to inherit the house as well. Again, provided he was “not then a clergyman.”

The family poisoned: a farm hand whose appetite was a subject of joke accused

Dec. 13, 1892

Middle Road farmer Benjamin Fanning liked to have a little fun at the expense of one of his farm hands, Charles Ryder.

Mr. Ryder was said to have a voracious appetite and Mr. Fanning couldn’t help but joke about it at the dinner table.

One day, Mr. Ryder had enough. I’ll let the Times tell this part of the story:

“Fanning was in the habit of commenting jocularly upon the rapid disappearance of food when Ryder was feeling well, and Ryder eventually grew bitter in his resentment of the remarks. At dinner Friday night Fanning remarked. ‘Well, Ryder, a man who is hungry and continues to eat after I am full to the brim ought to quit eating.’

An angry Mr. Ryder stormed out of the house. The next morning he refused his usual cocoa.

Later that day Mr. Fanning and his wife and daughter all fell ill. Analysis of the cocoa showed it contained plaster of Paris and Paris green.

Mr. Fanning secured a warrant, but when he returned home with a police officer, Mr. Ryder had departed with his belongings in an attempt to leave town. He didn’t get far, as he was soon located at the Calverton Station and arrested.

Eels made Riverhead dark

Nov. 28, 1895

We’ve all experienced a power outage or 20 in Riverhead. Usually, it’s during a rain or snow storm or a big heat weave.

It’s never because of eels. But what happened in Riverhead on Nov. 27, 1895, was.

There’s not too much to say about this one, but the Times reported that Riverhead was in darkness after more than 300 pounds of eels that had clogged the water wheel at the Hallet electric light plant.

It took more than an hour to clear the eels from the machinery.

Prayed and the rain came

August 4, 1894

Riverhead was experiencing serious drought in the summer of 1894. So much so the only place the community’s many farmers felt they could turn to was to the church. As the Times put it:

“Great damage had been done and it began to look as if total destruction was to be the fate of Suffolk County earth products.”

The congregations of Northville, Jamesport and Aquebogue decided to have a traditional day of fasting and they joined together for prayer at the Old Steeple Church in Aquebogue.

Even as they prayed, the skies opened up.

“For more than an hour the rain fell,” the Times wrote. “And for more than an hour the grateful farmers sang their songs of gladness.”

Even the younger farmers in attendance, who laughed at the old-time method of fasting in an effort to have God hear their prayers, were now believers in the custom of their ancestors.

Among the names of the local farmers there that day: Wells, Howell, Hallock, Young and Tuthill. Yes, some things never change.

Mr. Parpan is the executive editor of The Riverhead News-Review. He can be reached at gparpan@timesreview.com or by phone at 631-354-8046.

03/10/13 12:00pm
03/10/2013 12:00 PM

CARRIE MILLER PHOTO | Linda Burke of Mattituck (left) and Sheila Thomes of Southold browse through items on a table in the basement during a tag sale held this weekend at the Orient home of the late Gertrude Vail Rich.

The estate sale at the home of the late Gertrude Vail Rich, a longtime Orient resident whose mother was a founder of the Oysterponds Historical Society, opened last weekend, giving buyers the chance to own a piece of North Fork history.

Ms. Rich had the Youngs Road estate built in 1972, according to family. She acquired a vast collection of valuables over her lifetime. Items on sale, some of which had belonged to her mother, born Alma Jane Miller, dated back to the 18th century.

CARRIE MILLER PHOTO | The most notable painting in the collection, painted by an unknown artist around 1848, shows Daniel Shotweil Vail and his dog.

Robert Barker and Sherron Francis of the Long Island Tag Sale Company spent seven days preparing and pricing items, Within the first 90 minutes of the sale, which ran Friday through Sunday, over 250 people combed through the collection.

“It’s like a wonderfully full treasure chest,” said Linda Burke of Mattituck. “There is such a history of people’s lives here.”

That history connects back to the 17th century, when the Vail family helped settle Orient, which was then known as Oysterponds.

Vail family heirlooms were sprinkled throughout the three-story home; even Ms. Rich’s school report cards from East Marion and Friends Academy were for sale.

“This is the best thing in the whole house,” said Mr. Barker, pointing to a large portrait prominently displayed over a sofa in the living room. The painting, of young Daniel Shotwell Vail playing with his dog, dates back to approximately 1848. A view of boats sailing the Hudson River at sunset is seen off to his right. The boy was born in 1843 and is about 5 years old in the painting, Mr. Barker said. The artist is unknown. It sold within the first hour of the sale.

“I saw it online, but I didn’t know it was a Vail,” said Jeff Hoffman, who bought the painting with his wife, Sue. “When we turned it around and saw it was of a Vail, we got excited.” The couple is from the mid-Hudson Valley but also has a home in Greenport. They found out about the estate sale through a Suffolk Times classified ad.

“Sales like this are rare,” Ms. Hoffman said. “It is interesting to find Hudson Valley stuff out here.”

CARRIE MILLER PHOTO | An array of family photos.

Mr. Hoffman said the Vails also spent a lot of time in the Hudson Valley. They declined to say how much they paid for the painting.

A 1930s Charak-brand secretary desk, priced at $895, stood in the corner of the living room. It was filled with books; titles like “Napoleon’s Letters to Josephine” and “Shakespeare’s Works” were held up by brass bookends of former U.S. presidents George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.

Book collectors like Dennis Massa of Peconic took their time perusing the collection. Mr. Massa said he also sells books, and decided to purchase a few for resale.

A marble bust, dating to 1910 and priced at $950, sat in another living room corner. It was signed by its Italian sculptor. The family had purchased it while on a tour of Europe, Mr. Barker said.

A seascape by local Orient artist William Steeple Davis hung in the dining room, while multiple smaller seascapes by local artist Elliot A. Brooks hung elsewhere around the house.

Fine china filled cabinets in the dining room, with dishes and crystal displayed across the dining room table. Silver cutlery, cut glass candleholders and lace tablecloths were abundant.

Hung above the front door was an antique mirror with a cornucopia inlay, circa 1800. It was priced at $750.

“It certainly is a beautiful collection,” said Janet Zenk of West Islip, standing next to several boxes filled with items. “I’d like to stay longer, but I ran out of money,” she joked.

Members of the Oysterponds and Southold historical societies visited the house prior to the public sale and acquired a number of paintings and photographs for their collections, ensuring that some Vail family history will remain on the North Fork.

cmiller@timesreview.com

11/30/10 7:55pm
11/30/2010 7:55 PM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | The 179 year-old Grange Hall on Sound Avenue in Northville is in serious need of repair.

Northville’s Grange Hall has served as a school, church, theater, homeless shelter, art gallery, Masonic Lodge and farmers’ meeting house over its 179-year history.

But the building is now in serious need of repair and its owner, First Parish Church of the United Church of Christ just across Sound Avenue, is planning to invite the community next spring to help revitalize the building and rethink how it should be used.

On January 11, First Parish Church Pastor Dianne Rodriguez will host a meeting with representatives of three other local UCC churches to discuss plans for the hall. She hopes to roll out a public campaign then to fix up the building next spring. She explained she thought of it after Maureen’s Haven officials told her they wanted to bring in the fire marshall to inspect the facility because of safety concerns.

Maureen’s Haven is a non-profit group that houses homeless people in a different congregation on the East End each night, relying on volunteers, space and kitchen facilities from the host churches.

When the small First Parish Church congregation first set up its shelter last year, it didn’t have enough volunteers in to staff the shelter, said Pastor Rodriguez. Baiting Hollow Congregational Church provided money to heat the Grange for the homeless shelter, while volunteers from Old Steeple Community Church agreed to help staff the once-a-week shelter. Riverhead First Congregational Church agreed to help, too, and Orient Congregational Church donated an industrial stove.

But money is so tight for the tiny First Parish Church that it doesn’t have the resources to bring the stove to Northville. It’s sitting in the Orient firehouse.

The Grange’s 80-year-old kitchen is only one aspect of the building that needs updating. The old steam heat system works, but heat is quickly dispersed through the building’s tin downstairs interior walls, which aren’t insulated. There is no bathroom on the second floor, which is used as a sleeping area for the men who stay at Maureen’s Haven. When the building is used as a shelter, the church places a porta-potty outside and the men take the fire escape if they need to use the bathroom at night.

The second story floor is warped, but its problems pale compared to the former first story floor, which the congregation replaced last year at a cost of $40,000 in order to make the space habitable for Maureen’s Haven.

The Grange Hall was built in 1831 on the corner of Doctor’s Path and Route 25 in Riverhead as a church for the UCC congregation, said Richard Wines, the chairman of Riverhead’s Landmarks Preservation Commission, whose family has long been involved with the church.

He said the building was moved to its current site just across from Church Lane in Northville in 1834 after the congregation split; one group stayed in Riverhead and the other took the building with them. It served as First Parish Church until another church was built across the street in 1860. It then became Northville Academy, a private secondary school. The new church building burned down in 1877, and in 1901 so did another one built to replace it. In one case the building was struck by lightning, said Mr. Wines, and the cause of the other fire was a mystery. The current First Parish Church is the third one built on the site across from the old original structure.

In the 1870s, the old structure became a community meeting hall and in the early 20th century, the Grange, a farmer’s association, began meeting there, giving the building its name.

“They never owned the building, they just met there,” said Mr. Wines.

Since then, the building has served a number of community functions. In the late 1990s, it was a meeting place for North Fork Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, and it’s been used by theater groups, Alcoholics Anonymous, a quilting group, and, most recently, for organic gardening classes offered by The Nature Lyceum based in Westhampton. There is a piano and an organ and a stage and pews in the upstairs room, which have also seen ample use.

Pastor Rodriguez hopes to use the building for a literary club and art exhibition space in the near future. She said that it has a history of use by literary groups.

Though she is well aware of the building’s rich and varied history, she believes the building will best be preserved if the community at large, and local UCC congregations, decide how it can best serve the community’s needs in the 21st century.

“We want to stay away from making it a historic site. We don’t see our ministry as preserving history. We want to preserve the building for the community’s needs in the future,” she said.

byoung@timesreview.com