Most North Forkers know all about the area’s colonial past and many are only too happy to share that knowledge. And in a few months, a few local historians will get to brag about the region’s rich past with a national historical group.
The North Fork has been selected as the destination for a June tour sponsored by The National Trust for Historic Preservation. The trust has offered study tours to its more than 200,000 members since 1970, but never before to the North Fork, which the organization’s brochure calls “Long Island’s best kept secret.” The tour will be a follow-up to several trips to the South Fork.
Richard Wines, chair of the Riverhead Town Landmarks Preservation Commission, said the “best kept secret” title is certainly appropriate for an area that’s “the least best known of Long Island.”
But there’s a downside to being “discovered,” he added. “I think there’s a part of us that would prefer the secret kept,” he said.
Gail Horton, a Greenport historian and longtime resident, bemoans those who visit the village but fail to realize “the richness and activity of this place and its history.” She echoed Mr,. Wines’ sentiment, saying she’d just as soon see the North Fork maintain its secret status.
Both Mr. Wines and Ms. Horton will serve as guides during the five-night excursion, which is limited to 25 people. Ms. Horton will lead the group on a walking tour of Greenport.
The visitors will stay at the Harborfront Inn on Front Street. Price for double occupancy is $2,875 per person, which doesn’t include airfare. Single occupants pay an additional $650.
“If you walk around Greenport, the story of the village is told and that’s how I intend to present it,” Ms. Horton said. The tour will include a lesson on Greenport’s maritime history, including its ports and the sailor’s life. They’ll discover how Sterling Harbor was known as Winter Harbor in the mid to late 1700s. “Our first port,” she said.
The group will also stop at Greenport Baptist Church, where they’ll be able to admire four Tiffany stained glass windows.
“I don’t know if any other church has that many of them,” Ms. Horton said.
Mr. Wines will show visitors around Hallockville Museum Farm and his own historic Jamesport property, which has been in his family for 350 years. The property includes a host of period buildings that he and his wife, Nancy Gilbert, a Peconic Land Trust board member, salvaged from the surrounding area and moved to their land.
“The house we’ll be showing was the house of a whaling captain whose ship made Jamesport its home port,” Mr. Wines said.
For anyone paying attention, North Fork history is hard to overlook. Southold, which included all of Riverhead prior to 1792, claims the title of the oldest English-speaking settlement in New York State. Cutchogue’s Old House, circa 1649, is the state’s oldest English-style structure.
But Mr. Wines argues that age isn’t what gives the area is special quality.
“My family has deep roots here going back to the founding of Southold in 1640, but I think the real attraction of the North Fork is more of what it is,” he said. “It’s the farming, the sea, the special quality of the air. You can always identify an Impressionist painting done out here because the light is a little different.”
The woman responsible for the tour, Protravel International’s managing director Susan Gullia, said she grew up coming out to Aquebogue, Shelter Island and Amagansett.
“Everyone knows about the Hamptons, but not an awful lot of people are familiar with the North Fork,” she said. “It hasn’t had the publicity and the jazz.”
Meg Annacone-Poretz, associate director of National Trust Tours, said the North Fork is an “off the radar” destination and an area “very much worthy of having a light shined on it.”
The June tour is being marketed in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.
“We’re hoping people in the tri-state area who have never been to the area will come and experience it for themselves,” she said.
On Nov. 20, 1661, William Wells was allotted three pieces of property for his family to farm near Phillips Lane on Sound Avenue in Aquebogue.
Eleven generations later, the Wells family is still at it.
This Sunday, the Wells’ will celebrate 350 years of farming the same land, and if a 1937 article in the old County Review newspaper is correct, no other Riverhead family has owned a piece of property longer.
Lynn Wells has always known she comes from one of Riverhead Town’s founding families, but she only recently discovered the 1937 story declaring them the town’s longest tenured property owners.
The County Review piece recounts the Nov. 20, 1661 Southold Town Board meeting to establish Aquebogue with 40 lots, of which three were allotted to Mr. Wells. While many other families continued to farm the same piece of land in 1937, none had kept their property under the same name.
“In practically every case the line had been broken by inheritance through the female side and a change of name by marriage,” the article states.
William Wells left his property to his wife to give to his sons, and around 1725 his grandson Daniel built a home on the west side of Phillips Lane on the property currently owned by Lynn and her siblings.
“It’s something to be proud of,” Lynn said. “I have a big family and I’m not sure everyone is aware of it, but I hope they all feel proud, too.”
To the west of Lynn is a farm owned by Todd Wells, one of three Wells families which still owns property on 325 acres passed down from William Wells.
Todd Wells, who grows potatoes and cabbage on his farm, said he’s excited about his family reaching this milestone, but isn’t planning a big celebration this weekend.
“We’re just going to have a barbecue for the staff,” said Todd, who learned about farming from his father, Vernon, who is now retired.
Todd’s 21-year-old son, Eric, said he plans to follow in his father’s footsteps and become the 12th generation to farm the land.
“I love farming,” he said. “You get to be your own boss and work outdoors.”
The third Wells parcel, Wells Homestead Acres, is located just west of Todd ‘s property and it is currently owned by Lynn’s cousin, Lyle Wells, who grows asparagus and squash there and also operates the farm owned by Lynn.
Last Christmas, Lyle, the son of former Riverhead Town Historian Justine Wells, had 60 L.L. Bean jackets made displaying the words “Wells Homestead Acres 350 Years.” He said he hopes the land continues to get passed down for generations.
But even he won’t be planning a big celebration this weekend. Instead he’ll be doing what Wells’ have always done on their land in Aquebogue.
“Work as usual,” he said.
Riverhead Town Historian Georgette Case held a book reading and signing of ‘We Will Not Forget: Riverhead’s Civil War Soldiers and Sailors’ at the American Legion Hall in Riverhead Saturday afternoon.
The book chronicles the lives of more than 100 Civil War soldiers who were born here, lived here, died here and are buried here. The 91 page book took her four months and 500 hours to research through town records, the Suffolk County Historical Society and online looking at obituaries from the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, New York Times and New York State military records.
After the reading the 14th New York Civil War Infantry of Brooklyn and the 88th Regiment New York State Volunteers (The Irish Brigade) re-enactors held a ceremony and marked overlooked gravesites of Civil War soldiers Moses and Joseph Overton and John Augustus Brown in Riverhead Cemetery.
Moses Overton died of disease in 1862 in a hospital in Pennsylvania and Joseph Overton died in action in the Navy in May 1865 in Florida.
John Augustus Brown died in action 1861 in the First Battle of Bull Run in Virginia at age 22, just 21 days after he joined Company C 14th Brooklyn Regiment.