09/21/13 7:57am
09/21/2013 7:57 AM

SUFFOLK COUNTY HISTORICAL SOCIETY PHOTO | A houseboat sinks near S.T. Preston’s dock in Greenport during the ‘Long Island Express’ hurricane of 1938.

For as long as he can remember, John Holzapfel of Orient has been interested in the New England Hurricane of 1938 and its impact on the North Fork.

A retired Shoreham-Wading River High School science teacher with a master’s in marine studies, the self-proclaimed history buff has done his fair share of research on the “Long Island Express.”

His fascination with the storm heightened in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, which devastated the region last year.

Special Report: Remembering the ‘L.I. Express hurricane of 1938′

Now, 75 years after that early storm struck, Mr. Holzapfel is preparing to present “The Hurricane of ’38,” a talk co-sponsored by the Oysterponds Historical Society and Peconic Landing, on Saturday, Sept. 21. The presentation will start at 4 p.m. at Peconic Landing’s community center in Greenport.

The program will begin with a brief description of how hurricanes form, followed by a discussion of the special conditions that made the 1938 storm so disastrous for the East End.

The highlight, Mr. Holzapfel said, will be firsthand recollections of the storm. He’ll also show photos of damage sustained from Orient to Greenport.

To Mr. Holzapfel, one of the most noteworthy facts about the hurricane was that locals didn’t see it coming.

“They didn’t expect it,” he said. “It should have gone out to sea.”

The talk is free of charge and no registration is necessary. For more information, visit oysterpondshistoricalsociety.org or call 323-2480.

cmurray@timesreview.com

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

12/04/12 7:55am
12/04/2012 7:55 AM

COURTESY PHOTO | “Fort Terry on Plum Island,” a circa 1914 postcard in the collection of the Southold Historical Society.

It’s easy to be intrigued by Plum Island’s current status as a secret federal animal disease research laboratory, but that’s just one chapter in the island’s rich history.

East Marion resident Ruth Ann Bramson, also board president of the Oysterponds Historical Society, has been researching the island’s pre-lab history for several years and is working on a book on the subject with Southold Historical Society director Geoffrey Fleming and collections manager Amy Folk, a Long Island historian who has worked on some of the society’s other books.

She’ll give a presentation on the island’s past at the Peconic Landing auditorium in Greenport at 8 p.m. tonight.

In an interview this week, Ms. Bramson said Plum Island’s history has “not really been collected anyplace. The island has a very rich history of exploration, changing ownership and government acquisition. It’s an interesting lens, I think, to look at American history.”

She said the island was known by Native Americans as Manittuwond, meaning “the island to which we go to plant corn,” and that the first map was prepared by Adriaen Block, a Dutch trader employed by the Dutch East India Company, who also is credited with discovering Block Island.

“He prepared a map in 1614 based on his last voyage, which includes Plum Island,” said Ms. Bramson. “We know that he saw Plum Island.”

Later, between 1637 and 1639, the island played a major role in the Pequot War, the first armed conflict between Europeans and Native Americans.

The island is mentioned in a letter from Rhode Island founder Roger Williams. He wrote that the Pequots, who were “scarce of provision,” made their way to Manittuwond and Munnatawket, their name for Fishers Island, “to take sturgeon and other fish and to grow new fields of corn in case the English destroy their fields.”

The waters between Fishers Island, Block Island and Plum Island later became a “great center of trade between English and Indian tribes,” Ms. Bramson added. “It’s interesting to think of that area as being a center of trade.”

The island also provided the setting of the first engagement between the newly formed Continental Army and the British during the American Revolution.

“On Aug. 11, 1775, shots were heard on the island,” Ms. Bramson said. “We can’t say it changed the course of history. It was just a footnote in history. But it was the first exchange of cannon fire and the first amphibious assault by the U.S. Army.”

She said Plum Island also abounds with stories from the War of 1812, of shipwrecks and efforts by local residents and seamen to build lighthouses on both Plum Island and neighboring Little Gull Island.

During the late 1800s, the island became a well-known place for sportsmen.

“Very famous people came out to Plum Island to stay in the home of the lighthouse keeper, on farms and in barns,” she said. “Grover Cleveland visited frequently aboard the ship Oneida, owned by his very close friend Commodore Elias Benedict.”

Fort Terry was built on the island in 1897 as an artillery post to protect the U.S. coast from enemy ships during the Spanish-American War and later served as a lookout site for German U-boats and planes during World War II, though the fort never saw conflict and was declared surplus in 1948.

Ms. Bramson hopes to explore all these topics in more depth in both her lecture and the book, which the Southold Historical Society hopes to release in mid-2013.

The historical society received a $15,000 grant from the Gerry Charitable Trust, which must be matched by the end of this year, to complete the book, Mr. Fleming said this week.

“We hope that anyone interested in the fascinating history of Plum Island will consider making a donation,” he said.
“We are also currently looking for original documents and images relating to the historic structures and families that once occupied Plum Island. If you are a descendant of the Beebe, Tuthill or other notable families that once called the island home, please consider sharing the material you have with us. It will help make this project much richer and more interesting.”

To make a donation or to reserve a seat for Ms. Bramson’s lecture, call the Southold Historical Society at 765-5500.

byoung@timesreview.com

03/22/11 12:01am
03/22/2011 12:01 AM

A painting of the Lavinia Campbell, a three masted schooner captained by Charles Franklin of Orient.

In the days of wind-borne shipping, the waters surrounding Orient played host to scores of schooners en route throughout the northeast laden with coal and commodities.

The Oysterponds Historical Society is sponsoring two lectures at Peconic Landing in Greenport over the next two Saturdays on the history of the ships whose owners and captains lived in Orient more than a century ago.

Orient resident Ret Millis, a member of OHS and a former field reporter and producer for NBC News, will recount the voyages of the three-masted schooner Lavinia Campbell. Mr. Millis became interested in the ship after seeing a painting of it in the historical society’s collection.

“I think it’s by far the finest of our marine paintings,” he said of the moody painting depicting the ship with all sails reefed as it fights off a gale. “It’s unbelievable that such a beautiful thing turned out to be a coal carrier.”

While researching the ship’s history Mr. Millis discovered that he lives in the Orient house that once belonged to the Lavinia Campbell’s first captain, Charles N. Franklin.

Mr. Franklin ran the ship for Cicero King, a notable Orient businessman who had the 197-foot-long Lavinia Campbell built in Kennebunkport, Maine in 1883.

“She was a three-masted schooner and a good-looking one,” said Mr. Millis. “She was fast and apparently Franklin was a bit of a driver. He could really push her.”

He added that captains at the time were paid with a percentage of the cargo, leading them to drive their ships hard.

The Lavinia Campbell, which Mr. Millis says was likely berthed in Greenport, also had the distinction of having more accidents than most other vessels.

Not long after she was launched, she ran aground off Block Island on a dark night. Later, when anchored outside of Baltimore with a load of coal, she was rammed by a British steamer and began to sink. Refloated and repaired in Baltimore, the ship completed its voyage and delivered the coal several months late, said Mr. Millis.

He’ll reveal her ultimate — and harrowing — fate at his lecture, “Schooner Rigged and Rakish: The Story of Orient’s Lavinia Campbell” at 4 p.m. on April 2 in the Peconic Landing auditorium.

Clyde Mellinger, who will give the lecture “A Schooner in the Offing” this Saturday, March 26, at 4 p.m. in the same location, married into Orient’s schooner history.

His wife, Roxanna Mellinger, is descended from a long line of Potters of Orient who were involved in shipping under sail.
She’s the granddaughter of Captain William Harper Potter of Orient of the Louise B. Crary, which sank after a collision off the Stellwagen Bank in Massachusetts in 1902. Captain Potter was one of 10 of the 21 crew members who survived.

Mr. Mellinger has lectured extensively on the wreck of the Crary. Saturday’s talk will focus on her sister ships, many of which were piloted by members of his wife’s family over the course of more than a century.

“I’ll be filling in the areas which have not really been covered that much by the historical society, the four, five and six masted schooners. They’re the big boys,” he said.

Mr. Mellinger said that the Orient wharf likely could not accommodate ships bigger than three-masted schooners. Larger vessels would have been berthed in Greenport while their captains were home with their families in Orient.

He takes the title of his lecture from the poem “The Sea Gypsy” by Richard Hovey: “There’s a schooner in the offing, with her topsail shot with fire/My heart has gone aboard her for the islands of desire.”

“That’s rather romantic,” Mr. Mellinger said. “These guys were merchants. I’m sure they’d like to dream they were on a yacht, but they were mostly businessmen.”

Mr. Mellinger documented the rise of the big ships in the early 1880s, when merchants realized that three-masted schooners weren’t big enough to transport coal up and down the coastline.

“It was around the kitchen tables in these houses around here that they planned these things and started raising money for building these ships,” said Mr. Mellinger. “Then they became owners and captains.”

One five-masted schooner built at that time and often seen off the coast of Orient was the Jennie French Potter, whose captain, Joseph R. Potter, named the ship after his brother’s wife, since his brother helped to finance her construction.

“She was launched in 1899. She was 257 feet long and weighed almost 2,000 tons,” said Mr. Mellinger. “She carried coal, mainly. They needed bituminous coal in New England so they would run from the rail heads all along the coast.”

The Jennie French Potter’s role was typical of big schooners of that era, which provided the north-south counterpart to east-to-west shipping routes along the nation’s railroad lines.

Large schooners carried everything from pickled pork and seed potatoes to street sweepings full of horse droppings used as fertilizer. They even picked up guano, birds’ and bats’ droppings, from islands off the coast of Peru and carried munitions during the Spanish-American War and World War I.

“If you think of the three-masters as the tandem trucks of the area, the five-masters were container ships or supertankers,” said Mr. Mellinger. “They weren’t quite as romantic, but they were far more contributory to the wealth and prosperity of the nation.”

byoung@timesreview.com

Schooner lectures

• Saturday, March 26, 4 p.m.: ‘A Schooner in the Offing’ by Clyde Mellinger
• Saturday, April 2, 4 p.m.: ‘Schooner Rigged and Rakish: The Story of Orient’s Lavinia Campbell’ by Ret Millis

Presented by Oysterponds Historical Society at Peconic Landing auditorium, 1500 Brecknock Road, Greenport. Free. 323-2480, oysterpondshistoricalsociety.org.