Meet the men at the top

07/29/2010 12:00 AM |

John Perkins
Supervisor, 1878-1892

You probably know that Sean Walter is Riverhead Town’s current supervisor, and you may even know the names of the last four or five supervisors. But what about the rest of them?

Who’s going to keep track of them?

Town historian Georgette Case had a similar thought and decided to preserve their memory by writing about them.

In a volume called “Riverhead Town Supervisors 1792-2010,” Ms. Case has compiled brief sketches of all 51 town supervisors, from the very first, Daniel Wells, in 1792, to Mr. Walter.

She’s also got photos of all those who served after photography was invented in the early to mid-19th century.

“All of these men who have held office should be honored in some way, and this book is my way of honoring them,” Ms. Case said. “I’m happy the living ones were eager to cooperate and send photos.”

Ms. Case will sign free copies of her book on Friday, Aug. 6, at 2:30 p.m. at the Riverhead Town Senior Center on Shade Tree Lane in Aquebogue.

All six living supervisors — Mr. Walter, Phil Cardinale, Bob Kozakiewicz, Vinny Villella, Jim Stark and Allen Smith — will be present at that event and they’ll sign copies of the book, too, Ms. Case said.

Anyone who attends the Aug. 6 reception can get a copy for free, while the supply lasts, but after that, it will sell for $34.99 at the Suffolk County Historical Society on West Main Street in Riverhead. Only 100 copies were printed, she said.

The reception will be hosted by county Legislator Ed Romaine (R-Center Moriches), who was able to obtain a grant to cover half the cost of publishing the book, Ms. Case said.

The other half, about $3,500, she paid out of her own pocket.

Ms. Case said she was able to interview Joe Janoski for the book shortly before he died earlier this year. He told her about the town seal and town flag, both of which he designed, she said.

When Mr. Janoski died in April, he was reported to have been “one of the longest serving” supervisors in town history, with 16 years in office. With the publication of Ms. Case’s book, however, we now know that the town’s longest serving supervisor was Sylvester Miller, who served from 1841 to 1861.

Mr. Miller was also the second-ever Wading River postmaster, succeeding his father, and was also a justice of the peace, a commissioner of the common schools, clerk of elections, militia commissioner and overseer of highways, according to the book.

“Back then, they often held many positions because there were not that many people in town to serve,” Ms. Case said. Elected officials also weren’t paid for their services in the 1800s, she said.

Some other interesting facts you’ll learn from the book:

* Joseph Kelly, town supervisor from 1942 to 1955, was murdered on March 28, 1961, and his murder remains unsolved.

* Two town supervisors, William Leonard and Frank Hill, were undertakers, and one, Hubbard Corwin, drove a stagecoach.

* Simeon Hawkins, a sea captain and lumber merchant, was elected supervisor in 1870, defeating his brother, Edward, by a vote of 335 to 325. Mr. Hawkins also held a position called “Superintendent of the Poor.”

* The first Democrat elected supervisor in Riverhead Town was Gilbert Ketcham in 1872.

* Henry Hallock, a farmer, was in office as supervisor in 1900 when his foot was caught in a piece of farm machinery and later had to be amputated. He died soon after.

“It was really a lot of work,” Ms. Case said of the book, which took about two years to write.

Prior to the 1960s or so, newspapers didn’t cover local elections as thoroughly as they do today, and campaign advertisements weren’t as prevalent either, so it was difficult to tell when a person took office. Newspapers from Huntington and Babylon actually had a lot of information about Riverhead, she said. Town clerk records also helped, she said.

And the earliest supervisors, not surprisingly, were the hardest to find information on.

In the case of John Terry, who served from 1821 to 1826 and again from 1834 to 1836, Ms. Case was unable to find anything except a newspaper article mentioning that he was supported by then-Governor Daniel Tompkins.

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