Legislature appoints an official Suffolk County historian

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Supreme Court Judge Peter Fox Cohalan, shown here in his chambers at the state Supreme Court building in Riverhead, was named county historian Tuesday by the Suffolk County Legislature.

During his lifetime, Peter Fox Cohalan has been an attorney, an Islip town supervisor, a Suffolk County executive and a state Supreme Court justice, among other things.

On Tuesday, he picked up a new title.

Judge Cohalan, who will retire at the end of June, was appointed Suffolk County historian by the county Legislature. He will have an office in donated space at the Suffolk County Historical Society in Riverhead, and he will fill the job as an unpaid volunteer.

Mr. Cohalan, who is 74, said at the Legislature’s economic development and energy committee last Wednesday that he’s been an “amateur historian for the last 65 years.”

His interest in history came from his father, who once wrote a book about Aaron Burr, and his grandfather, he said, as well as from his own family history.

“I got started because one of my family members was the first Catholic priest on Long Island back in 1839, and I was very interested in his career,” Mr. Cohalan told the legislative committee last Wednesday.

This relative was the co-founder and second pastor of St. Andrew’s Church in Sag Harbor, back in 1845, he said, adding that St. Andrew’s was the first Catholic church on Long Island.

From there, he said, his interest in local history expanded into other areas. He said he’s currently researching the African-American communities that settled in Sag Harbor in the 19th century, and wants to “play up” the history of various diverse segments of the county’s population.

“We all have a story to tell and I want to help tell those stories,” he said last Wednesday.

County Legislator Ed Romaine (R-Center Moriches) liked the choice.

“I could not think of a more appropriate historian for this county, who has great knowledge and love for the history of this county, than Peter Fox Cohalan,” he said Friday.

Mr. Romaine recalled that when he was teacher in Hauppauge in 1971, Mr. Cohalan, then Islip Town supervisor, came to speak to his high school history club.

“Everything comes from something, and I think it is so important that through this position, we can explain to the people of Suffolk County where we came from,” Mr. Cohalan said last Wednesday.

The county historian position has been vacant since 2007, and was last held by Lance Mallamo.

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