Picturing the Past

Manitou Hill
Manitou Hill, now Manetto Hill in Plainview, NY. Image copyright Jeremy Dennis and used with his permission.

Jeremy Dennis is in pursuit of the past, intent on documenting the historical and sacred sites of indigenous people on Long Island. His project, On This Site, restores a map of an old heritage. Jeremy has walked forests, railroad tracks, and backyards to uncover and photograph the often overlooked and forgotten landscape of his Shinnecock ancestors and other Native Americans on Long Island.

On this episode, Jeremy discusses the physical evolution of the sites he has visited as well as his travels through the historical record trying to decode long-forgotten place names and often biased accounts. We also talk about the photography projects that inspired him and what he would like to pursue next.

 

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The Colored Girl from Long Island

Today we talk with Sandi Brewster-walker about her life and her family’s history. Not only do the Brewsters have deep ties to North Amityville and the Native American community on Long Island but their story is intertwined with American history on multiple levels.

You’ll hear about early slavery on Long Island, letters from John Brown, spying in West Africa for the OSS during World War II, the peculiar fad for Tom Thumb’s wedding and more.

Sandi is also a practiced genealogist and we go over some of the challenges of researching Native American and African American ancestors. Beyond family research, her current efforts are directed at establishing a North Amityville Historic District and a Long Island Indigenous People & Research Center.

For more details, you can check out her book, The Colored Girl From Long Island, and her columns in the Amityville Record.

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[Update: Photos added June 18, 2017]

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Sayville’s Gilded Age Boss Architect

Isaac H. Green, Jr. was the man to call if you needed a house built around the turn of the last century on the South Shore of Long Island. As witness, just observe how many of his buildings still stand on Main Street and Brook Street in Sayville., along Middle Road, down into Oakdale and beyond. He designed churches and carriage houses as well as summer estates and farm buildings. His client list included the Vanderbilts, the Bournes, and the Cuttings. His biggest fan, however, is Connie Currie.

On today’s episode, Connie describes her almost fifty year pursuit of the life and buildings of Isaac H. Green. She started with Meadow Croft, the summer home he designed for John Ellis Roosevelt. Her research odyssey took her to Oakdale, East Hampton and all the way up to Bar Harbor, Maine as she tracked the career of Sayville’s favorite son.

Old 88. Sayville Public Library Historic Image and Notes Collection
House for Mr. JC Tappin. Architecture and Building, 1890.
Isaac Green Sayville Buildings

All research is a journey and you’ll follow Connie as she crawls through attics, spools through rivers of microfilm, and uncovers fragments of the built landscape hiding in plain sight.

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If Seeds Could Talk

Long Island was once known as “The Garden of the States.” Farms and nurseries and orchards filled the landscape from Queens to Quogue and everywhere in between. Many interesting questions surround this vanished world of agricultural history. How do you preserve the history of seeds? Can vegetables go extinct? ? And what does pumpkin beer taste like, anyway? All of this and more in our interview with the Long Island Regional Seed Consortium (LIRSC).

Today we talk with Steph Gaylor and Cheryl Frey Richards, two of the founders of LIRSC (along with Ken Ettlinger) about their work. Turns out it takes dedication, hard work, meticulous historical research and a devotion to craft beer.

You’ll hear about the success they’ve had bringing back the Long Island Cheese Pumpkin, the challenges of finding and propagating long lost seeds, and the important role of seed swaps and seed libraries in public libraries like Patchogue Medford and Bayport. Make sure you check out their web site LIRSC.org for up-to-date info on all of their activities.

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Morton Pennypacker: Long Island Spy Hunter

Frank Knox Morton Pennypacker was many things: author, printer, collector, antiquarian, and…godfather of AMC’s hit Long Island historical drama Turn? It was, after all, Pennypacker’s diligent research into (and just as diligent promotion of) the Culper Spy Ring in the 1930s that led to a resurgence and new understanding of George Washington’s spy ring on Long Island and in New York City. To learn the true depth of the story, however, we need to visit the East Hampton Free Library.

East Hampton is where Morton Pennypacker deposited his vast Long Island history collection. He stayed to oversee the use of the collection in the library and to marry head librarian Ettie Hedges. Today that collection is overseen by Gina Piastuck along with archivists Steve Boerner and Andrea Meyer.

On this episode we take a closer look at Pennypacker, his methods, and his discoveries which include not only the unmasking of Robert Townsend as the spy code-named Culper, Jr., but also a potential pre-Betsy Ross American flag designed by Bridgehampton’s John Hulbert.

How does Pennypacker’s research hold up today? What effect has Turn had on interest in Long Island history? What other secrets does the East Hampton Library hold? And how did Andrea get in to see George Washington’s papers at the Library of Congress after being turned away as a child? All this and more on this episode of the Long Island History Project.

 

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Sep 28, 1930

 

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The Coolest Field Trip You’ll Ever Take

When an athletic, thrill-seeking millionaire builds a mansion hideaway on the outskirts of the city, stocking it with a technologically advanced fleet of cars, boats and airplanes along with trophies of his exploits, there’s a good chance he’s either Batman or a Vanderbilt. Meet William K. Vanderbilt II circa 1910.

William K. Vanderbilt II
1903 photograph of William K. Vanderbilt II by Theodore C. Marceau. From the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

Just after the turn of the last century, William (or Willie K.) was heir to the Vanderbilt fortune and all the pressures that went with it. Reeling from a public relations disaster in Lake Success, he diverted his attention to Centerport and created Eagle’s Nest, an idyllic private retreat with space for a public museum housing his collection of marine specimens and cultural artifacts.

On today’s episode we speak with Stephanie Gress, Director of Curatorial Affairs at the Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum, the institution formed when Vanderbilt willed his estate be perpetuated as a museum.

Our discussion uncovers Willie K.’s scientific pursuits, his connections to the American Museum of Natural History, golfing with Sam Snead and the probabilities of Vanderbilts in space. We also talk about the challenges of preserving such a unique museum collection and how generations of school kids on Long Island have thrilled to the only Egyptian mummy between Brooklyn and Great Britain.

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Old Mansions Never Die

George Davies’ younger days would be the envy of any boy. During the Great Depression in Oakdale, he and his brothers had the run of Pepperidge Hall, a giant 19th-century mansion in walking distance of a swimming hole and the Great South Bay. Plus they had a pet duck.

PepperidgeHall
George with his father Jack Davies in the courtyard of Pepperidge Hall. Photo courtesy of the Dowling College Archives & Special Collections.

On this episode you’ll hear excerpts of a talk George gave on Sept. 15, 2015 sponsored by the Dowling College Library and the Oakdale Historical Society. He describes life in the 1930s, adventures in the mansion, and nearby neighbors like Arthur K. Bourne and Louise Ockers. We’ll also find out if Dutch Schultz was hiding nearby.

PHstory

Many thanks to George for sharing these invaluable memories. Most of us think of the glory days of these mansions as the Gilded Age but many of them lived on through various incarnations. George gives us a glimpse into one of those periods when the glory had passed but there was still fun to be had and living to do.

 

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5 Surprising Ways Historic Preservation Can Save Long Island

What better way to celebrate National Preservation Month than by interviewing Jason Crowley, Preservation Director of the Society for the Preservation of Long Island Antiquties (SPLIA)?

Jason comes to Long Island by way of Vermont, Charleston, Columbia University and years of work on the front lines of preservation. You’ll hear his take on the unique challenges and opportunities the Island represents, with our complicated map of towns, villages and hamlets accompanied by preservation laws of varying degrees of strength and effectiveness. We’ll also go over many of the local, state and national preservation agencies that you’ll want to tap when it comes time to fight for a historic site.

Founded during the post-World War II building boom on Long Island, SPLIA works to preserve all aspects of Long Island’s built environment in conjunction with partners from the East River to Montauk. Headquartered in Cold Spring Harbor, they own additional historic sites in Lloyd Harbor, East Setauket and Sag Harbor.

Finally, Jason and Connie compare notes on strategies to preserve historic landmarks, particularly religious buildings and the surviving works of noted Sayville architect Isaac H. Green.

And keep an eye out for SPLIA’s #MyLongIslandLandmarks exhibit opening in June.

 

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Stories of Storm and Sea

Folklorists would make good podcasters. They are used to finding interesting people and getting them to tell good stories. Take Nancy Solomon for example. As the executive director of Long Island Traditions, she has spent years collecting and studying the stories of baymen, offshore fishermen, boat builders and the like. Today we’ll talk to her about a number of those stories revolving around the subject of weather lore. Continue reading “Stories of Storm and Sea”

“My Kind of Conservationist”

Murray, Susan and Cathy Barbash (l-r). Photo courtesy of the Barbash Family.
Murray, Susan and Cathy Barbash (l-r). Photo courtesy of the Barbash Family.

 

It’s 1962 and a Nor’easter has just torn through Long Island. In its wake is another storm, Long Island Parks Commissioner Robert Moses with his plan to build a road down the middle of Fire Island. It will stabilize the beach, he says. It will provide beauty and ease to the motorist, he says.

But local builder Murray Barbash notices that the road will run right through his new development of Dunewood, flattening it and pretty much anything else in its path (including Sunken Forest). Murray gets together with his brother-in-law Irving Like and the rest, if you don’t know already, is history.

Murray’s daughters Cathy and Susan knew the story but over the course of the last year they set about documenting that history. Sifting through a number of local and regional archives (including Dowling’s) they pieced together the saga of the road-that-never-was. On this episode you’ll hear from Cathy and Susan and their mother Lillian about how an unlikely coalition of Long Island “vigilantes” outwitted and outlasted the great Robert Moses.

You can soon see Cathy’s and Susan’s research for yourself when the exhibit they created is permanently installed with Seatuck at the Suffolk County Environmental Center in Islip. For now, use the handy scorecard below to keep track of who’s who in this gripping story of intrigue and power set against the natural beauty of Fire Island.

Many thanks to the Barbash family for sharing their time, memories and photos.

Scorecard for this Episode

The Long Island “Vigilantes”

  • Murray Barbash: builder with an eye for beauty, developer of Dunewood
  • Lillian Barbash: his wife
  • Irving Like: indomitable lawyer and Murray’s brother-in-law
  • Paul Townsend: “The Wizard,” publisher of the Long Island Business News
  • Robert Cushman Murphy: the tallest ornithologist in the world

The State

  • Robert Moses: New York’s [insert your own adjective] Master Builder
  • Nelson Rockefeller: the not-to-be-bullied Governor of New York
  • Laurance Rockefeller: Nelson’s brother and noted conservationist

Long Island’s Legislators

  • Stuyvesant Wainwright: Congressman from New York’s 1st District, proposed a Fire Island National Seashore when no one was looking
  • Otis Pike: wins Wainwright’s seat with Moses’ backing, becomes reluctant sponsor of the Fire Island National Seashore bill

The Feds

  • Stewart Udall – Secretary of the Interior, consummate insider and good guy
  • President John F. Kennedy: wanted National Parks in the East, dammit

The Media

  • Charles Collingwood: Saltaire resident and CBS newsman
  • Wolcott Gibbs: writer for the New Yorker and Fire Island playwright
  • Teddy White: Fair Harbor resident and chronicler of presidents
  • Julius Monk: New York cabaret impresario whom we have to thank for the classic “Slow Down Moses”

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Battling Robert Moses

Karl1Karl Grossman has been an investigative reporter on Long Island since the early 1960s. Barely in his twenties, he cut his journalistic teeth at the Babylon Town Leader taking on one of the most powerful men in New York State: Robert Moses.

Karl covered the developing story of Moses’ plan to build a highway down the middle of Fire Island. Although the plan horrified local residents, many on the Island and in the press supported it. Through the work of Karl and papers like the Suffolk County News and the Long Island Business News and most importantly people like Murray Barbash, Irving Like and Robert Cuhsman Murphy, the plan was washed away. In its place we have the Fire Island National Seashore.

Today is part 1 of our interview with Karl on his early career, the power of the press, and how he was almost an alum of Dowling College (then known as Adelphi Suffolk College). You’ll hear about his further battles in part 2 but first in two weeks we’ll revisit the Moses fight from the perspective of the Barbash family. Stay tuned!

 

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A Neighborhood of History

St. David AME Zion Church in Eastville. Photo courtesy of the Eastville Community Historical Society.
St. David AME Zion Church in Eastville. Photo courtesy of the Eastville Community Historical Society.

Eastville endures. Through the rise and fall of the whaling industry, over the long slow death of slavery, past the rising tide of development on the East End of Long Island. From the early 19th-century this small collection of streets and houses east of Sag Harbor, anchored around the St. David AME Zion Church, has retained its character as a place that a vibrant mix of African Americans, Native Americans, and European immigrants called home.

On this episode of the Project, we speak with Dr. Georgette Grier-Key, Executive Director and Curator of the Eastville Community Historical Society. She relates the history of the area, from the early 1830s into the late 20th century when the Society was founded.

Portrait of an Eastville resident. Photo courtesy of the Eastville Community Historical Society.
Portrait of an Eastville resident. Photo courtesy of the Eastville Community Historical Society.

You’ll hear about the prominence of Native Americans and African Americans in the whaling industry as well as the importance of Sag Harbor as the first port of entry in New York. Among the people we discuss are Nathan Cuffee, a Montaukett member of the community who co-wrote the novel Lords of the Soil in 1905, depicting life on the east end of Long Island. Georgette also tells the surprising story of Pyrrhus Concer from nearby Southampton, an African American who, on a whaling voyage in 1845, became one of the first Americans to visit Japan.

We also discuss the challenges of documenting and preserving the histories of marginalized people. How do you prove, for example, that one of the trapdoors in the Church was used to hide escaping slaves on the Underground Railroad? How do you protect an unassuming house that is actually made out of wood from recovered 19th century shipwrecks and may contain generations of important stories?

EastvilleLOGOcapsBLUEfinal
Courtesy of the Eastville Historical Society

Sometimes you get lucky and discover a trove of tintype portraits nailed face-down into the floor of a cottage. Sometimes you fail, and structures get razed despite what they might be able to tell us about the past. Sometimes the results are mixed. Pyrrhus Concer’s house was demolished but only after significant parts had been salvaged.

You’ll hear Georgette talk about these cases and related issues along with the importance of understanding and enforcing the codes that should be helping inform decisions around such properties. You’ll also hear about ongoing projects to document African American burial sites throughout Long Island.

And if you enjoy these episodes, make sure to follow this site via email or subscribe to the podcast in iTunes. Leave us a comment and let us know what aspects of Long Island history you’d like to hear discussed.

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Peter Fox Cohalan Part II

Suffolk County Historian Peter Fox Cohalan is back in session for part two of our interview. This week we get deeper into the history of Islip, traveling all the way from the bottom of the Bay (and who really owned it) back to Islip, England and the ancestral home of the Nicoll family.

We also get Peter Fox’s insight into historic preservation at the local and regional levels as well as the unique situations that can arise on Long Island.

Finally, we’ll hear about the work of the Robert D.L. Gardiner Foundation. As a board member, Peter Fox is involved in helping the Foundation support the study and preservation of New York history with a focus on Islip and Suffolk County.

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Holding Court with Peter Fox Cohalan

Peter Fox Cohalan was named Suffolk County Historian in 2012 but in many ways he’s been preparing for the role his whole life. In fact, the Cohalans and history go way back. The first Cohalan in America arrived with Lafayette during the Revolution. One branch of the family led to a Grand Sachem of Tammany Hall, another to the first Catholic priest on Long Island. In his own storied career, Peter Fox has been Islip Town Supervisor, Suffolk County Executive, and State Supreme Court Judge (one of five Cohalans -including his father-  to reach that position.)

With the historian’s eye for detail and the Irishman’s gift for storytelling, Peter Fox can discuss the Sayville of his youth as easily as the quarrels of the early Federalists. On this episode of the Project he recounts the Sayville of the 1930s and ’40s along with his father’s time as coach at the La Salle Military Academy in Oakdale.  We’ll also hear about preservation efforts he spearheaded (like the Islip Grange in Sayville) as well as his family’s connections to the unforgettable Robert David Lion Gardiner.

Join us next week for Part 2.

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Lightning Strikes: Saving the Wardenclyffe Lab in Shoreham

Tesla Street
Corner of the Wardenclyffe site. Photo by Chris Kretz.

The historic site you want to preserve is up for sale for $1.3 million dollars. The good news: New York State will give you $850,000. The bad news: you have to raise the same amount. And there are other interested buyers. And the clock is ticking.

That’s the position The Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe (TSCW) found themselves in by the summer of 2012. But don’t worry, there’s a happy ending. In this second of a two-part interview, Jane Alcorn (TSCW president) explains how they turned things around. The secret ingredient: enlist the aide of Matthew Inman, creator of the website The Oatmeal.

In the whirlwind of events that followed, offers of help poured in and TSCW was able to meet all their goals. And then the hard work began. Jane recounts it all and lays out future plans for the site and for Nikola Tesla’s legacy of scientific innovation. Remember to check the TSCW website for ways that you can get involved.

And stay tuned as our Tesla month continues. Next week on the podcast we interview filmmaker Joe Sikorski on his Tesla/Wardenclyffe documentary Tower to the People.

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Hooked on Tesla

“Nikola Tesla, Dreamer” From The World To-Day, 1901.

Jane Alcorn was hooked on science from an early age but it was not until a friend clued her in to the Wizard of Electricity  that she became hooked on Nikola Tesla. A major scientific player at the turn of the last century, Tesla established a lab at Wardenclyffe in Shoreham, Long Island to pursue his innovative experiments in electricity, radio, and broadcast energy.

Drawing inspiration from his story, Jane and a dedicated group founded The Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe. And eventually, they realized the dream of securing Tesla’s lab and have begun to restore it.

In the first of a two-part interview, Jane describes that journey and provides background on what made Tesla so inspiring. You’ll hear stories of his inventions and his interactions with the people of Shoreham as well as his connections to people like Mark Twain, Stanford White and George Westinghouse.

Look for part 2 next week when we discuss the long and surprising road to purchasing the Wardenclyffe site.

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The Lost Lords of the Manor

Historical Papers on Shelter Island and Its Presbyterian Church, with Genealogical Tables. N.Y, 1899
Sylvester Manor from Historical Papers on Shelter Island and Its Presbyterian Church, with Genealogical Tables. N.Y, 1899

We’re back for part II of our interview with Dr. Gaynell Stone, executive director of the Suffolk County Archaeological Association and now accomplished filmmaker. Her connection to Stephen Mrozowski’s work at Sylvester Manor on Shelter Island led to her first film, The Sugar Connection: Holland, Barbados, Shelter Island in 2012.

The story of manors on Long Island is a tale that grows in the telling, however, so Dr. Stone has mapped out an ambitious series of documentaries encompassing Gardiner’s Island, Eaton’s Neck, the Manor of St. George and more.

Today you’ll get a glimpse of the stories that were uncovered: alchemists on Fisher’s Island, what lies buried on Plum Island, the forgotten patriot John Sloss Hobart, and pirates sailing out of the Connetquot River. You’ll also hear about the struggles to get these documentaries off the ground and seen by the public.

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An Island of History Under Our Feet

photo-jul-01-4-36-15-pmDr. Gaynell Stone was instrumental in the creation of Readings in Long Island Archaeology and Ethnohistory, the series of reference books that, starting in the 1970s, pulled together the foundational sources and background information on archaeology in the region.

In the first part of this two-part interview, Dr. Stone walks us through the fascinating history of Long Island archaeology, uncovering along the way: the myth of the 13 Indian tribes, the importance of Thomas Jefferson, the gravestones of Southampton, and much more. Look for part 2 in two weeks when we discuss the Manors of Long Island!

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Moriches and the Terry-Ketcham Inn


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Growing up in the Moriches, Mary Field noticed what most people didn’t. As old buildings were being torn down, she wondered who would remember what had gone before. What followed was a lifetime of interest in local history, culminating in books like The Illustrated History of the Moriches Bay Area and the 1881 Diary of Nettie Ketcham. In this interview she tells stories of old Moriches she learned from earlier generations and anecdotes from Nettie Ketcham’s experiences at the end of the 19th century. Mary also recounts the work of her husband Van, a ham radio operator, historian of Long Island shipwrecks, and participant in the LORAN Project from World War II.

Books by Van and Mary Field via WorldCat.org


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The 1989  fire that nearly destroyed the Terry-Ketcham Inn brought Bert Seides to tears but it also set him on the road to saving the historic Moriches landmark.  Building from a small group of volunteers meeting around Mary and Van Field’s kitchen table, Bert marshaled support and learned to navigate a maze of regulations, paperwork, and government agencies to bring the 1693 Inn back to life. In this discussion he provides a road map for preservation projects and reveals the hard work involved, from painstaking research to outreach programs to, of course, book sales.

The Ketcham Inn Foundation

The Terry Ketcham Inn courtesy of the Ketcham Inn Foundation
The Terry Ketcham Inn courtesy of the Ketcham Inn Foundation

 

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