Saturday, September 12, 2015

Setauket


Let me start by being honest: it took me over two weeks to write this post. It wasn't due to my busy schedule (surprisingly), but rather to allow myself more time to frequent this village that has grown to mean so much to me. Setauket, as I had touched upon briefly in my post on the Alexander Hawkins House a few weeks ago, is a sleepy little village on the North Shore of Long Island, nestled between the two larger towns of Stony Brook and Port Jefferson. Because of it's location, Setauket is often overshadowed by it's more popular neighbors, and yet that only makes it more of a hidden gem: the area is almost virtually unchanged since the last century. Never have I seen a village outside of New England hold so dearly to their history as Setauket. Imprints of the past echo through the breeze off the bay, down every quiet street, beckoning you to slow down and stay awhile.


Here we are overlooking the Setauket Village Green from the gateway of the Caroline Church. Setauket played a crucial role in the Revolutionary War, not only being the central location for America's first spy ring (more about that later!), but also the site of a British fort and a small battle which was fought right where you're looking upon. The fort was built right on the village green, adjacent to the Presbyterian Church which the British gutted and made into a stable for their horses (the British despised Presbyterians as they considered them rebellious against the Anglican Church), and used the gravestones of it's cemetery to fortify it. By 1777, the British were in full control of Long Island, terrorizing the locals, taking their food, occupying their homes, and forcing all (many against their will) to swear allegiance to the Crown. Attempting to extinguish some of this madness, troops from the Continental Army in Connecticut sailed across the Long Island Sound and attempted an attack against the fort, but soon retreated after making little progress. Among those Patriots was an officer by the name of Caleb Brewster, a Setauket native who later became one of Washington's leading spies. This skirmish is known to us today as the Battle of Setauket.

Patriot's Rock, commemorated by the Daughters of the American Revolution in the 1930s, remains a focal point of the Battle of Setauket, allegedly having been used as a barricade by the Continental soldiers, and perhaps even as a platform for one of their cannons. The first sermon of the Presbyterian Church, conducted by Reverend Nathanial Brewster, was said to be held here as well.

The Setauket Presbyterian Church, built in 1812, replaced the original structure after a lightening bolt, of all things, struck it down. It's cemetery is the final resting place for many notable Setauket residents, among which include the famous 19th century Long Island painter, William Sydney Mount, whose grave overlooks the site in which he was born.

Reverend Nathanial Brewster's (great-great grandfather of Caleb Brewster) grave. This was not his original gravestone, nor do we know the exact location of his grave site. His original headstone was ripped out by the British and never recovered.

The Caroline Church, the second oldest continuously used Episcopal Church in the United State, was built in 1729. During the Revolutionary War, it served many loyalists and British alike, but once the Americans won, the congregation dwindled and the church suffered for many decades. Fortunately, after help from historic Trinity Church in Manhattan, the Caroline Church was able to get back on its feet and it thrives to this day.

Just one of the many intriguing graves in the churchyard.

If you thought the Hawkins House was the only beautiful home in this village, you're sorely mistaken. An array of historic architecture spanning from the 17th to early 20th century embellish the neighborhood, adding to the striking landscape.

A timid farmhouse has overlooked the Setauket Mill Pond for almost two centuries.

Architectural eye-catchers abound.

The Setauket Neighborhood House has worn many hats over the past couple of centuries, once a residence, an inn, a general store, post office, and bank, to name a few. It's now rented out for weddings and other small private affairs.

It's not only about the colonial era here; there are quite a few Victorians to stop you in your tracks.

Setauket's charming post office (with a glimpse of Setauket Mill Pond in the background).

Setauket is also home to the beautiful Frank Melville Park. Encompassing over twenty four acres of trails, woodland, pond, and parts of Conscience Bay, it's a must see for any visitor or resident of the village.

Part of the park features a working grist mill, constructed in the 1930s to pay homage to Setauket's important milling history.

The doorway of the grist mill is simply adorable. Just look at that mural!

We enjoyed exploring the "Bamboo Forest" towards the back of the park; although bamboo is an invasive species, I have to admit it was incredibly peaceful being sheltered by all those towering stalks.

Who wouldn't follow a sign this charming?

The path was squishy, to say the least.

But, oh, was this view worth it. A picture is worth a thousand words, but if only I could adequately describe to you the serenity of this scene; the sharp fragrance of the salt marsh, the fluttering of birds over the pond, the perfect stillness. I thought to myself that this was a sight that Abraham Woodhull and the other Setauket spies knew well and loved. This was the land they were risking their lives for, their home, their America.

Abraham Woodhull's grave in the Setauket Presbyterian Church cemetery. Woodhull (alias Samuel Culper, Sr.) was George Washington's head spy during the Revolutionary War, and was responsible for delivering invaluable coded messages divulging British activity to the Commander in Chief. Woodhull along with several other spies from around Long Island (mostly in Setauket), lived within enemy territory, making it easier to blend in and move about undetected. This manner of spying had never been done before, and it proved to be a great success. The Culper Spy ring lasted from 1778 to the end of the war, and is highly accountable for our ultimate victory. It was so ingeniously crafted and contained, it wasn't even publicly discovered until the 1930s.

Intrigued? Well, there's more to come!  Jake and I are attending a three hour, three mile Spy Ring walking tour through Setauket tomorrow afternoon where we'll be visiting many of the significant sites involved. We thought you'd like to come along too, so to save you the trek and the sweat, stay tuned and join us here on Bygone Living!

14 comments:

  1. What a nice little town. Love all those homes my favorite is Victorian Style. Nice to see the church endured to this day.
    There's something about old cemeteries. I am always taken with them.

    Enjoy your spy ring tour!

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  2. What a great post about a beautiful town. Major post office envy! My town's is cute, but that is simply stunning! Thanks for taking us along!

    xoxo, Tim

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  3. Thank you once again for the tour and history lesson of this charming area! I miss New England so much!

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  4. Oh Erin, what a fantastic post! Your descriptive words put me right there with you guys! I would have missed the mural over that door if you hadn't said something! Enjoy, and thanks for inviting me along!

    Blessings,
    Gert

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  5. what a wonderful town! i can't wait to hear more!

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  6. It looks so beautiful there, Erin!! I love it.

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  7. Wonderful post, Erin! How lucky you are to have such history so close!

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  8. I was born and raised in Connecticut. I have lived in CA and AZ for the last 22 years. Your photos and history are very dear to me. Thank you for sharing your passion.

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Thanks for your thoughts!

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