What would local government say to the grass roots uprising? A new town supervisor was just voted into office. Ed Wehrheim had been involved in town government for many years, but now he sits in the hot seat. What would his take be on the sudden upsurge of activity in the little hamlet that might just become the crown jewel of Smithtown. Here’s what he had to say:
“I'd say history has a special way of repeating itself and the proof is what has unfolded in the hamlet of St James. A renaissance is upon us, as local leaders in the fine arts join forces with our Chamber, Civic groups and community organizations. The community is working together as one force with a vision to restore St James, preserving its historic roots and charm for generations to come. We are at the dawn of a revival. And I am so thankful for the people of St James, whose energy and synergy has become my inspiration as we begin redevelopment.”
Wow! Looks like the forces have aligned. Each week the local papers have been supportive by publishing news and progress of coming events. Everyday more people are stepping forward to volunteer. The excitement is clearly mounting, but there is much work to do and a long road ahead. The cause, however, is worth the effort. The preservation of the values of community and small-town life are what we want and need to pass on to future generations. We can only do this by learning about and learning from the past – and what better way than learning together?
The small east wing of Sherrewogue, which stands just off Harbor Road in the Village of Head of the Harbor, is the oldest part of the house and is thought to have been built as early as 1688. In 1688, Richard Smith, the patentee, deeded the dwelling house, uplands, meadow and creek that on the east side of Stony Brook Harbor to his son Adam. Adam (c1649-1726) lived here throughout his life and called his home Sherrewogue, an Algonquin word meaning "a place in the middle" since his home was midway between Stony Brook and Nissequogue. In 1698, at a town meeting it was voted that Adam should dam the Stony Brook and build a gristmill, and he did this creating the Stony Brook Gristmill that is still standing and functioning on the Stony Brook today. Sherrewogue was passed in direct line from father to son until 1826, when Adam's great-grandson, Nathaniel Smith, (1755-1826) having no child of his own, left his house, mill, and millstream to his nephew, Nathaniel Smith II(1782-1840). Sherrewogue remained continuously in Smith family ownership until 1935, when Mrs. Devereux Emmet sold the property.
When the federal government opened the St. James Post Office in 1856, it did so in Richard Smith's General Store located at the intersection of three Sisters Road and Moriches Road. Richard Smith didn't have the Post Office for long since he was killed in a tragic accident. Ebenezer Smith succeeded him as Post-Master and the Post Office was relocated to his store on the northeast corner of Moriches Road and Harbor Hill Road. The St. James General Store became the hub of the St. James Community. Here the residents could purchase yard goods, kitchen wares medicine, shoes, horse medicine, tobacco, groceries, hardware, and much more. It was the deluxe department store of its day. Since the Post Office was located here, the store became a central meeting place where towns folk gathered to wait for mail and catch up on the local gossip. Besides being a general store, Post Office, and community centers, taxes, were collected here. The store has the unique distinction of being the oldest, continuously operating general store in America!
The oldest surviving school house in St. James was build in 1808 on land that was given by Ebenezer Smith. The money needed to erect the school building in 1808 was raised by eight subscribers who contributed English pounds, shillings and pence for the building's construction. When converted into dollars at the 1808 rate of exchange, it amounted to a little over $35.00. Of the eight subscribers, four were sons of Richard Smith IV, and two others were Peter Jayne and Ebenezer Jayne, skilled mechanics and carpenters from the landing who most likely constructed the school house. The children of these subscribers attended this school in Nissequogue. In the late 1920's , when the Village of Nissequogue was established, the school was no longer being used for school purposes and the building was sold by Smithtown School District #1 to the Incorporated Village of Nissequogue to be used as its Village Hall.
The St. James Episcopal Church was build in 1854 by local Episcopalians who wanted a church close to home. Before this Church was erected, they had to travel to Setauket or Islip to worship. the congregants chose the name St. James in honor of James Clinch of New York City, the man who was the primary benefactor of the church, and whose daughter was married to John Lawrence Smith of Smithtown. The name of St. James seems to have been a popular one with the local residents of the community surrounding the church, so much so that when the federal government opened its first post office in the area on June 9, 1856, it called the postal district St. James.
by Natalie Weinstein, Allied ASID, IDS
Children’s events have been a sure hit as Celebrate St. James Past – Present – Future, winds down its community outreach in our inaugural year. From cookie decorating, holiday art projects, storytelling and carol singing with the Smithtown High School East choral ensemble, professional puppet shows with Sesame Street characters and another with a holiday theme, Studio 455 on Lake Avenue played host to smiling kids as young as 14 months and their proud parents and grandparents.
It’s a wonderful end to a first year of planning and working hard to bring St. James’ unique and special history and culture to a new generation of families. It all begins with the children, even as young as 14 months. An added treat was getting to know the talented kids from the choral group at Smithtown High School East. They not only participated in our children’s holiday special, but in the gathering sponsored by and held at TD Bank, Lake Avenue. Thank you, Francine, our amazing bank manager, for all your efforts on behalf of the St. James community and thank you Mark Hegreness, Smithtown High School East choral teacher, for inspiring and directing truly terrific young people.
Plans are continuing in the new year for an art auction to be held at TD Bank (Thanks again, Francine) conducted by Marlin Art Galleries.
The next meeting of the Celebrate St. James Past – Present – Future committee will be on Tuesday evening, January 9, at 7:00 at 455 Lake Avenue. Please join us. It promises to be a great year for St. James! Please join us!
Contact/RSVP, Celebrate St. James Past – Present – Future
18 MONTH CALENDAR CELEBRATES COMMUNITIES PAST, PRESENT, FUTURE
by Michelle Centamore, The Smithtown News