Suffolk Historical Society

Footnotes to Long Island History

Suffolk Historical Society



Thomas R. Bayles


       One of the most interesting and important organizations on Long Island is the Suffolk County Historical society, which is housed in a handsome  brick and stone building on a beautiful triangular plot in the western part of Riverhead, just west of the Henry Perkins hotel on Route 25.

          While the Suffolk County Fair was in progress in September, 1886, a meeting was held in the courthouse in Riverhead, which resulted in the organization of the Suffolk County Historical society on September 28, 1886.

          The officers of the original society were:  President, James H. Tuthill of Riverhead, who was then surrogate of the county; first vice president, the Rev. Dr. Epher Whitaker of Southold; second vice president, Joseph H. Petty, Amityville; recording secretary, Stuart T. Terry, Southold; corresponding secretary, Richard M. Bayles, Middle Island; treasurer, James H. Pierson, Southampton; custodian, George F. Stackpole, Riverhead.  There were also two councilors elected from each town in the county, as at presents.  Mr. Tuthill continued as president of the society until his death in  January, 1894.

          The Board of Supervisors granted permission for an exhibition case for such articles as might be brought in to stand in the surrogate’s office.  This was the office and home of the society until the purchase of the fireproof building on the corner of Main street and Griffing avenue, in Riverhead, several years later.  This building was originally built in 1856 for an office of the clerk of Suffolk county and later occupied by the Riverhead Savings bank, and was purchased by the society for $4,000.  This continued to be the home of the society until the present handsome structure was erected.

          The objects of the society, according to Article 2 of its charter, “Shall be to foster the historical spirit in thought, study, and purpose; to encourage historical and antiquarian  research; to disseminate historical  knowledge; to collect and preserve such autograph letter and other manuscripts, maps, plans, charts, paintings, engravings, and other pictorial representations, books, pamphlets, newspapers, curiosities and antiquities of very kind as may have been of shall be the products of Suffolk county, or of its several towns, some of which are the oldest English settlements and religious and civil organizations within the bounds of the state of New York; and also to discover, procure and preserve whatever material of any kind may illustrate the history of the county and of its several towns.”

          The old seal of the society contains in its center a picture of a whaling scene descriptive of the days when Sag Harbor was the headquarters for the whaling industry.  This was taken from an engraving on an old one dollar bill of the Suffolk County bank of Sag Harbor, issued in 1844.  This bank was the first of its kind in Suffolk county.

          The library and museum of the historical society at Riverhead should be visited by every man, woman and child in Suffolk county, and you will be well repaid for the time so spent, as you will find an immense wealth of exhibits of all kinds, as well as a library of over 2,500 volumes.  What are your interested in?  You will find it in luster, pewter or china, needlework, quilts, or samplers, mounted birds, butterflies, Indian relics, guns, cannon and shells, a large display of flintlock guns, pepper box and dueling pistols, down to the first breech loading rifles of Civil War days.  Also ship models of noted vessels, whaling implements with trophies and shells brought home by the whalers a century ago.  Also domestic and farming tools of the early colonists from the settlement of Suffolk county in 1640 through the years.

          The building is open every day in the week except Sundays and legal holidays, from 1 to 5 p.m.  You will be welcomed by the custodian, Mr. Robinson, and there is no admission charge.  Mr. Robinson will be glad to show you around and help you look up any record in the library. 

          A visit to the most interesting and instructive exhibits in this museum will make you want to come again.

          The Councilors of the society for Brookhaven town are Osborn Shaw and Thomas R. Bayles.

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