Traveling down Middle Country Road in Smithtown, just past the juncture of of 25A and Rt. 111, you may have spotted them on the left side of the road.
Broad mansions, with faded white paint and dark shingles, built in a traditional colonial style. Some have small lawns of creeping ivy, while others have signs in front proclaiming them to be doctor’s offices. While some of these historic buildings have unfortunately suffered at the hands of modernization and been transformed from the inside out into a series of cold waiting rooms and medical supply closets, others have managed to escape that fate and still remain intact in their original form, serving as a comforting attraction of bygone days in the early era of Smithtown.
These include the Judge J. Lawrence Smith Homestead, the Epenetus Smith Tavern, and the Frank Brush Barn, among others.
I’ve lived in Smithtown nearly all my life, but it was only recently that I chanced upon discovering the history of the buildings and the extensive bit of land that lay behind them, unbeknownst to me all this time. It is quite surprising what you might find in your own towns, if you only take the time to look.
My time came when I caught sight of an advertisement by the Smithtown Historical Society, which was hosting what was apparently an annual Historical Festival. I thought this might be a fun way to spend a Sunday afternoon, so I happily went along with my wife, and was delighted to discover there was quite more than meets the eye when not idly driving by.
The Smithtown Historical Society works to ensure that Smithtown’s historical buildings and sites are well preserved and maintained, for the purpose of teaching history and education for current and future generations. Now this may not be something you can appreciate as a child, but as an adult now, I was actually very interested in the history of our town, and I found the ideas and images of Smithtown nearly 100 years ago fascinating, when compared to how it looked today.
Before I actually had the chance to explore any of the buildings, I was surprised to see exactly how much land existed beyond them. This was once farmland, but was now also converted into a makeshift camp for Civil War Reenactment soldiers, who were demonstrating everything from canon firing to sleeping arrangements, and cooking traditional colonial fare over makeshift fire pits.
There were also stands constructed in which replicas of old toys and colonial items were being sold, a still-working blacksmiths building complete with blacksmith, and a band playing traditional and colonial folk music.
The first building to attract us was the Frank Brush Barn. We were lured to its wide open doors by the sound of traditional Irish music. The barn now serves as a gathering place for dancing and activities almost weekly. Built approximately around 1900, it was formerly used for horses and carriages.
Our next stop was the Franklin O. Arthur Farm. In here you can see the house as it once once, complete with an old brick oven which seemed little more than a large hole in the wall where coals would be stoked. One can imagine many singed hands!
Franklin O. Arthur was once a dentist who arrived here in the early 18th century, and promptly took up blacksmithing as well. Beyond the large homestead was a somewhat dilapidated barn and a carriage house. The barn housed several sheep, a donkey and some pilgrim geese, in addition to a chicken coop.
The next building to explore was the Epenetus Smith Tavern, a large structure built in the mid 1700s. Standing in the main wing, it is easy to imagine the room crowded with patrons discussing all manner of topics. It was also a stopover for British soldiers during the Revolutionary War. You can certainly feel the presence of history in a place such as this, where thousands of feet once strode through the very same door we just did. You can hear the clink of glasses, and the raucous laughter, and smell the dirt and dust of the road.
Continuing, we pause for a moment as a horse-drawn carriage ambles by, and then stroll casually to the Judge J. Lawrence Smith Homestead. This large, two-story mansion was built in the late 18th century, and was once actually two separate houses. Many alterations were made to the mansion while occupied by the Judge, but it still retains much of its colonial feel. It is somewhat nostalgic to enter the Judge’s chambers and see the numerous books lining the walls, realizing that these very same books were thumbed through and perused by the judge centuries ago.
And so the town of Smithtown became more than just a town that day. I am looking forward to the Historical Festival again this year, eager to take another walk through history and time.