Marking history at SBU
History close at hand
July 16, 2008 | 08:31 AM
"About 8 Oclock (having previously sent over my Servants, Horses and Carriage) I crossed to Brooklin and proceeded to Flat Bush."
With this entry in his diary, President George Washington left the City of New York (Manhattan), then the capital of the United States, on Tuesday, April 20, 1790, for a tour of Long Island. He crossed on the ferry back home before sunset on Saturday, April 24. In his last diary entry for April 22 he writes, "thence to Setakit 7 Mi. more to the House of a Captn. Roe which is tolerably dect. with obliging people in it."
Early on the morning of April 23, 1790, President George Washington and his entourage left the Roe Tavern in East Setauket and traveled west along what is now Main Street past the Setauket Village Green, continuing past the home of Samuel Thompson, over the hill that is now Thompson Hay Path, past the home of Major Hawkins and on to Smithtown. This entire route was the 18th century main road through Setauket. The road was known by many names including "Old Colonial Road." By the end of the century it would be known as North Country Road.
"Friday 23d. About 8 Oclock we left Roes, and baited the Horses at Smiths Town, at a Widow Blindenberg's – a decent house 10 Miles from Setalkat, - thence 15 miles to Huntington where we dined (at Widow Platt's) ..." (Diary of George Washington, 1790)
The only mention in his diary of the route Washington took between Setauket and Smithtown is: "The whole of this days ride was over uneven ground and none of it of the first quality but intermixed in places with pebble-stone." We believe that his route took him from the west end of what is now Thompson Hay Path and Route 25A in a direct line through a part of the Stony Brook University property to join up with the road to Smithtown at 25A and Stony Brook Road, passing alongside the Hawkins-Mount House before starting up the hill toward Smithtown.
Through the efforts of Malcolm Bowman, distinguished professor of oceanography, SBU has researched, identified, marked and preserved a tiny, remaining fragment of this Long Island Old Colonial Road, most of which is now known as North Country Road (Route 25A).
At the ceremony unveiling the plaque marking this section of the Old Colonial Road, SBU President Shirley Strum Kenny spoke about the importance of our colonial history and congratulated Professor Bowman and his committee for the work they had done in bringing this local history to light. Brookhaven Town Historian Barbara Russell noted that "local lore claims that President Washington stopped at Roe's to personally thank him for his service during the war. If so, it would likely be that other participants in the Culper Spy Ring were present to meet the president, and former general, who they so faithfully served under."
John Fogarty, SBU's director of capital planning, who undertook much of the research that verified the location of the road, spoke about how at the start he had undertaken the research to prove Bowman wrong and came to discover, through many original documents, the ultimate truth of the road's existence at Stony Brook University.
"The fact that this road was being used to define property boundaries," noted Fogarty, "suggests that the route predated the town's property divisions in this area, that this was the original route from Setauket to Smithtown, before the village of Stony Brook was settled ... the colonial road may have followed an older Indian trail."
The ceremony, held at noon on Thursday, June 26 was attended by representatives of our elected officials and local historical organizations as well as historians and community members from the area bordering the university.
President Kenny and Professor Bowman unveiled the new sign. As a light rain began, Bowman then invited all in attendance to tour the section of the colonial road that has remained unchanged for more than 300 years.
The plaque marking the Old Colonial Road is at the end of Dogwood Drive off Stony Brook Road. The entrance to Dogwood is just south of the Long Island Railroad trestle over Stony Brook Road. Walk west from the plaque to see the short section of dirt road that was the Old Colonial Road.
Beverly Tyler is Three Village Historical Society historian and author of books available from the Three Village Historical Society. Call 751-3730.