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Long Islanders begin Independence Day weekend at beaches, bars, eateries, historical sites

Gina DeBenedittis, of Farmingdale, along with other diners

Gina DeBenedittis, of Farmingdale, along with other diners enjoy some food and drink at Bracco's as they begin the July 4th weekend on Friday, July 3, 2015, in Freeport. Credit: Howard Schnapp

People kicked off the Independence Day weekend Friday with trips to beaches, bars and restaurants, as well as tours of historic landmarks.

The sidewalks on Nautical Mile in Freeport began to fill up by midafternoon with those who had the day off work and wanted to start their holiday with a relaxing drink by the water.

Bracco's, a popular bar and restaurant on the mile, drew an especially large crowd early in the day, as owner Jerry Bracco stood out front in a bright pink tank top and vibrant yellow sunglasses advertising lobster rolls, 4 p.m. happy hour and holiday weekend specials.

Bracco said he doesn't expect a large crowd Saturday because it will be overcast, with the forecast calling for scattered showers. But he said he anticipates Sunday, when forecasters predict sunshine and highs in the mid- to upper 80s, to be packed.

Gina DeBenedittis of Farmingdale sat under the shade of an umbrella at Bracco's Friday, eating clams and lobster rolls with her mother, Barbara.

"Fortunately, I was off today," she said, sipping on a piña colada, "so I took my mother for lunch."

DeBenedittis said she doesn't plan to go into the city or to see any fireworks shows Saturday night because she doesn't want to fight the traffic. Instead, she said she will be going to her cousin's for a barbecue.

Kathleen Schoendorf and Sandra Brady of West Islip sat at the end of the bar drinking electric lemonades.

"We were looking for something to do to kill the day," Schoendorf said, "so we decided to come here."

They said they might head over to Patchogue to grab a drink at a tiki bar but had no set plans for Friday night or Saturday.

Others chose to delve into American history to kick off their July Fourth weekend.

William Floyd was one of four New Yorkers who signed the Declaration of Independence. His estate, located in Moriches Bay and built in the early 1720s, still stands.

"We wouldn't be having the Fourth of July if it weren't for men like William Floyd," said MaryLaura Lamont, a National Park Service ranger.

Frank Ales of Woodmere visited the site for his first time Friday with his wife, Sandra, and his grandson Andrew, 9.

"My wife likes to explore," he said. "We've gone to other historic sites."

Floyd's house is the last remaining of the New York signers of the declaration. The other homes were burned or destroyed during the Revolution.

"It's a great piece of history and we're really lucky the British didn't burn it down," Lamont said.

On Saturday at 10:30 a.m., Lamont will give a half-hour talk on Floyd's life titled "He Dared to Sign William Floyd" on the front porch of the estate.

Floyd's decision to sign the document was risky, Lamont said. "They would've hung him for treason had they captured him," she said, adding that Long Island families were split, with some siding with the British.

Floyd chose the right side, she said. His cousin, Richard Floyd, lost his house and was banished to Canada for siding with the British.

The house was passed down from generation to generation and new rooms were added over the years. In 1976, Cornelia Floyd Nichols donated the house, all of its property and 613 acres of land to the National Park Service as part of the country's bicentennial.

Today, the home is a "cultural preservation," Lamont said, that shows how the house evolved over the centuries.

Philip Jermain, 67, of Riverhead has been giving tours at the estate for the past six years.

"The whole place is peaceful. You're going into yesteryear," Jermain said while giving a tour Saturday morning. "When I come here, I just forget everything else."

The estate is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and federal holidays from May to November. Admission and hourlong tours, which begin every half-hour, are free.

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