Workers this month are rebuilding the front porch of Epenetus Smith’s tavern on the Smithtown Historical Society’s East Main Street grounds.
In Colonial times, Smith hosted travelers and, grudgingly, British redcoats at the tavern, originally located at the intersection of Middle Country and North Country roads. More recently, the tavern has been popular with schoolchildren, who take field trips there to make candles and write with quill pens.
The porch appears in an 1890 photograph, but rotted or was removed sometime before 1972, when the building was moved to its current location, said the society’s executive director, Marianne Howard.
A $10,950 grant from The Robert David Lion Gardiner Foundation is covering the cost of the replacement and the School House Remodeling Co. of Glen Cove is doing the work.
“The architect working on the project tried to use materials that would be replicas of that period, and even the same building styles,” Howard said. “It’s not going to look like a new porch.”
The former tavern owner, a great-grandson of town founder Richard Smith, was a bon vivant and prosperous businessman, said Bradley L. Harris, Smithtown town historian and president of the historical society. “His larder was always well-supplied with the comforts of life.”
Smith’s business, which also offered beds and stables, served officers of the circuit court and travelers making the stagecoach run from Brooklyn to Sag Harbor.
The redcoats were unwelcome guests.
“They came and took what they wanted,” Harris said. “They stayed at his house and ate his food and cleaned out his larder. . . . Nobody got paid. That’s just the way it was.”
But Smith, who served as a town official in various capacities, including supervisor, kept a ledger of everything the soldiers took, and encouraged surrounding property owners to do the same, Harris said.
Harris recalled that his colleague, Rufus Langhans, the former Huntington Town historian, had once tried to collect those debts.
According to a 1975 Newsday story, Langhans got at least as far as asking the Huntington Town Board for permission to approach the British chancellor of the exchequer concerning repayment of 7,132 old English pounds, or $15,000 worth of IOUs issued to area colonists during the Revolution, and discovered hundreds of years later in a town vault.
A 1998 follow-up story disputed Langhans’ claim to have discovered the IOUs, crediting a 19th-century historian with having first documented the debt.
The chancellor, by the way, rejected Huntington’s demand, according to that story, but “two high school students from Huntingdon, England, presented the Town with a token payment of three pounds, all in coins in a small, red drawstring bag. The payment was accepted and the town withdrew the claim.”