George Washington slept at East Setauket's historic Roe Tavern in 1790, and thanked Long Island spies for helping him win the Revolutionary War.
Then, more than a century later, the pre-Colonial pub virtually disappeared, becoming as great a mystery as any of the clandestine missions of the Culper spy ring.
All that remains at the intersection of Shore and North Country roads is a sign marking the spot where the hamlet's most famous bar once stood.
But that is about to change: Brookhaven Town is planning to buy the three-century-old public house and bring it back home.
“This is history at its best,” Brookhaven Supervisor Edward P. Romaine, a former social studies teacher, told Newsday. “It’s something that reminds us of our history and reminds us of our roots.”
The town board voted 7-0 on July 21 to buy the bar — built in 1703 and now a privately owned house — for its appraised value of $800,000 and move it to a town-owned site near its original location.
The purchase is expected to be funded by a state Dormitory Authority grant, Romaine said. The town plans to complete the purchase soon and move the structure by next year, and it could be open for tours and school field trips by next fall, he said.
The home's current owner, Arthur Billadello, a Revolutionary War reenactor and self-taught history lecturer, will continue to live in the house with his family and serve as caretaker and in-house docent after the tavern is moved and restored, officials said.
The bar was moved in 1936 by its owner, Wallace Irwin, to a spot less than a half-mile away, Billadello said. The home now is surrounded by other houses that were built later.
Billadello, who has owned the tavern for about 25 years, said Irwin apparently became spooked when he learned New York officials planned to turn North Country Road into State Route 25A.
“He panicked,” Billadello said. “He thought they were going to widen it like the New York State Thruway.”
(Irwin needn't have worried — the road was never widened.)
The tavern was owned during the revolution by Austin Roe, a member of the Culper, or Setauket, spy ring, whose exploits have been chronicled in books and fictionalized in the cable TV series "Turn: Washington's Spies." Roe rode through enemy-held territory carrying encrypted messages reporting on British troop movements.
Spies slept and ate at the tavern during the war, Billadello said.
On April 22, 1790, former Continental Army General — now President — Washington, making his legendary tour of Long Island, convened the former spies at Roe Tavern and thanked them, Assemb. Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), a local history buff, told Newsday.
He called the wooden edifice a "national treasure" that recalls one of Long Island's finest hours.
“There is a chance to restore public access to part of their history and heritage that’s really significant,” Englebright said. “George Washington’s visit was one of the most important single events in Long Island history.”
Rum and revolution
Roe Tavern in East Setauket was built in 1703 at what is now Shore Road and North Country Road/State Route 25A.
President George Washington visited Roe Tavern on April 22, 1790, during his famous tour of Long Island. There he thanked the Culper spies and stayed overnight.
The tavern was moved in 1936 by then-owner Wallace Irwin, who mistakenly believed Route 25A would be widened.
Arthur Billadello and his family will live at another town historic site while the tavern is moved and renovated. “I tell people I’m moving out of my house only to move back in,” he said.
SOURCE: Arthur Billadello