Two Smithtown projects will put more than a dozen markers of area history and folklore alongside town roads in coming months, officials said.
The first will restore the Smithtown portion of the Richard “Bull” Smith Historical Trail, named for the town founder. The 1975 project of a Hauppauge Eagle Scout guided enthusiasts 21 miles along area roads from the Setauket Presbyterian Church, one of the first meeting houses in the area when it was built in 1714, to the St. James General Store, a hub of community life in the mid-19th century.
Another project, led by the Leo P. Ostebo Kings Park Heritage Museum and town officials, will put markers near the Whisper the Bull statue on Route 25 and on Bread and Cheese Hollow Road, where Smith and Whisper supposedly took a break from a daylong ride to establish the boundaries of the town to eat lunch. The William G. Pomeroy Foundation, which funds historical markers across the United States, supplied the markers through its Legends and Lore program; museum officials said they hope to install more markers at bona fide historical sites in the hamlet through further Pomeroy grants.
Councilman Thomas McCarthy said he pushed for town involvement in the trail project last spring when he realized that most of the markers — unobtrusive fixtures of the town’s landscape since his youth — had become decrepit: “You can’t even read them,” he said. Some had weathered; some, like the one on River Road, appeared to have been hit by motor vehicles. “I want our children to know where their town came from, what it was all about,” he said.
Robert Borowski, the scout who laid out the trail as a rising Hauppauge High School senior, was surprised but gratified to learn the trail would return. "I’m proud of this area and all this history,” he said, now 62 and living in Patchogue.
He is a retired Navy captain and Patchogue-Medford High School science teacher who now runs a travel company. His work on the trail earned him the nickname “Bicentennial Bob” from his classmates at a time when much of Long Island was overtaken with patriotic fervor, he said. Then-Smithtown Supervisor Paul Fitzpatrick was not the only politician to appear in public dressed in a Revolutionary War costume, Borowski said, and as a young man he found ready support from Brookhaven and Smithtown officials, librarians and historians.
“Those men and women treated me with respect, even though I was a high school student,” he said.
Borowski rode in a Smithtown Highway Department truck to install the markers, and newspaper clippings from the time show him with local notables at a 1975 ribbon-cutting for the trail. Hundreds of scouts and everyday residents made the hike in following years; when they were done, some mailed $1.50 for the commemorative patch of a shield bearing symbols of the two towns and the Boy Scouts.
This fall a Traffic Safety Department worker named Dennis Gortakowski, working under department director Mitch Crowley, will make the markers in the same town shop that churns out many of the town’s 12,000 road and traffic signs, guided by archival materials from the Long Island Room at the Smithtown Library.
They will be brown and rectangular and all roughly 15 will cost less than $1,000. The Kings Park markers will be made of heavier cast iron and painted maroon and beige. They cost the Pomeroy Foundation $1,100 apiece. Additional historical markers will be placed at the train station and the Indian Head Road site of the former Jewish Agricultural and Industrial Aid Society, among other locations, said museum president Joann Hahn.
The foundation’s grants required extensive documentation, said Hahn, who spent months combing deeds and century-old newspapers. The work was worth it, she said. “After 1929, these properties were bought up by real estate companies. Everything gets grown over, changed, and that history gets forgotten,” she said. “We are trying to make sure each area gets its due.”
Some Smithtown historic sites:
Cemetery at Route 25A and River Road, where many Smith family descendants are buried.
Epenetus Smith Tavern, 211 Middle Country Rd., was a favorite spot for British soldiers during the Revolution.
St. Johnland Nursing Center, 395 Sunken Meadow Rd., sits on land bought by William Augustus Muhlenberg in the late 1800s.