Written by Dagmar Fors Karppi Friday, 15 July 2011 00:00
The two nominations were made by East Norwich Civic Association President Mathew Meng. The town’s landmark law allows someone who is not the owner of a building to put it up for landmarking which was at first thought of as a way to prevent the Verizon proposal for six antennas, but ended up as being something Mr. Meng felt should have been done earlier to protect the historical importance of the church. The Landmarks Commission will listen to the proposal and if they feel it is worthy of landmarks designation it will make its recommendation to the town board – who will then schedule a public hearing to consider the proposal.
Mr. Meng said, “I put together a little group, The Citizens for History. The town put me off twice in holding the landmarks meeting. It was hard to get people set to attend the hearing. Therefore I decided to put together interested people including: from the Society for the Preservation of Long Island Antiquities, Alexandra Wolf; the North Shore Heritage Area Executive Director Jennifer Sappell; the Jericho Historical Librarian Betsy Murphy; Professor Kate Velsor of SUNY; Steve Russell Boerner, president of the Cedar Swamp Historical Society; Tom Abbe, the director of the Jericho Quaker Meeting House; and John Collins who sits on the Landmark Commission.”
Mr. Meng said, “John Collins confirmed that the meeting date is July 27. He said none of the commission members could meet on July 20.”
At the June meeting of the East Norwich Civic Association the members voted to provide Mr. Meng with $200 to purchase copies of a book on Jericho history written by Jericho Historical Librarian Betsy Murphy that he will give to the members of the Landmarks Commission and the town board to show them the importance of the Maine Maid Inn. There is information about it in the book, he said.
Mr. Meng said, “I’m very proud that the East Norwich Civic Association put in applications on both the Community United Methodist Church of East Norwich and the Maine Maid Inn in Jericho. The Landmark Commission hasn’t met for about seven years.
“I sent 300 emails to ask people to attend; and will have a PowerPoint presentation on the Maine Maid Inn. Betsy Murphy of the Jericho Library is doing that,” he said. Both applications will be heard on the same evening at 7 p.m. at Town Hall located at 54 Audrey Avenue in Oyster Bay.
“Theodore Roosevelt, vice president of the United States at the time, laid the corner stone of the then Wesley United Methodist Church (now known as the Community United Methodist Church of East Norwich) on May 18. 1901. Therefore it is worthy of being landmarked,” he said.
“The second application for landmarking is The Maine Maid Inn, located in Jericho, the home of Valentine Hicks, 1789. History indicates that it was part of the Underground Railroad.” Mr. Meng added, “We need to show strong communitywide support for these two historic sites if they are to be landmarked and preserved.
“Please show your support by attending the meeting on July 27, and help save some of Long Island’s history.” he said. “I’m getting some thoughtful warm emails about the Maine Maid Inn from people saying they were married there.”
Mr. Meng added, “I reached out to Katie Velsor in February and she is applying for landmark status on the state level. The town will be quicker to act - before the wrecking ball hits.”
Denise Nash, Syosset Tribune (an Anton newspaper) editor wrote about the Maine Maid Inn on Feb. 20, 2009 issue, saying that it had closed for business.
She wrote, “The Maine Maid Inn, which was built in 1789 is located at 4 Old Jericho Turnpike in Jericho, and was inhabited in 1812 by Valentine and Abigail Hicks, and their three daughters, all prominent members of the Quaker community that founded Jericho.
“In 1837, Valentine Hicks was elected president of the Long Island Rail Road and was instrumental in bringing the rail service to the area. He lived in the house until he passed away in 1850; 100 years later the homestead became The Maine Maid Inn.
“The Maine Maid Inn is filled with history, including the portal to the famous Underground Railroad, which was located behind the linen closet doors. It also boasted the original wide plank floors.
“The homestead was a private home until 1930 when it was opened as an Inn. It was purchased by owners Payal and Rajiv Sharma, who operate Sitar in Huntington, in 2007,” wrote Ms. Nash.
Currently Breslin Realty is the real estate broker for the site which is under threat of being demolished.
Professor Kate Velsor, of SUNY Old Westbury has been researching the Underground Railroad on Long Island for many years. She is championing the site as a possible site on the National Park Service’s National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom.
Mr. Meng said the interest in landmarking the CUMC began in reaction to local residents opposed to the Verizon application to put antennas inside the church steeple. The civic association was interested in helping the local residents in their battle against the proposal while Mr. Meng also said he was concerned that the small church might be in a bad financial state and “We could lose the church.” The Verizon application was denied on Dec. 2, by the Town Zoning Board of Appeals for several reasons, one of them being a large emergency back up natural gas generator with sound enclosure on the rooftop of the church building. The ZBA explained in their decision: “The rooftop generator is completely visible to the neighborhood and in fact it extends approximately five feet over the roof ridge line on which it sits.”
During the centennial celebration for the Community United Methodist Church of East Norwich on May 5, 2001, Eileen McFetridge who researched the history of the Wesley Methodist Church of East Norwich said that there was also a connection between the church and Walt Whitman. “Walt Whitman’s family moved to Brooklyn, but he wanted to come back to East Norwich,” said Ms. McFetridge in an article in the Enterprise Pilot about the event. “We gave him some work to build the 1834 church and had him teach. He never lasted more than a quarter of a year. He had other things on his mind. His mother was a Vernon,” she added. [The Vernon family has left its imprint on the hamlet with Vernon Avenue and the Vernon School.]
The article continued, “She showed Historian John Hammond and James Foote the original order to pay Walt Whitman for the work on the church and there was a debate on if it was Walt Whitman Junior or Senior. “So we are continuing our exploration of that,” said Ms. McFertrige.
“John Hammond figured he (Walt Whiman) would be 15 at the time and therefore too young to do the work. I said a man at 15, he would have known how to build a simple house of worship. They thought it was the father. I don’t think the father would have had time to build the little church,” said Ms. McFetridge.
That original church was located on the top of the hill on the east side of Route 106. It burned down during prohibition. [There had long been a rumor that the church was set on fire to distract attention from rum runners.] The prominent Downing family donated the property the current church and manse is located on.
The landmarks meeting will be held in the Town Board Hearing Room, Town Hall East, 54 Audrey Avenue, Oyster Bay, beginning at 7 p.m.
The Landmarks Preservation Commission was formed in 1974 to recommend for preservation sites and structures within the Town which have historical, architectural or antiquarian significance. The seven members of the Commission serve without monetary compensation. Currently, 37 buildings, one railroad turntable and one cemetery have Town landmark status.
For further information, contact the Department of Planning & Development at 624-6200.