Written by Dagmar Fors Karppi Friday, 05 August 2011 00:00
The Oyster Bay Landmarks Preservation Commission voted 5-0 to accept the initial applications proposed by Matthew Meng to landmark the Maine Maid Inn in Jericho and the Community Methodist Church in East Norwich. The decisions were given during a hearing, held the evening of July 27 at town hall. The commission has 30 days during which to hold an official hearing on accepting the applications, after which they can recommend them to the town board as worthy of landmarking. The next step is for the town board to hold a public hearing before it makes its decision.
Mr. Meng first presented the case that the Maine Maid Inn, built 222 years ago, is worthy of landmark status. He introduced several well qualified speakers, members of the Citizens for History who presented the case. Mr. Meng is president of the East Norwich Civic Association, the members of which are in favor of the landmark designation for the two sites.
The first speaker, Thomas Abbe, the clerk of the Jericho Preparative Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends, (also known as the Quakers) spoke to prove that the inn was a station on the Underground Railroad of Long Island and worthy of landmark designation. He said, “Quakers began working against slavery in the American colonies as early as 1688 and are still active in working for human rights. Since Quakers believe all people are created equal and equally responsible for each other, the institution of slavery was intolerable and working for abolition was their duty. The work for abolition was quite public, but the work of the Underground Railroad was carried on in secrecy and historic details were not publicized since these activities were at that time, against the laws protecting the personal property of slave owners.”
He said, “Two doors down from our meeting house on Old Jericho Turnpike in Jericho is the Valentine Hicks house better known as the Maine Maid Inn. We have been neighbors since George Washington was elected our first president.
“The Maine Maid Inn is known to be one of the safe houses in the connected route of the Underground Railroad on Long Island. The proof of this is in the oral history and family letters of Jericho Quakers. One recorded incident involving the Maine Maid Inn happened when a slave was working among freed blacks on the Hicks farm and a slave catcher came to reclaim him. Seeing the event as it was happening, Valentine Hicks opened his door and let the slave in, despite the risk of arrest for harboring a slave. The runaway was led upstairs to a linen closet with another staircase leading to the attic which was concealed by moveable shelves and a hinged door until the danger passed.”
He said, in light of this information, “There can hardly be a better place to showcase this great American story of freedom.” He urged the commission to grant the house landmark designation. “This decision will help give the Maine Maid Inn its rightful place in American history as well as facilitate efforts to repurpose and preserve it for future generations,” he concluded.
Mr. Meng said when word got out that he was trying to landmark the inn, he got many calls from people. “I realized a lot more people were interested in the Maine Maid Inn. Most were surprised it was not already a landmark.” That was why he formed the Citizens for History to work together for that landmark status for the inn.
Professor Kate Velsor of SUNY, Old Westbury made a scholarly presentation on her work about the Underground Railroad on Long Island. Ms. Velsor is also seeking designation by the National Park Service for the Maine Maid Inn as a stop on the Underground Railroad of Long Island.
Jericho Library Historian made a PowerPoint presentation from her book Jericho, The History of a Long Island Hamlet. Mr. Meng presented copies of the book to the five members of the TOB LPC: Michael Spinelli, acting chair; John Collins, Cliff Chabina, Michael DiLeo and Ginger Sottile, who represented the Town of Oyster Bay Department of Planning and Development. The book begins with a quote. “To the ‘Where is Jericho?’ question, I answer that the Milleridge Inn, a well-known landmark, is in Jericho. That answer usually brings an ‘Oh, yes, now I know!’” The Milleridge Inn is tied up with the history of the Maine Maid Inn. And as Ms. Murphy explained there is not much left of the original center of the town. She said, “In 1950, the DOT decided to widen Routes 106 and 107 and basically demolished Jericho and the Pond.” She said in 1972, NC Executive Ralph Caso in reparation of what had happened in Jericho purchased six historic Quaker homes and created the 20-acre Jericho Preserve that was to be a museum area. Adjacent to it is the Maine Maid Inn and the Quaker meeting house, adding to the significance of the site.
Jennifer Sappell, Long Island North Shore Heritage Area executive director said her board unanimously endorsed the Maine Maid Inn becoming a landmark.
Alexandra Parsons Wolfe, director of preservation services of the Society for the Preservation of Long Island Antiquities, was in favor of landmark designation for both buildings. She said the Valentine Hicks House (the Maine Maid Inn) has national significance because it is a likely stop on the Underground Railroad; and relates to a Quaker presence of the abolitionist family of Elias Hicks. “Located adjacent to the Jericho Friends Meeting and Nassau County’s Jericho Preserve – which includes the Elias Hicks House – the building’s designation would complete an important historic district and its preservation, according to news reports, is supported by the community.”
A surprise speaker was David Huschle, who was the manager of the Maine Maid Inn from 1950 to 1971. He added some interesting historical features of the more recent past. He said Charles and his son James Dolan met in the upstairs room of the Inn as they made plans to create Cablevision.
Cedar Swamp Historical Society President Steve Russell Boerner spoke in favor of the designation saying, “We believe the Jericho Preserve is an important representation of both our local and national history, and that the Maine Maid Inn is an integral part of it.”
Harry Macy, Jr., past president and board member of the Underhill Society of America said in a letter of support, “The Underhill and Hicks families were well acquainted for many generations. Both were members of the Jericho Quaker Meeting, and Adonijah Underhill of Jericho married Valentine Hick’s daughter. So we as a family have a personal interest in this house.
“As so much of the Jericho that our ancestors knew has long since disappeared, we hope that this 200-year-old survivor, which was the home of such a prominent citizen of Jericho, can be recognized as a town landmark and thus be preserved for posterity.”
Gloria D. Rocchio, president of the North Shore Promotion Alliance, sent a letter to Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano, a copy of which was in Mr. Meng’s presentation package. She wrote that the Maine Maid Inn was under discussion at a recent meeting and said, “This area could be a strong draw for visitors what with the Jericho Preserve, the Quaker Meeting House and the Maine Maid Inn. A very compelling story could be told.” They urged the county to consider purchasing the site with Environmental Bond Act funds if available.
As the presentation ended, Mr. Spinelli questioned the physical state of the Inn and was told that the older parts are in better repair than the newer areas. Photographs showed it was in general good condition. Mr. Meng was asked to give a report on its condition and an estimate on the cost to restore it and who would be responsible for it. The future of the house is in question but there is hope that an organization might purchase it, he said. Nassau County was at one time interested in the site.
There was a five-minute recess and the board came back to hear the presentation on the Community United Methodist Church, formerly known as the Wesley United Methodist Church of East Norwich. Mr. Meng had prepared a presentation package for the board on both parcels. For the East Norwich church he included its history from John Hammond’s book Crossroads, a history of East Norwich. He told of the history of the Methodists on Long Island and the beginnings of the East Norwich church in 1809. He told the history of the church including that on Saturday, May 18, 1901, then Vice President Theodore Roosevelt laid the cornerstone and made a speech to parishioners. Mr. Meng had a copy of the Oyster Bay Pilot newspaper, that contained a copy of TR’s speech, which they credited the Brooklyn Eagle for providing. The church had in its safe the silver trowel TR used and at the church’s centennial celebration they presented the trowel to Amy Verone, Sagamore Hill National Historic Site curator so that more people could see it.
Kathy Nastri, chairman of the CUMC board of trustees, said she had spoken to Jennifer Sappell and Alexandra Wolfe who had told her about the landmark proposal about which she hadn’t been informed. She said, “This might not be the time to do it.” She added, “Although we want to preserve the church.”
She said, “We are working on some healing in the congregation and would love to move forward with this, but not to do it now.”
Mr. Spinelli asked if the church was in danger of demolition and Mr. Meng said no, but asked, “When is the right time?” He said the ENCA had started in discussions about landmarking the church when residents came to complain about the church working with Verizon for the installation of antennas inside the church steeple. The church has a nursery school on its site and parents were concerned with the safety issues involved. Recently the ZBA released a document outlining the reasons they denied the Verizon application.
Kurt Velsor, a member of the CUMC for 66 years spoke for the group. He is the Pastor Parish Relations Chair (PPRC) and said in relation to the need for landmarking, “The church is going nowhere. Its financials are strong; we have an endowment; the church is well maintained.” He said they submitted a letter saying the 360 members of the church are against the nomination, and said it was, “A political related issue,” and the cause was – the cell antennas. He explained the next evening at an East Norwich Civic Association meeting that the church will decide if they want Verizon to continue with the application. Verizon needs their support to appeal the ZBA decision. He said presently there is an adversarial relationship with the ENCA that has represented non-church members who are opposed to the Verizon proposal.
He said at the hearing, “Not that we are against it (landmarking), but there are a number of things that have to be worked out.” He said they would like the application withdrawn.
In conclusion, Chairman Spinelli said Town Supervisor John Venditto wants the two parties to come together. He said, “I’m moving this forward for all the right reasons.” There are still issues to be addressed. As Nelson Disbrow mentioned when he spoke to the commission, the original brown cedar shakes were removed and vinyl siding added when the church was renovated recently. The interior is typical of Methodist churches of the era in that the interior seating is in an amphitheater style to allow for singing, a great activity in those early churches. TOB LPC member John Collins asked that at the next presentation there be some information on the architect of the building and other churches he has built, such as in the Hamptons.
After the meeting closed, the discussion continued and Mr. Velsor said the church sees the money from the Verizon antennas as a source of funding for outreach programs such as a soup kitchen program for the elderly which they are considering. He said the main objection to the antennae was the gas generator box which he said was on a back roof, and added that it was a design feature that can be changed.
Mr. Velsor added at the civic association evening that the church is working to create a youth group again, under the direction of their new pastor, Rev. Kalombo Ngoy Nelson of the Democratic Republic of Congo. He has a very impressive background and received his Bachelor of Divinity Degree at the University Methodist of Katanga; and from 2008-2011 is a candidate for his master of Divinity degree at Drew University Theological School in Madison, New Jersey. Additionally the CUMC has a missionary outreach in Africa that it supports.
Both applications are now waiting for the date that will be set by the TOB LPC for their second hearing.