The Long Island Museum

The Long Island Museum, which can be found in Stony Brook on Route 25A and is only a short distance from the historic Three Village Inn and the Grist Mill, which is still in operation, provides visitors with an immersive experience into the rural past of the region by way of three contemporary exhibition buildings and five authentic structures that are spread out across a nine-acre campus.

It is one of the few Smithsonian affiliates in the nation and has been accredited by the American Association of Museums for its quality in exhibits, activities, and collection care since 1978. The museum shows American history and art with a link to Long Island.

It can trace its roots back to the Suffolk Museum, whose original building on Christine Street is still standing today. It was established at the end of the Great Depression by five founding members in order to preserve, exhibit, and interpret artefacts. These founding members were Ward Melville, his wife Dorothy Bigelow Melville, Robert Cushman Murphy, a prominent naturalist, Winfred Curtis, a local doctor, and O. C. Lemphert, an insurance broker.

A growing collection, in addition to the addition of carriages in the year 1952, soon necessitated the search for new headquarters, which ultimately resulted in the formation of the History Museum on one side of Route 25A. While it was just acquired by what were at the time known as the “Museums at Stony Brook,” the collection was rather ancient.

The D. T. Bayles Lumber Mill was originally situated here; it began operations in 1874 and continued doing so until 1955. The mill remained in operation for the whole of its history. At that time, Melville was the owner of the building after purchasing it.

According to the website of the Long Island Museum, “Ward Melville always intended Stony Brook to be a community akin to the ones seen in New England.” “This concept served as the impetus for the establishment of the Long Island Museum, and the museum grounds quickly took on the appearance of a New England town as local old houses were skillfully tucked into the grounds… Since its founding in 1939, the museum has seen considerable expansion, emerging today as Long Island’s preeminent cultural institution and the only Smithsonian associate in the surrounding area.”


The History Museum, which also operates as a Visitor Center and a gift shop, is where rotating art exhibits may be seen throughout the year. For example, the museum’s most recent exhibition, titled “Fire and Form: New Directions in Glass,” featured approximately fifty works by eight contemporary artists. These artists’ diverse methods, sources of inspiration, and starting points exemplified the nearly limitless potential for sculptural creation.

Works from the museum’s permanent collection are shown in a separate gallery known as the Cowles Gallery. This gallery is named after Sharon Cowles, who had lived next door to Dorothy and Ward Melville and who has lately given a large donation to the museum.


The Dorothy and Ward Melville Carriage Museum is the centrepiece of the Long Island Museum complex, which is situated across Route 25A. This museum, which is 40,000 square feet in size and occupies the site of the former Stony Brook Hotel, depicts the pre-motorized transportation era by means of more than one hundred horse-drawn vehicles that are displayed in eight different galleries.

Its highlight is the “Grace Darling,” a 45-seater, magnificently adorned omnibus that was originally carried by a half-dozen horses. The “Grace Darling” is apparent as soon as the visitor enters the building and serves as the attraction’s focal point. It was used on journeys to Coastal Maine between the years 1880 and the early 20th century. It included luxurious upholstery and spring packing to lessen wheel impacts on rough routes.

Carriages that were regularly used on Long Island are shown in the “Getting Places” Gallery, along with a fibre optic map that demonstrates the evolution of regional transportation networks.

One of the museum’s displays is a truck that is typical of those used by Wells Fargo & Company. This company provided transportation services that were essential to the nation’s westward growth throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries. When it first began offering overland passenger service in April of 1887, the price from Sacramento, California, to Omaha, Nebraska, which was considered to be extravagant at the time, was $275.00.

The “Carriage Exhibition” Gallery shows the richness that affluence may pour into a carriage. The gallery was modelled after the transportation building at the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago.

The museum’s collection of vehicles that were factory-built by the Studebaker Brothers are on display in the “Making Carriages: From Hometown Shop to Factory” exhibit. Additionally, the Graves Brother’s Carriage Shop, an original facility from Williamsburg, Massachusetts, from the 19th century that has been reassembled here, is also part of the exhibit.

The “Streets of New York” Gallery showcases the many kinds of carriages and vehicles that were used in the city’s busy streets in the past. The gallery also has a simulation of buildings on fire. The visitor may learn about the beginnings of public transportation by examining one of them, a street vehicle from the year 1887. Between the years 1832 and 1917, population was moved over rails by horse car lines. These lines were pulled by one or two horses and travelled on rails. They were eventually superseded by steam-powered elevated railways, which were finally supplanted by electric subways that ran below ground. Prior to that, they were succeeded by motorised street cars and trolleys.

The Crawford House Coach, which can be found in the “Driving for Sport and Pleasure” Gallery, was purchased by the New Hampshire resort of the same name in the year 1880. It was used to transport up to 20 passengers, as well as their luggage and other goods, from the railroad station to the hotel, while navigating the resort’s network of narrow and winding roads.

The “Long Island in the Carriage Period” exhibit is a replica of a scenario involving many modes of transportation. At one time, travellers on the Long Island Railroad were transported to the neighbouring communities by a deport waggon that picked them up at the Stony Brook station. The recreation is not complete without the chuffing noise made by steam engines.

Even if horse-drawn carriages may not be the first thing that comes to mind when one thinks of luxury, this misconception is busted by two additional galleries: the “Gentlemen Coach House” and the “European Vehicles” ones. The first depicts the sumptuous vehicles that inspired the 19th-century Gold Coast carriage homes, which were once a vital part of Long Island’s North Shore mansions, while the second exhibits the royal cars that were utilised by European royalty. Both exhibits are located on Long Island.


The historic buildings on the portion of the Long Island Museum complex that is not occupied by the Dorothy and Ward Melville Carriage Museum convey the atmosphere of a rural location, and these buildings may be reached via pathways.

One of them is known as the Samuel H. West Blacksmith Shop, and it was established in 1834. Its first location was off of Main Street in the neighbouring town of Setauket. The building, which featured mortise and tenon circular sawn timbers and was completely reconstructed between the years 1875 and 1893, served as the epicentre of his multifaceted and interconnected line of work, which included horse-shoeing, wheel and wheel vehicle making and repairing, and blacksmithing. But, the introduction of the motorised vehicle in the 1920s quickly eliminated the need for it.

The edifice was eventually bought by The Museums of Stony Brook some thirty years later, and it is currently used to house relics from the period.

Next to it is a barn constructed in 1794 by Jedidiah Williamson, a Revolutionary War hero who supported his family by working as a millwright, a carpenter, and a farmer. The Williamson Barn was originally situated on Jedidiah Williamson’s Stony Brook property.

The Smith Carriage Shed, built in 1867 and located next to the barn, was originally situated on the Timothy Smith farm in St. James. Its purpose was to shield parishioners’ carriages from inclement weather while they attended services at the St. James Episcopal Church, which is located directly across the street. At this historical period, the wrought iron rings on it were used as horse ties.

There is a one-room schoolhouse on the property of the Long Island Museum, which is an essential component of any 19th-century restoration project. The Long Island Museum campus does not fall short in this regard. It was built in 1877 by Frederick A. Smith and given the name Nassakeag Schoolhouse or South Setauket Schoolhouse. It is located on Sheep Pasture Road in the town that shares its name and was erected on the site of an earlier building that was established in 1821 and had the same function.

Due of the region’s substantially lower population, the school used an altogether unique teaching philosophy in comparison to what is used by contemporary establishments. It was home to around thirty pupils whose ages varied from five to fifteen, all of whom shared the same area as one another while they were there. It was as sexually segregated as a little structure with a single room could be, with males entering the right entrance and girls entering the left, and each seated on their own side of the room. Each entryway was equipped with hooks for coats, hats, buckets, and cups. The only source of heat was a single burner, and a single instructor was responsible for all grade levels. Both paper notebooks and slates that could be erased were used by the students in this activity. Reading, writing, and arithmetic were required subjects in the course load, since they are known as the “three r’s.”

The rural setting of the school determined the seasonal sessions that were offered, which included those in the summer and winter. The spring and autumn were designated for home life, since pupils were required for the planting and harvesting, in addition to the full range of other farm activities.

The building had fallen into ruin when the Setauket school districts were combined in the year 1910, but it was eventually purchased by The Museums of Stony Brook and relocated to its campus 46 years later.

Educators from the museum hold courses from time to time at the old schoolhouse.

A horse trough and a fountain may be found in front of it. It was originally located at the junction of Madison Avenue and 23rd Street and was given to the city of New York in 1880 by philanthropist Olivia Egleston Phelps Stokes. It is an example of stone and marble work that was done in the Beaux Arts style. The structure, which weighed 20 tonnes, was designed to provide potable water to both humans and horses. Nevertheless, in 1957 it was disassembled since it was made unnecessary by the invention of the vehicle, and it was later bought by the Long Island Museum. It has since been moved to a location close to a herb garden and is operating normally.

Other attractions on campus include the Smith-Rudyard Burial Ground, which is still located on its original site and contains headstones dating from 1796 to 1865, and a museum building with two galleries that feature rotating exhibitions showcasing American art and history. Both of these attractions are open to the public and free of charge.

The Long Island Museum’s most recent exhibition, titled “Tiffany Glass: Painting with Color and Light,” is being hailed as the institution’s first exhibition of its sort.

According to the website of the museum, “As a painter, Louis C. Tiffany was fascinated by the interplay of light and colour, and this passion found its most magnificent expression in his glass paintings.” “Tiffany Studios made leaded-glass windows and lamp shades in vivid colours and widely diversified patterns, textures, and opacities by using new and inventive processes and material,”

The Long Island Museum provides an opportunity to experience living in the countryside during the 19th century and encourages visitors to reconsider and rethink aspects of modern life.