Council decree: Let them eat cake

06/24/2010 12:00 AM |

In the kitchen of The Old House on the Village Green, Cutchogue-New Suffolk Historical Council board member James Grathwohl explains what makes the 1649 structure so special. He’ll fill in the details when he leads a public tour at 10 a.m. Saturday, June 26.

This year’s Douglas Moore Memorial Concert on the Cutchogue Village Green, the perennial highlight of the Cutchogue-New Suffolk Historical Council’s summer programs, will feature a special 50th birthday party for the council.

The Aug. 14 event will include the traditional 5 p.m. picnic on the Village Green, followed by the always popular concert dedicated to the famed composer, author and educator who was born in Cutchogue and died in 1969. But it will also feature birthday cake for everybody and the singing of “Happy Birthday.”

The historical council was founded in 1960 by a handful of members of the Cutchogue-New Suffolk Chamber of Commerce and has grown to about 350 members, tackling numerous tours and special events and overseeing maintenance of five buildings on the Village Green and the Old Burying Ground.

There’s some history tucked into the name of the organization, according to board member James Grathwohl. The hamlet was named for the Corchaug Indian tribe that inhabited the area. In forming the historical organization, he said, the founders thought calling themselves a “council” instead of a “society” was a bow to tribe members. It’s why he has resisted newcomers’ suggestions to change the name to “society.”

Mr. Grathwohl’s father, Corwin Grathwohl, was chairman of the Chamber of Commerce historical committee that created the council back in 1960. James Grathwohl, who was secretary, remains the only living original officer of the council.

One of the council’s annual events, an antique flea market, grew out of Mr. Grathwohl’s suggestion for a local version of the Paris flea markets he had seen during his youth. His mother, Ruth, chaired the committee that ran those flea markets for close to 40 years, he said.

The council owns and cares for several properties on the Village Green — the Old House, believed by some to be the oldest in New York State and declared a National Historic Landmark in 1962; the Wickham Farmhouse, which has Southold Town landmark status; the Old Schoolhouse; and the Red Barn and Carriage House. It also owns and maintains the Old Burying Grounds, about a mile east of the Village Green.

So special is the Old House — having been home to families with well-known North Fork names like Budd, Horton, Wickham, Landon and Case — that it has its own Old House Society.

Built in 1649 by John Budd, the structure was considered a mansion in its time. It was originally built six miles east in Southold and later taken apart and reassembled on another site owned by Mr. Budd, just behind Cutchogue-New Suffolk Library. That Mr. Budd was wealthy and well-connected can be seen in his use of imported lead glass windows; his installation of closets, a rarity at the time; and his use of large wooden members in the construction. Such wood was reserved for use by the Royal Navy for its masts, but Mr. Budd was able to obtain some for his house, Mr. Grathwohl said.

Following the Revolutionary War, The Old House, then the property of Parker Wickham, whose namesake lives in Mattituck today, fell into state hands after Mr. Wickham was deemed to have been a Loyalist and it was confiscated.

“Slave pens” on the third floor of the house, what amounts to small attic space, reflect pre-Civil War thinking, Mr. Grathwohl said.

That the historical council has managed with only volunteers until this year is something of a tribute to the commitment of so many community members, said its new paid part-time director Zack Studenroth, 59. He joined the organization late last year and remains part-time director of the Sag Harbor Whaling Museum. He has also consulted for many other groups after a career that included working for the Society for the Preservation of Long Island Antiquities, the Huntington Historical Society, and a museum in Connecticut.

The council’s board had begun reformulating its committee structure and updating bylaws before hiring him, so Mr. Studenroth was free to develop some programs to take the council beyond summer-only activities. He organized a three-session winter lecture series at Cutchogue-New Suffolk Library that drew in an average of 50 people each time, he said.

“I want to keep the momentum going,” he said.

Douglas Moore, to whom the annual concert is dedicated, was music director at the Cleveland Museum of Art, taught music at Columbia University and studied with luminaries from the music world at Yale and in Paris. He was president of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and director of the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers. In 1951, he won a Pulitzer Prize for his opera “Giants in the Earth.”

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Walking tour of Cutchogue and council retrospective

On Saturday, June 26, at 10 a.m., Mr. Grathwohl will lead a walking tour of Cutchogue Village. The fee is $5 and includes refreshments.

Mr. Grathwohl is curating a retrospective of the council that will be open to the public on Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays from July 3 through Aug. 8 at the Old Schoolhouse. For upcoming council activities, visit the website at