Featured Story
06/22/17 6:00am
06/22/2017 6:00 AM

The Old House in Cutchogue has been promoted for more than a decade as the oldest English-style house in New York State, but scientific research may soon shave nearly 50 years off its age, local historians said.

The building, said to have been constructed in 1649, might actually have been built in 1698, according to Zach Studenroth, director of the Cutchogue-New Suffolk Historical Council. He said the new date first came to light in 2006 during research conducted by the Oxford Dendrochronology Laboratory in Oxford, England, and that information is currently being verified.

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Featured Story
03/13/17 6:00am
03/13/2017 6:00 AM

Amy Folk spends her days dedicating herself to local history, working as an archivist and collections manager for organizations like the Oysterponds Historical Society, Southold Historical Society and Suffolk County Historical Society. Now, Ms. Folk, who is also president of the Long Island Museum Association, is taking on another role: Southold Town historian.

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Featured Story
06/08/16 7:00am

Oysterponds Elementary School

While Southold Town was established more than 350 years ago, one of its public school districts is just now celebrating its 50th birthday this summer. The Oysterponds School District was created in 1966 after the North Fork’s easternmost hamlets, Orient and East Marion, merged their school systems, which were each nearly 90 years old at the time.

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04/27/15 8:00am
04/27/2015 8:00 AM
George Cork Maul, a Southold Town 375th Anniversary Committee member, in front of a mile markers along Main Road in Peconic. (Credit: Jen Nuzzo)

George Cork Maul, a Southold Town 375th Anniversary Committee member, in front of a mile markers along Main Road in Peconic. (Credit: Jen Nuzzo)

There were a lot of things Benjamin Franklin accomplished in his life.

The Founding Father invented bifocal lenses and the lightning rod, was a successful newspaper printer, served as America’s diplomat to Paris during the Revolutionary War and signed both the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution.

But one thing he did not do, local historians now say, was place mile markers along Southold Town’s Main Road.  (more…)

03/19/14 7:00am
03/19/2014 7:00 AM
'Murder on Long Island: A Nineteenth-Century Tale of Tragedy & Revenge' by Geoffrey Fleming & Amy Folk.

‘Murder on Long Island: A Nineteenth-Century Tale of Tragedy & Revenge’ by Geoffrey Fleming & Amy Folk.

An award of excellence has been given to Southold Historical Society by the Greater Hudson Heritage Network for its 2013 book “Murder on Lond Island: A Nineteenth Century Tale of Tragedy & Revenge.”

The book tells the story of the 1854 murders of Mr. and Mrs. James Wickham of Cutchogue. Nicholas Behan killed the Wickhams after he was fired over his harassment of a female employee who refused to marry him. He was hanged on Dec. 15, 1854.

Awards are given to projects that “exemplify creativity and professional vision resulting in a contribution to the preservation and interpretation of the historic scene, material culture and diversity of the region,” according to a press release.

The book is available at the historical society’s gift shop in downtown Southold. Visit southoldhistoricalsociety.org.

04/06/13 12:00pm
04/06/2013 12:00 PM

Ever hear of the Wickham ax murders? If so, chances are it was through a North Fork native, not a textbook.

The rarely told mid-19th-century tale concerns James Wickham, a Cutchogue farmer whose family-owned land is still in operation on Main Road, and his wife, Frances, who were killed in their bedroom by a disgruntled former employee.

Eventually, this story faded into local myth, passed on around campfires and in bedtime stories.

Now, for the first time, the real story, supported by transcripts from one of the North Fork’s most historic trials, is available in paperback.

Southold Historical Society director Geoffrey Fleming and collections manager Amy Folk hope to preserve the tale for future generations in their latest book, “Murder on Long Island: A Nineteenth-Century Tale of Tragedy & Revenge.”

The authors said they believe the book is important because it provides an accurate account of a truly gruesome event.

“People would say ‘No one will ever forget this crime’ — and yet they did,” Ms. Folk said. “Once the last survivor goes, it’s gone.”

According to book, in 1854 Mr. Wickham got into an argument with one of his workers, Nicholas Behan, who was harassing a housemaid who refused to marry him. Several days after his dismissal, Mr. Behan sneaked back into the house and used an ax to kill the Wickhams. After he fled to a nearby swamp, he was captured, tried and convicted of the murders. On Dec. 15, 1854, Behan became the third-to-last person to be hanged in Suffolk County.

Nearly 40,000 people watched.

“It was an enormous story in its day,” Mr. Fleming said. “It was reported as far away as Ohio when it happened. It was so important that the attorney general of the state of New York came to Riverhead to try the case personally.”

The two local historians said they decided to start their research about a year ago, around the same time they began work on a book about the history of Plum Island, which is due out this spring.

The Southold Historical Society also plans to hold a related exhibit featuring the ax used in the Wichkam murders, Mr. Fleming said. The weapon is currently in the collection of the Suffolk County Historical Society in Riverhead.

Mr. Fleming said he and Ms. Folk decided to step away from their Plum Island book temporarily to focus on the Wickham family’s story because they felt a sense of urgency about preserving the local tale. Although he was initially concerned about finding information for the book, Mr. Fleming said he was pleasantly surprised to locate transcripts related to the Behan trial in Riverhead, such as the inquest and testimony from some of the witnesses, that gave the story an “original flavor.”

The transcripts provide a clearer picture of how the crime unfolded, as opposed to newspaper accounts, Ms. Folk said.

“What we’ve found,” she said, “particularly in modern [newspapers], was the story has gotten more and more distorted over time.”

Mr. Fleming said the verbatim records also allow the book to “pull in all of the personalities together.”

One of his favorite characters is Spicer Dayton, an attorney from Riverhead who represented Mr. Behan.

Mr. Fleming described Mr. Dayton as a stereotypical lawyer who didn’t graduate first in his class and never had a stellar career. Although he worked hard and won some cases, it appears his career never took off.

“He obviously picks up this case thinking ‘If I can get them off, I’ll become famous and I’ll become rich,’ ” Mr. Fleming said. “Of course, he loses, so his career continues to go nowhere.”

Mr. Fleming said he believes the book’s foreword — written by Joseph S. Wickham, a descendant of James Wickham’s brother, William, who was the district attorney of Suffolk County when the murders took place — explains it all in a nutshell: “It is a story about a humane couple named James and Frances Wickham, who made a courageous decision to protect a young woman from a bully and ended up paying the ultimate price.”

“It’s a great tale,” Mr. Fleming said. “It’s got blood and gore, and then, at the end, the bad guy gets hanged.”

The book, published March 27 by The History Press, is available at the Southold Historical Society’s gift shop and online through Amazon.com.

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