‘Make or break year’ for Mattituck-Laurel Historical Society

A family quilt led Mattituck resident Mark MacNish to the Mattituck-Laurel Historical Society last fall and now, an effort is underway to revitalize the 55-year-old organization. 

“Each square was signed by members of the Duryea and Bergen families,” Mr. MacNish explained, noting the quilt that dates back to 1870. Though he lives just up the road from the historical society, he never visited, but figured it would make a worthy home for the family heirloom.

After receiving a tour from vice president Emily Tuthill Best, who also has family ties to the home, Mr. MacNish began volunteering as a curator and docent on weekends, guiding visitors around the 1799 Jesse Tuthill House and 1841 Ira Tuthill House.

“It’s a treasure trove, but needed sprucing up,” he said.

Soon, he was curating rooms in the museum to construct a narrative.

“The more involved I got, the more I realized that the museum was in trouble,” he said.

The organization, which operates on a budget of about $20,000 a year, has struggled to stay afloat in recent years with most of the finances drawn from a family estate, according to Ms. Tuthill Best, the vice president, whose father was born in the home.

Acknowledging that the problem isn’t unique to the Mattituck-Laurel Historical Society, she noted that the number of volunteers have also dwindled.

“This is going to be a make it or break it year for us,” she said. “We’ve planned more events than we’ve ever done before.”

Working with Ms. Tuthill Best and her husband, Erich Cramer, Mr. MacNish has planned a ramped-up series of events, including a monthly lecture series set to begin May 5 with Robert Harper, a Mattituck resident and member of the town’s Historic Preservation Commission. Other speakers include Southold Town Historian Amy Folk, local history librarian Suzanne Johnson, and Tricia Foley, a Brookhaven resident who recently published a book about Mary Booth, founding editor of Harper’s Bazaar, whose historic home is located in Yaphank.

Mr. MacNish one day hopes to host re-enactments and better utilize the New Egypt schoolhouse — perhaps for crafters, book or garden clubs. “Community interest is what the society needs and what will keep it alive,” he said.

The board is also pursuing grant opportunities, starting with a site assessment that would outline what the society’s’ needs are.

“To get grants, you must demonstrate economic viability,” said Mr. Cramer, who serves as the board president. “We want to transform [the organization] into something viable.”

Future grant funding and fundraising will help expand existing displays, create new ones and address infrastructure issues such as heating, plumbing and repairs to the 220-year-old structure.

Issuing a call to action, Ms. Tuthill Best said tasks for volunteers appeal to a range of interests from history to fashion to gardening, as well as volunteers to help identify new sources of funding.

“It’s a wonderful time to come on board,” she said. “We’re open to new ideas and energy.”

And, she said, you don’t have to have a familial connection to the property to get involved.

Ms. Tuthill Best doesn’t like thinking about having to close the doors, and she feels a grave responsibility to preserve local history.

“It’s a window into the past. It’s important to understand how the East End of Long Island ties into American history,” she said.

None of the board members like to imagine having to close the museum’s doors for good. “It’s a cache of local history that may not be missed until it’s gone,” Mr. MacNish said.

Upcoming events

The Mattituck-Laurel Historical Society will host an April Showers Tea Party Sunday, April 28, at 2:30 p.m.

Step back in time at the 1841 Ira Tuthill house, located at the corner of Main Road and Cardinal Drive, for an event featuring homemade petit-furs, cookies, tea sandwiches, scones, an array of teas and raffle baskets.

Admission is $25 and tickets must be purchased in advance, either online through Eventbrite or at Bauer’s Gifts on Love Lane in Mattituck.

All proceeds will benefit the historical society.

[email protected]

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