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Eagle Scout project at Mattituck-Laurel Historical Society shines a spotlight on our past

When it came time to choose a project in his pursuit of an Eagle Scout badge, the highest rank attainable in the Boy Scouts of America program, Justin Garbarino didn’t need to take on something this involved. He could have done something a lot simpler and easier like build a park bench or a beach chair. Instead, he chose to do something of historical value.

What Mr. Garbarino, 18, of Cutchogue did was embark on an ambitious project — bringing a 1790s one-room schoolhouse back to life on the Mattituck-Laurel Historical Society and Museums’ grounds in Mattituck.

Mr. Garbarino, who will soon enter the Navy, said he figured that as long as he’s concluding a Scouting career that began when he was a first-grade Cub Scout, he “might as well give all I got, put my effort into it.”

Mission accomplished.

The result of the work that started last fall and concluded in May is a reimagined look of the schoolhouse’s interior. Four benches were built using reclaimed wood based on a drawing from the 1700s that Mr. Garbarino found while doing research. School-related artifacts such as a bell, a desk and even a dunce cap, along with annotated historical documentation, can be found in the schoolhouse. Adding to the 1790s touch is a replica 1776 flag draped across the back wall and a glass cabinet to display original and replica school items.

“We actually got the blacksmith in Greenport to weld us some old-time nails and we used those,” said Mr. Garbarino, a member of Boy Scout Troop 39-Mattituck.

“I think it turned out so much better than I ever could have imagined it would, just by going along and adding little things that we never had planned on originally … It all kind of just came together.”

Mr. Garbarino’s mother, Loretta, encouraged her son to tackle this project and acted as a guide. “I was like, ‘Make this into something,’ ” she said. “This was a house not being used.”

The schoolhouse had essentially been used as a storage shed. Mr. Garbarino said he invested about 60 hours of work into the project, but hastened to point out that he had a lot of help from about 10 other Scouts.

Erich Cramer, the historical society’s president, said the schoolhouse was commissioned around 1790 and is one of the best-preserved examples of its kind. In 2010, the wooden schoolhouse was moved a few miles to its current location on the museum property, he said.

Old photos of the schoolhouse that Mr. Garbarino salvaged had shown the effect age had on the structure. “The pictures show that the schoolhouse was in dreadful shape,” Mr. Cramer said. “The roof was all caved in. This was really sort of a rescue where the house was on ventilators. Anybody else, I guess, might have plowed it under. We didn’t pull the plug. The schoolhouse was moved piece by piece.

“This schoolhouse is a real treasure, and it exists today because of the civic-mindedness of the people who raised the funds that brought that schoolhouse to Mattituck.”

The newly curated exhibit will be opened to the public Saturday, Sept. 19, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., with free tours of the schoolhouse and other buildings. Adding to the 18th-century feel will be a table for quill writing, a station for outdoor cooking, butter churning, antique items, woodworking and more. A ceremony will honor those who contributed to the exhibit.

Mr. Garbarino said: “I think it’s going to be pretty cool to get some people in there and actually see [it] … If anybody’s ever seen what it was before, I think they’re definitely going to enjoy what it is now.”

Mr. Cramer said: “Museums have a place, and not just a schoolhouse museum. They are the repositories of whatever is left of our ancestors. That’s why Justin’s work is so important, because it is the first time in a long time that anybody his age has spent an inordinate amount of time to recreate something that is very much like what existed in 1790.”

Norman Wamback had served as the historical society’s president, trustee, historian and curator for over 20 years. Mr. Cramer said he witnessed Mr. Wamback’s reaction upon walking into the reworked schoolhouse he had played a big part in moving to its new site.

“I was right behind him,” Mr. Cramer said. “He walked in through the door, turned left and looked at what was there and he said one three-letter word: W-o-w, exclamation point.’ ”