The appearance of Main Street in East Setauket has changed significantly over the years with the needs of the business world. Today, this small historic business district is experiencing a revitalization. Old businesses are getting a makeover and new businesses are setting up. The park along the waterway is a delightful and favorite addition. Businesses looking for local historic flavor should take a closer look at the locations available along this small area of Route 25A.
In the 1800s, East Setauket’s business district was confined to an area between South Street, now Gnarled Hollow Road, and Baptist Avenue, now Shore Road. The village blacksmith’s shop, run by William Smith, stood where East Setauket Automotive now stands and to the east were two wooden bridges that spanned the creek that still flows below 25A. The road was then much lower and the north side of the bridge was ideal for thirsty horses who were allowed to drink. The blacksmith’s shop was moved in the 1850s to a location on Gnarled Hollow Road where it was purchased in 1875 by Samuel West.
Over the years the stores on the south side of Main Street have changed with names such as Jones, Jayne, Smith, Bossey, Darling, Bellows and Rogers among the store owners. Stores included a general store, meat market, shoe store, tailor, clothing store, and the usual combination of a general store and post office. One of the store owners in the late 1890s was Charles E. Smith. CE, as he became known, was born in 1841 on the family farm in southern Setauket. Before he was 20, he ran a butcher’s cart and had a large business in the area. He established, according to the Port Jefferson Times, the first permanent meat market in East Setauket and later became the owner of the general store founded by his father-in-law, Carlton Jayne. His brother, Orlando Smith, ran a butcher shop in Stony Brook.
Charles E. Smith was very successful and eventually owned much of the property, including an area where Stony Brook University now stands and other land across Highway 25A from the old school in East Setauket. The house on the southwest corner of Coach Road and 25A became his home in the early 20th century, and his general store stood on the current vacant lot west of what is now HSBC Bank.
All his life, he was fond of good trotting horses and delighted to drive them. His last horse was a feisty named Sporting Bill. He used to race Bill at Hulse Track in East Setauket and the history of the race between Irish Mag and Sporting Bill is detailed in the book ‘Setauket, The First 300 Years’. Sporting Bill was installed in the Hawkins barn which was later demolished to make way for a housing estate along Old Town Road.
Charlie Bickford remembers working with the horse for CE “I was afraid of him when I was little. The horse was temperamental and even bit me on the shoulder once. One day CE told one of the guys to get Bill out of the barn and brush him. They didn’t like it. When you entered the cabin, Bill would turn his head the other way and hug you to the cabin. I worked a few summers for CE plowing his fields and spreading manure. One day I was driving Bill through the fields behind the Stony Brook station when he ran into the brush and nearly overturned the train car. He used to do this stuff quite often to get rid of the flies on his back.
At the age of 82, Charles Smith was fatally injured when he was dragged under the teeth of a hay rake attached to his horse Sporting Bill. CE died on April 22, 1923 and was buried at Caroline Church in Setauket. Charles Smith’s store continued to operate as a general store into the 1950s.
Many other changes have taken place over the years. In 1926 the road was first paved, and in 1928 the property at the southwest corner of 25A and Gnarled Hollow Road, called “Colonial Corners” by its owner Mr. LaRoche, was changed to its current appearance with the addition of a store group. The house on this site, which was once the home of blacksmith William Smith, remained behind the shops, but the entrance was altered to face Gnarled Hollow Road. When this writer was growing up, it was the home of Sarah Ann Sells who worked as a laundress. I remember stopping there from time to time with a classmate, Larry Payne. Mrs. Sells always gave us a peanut butter sandwich.
Beverly C. Tyler is a historian with the Three Village Historical Society and author of books available from the society at 93 North Country Road, Setauket. For more information, call 631-751-3730. or visit www.tvhs.org.
Above, Main Street in East Setauket looking east around 1935. Below, Charles E. Smith and Sportin’ Bill outside Smith’s General Store in East Setauket. Photos of Beverly C. Tyler