The main house that anchors that Mattituck-Laurel Historical Society campus on Main Road is now a spacious colonial. But in 1799, the year it was built by Jesse Tuthill, the residence contained just two rooms.
“Jesse Tuthill owned the house with his wife, Thankful,” said historical society curator Norman Wamback during a recent tour of the house. “They raised 10 children here.”
Yes, that’s right: 10 children, two modest-sized rooms.
Basic in design, the first room features wide-plank floors and, today, has a fireplace where the kitchen would have been, Mr. Wamback said. The large Tuthill brood, including the parents, would have slept in the second room, directly adjacent to the first.
Today, the former communal bedroom contains an impressive collection of antique garments, most of them dating from the mid-19th century and donated by local residents over the years.
Wedding gowns, black mourning dresses, women’s undergarments and impossibly tiny high-heeled shoes are all on display here, recalling a time when, not unlike today, women were happy to suffer greatly for fashion.
Among the most interesting features of the original two-room house is what Mr. Wamback calls its Cross and Bible Door, a front door containing white panels placed to depict a Christian cross and, below them, an open Bible. Doors like this are hard to find on the North Fork today, Mr. Wamback said, and were designed to help ward off evil spirits.
Back inside the house, Mr. Wamback explained that in 1852 Ira Tuthill, one of Jesse’s sons, expanded the original two rooms with a two-story, 10-room addition.
The extension boasts a colonial design with a foyer, dining room and large parlor on the first floor. Toward the back of the house there’s a library that was converted into a kitchen in the 1920s, Mr. Wamback said, but reconverted to a library at his behest.
The entire property was bequeathed to the Mattituck-Laurel Historical Society in 1963, he said.
Upstairs in the main house are several bedrooms of varying size, the smallest of which Mr. Wamback said would have served as a bedroom and workstation for the family seamstress.
“The wealthier people had seamstresses come in once a year to make all their clothes,” he said.
Historic artifacts abound throughout the house — opera glasses, a rope bed, inkwells, portraits, arrowheads, dolls and more. It’s not hard to picture Victorian-era children sleeping in the beds upstairs, each covered with an exquisitely patterned 19th-century quilt, or playing with the wooden toys that now rest in a display case.
The property’s charms don’t lie solely in the main house, however.
Directly behind the residence are two schoolhouses (see below), a small shed called a milk house and a medium-sized two-story building that the Tuthill family called a “sprout house.”
The milk house, Mr. Wamback said, was something every family would have had, as it was considered too unsanitary to process milk in a barn and too warm to do it effectively in the house.
The milk house would have had a small ice cellar and a sink with a hand-pump. Ice was taken during the winter from Marratooka Lake and stored in the cellar. During the summer, it was used to keep milk and butter cold, Mr. Wamback explained.
Not far from the milk house is the “sprout house,” which Mr. Wamback said probably got its nickname from its supposed use as a place to cut potatoes into three pieces, called sprouts, for planting.
Today, the sprout house contains an old washing machine and a surrey that was donated to the society by a Riverhead resident.
These structures, coupled with the main house, give the property an aura of simple elegance.
A TALE OF TWO SCHOOLS
Two old schoolhouses sit behind the main house at Mattituck-Laurel Historical Society. One of them, known as Mattituck’s first schoolhouse, was built in the late 1700s, curator Norman Wamback said.
Originally located on Main Road off Sunset Avenue, it was dismantled and moved to the historical society property in 2009 and later restored.
The other restored schoolhouse, built in 1846, was called The New Egypt School. It was moved in 1970 to the museum complex. Mr. Wamback said the building got its name from its location at the extreme western edge of Mattituck, east of Bergen Avenue.
“People used to say going there was like going all the way to Egypt,” he said.
This schoolhouse, which is markedly larger than the one built in the 1700s, had separate entrances for boys and girls, Mr. Wamback said.
To prevent the sexes from interacting inside the building, a tall wooden partition was placed in the center of the classroom and boys and girls sat on opposite sides.
“Only the teacher would have been able to see all the students,” Mr. Wamback said.