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The Wading River Historical Society building on North Country Road. (Credit: Rachel Young)

RACHEL YOUNG PHOTOWading River Historical Society

The Wading River Historical Society occupies a well-kept, muted-blue house erected nearly 200 years ago on North Country Road that smells its age. 

And why shouldn’t it? The colonial-style property, built circa 1826, is chock-full of original details, local artifacts, old documents and donated curiosities.

“It’s got a lot of odds and ends,” Sid Bail, the historical society’s president, said during a recent tour.


The six-room house, which sits on a quarter-acre just steps from the Duck Ponds, is a veritable treasure trove of homegrown history, with items like an antique shaving stand, 19th-century wooden mousetrap, arrowheads and old farm implements including an iron food chopper and pie plate fork. 

(Credit: Rachel Young)
(Credit: Rachel Young)

According to an old newspaper article Mr. Bail said was likely printed by the Patchogue Advance, the historical society — founded in 1947 — bought the structure for $3,000 in 1952. Referred to at that time as the Chauncey Howell Home, the house was part of a property deeded by Frederick Hudson to Zophar Mills in 1780. The Howell family owned the house from 1864 until selling it to the historical society.

These days, Mr. Bail said, getting people excited about civic engagement is tough. He should know: in addition to being president of the historical society, he’s president of the Wading River Civic Association.

“The people who founded the historical society in 1947 are the same people who were the most active in founding the civic association in the 1930s,” he said. “These were the movers and shakers of their time. Unfortunately, they’ve all died off.”

Staffed today by a handful of volunteers, the organization needs a new generation to keep things going, Mr. Bail said.

(Credit: Rachel Young)
(Credit: Rachel Young)

And there’s a lot to keep going: In a small room just off the parlor, a display case holds a vast array of glass apothecary bottles: Bayer Aspirin Tablets, Harris White Pine & Tar Cough Syrup (made with 7 percent alcohol) and a container bearing the word “opium” in large capital letters.

Some of the smaller bottles were discovered during a backyard dig in 2009, Mr. Bail said.

“When people were finished with these bottles they threw them away, but there was no garbage service so people would dig holes in their backyard and throw them in there,” he explained.

Elsewhere, the building’s living room and attic boast original wooden beams. The narrow kitchen was once used as a root cellar, Mr. Bail said.

(Credit: Rachel Young)
(Credit: Rachel Young)

There are two bedrooms on the house’s second floor, one of which contains a collection of antique dolls. Sitting on a twin-sized bed is one doll with a wide, cracked face that Mr. Bail said routinely scares local schoolchildren who visit the building on field trips.

It doesn’t seem possible for the historical society to add more artifacts to its already vast collection, but another is on the way.

Mr. Bail said the historical society is set to receive a restored seven-foot sign that was once nailed to the original — and long gone — Long Island Rail Road station in Wading River. He plans to place it outside, near the property’s side lawn shed.

“We’re trying to keep history alive and keep this organization going,” he said.