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Hallockville Museum Farm is hosting an event about historic cooking on the North Fork. (Credit: David Benthal)

“What is Hallockville?”

Despite an array of 19 historic buildings spread across a sprawling 28 acres of land on Sound Avenue in Riverhead, it’s not uncommon to hear visitors to the North Fork ask that question when passing Hallockville Museum Farm on their way to wineries and farm stands. In a region that’s becoming increasingly known for its bustling agritainment industry, Hallockville Museum Farm is refreshingly old-school, relying on the natural allure of its rich history. 

For executive director Roberta Shoten, the question is a philosophical one. 

“People come here for a variety of reasons,” she said. “I just haven’t been able to put my finger on the exact switch that will make people want to see it.” 

The museum, located between Harbes Family Farm and Harbes Orchard, is a lesser-known entity than its more popular neighbors. “The board of directors constantly says, ‘Well, they’re stuck here and they’re stuck there, why can’t we get them to turn in?’ So we’re working on that.” said Shoten. “We have the same historic [significance] as Williamsburg or Bethpage Restoration Village; there’s some secret caché that I haven’t quite found yet. But I know it’s not a bounce castle.”

Hallockville Museum Farm is a nonprofit organization founded in 1975 to educate people about the history of Long Island farming and preserve the Hallock family homestead, which was built in 1765. A Puritan family steeped in North Fork history, the Hallocks made a home on the land that still stands today, thanks to the museum and a community of over 100 volunteers that act as docents, farmers, gardeners and more.

“It represents what Long Island used to be.”

Richard Wines

The museum hosts a range of events every year, including barn dances, a beloved country fair, a fiber festival and a holiday parlor, where handcrafted items are sold by talented creators. But the true allure of Hallockville Museum Farm lies not necessarily in its programming, but in its rich ambience and compelling history.

Richard Wines, a member of Hallockville’s board of directors and a descendent of the Hallock family, has been visiting the homestead his entire life. 

“In many ways, it hasn’t changed,” Wines said. “It’s so very familiar to what I saw 70 years ago. And that hadn’t changed since 1910. The Hallocks were all getting older, and Halsey [Hallock] and his wife, Emily, retired, they had three kids there who had never married. That kind of froze it in time.”

One of the museum’s goals is to  preserve and present the homestead area as it was in the 1880s and 1910s. “In other ways, the museum has changed drastically over the years,” he said. 

As a museum, Hallockville started iout very small. In 1975, the Long Island Lighting Company, which purchased the entire parcel of land in 1973 as part of its plans to build four nuclear power plants in Riverhead (plans which never came to fruition), donated a small portion to what is now Hallockville Museum. “It was a goodwill offering,” said Wines. “It’s grown into a [nearly] 30-acre operation, with 19 historic buildings, and we keep on expanding our mission to talk about agricultural history on Long Island. It represents what Long Island used to be.”

Visitors to Hallockville can take  a docent-guided tour of the homestead and surrounding land, or embark on the virtual sustainability trail, a new program that started in 2020 after the museum received a grant. Using a phone and QR codes, visitors can “meet” members of the Hallock family as they explore, including Halsey Hallock and his family, the last family to live on the homestead. 

“[The board] had been talking about sustainability when I got here,” said Shoten. “The sustainability grant allowed us to take all the signs on the property and add QR codes.” This proved especially popular during the pandemic.

A pig on the farm. (Credit: David Benthal)

For Wines, the QR codes represent a reconciliation between Hallockville’s past and its present. “Sustainability is a huge issue in the 21st century and if you go back to the 19th century, the Hallocks were living sustainably,” he said.

Wines has done extensive research on the Hallock homestead, and one topic he’s studying now involves enslaved people there. Somewhat surprisingly, he found the Hallocks didn’t have slaves. “The Hallock family didn’t buy the homestead until about 1800, but no one who lived on the homestead ever owned a slave,” said Wines. “Halsey Hallock was very proud to recount how his first vote was for Abraham Lincoln.” 

No single place can tell the story of Long Island, with its 118 miles, but Hallockville certainly weaves an interesting yarn. “Museums are good; they get people to think about things,” said Wines. “It’s important to look at the past, to learn from it. This is the home of someone who was never famous. It’s an invitation into a certain time period and way of life. Looking at the past should be a mirror to understand the present.”