Hofstra University professor Chris Matthews and his team of students and volunteers found exactly what they were hoping for during their "A Long Time Coming" project in Setauket: the foundations of history.
Literally. Their archeological dig, conducted from mid-May until the end of June, unearthed part of the foundation of the Jacob and Hannah Hart homestead at the intersection of Lake and Main.
According to Matthews, the team sought to increase awareness of the local contributions of, and re-establish "a sense of place" for, the local Native American and African American indigenous descendant population by excavating that historic site.
"They’re still here and they are struggling to preserve their community, both in terms of the fabric of it but also in their ability to afford to live in what’s becoming an exclusive, upscale part of Long Island," Matthews said.
During the course of the project, Matthews and his team – which also included students from the newly formed P.J. Gelinas archaeology club – found the following:
- A section of foundation which Matthews believes is "part of the kitchen extension," which included a smaller hearth foundation, similar to the base of a chimney.
- Fence posts along the Main Street side of the property.
- A brick walkway which the team believes to be the walkway to the front entrance, and another brick surface of unknown function.
The findings, Matthews said, are highly important on a local level.
"First and foremost, we are showing the Three Village community the archaeological and historical significance of the indigenous minority population," he said. "Many people have heard about them, have seen the representations of them in W.S. Mount’s paintings. They know the Bethel AME church and the Laurel Hill historic district."
"But not a lot of people knew anything about them," he continued. "In doing the dig a lot of people stopped by and got to know [the history]."
According to the team's research, the Hart family was a well-respected family of Native American and African American heritage. About 12 families with direct ties to Hart history remain in the Setauket area, while others have moved. The Hart homestead, which is located on property currently owned by the Three Village Central School District, ceased to exist possibly half a century ago.
The project, which was funded by Hofstra University, required approval from the Board of Education last winter.
"They readily approved it," Matthews said. "They’ve been a great partner in the project."
He hopes to reopen the site next spring. He also hopes to reopen it in time for the Hart-Sells family reunion, which happens at the end of the summer each year.
"We’ll open up what we left covered so that members of the family can see it, but we’ll also extend that invitation to members of the community," he said.