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E. Stephen Still Farm


THE E. STEPHEN STILL HOUSE


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E. Stephen Still Farm, East side of Coram Mt. Sinai Road, Photo by Arnold Sadow

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It’s Influence Felt Widely:

    Abandoned Farm Becomes            Part of “Historical” Coram

FLAVOR OF BY-GONE DAYS shows in the frontage of the old Still farm on Mt. Sinai Rd, Coram. Eight children were born in the homestead (above) which had a “front room,” dining room, kitchen, big pantry, main bedroom, and two upstairs bedrooms. Silo in the rear towers over the horse barn and the grainery.

 

                                   By ROBERT B. IADELUCA

            The feel of Hallowe’en approaches, the smell of pumpkins is in the air, and on a quiet abandoned farm in Coram the ghosts of Autumns past linger in the fields.

 

Coram is a community where the ghosts of historic times abound comfortably and in great quantity. For over a hundred years from about 1750 to 1885, Coram was the Brookhaven Town seat. The first church in the mid-Island area was a Baptist Church in Coram. Many of the fist settlers of Coram rest under an old burying ground still kept in a neat fashion. The first schoolhouse, in use until 1900, still stands and is now in use as a library for the Central School District.

            A short distance up the Mt. Sinai Road from the above locations is an 80- acre farm, it’s barn roofs sagging, its sheds dilapidated, the doors of the old homestead swinging in the wind, but it’s beauty still in tact.

            The tops of the tall grass undulate like the ocean waves in the breeze, The trees are stately and cool in the warm afternoon sun, and if one listens carefully, he can almost hear the rattle of a horse and wagon as it leaves the main road and passes the farmhouse on his way to the barn near the silo.

            The old Still farm (although it hasn’t been in the Still family for a number of years the neighbors continue to give it that name), has a story to tell. Speaking through it’s Rusty barbed wire fences, it’s dry wells, and it’s empty cattle stalls, it tells the story of a couple who married and settle down in Coram in the latter part of the 19th century, braving the hardships of a farm life to raise eight children, they, in turn, taking advantage of this good upbringing to make themselves solid citizens of the community.

            Edwin Stephen Still and his wife, Charlotte Magilton Still, natives of Brookhaven Town And members of one of the oldest families in the eastern part of Long Island, started their married life on this farm around 1890. Between then and Mr. stills death in 1919 and Mrs. Still’s passing in the 1930’s, five sons and three daughters were born and raised, the five surviving children active in community affairs to this day.

            The firstborn was the president Mrs. Eunice Jones, a teacher for 42 years, 40 of which were with the third grade in the Bay Avenue school, Patchogue. Following in the footsteps of her mother who taught at Coram for four years and her grandmother who taught in Farmingville, she graduated from New Paltz in 1917 and retired in 1959.

            “It was good to be brought up on a farm,” said Mrs. Jones, speaking this week from her home on Terrell St., Patchogue, where she has lived all her adult life.

“ today there is nothing for children to do. In those days each had his task, and there was not too much mischief going on. Today the only thing seems to be housework, which may interest some of the girls but not the boys.

            “It was a nice way of life,” she added. “We had all the vegetables, the apples, peaches, pears, strawberries, all the things that tasted good. In the Winter we had the potatoes, turnips, and onions, but we also had the deep snow through which we had to walk to school.” Mrs. Jones recalls the traveling vendor from the Middle Island store who came around regularly and a horse and wagon with his wares.

            Her brother, Wendell, was the second child. Now deceased, Wendell grew up to become a pioneer and leader in the broiler industry. He also became a wholesale gasoline distributor and retailer of fuel oil and kerosene. He chairman of the Selden school board, he was, and addition, the originator of the Still Oil. Co., The firm which later became the president chain of Chevron gas stations. The third child, Raymond, also deceased, joined with Wendell and operating the broiler farm.

             Mrs. Evelyn Russell, The fourth child, lives in Lake Ronkonkoma, and remembering the farm as it once was, finds it “too distressing” to look at now. At age 17, she went to Brooklyn to receive training in nursing, and has since served in Smithtown General Hospital, Southside, Mather, Brookhaven and as a private nurse.

            “Life was tough for a child in those days,” said Mrs. Russell. “ we worked in the fields in the summer. It was hard work and it was hot, but it was a must.”

            Among her memories are accompanying her 12-year-old brother as he drove the horse and wagon to school in the winter. While they attended classes in for him, the horse remained in the shed near the school. Before they left she did her chores of watering and feeding hot mash to the chickens; upon returning in the evening, she again had chores which might include taking care of the cows, horses, and pigs.

            The fifth child was Robert, who, before his death, served as Brookhaven Town superintendent of highways, a post to which he was elected in 1942. When 20, he started work on the dairy farm of Norman Roe in East Patchogue and at 24 became Patchogue street commissioner, a job he held for 17 years. In 1952 he was elected town Republican chairman, but stepped down from this after 15 months because he did not want a conflict and positions.

            The birth of Merwin followed that of Robert. Merwin is now employed by the town highway department, and works a small farm just a few hundred yards from the one where the family grew up.

            “ I remember the dining room being heated by a drum stove, the cook stove in the kitchen, and no heat at all upstairs,” he recalls. We put a warm stone in the bed. The house was lighted buy kerosene lamps. We were all great readers, but if we weren’t doing that, there was always the phonograph in the Winter evenings. Later on we had the big battery radio.“

            Merwin Farms about 9 acres now, but says that although farming may be easier because tractors replaced horses, more acres I needed to meet the taxes at a higher expenses. “We raised our own free then,” he says, “he and because we burn wood and there was more woodland there was less fuel cost. Farming was harder, however, so it’s six of one and a half dozen of another.”

            George, the seventh child, is now retired after successful career in education. Earlier in life he entered the insurance and real estate business with R. Ford Hughes, The former County Republican chairman, but now holding a Masters degree from New York university, he can look back at being a teacher at Riverhead, as a principal in Ronkonkoma, Island Park, and Holtsville. George accounts and experience which is almost impossible these days. At the beginning of a particular year, he entered the eighth instead of the seventh grade. Because there were no transcripts at that time, no one noticed the mistake until much later, and he went through the public school system without ever having attended the seventh grade.

            “Being a lazy sort myself,” says George, “ I never had any inclination to go into farming, not wanting to work 10 to 12 hours a day, seven days a week. There were enjoyable times, though; we ate well and our clothes were clean.“ he retired in 1960 and now spends his time at “bridge and loafing.”

            The youngest child, now Mrs. Dorothy Kempster states that she does not “have a green thumb” and did not enjoy the farm that much. Being interested in office work early in life, she took a commercial course in high school and later attended the South Shore Secretarial School in Patchogue.

            Owner of the D & H Enterprises typing service, she emphasizes that farming is hard work, and that she not only doesn’t even have a garden, but very few plants.

            Despite her aversion to the farm type of life, Mrs. Kempster, in talking of the old days, says, “That’s always home.” She describes the day she rode by the property and “ how heartbreaking it was to see cows with their heads in the windows of the old homestead, apparently eating hay which was inside.”

            The old cliche says- “You can take the boy out of the farm, but you can’t take the farm out of the boy.”

            The 80-acre farm on Mt. Sinai Road in Coram greatly affected the lives of 10 people, who, in turn, affected their children and their neighbors. Now the land has returned almost to its original state. For a time, after the family sold the farm around 1953, it was cultivated by someone else, but even that is now over.

            Does the Still family ever have thoughts of returning to the farm? “ Farming is different now,” says Mrs. Jones. “ It’s too far gone,” says Mrs. Russell. “ it’s a huge piece of land, difficult to restore, and I am afraid is doomed,” says Mrs. Kempster. “ to farm now you need find machinery,” says Merwin.

            So the breezes continue to blow across The tall grass and the afternoon sun continues to be down on shade trees that have no one resting under them. Soon the snow will cover the buildings and fields of this Coram farm that spread its influence strongly across the county and island.

            A farm is not just land. A farm is a composite of land and people. And the people who made this farm live by themselves yet living or are living through their descendants.

            So the Still Farm in Coram “still”, not in the sense of being quiet, but “still” in the sense of continuing. From one farm when family members into the world of agriculture, business, education, medicine, and government.

            Again the community of Coram made a contribution to the history of our nation.

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