I am attempting to give the history of the "culture" of a very small segment of Long Island. Coram, "an ancient settlement" as historians term it, is located geographically almost in the middle of the island. New York City lies 65 miles to the west and Montauk Point about the same distance to the east. It is eight miles to the Long Island Sound on the north and Great South Bay on the south.
The terrain is like considerable of the island, some flat, but a ridge runs through the hamlet, earning the name of hill in several spots. Coram is situated in Suffolk County, and Brookhaven Town. The later the largest in the state. The soil is somewhat sandy not of great fertility.
The origin of the name, Coram is controversial. It is generally conceded that it was given in honor of an Indian chief, under whose jurisdiction it once rested. Sometimes he was called Wincoram. There was also an English philanthropist and Sea Captain of London, who came to America… An 18th century engraved picture of this Captain Thomas Coram, elegant in white wig and knee breeches, hangs in the former old town meeting house in Coram.
As for the absence of stones, The Indians resorted to the supernatural to explain. The devil, forced to leave Connecticut because of trouble there, retreated to Long Island. In Coram he collected his ammunition, stones and boulders, and returned to the north shore to bombard his enemy across the Sound. There is also what is known by geologists as a kettle hole. It is small but thought to be 96 feet in depth, which is the height Coram is above sea level.
The main highway artery from New York City to Riverhead, the county seat, bisects Coram. This road forks at Riverhead and continues to the two points, Montauk and Orient, respectively. This highway has been variously called, “The Country Road”, “The Kings Highway”, and the “Post Road”. Today it is generally known as “The Middle Country Road”. Heavy traffic roars above its concrete. It was this road, carrying travelers to Southold and Southampton, the two oldest settlements in New York State as well as the Island that induced William Satterly of Setauket in 1667 to seek a grant from the town to keep a tavern or “ordinary” for these travelers In Coram. The permission is recorded in the town records in these words, “Wm. Satterly doth ingage to cup the ordnery at Wincoram, he and his haires forever and upon condition, the towne have granted and given to said William Satterly and his haires a hundred akers of uplands about Wincoram and whom the saide William Satterly shall satisfy to his contract in reason.” it is assumed that this was the first white man to live in Coram. The first record of a child born there is that of Elizabeth Barnes, April 6, 1685.
The settlement really began to grow between 1728-1739, when the central part of Brookhaven Town was laid, out into 4 divisions with each division Subdivided into 55 lots. These lots were assigned to the heirs and assignees of the original town proprietors. By December, 1749, It was designated, a “village of the town”. It seems from an entry in Book B. of the town records, that Wm. Satterly or his heirs, sold out to John Smith of Setauket, on the 9th of November, 1730, the town surveyors reported that had laid out to the latter, 30 3/4 acres of the 100 acres granted to Wm. Satterly. This John Smith was a descendant of Arthur Smith, a Quaker, who sought asylum In Brookhaven Town in 1659, when persecuted In Southold.
There is a record of a trustee meeting, Jan.10, 1695. These trustees were seeking to obtain a town minister for the town Supported, and town owned meeting house at Setauket. A hundred years passed before the town meetings were generally held in Coram, the “capital” of Brookhaven Town”, and continued to be held there until 1885. These town meetings, according to Frank L. Tooker, the author, were robust affairs. In the Century Magazine of January, 1921, he writes thus, “In the middle of the Island, all these warring villages used, to meet for their annual deliberation. I gather that the justice was exemplified by the south side and, the north shore uniformly voting against each other on general principles I went to view the throng that gathered In the field about the hall, it had some of the characteristics of a county fair in as much as venders of soft drinks and, food and. bakers of all sorts make the neighborhood, vocal with their raucous voices. Yet it was not without its good— natured and even Picturesque sides.”
At this same residence, the Davis homestead, besides town meetings, trustee meetings were held monthly and assessors meetings as required, Coram men have held public office. Lewis R. Overton, a grandson of a Revolutionary War hero was Town Clerk and Superintendent of Schools. Lester H. Davis was County Treasurer 1854 1855. A neighbor Common1y called Squire Davis, was Justice of the Peace for a long period. Lester H. Davis, was Justice of the Peace for a long period. Lester H. Davis’s son, Daniel R. Davis, was Town Clerk for two terms, and for four years, Commissioner of Highways. Later this office was called Superintendent of Highways, and for ten years, it was a nephew of Daniel R. Davis, Harold F. Davis, who was elected Superintendent Today a member of the Town Board and Justice of the Peace is Lester H. Davis, a son of Daniel.
The role of Coram men, at least eight of them, was laudable in the Revolution. In two instances, fathers and Sons both joined- Elijah Davis and his son, Goldsmith, and Isaac Smith and his son, Joshua. A Colonel Isaac Davis, and two twin brothers, John and James Overton, The most significant historic event was the burning of 300 tons of bay foraged and guarded, by the British. General Washington was consulted and approved of the act. Some years ago, the D. A .R. marked the spot by placing a tablet on a boulder commerationing the feat.
Meetings of the Committee of Safety of the Town of Brookhaven were held in Coram and the minutes for the most part have been preserved. “Petticoat Isaac” Smith escaped in woman’s garb. Goldsmith Davis, refusing to give the enemy desired information, was hung head down in his well. Upon the departure of the British, a woman member of the family ran for help.
The home of Isaac Smith was occupied by the British during the war, and the oldest part built in the early 18th century was converted by them into horse stables. This house was 2 1/2 stories high, with a barroom toward the east and the kitchen on the northwest corner. The main building was 72 feet in length, 30 feet in width, with a piazza in front. It was in this house that Washington dined on his tour of Long Island, the summer following the close of the war. In his diary, he writes, " I came from Patchogue by way of Coram to Setauket and had dinner.”
Memorial Day, 1908, Richard M. Bayles, a resident of the neighboring hamlet, Middle Island, graphically recited his memories of the Civil War in a patriotic address delivered in the Coram Methodist Church. Fortunately an abstract of his speech as recorded in a local newspaper and is as follows:
“My first observation of the process of Toting at general elections was at the election of November, 1860, when Abraham Lincoln was first elected President of the United States. The polls-of this election district, which then comprised the entire middle section of Brookhaven town, were held at Coram, in the home, then owned and occupied by Lester H. Davis, now by his son, Daniel R. Davis. Up the narrow and winding stairway to a room on the upper floor, men clambered to cast their votes on questions that involved the destinies of the nation, as no other expression of the voice of the people had ever done since the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
A bright fire glowed on the hearth of the large, open fireplace that occupied one side of the room and modified the chill of the November air. About the room and down on the front stoop and out upon the highways man gathered in groups were discussing the great questions which that day were to receive a determination from, which there could be no retreat. All seemed, to feel that the “irresponsible conflict” was fast ripening and that the time must be near when its festering head would break. And the sequel of four years of war proved the truth of the prophetic vision that filled the minds of men of that day.
Following the election of Lincoln, events were active enough, but the months seemed to drag slowly while the tension of anxiety was upon all hearts as we watched the development of the successive steps which led into and through the terrible years of conflict. As we came to the full realization of the fact that war was actually upon us, the fires of patriotism were lighted. Recruiting began, and the stalwart brothers, fathers and Sons of the community fell in line and joined the army, that like a great river, fed by its ten thousand little rivulets, was flowing southward to defend the honor of the flag.
The Davis house in Coram was then, as for many years before and after that period, a sort of City Hall for the great town of Brookhaven. All town meetings and meetings of the various official boards of the town were held here. During the war many special town meetings were held here to discuss and decide upon measures for filling the quota in the town in the successive calls for volunteers and to provide for paying bounties for enlistment or to aid drafted men in securing substitutes. August 21, 1862, a special town meeting voted that a bounty of $ l50 should be paid each volunteer from the town. August 26th, and for several days after the supervisor and assessors at Coram made out the enrollment of men liable to do military duty. On Nov. 1st, commissioners and surgeons met at Coram to examine enrolled men as to physical condition. Up to Nov. 6, 1862, there had volunteered from Brookhaven Town 251 men. In the draft which was made at Jamaica, Jan. 11, 1864, 210 men were drawn from this town. Aug. 19, 1864, a special town meeting was held to provide for the late call for men. Sept. 23, 86 men were drafted from this town. The town at this time paid each drafted man $300. Jan 12, 1865, a special town meeting at Coram decided to pay each drafted man $500
When the town first called for loans with which to pay bounties, there was no law under which a tax could be levied to repay the loan. Authority was however afterward given by an act of the legislature, The roll of those who rallied to the support of the town in its financial emergency contained the names of residents of this locality as follows.
Davis Norton, J.T. French, J.E. Longbotham, A.R. Norton, Samuel Dare, Harriet T. Norton, Lester H. Davis, Rev. F.T. Drake, Wm. J. Weeks, James H. Weeks, Samuel W. Randall, Sereno B. Overton, Philetus Phillips, Nathaniel Tuttle, Daniel D. Swezey, Richard W. Smith, Mrs. Richard W. Smith, Wm. Phillips, Chas. J. Randall, Samuel F. Norton, J. Robert Laws, Edward Homan, Lancy Hulse, Lewis R. Edwards, Franklin Van Brunt, A. Hawkins Smith, Edmund W. Ruland, Smith Still, Gilbert H. Swezey, Horace G. Randall, Samuel Smith, Augustus Floyd, Austin D. Randall, Emma L. Norton, Edgar G. Swezey, Sylvester Roman, Elbert Roman, Hampton Overton, Dr. J.I. Baker, James Mott, Samuel B. Swezey, Oscar J. Oakley, Lester Davis, Alfred Davis, James O. Mott, Albert L. Davis, J. Sturgis Randall.
In the Civil War, we find the same family of Smiths in prominence. Richard W. Smith, grandson of the Revolutionary Isaac (Petticoat) Smith has recorded the following tale in the family Bible. Richard Smith had promised aid in apprehending four deserters. His son, Wallace, with a team was placed at the disposal of the deputy. Twelve miles from Coram, the deserters effected an escape while their captors were partaking of refreshment in Smithtown. The four hid in the woods south of Port Jefferson, but were finally driven to seek supplies there. Emboldened by drink, they threatened to burn the home of Dick Smith. Shortly afterward, the straw filled barn of the Smiths became ablaze, and it quickly spread to shed, carriage house, carpenter’s shop, granary and finally residence.
A member of one of the Davis families in Coram served in the navy in the Civil War. He was Samuel Davis, son of Squire Lester Davis. Samuel was a mate on the U.S. Sloop of War, Kearsarge. Aged 23, he died of yellow fever, far from, home. A letter to his father from a comrade says of him: “whose many virtues will ever be remembered, whose qualities as an officer and gentleman are the theme of admiration among his shipmates.” Among the officers on the Kearsarge was Lt. Dewey, later Admiral Dewey, who wrote to a brother of Samuel Davis, “he was a good officer as well as a good man.” The youth, at his death, had saved $2300. In a diary he kept at sea, he describes Christmas 1865 spent at Genoa, Italy. The forward part of the ship was decorated with the ship colors. A band from shore furnished music and “tables were set with everything that anyone would whish.” The officers were invited to dine with the men, and Lt. Dewey make a speech complimenting the men on their good behavior. The lad ends the account of the day thus, “Truly has been a Merry Christmas.” It was his last one. A sampler, made by a member of the family commemorating his death, has the following lines.
“Who can paint the briny tear
We shed when thus we sever
If forced to part for months, for years,
To part perhaps forever.”
In both World Wars, Coram youth served. Another tablet listing the names has been placed on the boulder. Two young men lost their lives in the last war, one in Europe and one in the Pacific area.
It was at Coram that the original division of the town into school districts took place, several district histories placing the date Nov. 3, 1813. The boundaries then laid out, were generally measured by the length of a boy’s legs or the distance he could walk. On this original division, Coram was #10. The first record of a school in Coram is found in 1811 when Dr. Samuel Norton purchased the meeting house “used for a school - house.” This building was wrecked and the material used for a dwelling. The building, then erected, served as a school until 1900, when, being condemned, another building was constructed. This was used, until 1953, as a school and now serves as a small but attractive library. A new school was built in 1953, very modern, and located on a highway less frequented than Route 25, where the other school buildings stood. The present school cost was $115,000, the 1900 one, $640. Fuel, (wood), for a year then cost $10. Teacher salaries soared to $8.50 per week, states the accounts:
A town poorhouse was erected in 1817 upon a farm purchased for $900. It was used until 1872 when the occupants were moved to a county building some miles away. Prior to 1817, the town dependents were boarded out to the lowest bidder.
A community house was built in the 1920’s. Today it is privately owned but continues to be used for social affairs and voting at a nominal rent.
Coram was rather unique in having a town pump, made possible by public money. It served a useful purpose in the days of horse—drawn vehicles but became a casualty when the concrete highway replaced the sandy road. Permission to dig the well, which antedated the pump, was given to Richard Smith, tavern owner, in 1833. The trustees in 1883 voted to have a pump installed. The cost is recorded as $9.50.
A record of the first post office in Coram gives the date May 30, 1826. The old familiar names Smith, Worth, Overton, Davis, Osborn, Norton prevail until 1918 when a Rovagna was appointed, followed by Baczensky, Burns, and Fingar, the present incumbent.
The Coram, Volunteer Fire Department is of recent origin. It started in 1929, and a fire district was formed in 1940. With tax money now acquired, more and better equipment was purchased, and the present fire house was built.
The Church was important, as we know, in our country’s early history and such was true in Coram. In 1747, A Baptist meeting house was built, Rev. Noah Hammond, of Connecticut, the organizer. It was the first, and for a long time, the only church of that denomination in Suffolk County. Not much is known of its history, and in 1847, the building was torn down. It is thought individuals owned shares, as was sometimes done in those days. A newspaper item, dated 1789, gives support to this theory because it states Samuel Bishop quit claimed all his interest In the Baptist meeting house and ground in Coram to David Overton. Tombstones in Coram bear inscriptions testifying to membership of the deceased in the Baptist Church. In 1858, a Methodist Church was built on the site. This congregation, as well as the materials for the building, moved, from Middle Island, where 80 rods from the Presbyterian Church had stood a Methodist Church. The members tore down the church there and rebuilt in Coram. An itinerary of Rev. Mitchell B. Bull, a Methodist Circuit Rider in 1807 gives a destination for each of the 31 days in the month of May of that year. Saturday 16th - Ride to Coram, Joseph Roe’s”. After the Revolution, a Captain Norton became an elder and later a minister of the Baptist Church in Coram. An amusing reminiscence by J.D. Henderson is recounted in an 1888 newspaper. It tells how, when Henderson was a child, Rev. Norton was a frequent visitor to his home. On one occasion the dominie remained over night. The child’s mother sent him into the room to fetch the tallow dip. There on the table was a wig and on the pillow was the head of Rev. Norton, “bald as the rising moon.” Greatly frightened, the boy rushed to his mother, insisting the Rev. Norton had taken off his head. The next morning the Reverend good naturedly demonstrated “how the thing worked,”
Brookhaven Town Highway Shops have been at Coram for some years. They are used for repair and storage.
Ada Dayton, daughter of Lester H. Davis kept a diary for several years. One sees how important the two Sunday meetings and mid week gathering were in the lives of people years ago. The weather also was a favorite and fruitful topic for diaries. There are accounts of three feet of snow in April 1841. 1842—43 saw twenty—two snow storms, while 1838 – 43, there were extensive droughts. No rain fell in 1842, from May 1st to July 27th, and a longer dry spell prevailed in 1843. April 1854, good sleighing was possible, and the rather pointless remark was added by the diarist, “farming not commenced as yet and not much prospect.” Feb. 12, 1856, was “the 45th day the earth has been covered with snow.”
In the early days, farm families were almost self-sufficient. The meat, chiefly pork, was raised on the place, where it was salted or smoked. Sheep furnished variety in the diet, and an occasional cow or calf, and, of course, chickens and ducks. To feed these animals, hay and grains - barley, rye, wheat, buckwheat, and corn were raised. Some of these grains were ground for flour for family use. The wool of sheep was spun and woven into cloth. The same was done with flax. Fuel was wood. It was also used for dunnage for ships. Investments were made in ships, shares being bought. The Davis family, residing in the Town Meeting house, kept a general store and for some years a tavern. A receipted bill dated 1811, for the purchase of a slave is among the family papers. In 1837, a member of this same family attempted a silk industry. Lester H. Davis; I grew 100 white mulberry trees and 60 of the purple (a few still live) and upon these fed 500 worms. The result was 50 skeins of silk. In the 19th century this family went in for fruit and berry raising; apples (vinegar), peaches, quinces, pears, plums, cranberries, strawberries, blackberries, currants, and gooseberries. Also crops of potatoes and asparagus were raised. Later, more cows than were needed for family use, were kept, and milk and butter sold. Geese furnished feathers, and candles were made at home.
Also in the Coram of that time resided a skilled cabinet maker, Ludlow Clark, by name, whose furniture was of superior workmanship. A desk with secret panels made in 1765 is a prized possession of a descendant of Isaac Smith. A cobbler from Virginia established a residence and place of business. The early 1860’s saw a millinery store set up. A fashion book and a few hats have survived; bonnets were made and remade in those times. A tailoress, born in 1822, competently made men’s suits as well as ladies gowns, although the material, hand-woven, was cumbersome to handle. Sewing in private homes, her wages were 25 cents a day. If she did not work by candle light in the evening, 5 cents were deducted.
Coram seems to have fostered a number of people who engaged in teaching. Literature must have ranked high, for these is a tale of a man, who returning from the city on horseback, carried with him purchases made there, namely a Bible, Milton’s Paradise Lost, and a chair! A descendant of the Squire Davis mentioned before is now superintendent of schools in Princeton, New Jersey. ‘Lester H. Davis’ grandson holds the office of president In Athens College, in Athens Greece. A fair number of Coram’s daughters have been school teachers in their respective generations. Two very successful corporation lawyers, now retired, Richard Smith, to Easthampton, L.I., and Charles J.R. Davis, to King George, Virginia, are descendants respectively of the Smith and Davis families, early settlers in Coram. Eleanor, sister of Charles, resides part of the year In Coram, and is the widow of a career diplomat, John G. Erhardt, who held several posts in Europe and was ambassador to the Union of South Africa at his death.
The Still family came from the north shore, as did one of the Davis families. This was early in the 19th century. A most successful business man, Wendell still, is a descendant. Besides his varied enterprises in neighboring towns, locally he conducts a Farm manure (fertilizer) business. A brother, Robert, was Superintendent of Highways of Brookhaven Town for a number of terms, and George W. Still, another brother, is engaged in real estate business, but was formerly principal of schools.
A few farms continue to pursue agriculture. Two of the old family, farms, Davis (nephew of Daniel) and Still have passed into new owners’ hands, Prechtl and Amshire, respectively. The former Davis farm lies uncultivated, the latter is a dairy farm. Lester H. Davis III works his father’s farm, chiefly dairy (and also lands airplanes in the pasture lot). A fairly recent resident, Manzoni, keeps cows and chickens and carries on a retail route. Other farmers are Koschara, a family that came in the early 1900’ s and raises vegetables; and three potato farmers, Lucas (Polish family here some time), Zimmerman, and Duchnowski, more recent arrivals. Wilshire raises more varied crops.
Six men operate chicken business; DeLucien, Vogel, Paquette, Bernard, Fein, and Johnson. Two successful vegetable road stands flourish in summer, operated by Lyon and Tew.
Four garages prosper, operated by Lyon, father and son; Weber-Hagen, brothers in - law; Morris, and Reichold, a new set-up. A fifth new garage run by Walker has just opened.
Grocery and other establishments are kept by Hugh. Finger, assisted by son and son – in - Law and C. Wicks, and Ann Christansen. A well-stocked paint store is run by L. Ciollo.
Eating places, where liquor is also generally served, bear the names of: The White House, Leffeier Proprietor; The Windmill, Backer, prop.; Blue Star, Aivialitis, prop.; Casa Bordone, E. Bordone, prop.; and a snack bar, Lyon, labeled “Atomic Custard Stand”, it is rumored a “Carve” will make an appearance soon. The food in several places is of superior quality. Some fifteen years ago an “Orchard Tea Room” furnished both excellent food and “atmosphere” in a old house. It drew noted patrons, among them John Barrymore and Eleanor Roosevelt. The latter wrote of the chocolate cake Served there in “My Day.” A retired Wac Captain now makes her home there.
A successful real-estate business is operated by a Mrs. Vivian Lewis, assisted by Mr. and Mrs. Gildo Plate. A newcomer in this field in Coram is Pommer. There are several building contracting firms, Fossa and Mazzone, Faron, Muhlberg and Son, and Joyce, A plumbing business keeps the Schwebes, father and son, occupied.
A listing of the various business seems long, considering the smallness of the community-. However, they are small enterprises.
1. Mid Island
Glass Works. Cariello
A breakdown of some of the occupations employing other residents, chiefly out—of—town jobs are as follows:
Bus driver 1, truck driver 3, welder 1, plumber 1, railroad 2, mason 2, nurse 2, state conservation 1, town highway 4, police 2, Radio Corporation of America 2, Brookhaven Laboratory 2 house wrecker 1, army (career) 1, salesman 2, defense plants (airplane) 4, auto mechanic 1, insurance 2, electricians 3, road. Construction private firm, 5, of which 2 are foremen, dairy, several.
The names on the school census are listed below and give an idea of the former national backgrounds. (A woman member of the first family on the list once worked in the Homer Davis home in Athens, Greece) as a seamstress.
Ciolli Hawkins Lortie Rice
The earliest names associated with Coram back in the 18th century are the Satterlys, Smiths, Hulses, and. Overtons. These were followed by the Hammonds, Stills, Davises, Nortons, Yarringtons, Wallaces, Bishops and Daytons.
An Irish family, O’Doherty by name, seems to have been the first, other than English, to have settled in Coram. It was soon after the Civil War that they built a large house and lived here. There remains a private burial lot, but the house is shortly to be wrecked. 1900 came another family. George Lyon, whose parents were born in England but emigrated to America, took his Civil War soldier’s pay, and pension bought property in Coram. Five Lyon families make their home in Coram, descendants of George. One son met his death in World War II in Europe.
In the early 1900’s two German families settled here, Koschara and Wittshack. A descendant of the latter family was lost in the South Pacific. Probably the first Polish family, Komoroski, came to Coram around 1890. Descendants have moved to Delaware and Pennsylvania, but one lives in nearby Patchogue. Later came the Lucas family (Name changed?) and quite recently, Duchnowski.
Around the turn of the century arrived first the Rovagnas, then the Plates and Borellas. These families came from northern Italy and some were fair - haired and blue - eyed. The Plate family kept boarders in the largest house in Coram. Later corners were Cavotis, Mazzoni, Fossa, and Libbi. Still more recent are the Manzonis, Pinellis, Bordones, followed by the Rupolos, Ciollos, Barbieri, and Ballardi. All these families have northern Italian ancestors.
A Russian couple, Macevitch, now deceased, lived on a small farm for years. They seemed to remain alien, Another Russian family, Muhlberg came thirty years or so ago, and still live here.
There is a negro community a few miles distant but there have not been negro residents in Coram to any number. Some years ago, it was the custom for an itinerant colored man or two to appear on a farm in the spring and linger till autumn. It was counted one of the signs of spring! But that is no more; the old timers have left this world. Some of them had Indian blood. The migrant problem, has not hit Coram. A camp was attempted a few years back, but the facilities were so poor it was closed.
There are city families who spend summers in Coram, as well as occasional weekends, and some own homes. One of these is Alfred Momo, who sells foreign cars and is interested in and promotes auto races. A bank lawyer has built a home here and on retirement, expects to live in Coram.
This is a brief picture of Coram, past and present. Instead of the large Currier Ives type of farmhouse and Cape Cod cottages, (genuine), of which a few remain -small, modest homes for the most part prevail. Living is comfortable, every family an automobile Church, community club, and political groups furnish social life as well as family and friendly gatherings.
A so - called poet once wrote An Ode to Coram.” It ran thus for a stanza:
“A quiet and sequestered spot
Between the Sound and Ocean
Was Coram, rural, knowing not
Aught of the city’s rude commotion.”
Not true today, - alas, but if one gets some distance from the traffic’s roar he or she may try to imagine it is the pounding surf that’ s heard, and still in some spots on a May morn, “blue runs the light across, violets are born.”