After being moved from four different sites over more than 250 years and narrowly averting destruction on more than one occasion, the Roe House on the corner of Barnum Avenue and West Broadway finally opened on Tuesday night as an exhibit space highlighting the history of Port Jefferson village and its importance to the success of America in the Revolution War.
A packed house of supporters and village officials were treated to a tour of the historic structure by village historian and retired Port Jefferson High School Spanish teacher Robert Sisler.
Sisler played an important part in preserving the “Little Gray House,” as it is affectionately known and it is now an exhibit space where the public can see the post and beam construction of the era as it was built for Phillip Roe back in 1755 and learn about Port Jefferson village during colonial times.
Interior finishing has been removed so visitors can view the hand hewn wooden beams. There is also a copy of a letter written by George Washington thanking members of the infamous for their efforts in thwarting the British during the Revolutionary War. A large map shows the trail the spies took in passing messages back and forth from Connecticut across the Long Island Sound into Port Jefferson where information was raced into Manhattan.
According to Sisler, Roe had at least six children living in the small home before moving to larger quarters. Sisler also pointed out that the beams in the ceiling were very far apart and he said that walking around upstairs in the attic was like walking on a sponge. The attic space was presumably where the children had slept.
“It’s not well built,” Sisler said.
His wife and fellow historian Pat Sisler said that during that era children probably spent most of their time out of doors.
At the ceremony for the opening of the museum, state Senator Kennth LaValle thanked Robert and Pat Sisler for all the work they did to preserve the structure.
“History is critically important and we need to preserve the past to move into the future,” he said. “How many people will come through these doors and say ‘Isn’t this wonderful.’”
Former mayor Jeanne Garant also recounted the tale of how the Roe House went from an anonymous building facing the wrecking ball to an important piece of Port Jefferson history.
The fragile structure miraculously survived being moved from four separate locations since it was built in the mid-1700s. The original site at 505 Main Street is now owned by attorney James Von Oiste. The basement of Von Oiste’s office building still maps the footprint of the original Roe House.
Around 1840 the house was moved to the west side of Main Street at the foot of Tuthill Street. More than 100 years later, Rob and Pat Sisler were giving a presentation about the John Roe house that now serves as the headquarters when Nellie Zinna stood up and said she owned a similar house. The Phillip Roe house was authenticated and moved to the Village Center where the skating rink is now to save it from being leveled. It was moved once again on the property and then a final time to its current home.
The Roe House stood on a high foundation to preserve it from flooding for many years until recently when it was strengthened with metal rods and protected with modern siding.
The village has opened the Roe House as a museum renamed it the “Drowned Meadow House.”
During the ceremony a happy Sisler said, “I can’t believe this happened.”