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Suffolk County Historical Society

Riverhead Town, Suffolk County, NY

The Suffolk County Historical Society Building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1994. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [1]


The Suffolk County Historical Society Building is located on a one-acre plot at 300 West Main Street (NY 25) in the hamlet of Riverhead, town of Riverhead, Suffolk County. The triangular shaped property is bounded on the west by Court Street and on the east by Osborne Avenue. On the opposite side of West Main Street is the Peconic River, which was proposed for inclusion in New York State's Wild and Scenic Rivers Act and has been included in the Federal Estuary Program. The surrounding area contains a mix of commercial and residential properties. To the immediate west is the modern Riverhead Free Library and to the east is the [former] Henry Perkins Home for Adults, originally built as a hotel in 1928-29. The historical society property is slightly sloping and is characterized by an open lawn, some mature street trees, mature foundation plantings, and concrete sidewalks. The building itself is sited on the center of the property, with the main facade facing the longest side of the lot on West Main Street and the wings angling out toward the narrowest points of the triangle. At the extreme western edge of the property is a granite World War monument that has been moved to the site (non-contributing object due to being moved from original location). Behind it is a flagpole that has been placed there and is maintained by the Town of Riverhead (non-contributing object).

The Suffolk County Historical Society Building consists of a square central block, two rectangular blocks which form the east and west wings, and a third rectangular block extending from the central block which forms a north wing. The foundation is poured concrete and the walls are constructed of concrete blocks with red brick facades and cast-stone and limestone trim. The building is one-and-one-half stories in height on a high basement and has a five-bay symmetrical main facade with a central entrance reached by wide steps leading up from each side to an open porch. The steps are stone and the porch floor is covered with slate. Simple iron railings decorate the steps. The main facade is the only original facade of the building still fully visible (along with the prominent roof) and remains the most important and decorative facade. A deep watercourse of cast-stone forms the base of the first story and shallow brick pilasters with cast-stone bases and capitals delineate each bay. A deep modillioned cornice supports a high parapet which has panels at each bay decorated with half-round balusters. The high hipped roof is covered with the original slate on the visible slopes and built-up tar on the flat central section. Three gabled dormers are symmetrically situated on each side of the roof. The central bay of the main facade projects slightly and is capped by a pediment. The entrance consists of double wood doors surmounted by a large semi-circular fanlight, a stone keystone in the brick arched opening, and stone keystones and sills, and six-over-nine double-hung wood sash. The basement windows contain single six-light sash.

The symmetrical east and west wings, built in 1950-51 to the original plans of 1928, echo the main block in design, scale, and materials but are more plainly decorated. (They do not contribute to the significance of the building due to age only.) The wings are each three bays wide and are recessed from the main block but angle out toward the front of the building. Each of the bays on the front has an arched window with six-over-six sash and semi-circular transom. Cast-stone watercourses and string courses continue the lines of the main block but the wings are lower in height than the main block and have simple unadorned cornices and flat roofs. The end facades of the wings each have two bays with blind windows and the rear facades have windows like those of the front in addition to secondary entrances. The one bay of the original side facades of the main block also contains blind windows. A large modern wing at the rear of the main block (built 1963) also echoes the simple Georgian Revival detailing of the east and west wings. (This wing does not contribute to the significance of the building as it was not part of the original design.)

The interior of the building contains public exhibition spaces, a library, lecture room, offices, and storage areas. The first floor is virtually intact from the original construction and is characterized by high ceilings, deep plaster cornices, and Colonial Revival woodwork. A vestibule leads into an east-west corridor which connects the wings. In the center of the corridor is a large archway leading to the principal exhibition hall which takes up the entire rear half of the main block. Offices are located off the corridor along the front of the building. The basement contains additional exhibit spaces, bathrooms, offices, and storage. The large attic floor contains collections storage. The first floor of the west wing contains the library and that of the east wing contains a multi-purpose meeting room.


The Suffolk County Historical Society Building meets Criteria A and C as an architecturally and historically significant institutional building in the town and hamlet of Riverhead, Suffolk County, New York. Designed by local architect Augustus H. Galow and built in 1930-31, the building is distinctive example of Georgian Revival institutional architecture in Riverhead. The building displays numerous features of the style including its red brick construction, symmetrical fenestration, hip roof with high parapet and dormers, multi-paned sash, and cast-stone decorative trim. It is also historically significant as the headquarters of one of Suffolk County's most important educational institutions. The Suffolk County Historical Society as founded in 1886 and the present building was designed specifically to house the society's growing collection of manuscript materials and artifacts. Although designed as part of the original building, the symmetrical wings were not constructed until 1950-51. The north wing was added in 1963. Located on a prominent site near the downtown commercial area of the village, the historical society remains an important institution in Riverhead and a symbol of the importance of history to the residents of Suffolk County.

Historical Background

See also: Town of Riverhead: Beginnings

In 1828 or 1829, John Perkins, a native of Bath, England, and his wife Marion moved to Riverhead and purchased the "Upper Mills" from the Albertson family. Perkins established a woolen factory at this location soon after the railroad came to the north of Riverhead in 1844. This included a fulling mill and a weaving mill. The main products of the mill were stocking yarn, flannel, and cashmere. Local tradition indicates that Perkins developed a secret formula for water-proofing pilot cloth that made his wool fabric highly regarded by seamen. Among his customers were the Long Island Railroad and the United States Navy, who both purchased material for uniforms.

John Perkins died in 1866 and his sons John R. and J. Henry continued the family milling business until the early twentieth century. In addition, the brothers operated a clothing store in Riverhead where they sold suits and other articles made from their cloth. At various times the family also operated a button factory, the Perkins Electric Company, and the Hotel Henry Perkins. In addition to being successful business people, the family supported a number of community institutions including the Riverhead Free Library (by donating the land upon which the library was constructed) and the Suffolk County Historical Society.

In 1925, Alice Perkins deeded the property for the present historical society building for the sum of $1.00. She stipulated that a museum had to be constructed on the site or the title for the land would revert to her. By 1928 the design for the building had been executed and by early 1930 the historical society had raise $51,000, which included $30,500 from the sale of its previously owned museum building and almost $8,000 raised by the Ladies Auxiliary. Although sufficient funds were not raised to construct the building that the Board of Directors had planned, they decided to move forward. The cornerstone for the building was laid on October 12, 1930 and the central block of the current building was dedicated on May 10, 1931. In 1950, through a bequest from Cora B. Reeves Barnes, construction on the east and west wings was begun, using the plans developed for the original building. The wings were dedicated during the historical society's 65th anniversary celebration on October 20, 1951. The north wing was added in 1963 through the bequest of Sylvia Staas.

Architect August H. Galow

The central block and east and west wings of the Suffolk County Historical Society Building were designed by August H. Galow. Prior to the research undertaken for this National Register listing, little was known about Galow or his career, but it is now clear that he left his mark on Long Island by designing a significant number of structures, both residential and commercial, during a fairly short career. August Galow was born on May 26, 1892 and graduated from Huntington High School n 1912. He graduated from the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn in 1914 and completed additional professional studies at Columbia University's School of Architecture, New York University, and the Beaux Arts School. Directories for New York City indicate that he practiced there between 1917 and 1925 and was in partnership, at least until 1924, with Gordon S. Parker. During his professional career Galow is known to have designed a number of commercial structures in New York City and Nassau and Suffolk counties. Thirteen such buildings have presently been identified. Available records indicate that his entire body of work was considerably larger and that it included numerous private houses. At the same time the historical society was designed, Galow also designed the Hotel Henry Perkins which was built across the street from the site of the historical society in 1928-29. Galow died in 1934.

The Suffolk County Historical Society Building is a fine example of Georgian Revival architecture, the preferred style for institutional buildings in the 1920's in New York State. Characteristic features of the style shown in the Suffolk County Historical Society Building include a symmetrical facade with projecting central entrance bay crowned by a triangular pediment, red brick construction, prominent fanlight over the central entrance, a hipped roof with gabled dormers, parapet with balustrade, a modillioned cornice, pilasters delineating the bays, and multi-paned sash. A competent design and straightforward use of forms and materials is evident on the Suffolk County Historical Society Building as well as other works of the architect still extant on Long Island. The craftsmanship employed in the construction of the building was of high quality with significant attention to detail. Galow was designing other buildings in the Georgian Revival style during the 1920's, but he may have specifically chosen that style for the historical society building to compliment that of the adjacent Hotel Henry Perkins. Galow designed the east and west wings to be part of the original construction program of the historical society building, but the lack of funds precluded this until 1950-51. Charles Wood, an architect from nearby Wading River, worked with Galow's original plans to construct the wings as well as the rear wing in 1963.

Suffolk County Historical Society Building was designed and constructed as the first permanent home of the first historical society to be founded in Suffolk County. Founded in 1886, the society was organized as an historical society for all of Suffolk County, with the goals of collecting, preserving, and interpreting the history of the county and its people. Prior to the construction of the present building, the society was housed in a small building it had purchased from the local bank. In 1925 that building was sold, the collections placed in storage, and the society started planning for the new building. Museum professionals were consulted to determine the needs of both the society and the community in order to get the best building possible. The plans for the building were published in June of 1928. Although the society primarily collected library and manuscript material in its early years, after the central block of the new building was constructed several large collections of artifacts were received. The construction of the east and west wings fulfilled the society's original wishes and the more recent north wing provided additional facilities for the institution. The Suffolk County Historical Society continues to be an important repository and source for information about the history of Suffolk County and is a testimony to those residents who recognize the importance of preserving the past record of the county.


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Austen, Barbara, Ed. Journey Through Time. Riverhead, New York: Riverhead Bicentennial Commission, 1992.

Bailey, Paul. 1961-1962 Year Book of the Suffolk County Historical Society. "A Sketch of Its 75 Years." Riverhead, New York: Suffolk County Historical Society, 1962.

Bero, John. Architectural Assessment. Rochester, New York: Bero Associates Architects, 1992. A report funded by a grant from the Conservation Assessment Programs of the National Institute for the Conservation of Cultural Property.

Bailey, Paul E., ed. A History of Two Great Counties, Nassau and Suffolk. New York: Lewis Historical Publishing Company, 1949.

The Brooklyn Daily Times. "Suffolk Historical Society To Erect Handsome Headquarters." Brooklyn, New York: June 1, 1928.

Brooks, Walter Frederic, compiler. History of the Fanning Family, A Genealogical Record to 1900 of the Descendants of Edmund Fanning. Worchester, Mass.: n.p., 1905.

The County Review. "Historical Society Reviews Its Work." Riverhead, New York: June 7, 1928.

The County Review. "Historical Society Meeting On June 29." Riverhead, New York: June 14, 1928.

Downs, Arthur Channing Jr., ed. Riverhead Town Records 1792-1886. Huntington, New York: n.p., 1976.

Hallock, Lillian Swords, compiler. The Town of Many Ports. Riverhead, New York: Suffolk County Historical Society, 1967.

Hix, Charlotte, M., ed. Register, Volume XIII, Number 2. Riverhead, New York: Suffolk County Historical Society, 1986.

Howell Family Bible Records. Riverhead, New York: From the collection of the Suffolk County Historical Society.

Jacques, Charlotte Wells, transcriber. Riverhead Cemetery Records. Riverhead, New York: n.p. From the collections of the Suffolk County Historical Society, c.1970.

Miller, George. History of the Town of Riverhead. Riverhead, New York: n.p. From the collection of the Suffolk County Historical Society, 1876. A speech read by T.M. Griffing during the Centennial Celebration, July 4, 1876.

Meier, Evelyn Rowley. The Riverhead Story. Riverhead, New York: Riverhead Town 175th Anniversary Committee, 1967.

Minutes of the Board of Directors Meetings. Riverhead, New York: Suffolk County Historical Society, June 26, 1930, September 10, 1930 and June 15, 1931.

1924-1932 Year Book of the Suffolk County Historical Society. Riverhead, New York: Suffolk County Historical Society, 1932.

Stone, Clara J., compiler. Genealogy of the Descendants of Jasper Griffing. n.p., 1881.

U.S. Department of Agriculture. Soil Survey of Suffolk County, New York. 1975.

Ward, James. Architects In Practice New York City 1900-1940. New York, New York: Committee for the Preservation of Architectural Records, 1989.

Wickham, J., compiler. Southold Town Records, Vol. I & II. Towns of Southold and Riverhead, New York, 1882.

Wines, Virginia, compiler. The Pioneers of Riverhead Town. Riverhead, New York: Suffolk County Historical Society, 1981.

Withey, Henry and Elsie. Biographical Dictionary of American Architects (Deceased). Los Angeles: Hennessey & Ingalls, Inc., 1970.

Yeager, Edna Howell. Peconic River Mills and Industries. Riverhead, New York: Suffolk County Historical Society, 1965.

  1. Broege, Wallace W., Suffolk County Historical Society, and Shaver, Peter, D., N. Y. State Office of Parks, Recreation & Historic Preservation, Suffolk County Historical Society Building,, nomination document, 1994, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

Street Names
Main Street West • Route 25