Around the Island

Run for the Roses and words of wisdom — creating community in Havens Barn

ELEANOR P. LaBROZZI PHOTO | Havens Barn at the Shelter Island Historical Society.
ELEANOR P. LaBROZZI PHOTO | Havens Barn at the Shelter Island Historical Society.

There’s just something about a barn. Whether dressed up for a wedding, or down for a good old fashioned country dance, barns by their very nature, convey a sense of warmth, welcome and nostalgia.

That’s certainly true of Havens Barn where, come this Saturday, members of the Shelter Island Historical Society will gather for the 144th running of the Kentucky Derby. 

For several years, the annual Derby party has been a way for the Historical Society to thank its members for their support throughout the year. While the race will be the center of attention, with the Havens House Museum now closed due to the construction of the new adjacent History Center, the barn is, more than ever, the place to gather.

Inside, with its soaring ceiling and lofted areas, Havens Barn evokes the feel of an earlier era, despite the fact it is a reproduction — dating just to 1988.

“There had been an original barn that disintegrated long before our time,” explained Nanette Lawrenson, executive director of the Historical Society in a recent phone interview.

Made of hardwood, the 2,400-square-foot Havens Barn is typical of a 19th century design. It was modeled after the preexisting barn and built by Chris Fokine, whose company, Fokine Construction, is currently constructing the new History Center on the property.

Over the years, the barn has been used for Historical Society programming and exhibits. It’s also a natural and appropriate place to watch the Kentucky Derby, given that the structure was originally built to house a collection of equestrian equipment.

“When Andrew Fiske [of Sylvester Manor] donated a buggy, tack and other horse related items, they were being kept outside. The president of our board at the time realized we needed a storage space,” explained Ms. Lawrenson. “It evolved very quickly into a great space for events, meetings and programs. Music is also beautiful in the barn.”

Havens Barn has also become a key facility for large gatherings at the Historical Society and these days, is a hive of activity throughout much of the year.

“It has a real community feel, a warmth, and is great for presentations,” said Ms. Lawrenson. “It’s charming. We’ve had contra dances there and talks on all kinds of topics … We use it every month except from January to March.”

She notes that while the new History Center, which, when completed, will house the society’s archives, is ideal for intimate events or summer talks outdoors in the adjacent new courtyard area, Havens Barn, which can accommodate 220 people, is all about celebrating community.

“The barn is a barn, so there’s a great rustic quality about it,” said Ms. Lawrenson. “It’s the perfect place to watch the Derby. This year we’re pulling horse related collection items that had been upstairs and will bring them out so people can see them.”

“It’s the most exciting two minutes of sports,” she added. “There will be no mint juleps and gambling. But we will have beer, wine and some great food … It’s casual, intimate and fun — everyone just loves a barn.”

COURTESY PHOTO | A selection of finished signs from a Words on Wood workshop.
COURTESY PHOTO | A selection of finished signs from a Words on Wood workshop.

Because signs from early Shelter Island businesses decorate the walls of the barn, it’s rather fitting that on Saturday, May 12, the Historical Society will host a second community event in Havens Barn. The Wine and Sign Party is an afternoon workshop in which residents are invited to come enjoy some wine and get crafty by creating a custom wooden sign for their home or to give as a gift.

The sign making workshop is the idea of Ebeth Lones, the Historical Society’s communications and donor development director. She is partnering with Words on Wood, a company owned by Jackie Valentine, sister of Island resident Kathy Lynch, to bring the event to the Island. Words on Wood will provide the wooden boards and all the materials needed to create a custom sign.

“You can make a sign with your family name or a favorite quote,” explained Ms. Lones. “You just have to order them in advance so they can prepare the stencil.”

For Ms. Lones, the goal of the party is to open up the Historical Society and bring in new members of the community for an entirely different kind of event.

“We want to find ways to reach a new demographic,” explained Ms. Lones. “There are a lot of people on the Island who have never been to the Historical Society or those without an interest in history.”

“But hey, this is your Historical Society too. We’re just going to host something fun. Come have some beer or wine and get crafty,” said Ms. Lones, who compares “Wine and Sign” to painting nights in which people gather to socialize while creating a work of art.

“I thought, let’s do something like that. It’s Mother’s Day weekend, people can have a good night out getting creative with their hands and have something to take home with them,” she said. “We want to have the community in our barn. Come be our guest.”

The annual Kentucky Derby Members Party in Havens Barn is Saturday, May 5 from 4 to 7 p.m. Wear your ascot and favorite Derby hat and come watch the race on two large TVs mounted on the walls of the barn. If you’re not a member, you can still join. Annual membership begins at $50.

The Wine and Sign Party is Saturday, May 12 from 4 to 7 p.m. in Havens Barn. Admission is free, but participants must pre-order the signs they would like to make so that custom stencils can be prepared in advance by Words on Wood. Order your sign no later than Saturday, May 5 at 5 p.m. by visiting Shelter Island Historical Society Wine and Sign Party on, or the upcoming events page at For more information, call (631) 749-0025.