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New online History Center exhibit captures Island traditions: Hunting, clamming, fishing through the years

This summer, The Shelter Island Historical Society received The Robert D.L. Gardiner Foundation’s Young Scholar Award, available to Long Island historical societies, enabling them to select a student intern to accomplish 100 hours of service.

Shelter Island School sophomore Leonardo Dougherty was selected, and recently completed a new online exhibit: “The DNA of Shelter Island.”

He worked closely with the Historical Society’s archivist, Rachel Lucas; collections coordinator Lucas Deupree; and executive director Nanette Lawrenson. The exhibit includes photographs, artifacts, and audio clips, all selected by Mr. Dougherty, to illustrate Island activities that have been enjoyed by generations, many of them centered on the water.

Classic vintage postcards, many with personal messages, call up the time when the Island’s famed hotels, the Prospect and Manhanset House, beckoned families for a leisurely summer stay.

He also documented with photographs numerous artifacts donated to the Society by Island families, including duck decoys and clam rakes, that evoke timeless Island activities like hunting, clamming and fishing.

Leonardo not only enjoyed access to the Center’s vault, but was able to explore the 1743 Havens House attic as well as the barn on the grounds to find items to include in the story.

An oral history from Islander Scudder Griffing tells of his family’s tradition using a row boat for hunting ducks and muskrats. Poignant details emerge in the way Leonardo curated the collection, like an eel pot form believed to have belonged to Abraham Schaible, a fireman who helped put out the fire at the Prospect hotel.

He met his wife at Goat Hill sledding, we’re told, and were together for 60 years.

Leonardo divided his time between his work in the History Center, averaging 15 hours per week, and his outdoor job lifeguarding at the Beach Club.

Previously, he enjoyed apprenticeship opportunities at his former school, Hayground, spending time working with professional photographers and with chefs in restaurant kitchens. He has his eye on a future in design, possibly architecture, as he thinks about directions in college and beyond.

While he said what he enjoyed most about the project was the access it afforded him to the Society’s records and artifacts, he was glad he got to see a lot of how the construction was done.

“There were models and books I got to look through,” he said, speaking of the History Center designed by architect William Pedersen, which was built to encapsulate the Havens House and provide an expanse of exhibit and safe storage space.  

With school back in session, he’ll be focusing on his studies again, as well as cross country, track and, hopefully, baseball in the spring. “I wish we had less COVID restrictions,” he said, “but we’ll do what we have to do.”

This online exhibit will afford great enjoyment to all who may not yet be comfortable venturing to indoor spaces, including the History Center, because of COVID concerns. For all who view it, at shelterislandhistorical.org/dnaofshelterisland.html, it promises an opportunity to revisit and reflect on what generations of Islanders have enjoyed to this day.