Port Jefferson’s Drowned Meadow Cottage Museum Celebrates George Washington’s Culper Spy Ring

Port Jefferson

Port Jefferson’s Drowned Meadow Cottage Museum Celebrates George Washington’s Culper Spy Ring

On the corner of West Broadway and Barnum Avenue in the Village of Port Jefferson lies the remarkable 18th century home of Phillips Roe, a member of Gen. George Washington’s Culper Spy Ring, which was turned into a historical museum in 2022.

The Drowned Meadow Cottage Museum highlights the famed history of the community’s American Revolution ties — back when the area was called Drowned Meadow, its Colonial name. A tour takes one through the actors from Roe to George Washington and events from the Battle of Long Island to the Siege of Yorktown, which was relevant to the region during the war.

“One of the most misunderstood parts of the revolution from a historical perspective is how it transpired in Southern New York,” said Mark Sternberg, the museum’s curator. “It’s something that historians are going back and re-analyzing now. Growing up in Port Jefferson, this means a lot to me. This is the story of our village. We are only a few generations removed from its founding.”

As one of the brains behind the operation, uncovering the truth on what happened in the region during the most important war in United States history while providing a sense of pride about the village were pluses for Sternberg.

Port Jefferson

In a tour of the museum, one will hear names such as Caleb Brewster, Robert Townsend, Abraham Woodull and many more. Although not all conducted their business in Drowned Meadow, their ties to the Culper Ring makes those actors relevant to what occurred in the village nearly 250 years ago.

The network is credited with achieving the most out of any secret patriot or loyalist operating during the conflict. While surrounded by the British, two of the Culper Ring’s most impactful victories include stopping a surprise attack by enemy forces upon the arrival of French Troops in Rhode Island and playing a significant role in Washington’s decision to join Marquis de Lafayette and Comte de Rochambeau along with their French forces in the Siege of Yorktown — a victory that essentially ended the war.

Those stories and the many rare artifacts hung up around the venue took a lot of time to be told and hung up, respectively. Despite having exhibits before the museum was fully developed, Roe’s home was most notably used as Santa’s workshop for the annual Charles Dickens festival in Port Jefferson.

Sternberg and museum historian Chris Ryon believed the venue deserved to be a full-time museum dedicated to Roe and the Port Jefferson members of Washington’s spy network — which it now is and is open once a month.

“We relocated Santa, he’s okay,” Sternberg said. “He’s still part of the Dickens festival, he’s just not here. It’s been a full-time museum for about two years.”

Before Sternberg, Ryon or Santa fully came into the picture, the residence was on the verge of being destroyed during former Port Jefferson Mayor Jeanne Garant’s tenure. She helped in stopping its destruction and re-locating the home for a third time — with the first coming in 1867 as it was originally located across from the village’s Theater Three.

“One of the things that makes a village different from anything else is its history,” Garant said in a video played in the museum. “Every step of the [moving] was a challenge, and I think it was worth every bit of it.”

Alex Streinger is a reporter with The SBU Media Group, part of Stony Brook University’s School of Communication and Journalism’s Working Newsroom program for students and local media. 

Port Jefferson