May 13, 2016

Living in History

by Sophia Conti '16

Most of us have visited historic villages and seen, and perhaps toured, houses preserved from past times. But did you know some people actually live in them?

One such person is Matthew Wright, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the physics department at Adelphi University. He lives with his wife and daughter in the 300-year-old former residence of Judge John Lawrence Smith, a direct descendant of the founders of Smithtown and a well-known politician and lawmaker on Long Island. Known as the Judge John Lawrence Smith Homestead, the house is managed by the Smithtown Historical Society, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving historic properties in the Smithtown area and educating the public on their history.


The Wright family poses for a photo outside their nearly 300-year-old home in Smithtown, New York.

“I saw that the museum was renting out space when I was looking for apartments on Long Island,” Dr. Wright, who moved here from Boston, said. “My wife visited it and was very excited, so we decided to take it.” Although the Wrights have become involved with the Smithtown Historical Society in various ways since moving in, initially they simply rented the space as they would an apartment. The rarity of a vast lawn combined with the novelty of a historic house helped turn what was supposed to be a short six-month stay into three and a half years there and counting.

The Homestead sits on a 22-acre green expanse in Smithtown, surrounded by open meadows, unpaved roads and three other historic buildings. Numerous events celebrating the long history of the houses take place on the grounds, giving the Wright family front-row seats. For instance, an old-time baseball team—they play without catcher’s mitts—will sometimes play a game nearby. “It’s great to experience these bits of history,” said Dr. Wright.


The Wright family feeds the animals that live on the property.

Dr. Wright’s wife, Colleen, has worked part time for the Smithtown Historical Society, and the family participates in a volunteer capacity as well. “Five mornings a week we feed the animals that live on the property, which my daughter loves,” Dr. Wright said. “She loves horses, and every morning she gets to feed one.” Other volunteers and employees take care of other maintenance tasks around the property. 

In February the Wrights, avid swing dancers since 2001, taught a lesson at Swing Dance Long Island’s monthly dance, which is hosted in the Frank Brush Barn near the Homestead.

While Dr. Wright and his family do not plan to live at the Homestead indefinitely, it’s given them experiences and opportunities they may not have expected when relocating to Long Island. Beyond the novelty of living in a historic house, the Wrights are now active members of a community dedicated to preserving history and educating the public. “The house is old, but it’s beautiful,” Dr. Wright said. “And we’re proud to be part of this community.”

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About Adelphi: A modern metropolitan university with a personalized approach to higher learning

Adelphi University, New York, is a highly awarded, nationally ranked, powerfully connected doctoral research university dedicated to transforming students’ lives through small classes with world-class faculty, hands-on learning and innovative ways to support academic and career success. Adelphi offers exceptional liberal arts and sciences programs and professional training, with particular strength in our Core Four—Arts and Humanities, STEM and Social Sciences, the Business and Education Professions, and Health and Wellness.

Recognized as a Best College by U.S. News & World Report, Adelphi is Long Island’s oldest private coeducational university. It serves almost 8,000 students at its beautiful main campus in Garden City, New York—just 23 miles from New York City’s cultural and internship opportunities—and at dynamic learning hubs in Manhattan, the Hudson Valley and Suffolk County, as well as online. 

More than 116,000 Adelphi graduates have gained the skills to thrive professionally as active, engaged citizens, making their mark on the University, their communities and the world.

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