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Smithtown, A History: Colonel Rockwell and His Scrapbook

Colonel Rockwell married into the Smith family and left behind with a tribute to the town.

When it comes to delving into the history of Smithtown, “Colonel Rockwell’s Scrap-Book” is an indispensable resource. Published in 1968 by the Smithtown Historical Society, the book includes almost a hundred homes in the township of Smithtown.

Cathy Ball, a librarian at the Smithtown Library’s main branch, recommends the scrap-book to those who are researching local history and also uses it in her own research.

“I find 'Colonel Rockwell's Scrap-Book' to be an invaluable resource in my research,” said Ball. “It is a kind of detailed gazetteer about the locale and its homes.”

Verne LaSalle Rockwell, an army colonel in the 11th U.S. Calvary during World War I, was born in 1879 in Pennsylvania. In 1910 he married Marcia Lawrence, a descendant of Richard Smythe, and became a member of our town’s first family.

According to local historian Brad Harris, Rockwell was instrumental in creating the Village of the Branch. For a number of years he served as village clerk and also became involved in local politics.

In the introduction to “Colonel Rockwell’s Scrap-Book” written by Charlotte Adams Ganz, included was an excerpt from a letter Rockwell wrote to Mildred Smith, president of the Smithtown Historical Society in 1955. He wrote how his father-in-law Charles Embree Lawrence and Lawrence’s sister Anna Lawrence Brown kept thorough records of the Smith family.

Rockwell put together as much information as he could about the Caleb Smith II house that served as the historical society’s offices at the time and is now located next to the main branch of the Smithtown Library. According to Ganz’s introduction, Rockwell also studied the records of local churches, schools and businesses.

In his personal scrap-book, Rockwell tried to include any old photos he could find. Local historian Noel Gish said he has come across many books regarding local history through the years, however many of them can be a bit dry. He said with “Colonel Rockwell’s Scrap-Book” the use of photos added a bit of familiarity for local residents.

After Rockwell died in 1961, Ganz was gathering information about homes in the Head of the River area and taking updated photos of the forty plus structures that the Colonel had planned to include in his scrap-book. She wrote that she was then asked by Rockwell’s wife and the trustees of the historical society if she could finish his book.

When the scrap-book was completed, almost 100 structures built before 1845 were included. The book resembles a scenic tour of the township of Smithtown with short histories of dwellings, mills, churches and taverns. The sketch for each structure includes its historical significance, as well as a description and a list of owners.

Visitors to the Long Island Room in the Smithtown Library’s main branch can find a non-circulating copy of the scrap-book. Today, over forty years after it was published, “Colonel Rockwell’s Scrap-Book” continues to provide information on the rich history of Smithtown.

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