After serving a a key setting for George Washington’s Long Island spy ring during the Revolutionary War, the Roe Tavern building is set to be sold to Brookhaven Town and moved back to near its original spot in East Setauket for preservation.
Out-distancing Paul Revere
A member of the Culper Spy Ring, Austin Roe risked life and limb riding thousands of miles on horseback between New York City and Setauket during the Revolutionary War to relay secret messages that informed George Washington’s soldiers about British troop movements on Long Island.
Designated Agent 724 in the secret spy code book (this story just keeps getting cooler), Roe was also the owner of the aptly named Roe’s Tavern, where locals gathered, imbibed and loosened their lips.
Having done his job after the good guys won the war, Roe sold his tavern in Setauket and moved to Patchogue to open the Roe Eagle Hotel, where he told old war stories until he died in 1830, at 82.
Washington slept here
Well before that, General George Washington decided to take a trip out east to survey the damage the Brits had wrought on Long Island, and show appreciation for the spies who had done so much for the Revolution.
On April 22, 1790, Washington rested his head at Roe Tavern in Setauket during the thank-you tour.
In the following years, the old tavern building was relocated in East Setauket and the original site was designated with a historic marker at 325 Main Street.
Luckily for us, the tavern house eventually ended up in the hands of Arthur Billadello, a local Revolutionary War re-enactor and member of the Three Village Historical Society who lives and works there in his tricorn hat.
A complex history of ownership
Originally, the Roe Tavern was built by Selah Strong in 1703. After Strong died, the home was passed on to his son Thomas. Then, Strong the younger sold the property to the Woodhull family, who then — according to Brookhaven Town — sold it to Roe, who converted it to a tavern.
Around 1936, according to an article in Newsday, the tavern was relocated by then-owner Wallace Irwin because he thought he would lose his tavern when Route 25A was widened for vehicle traffic. (Anyone who has sat at a red light on Route 25A knows how that story ends up.)
Billadello has owned the home for the past 25 years.
Today, the house is off of Old post Road, nestled on a hill down a private drive about half-mile from the proposed location.
A town preserving history
During a July 21 Brookhaven Town Board meeting, officials unanimously approved a $800,000 (the appraised value of the home) price to purchase the Roe Tavern structure from Billadello with plans to move it to town-owned land on the north side of Main Street, between Shore Road and Deering Street, which is very close to the original location of the tavern. (That land is now in private hands.)
During the meeting, Brookhaven Town Councilman Jonathan Kornreich stressed the importance of the tavern.
“After the Revolutionary War ended, General Washington returned to Setauket to thank the members of his spy ring and when he stayed in Setauket … he stayed in this very building,” said Kornreich.
The plan is for Billadello, a history lecturer, to continue to live in the house with his family and fittingly serve as caretaker and an in-house guide for when the space is opened for tours.
The town is using grant money to complete the purchase.
Top: The Roe Tavern building as it stands in East Setauket in 2021. (Town of Brookhaven Historian’s Office courtesy photo)