The Intriguing History of Mills House

One of the intriguing points about the Mills house was the existence of a hidden staircase.Since the underground Railroad was not active in Smithtown (slaves escaped north into Canada, and eastern Long Island was not a good route), there are two possibilities. The staircase might have been needed because of smuggling, which was rife in nineteenth century Smithtown. A less romantic but more probable theory is that these were ?back stairs? ?servants? stairs? which were eventually walled off to permit more efficient heating of the home. That the staircase then appeared to be a secret one would have been fortuitous.

A second intriguing factor was the discovery of a child’s tombstone under the front steps of the house. In the early 60s, when these steps needed repair, the Juniorate boys who tore them down found a tiny stone engraved with the name of Charlotte Gould, aged two months, who had died in December, 1863. Again, the probable explanation involves little drama. When constructing outdoor staircases, early builders discouraged termites by placing a piece of dressed stone against the foundation. It had become customary to steal a tombstone for the purpose, usually one found at some distance from home, for no one wanted trouble with his neighbors. In this case, however, the stone may have been found nearby, for Charlottes parents, Deborah and Samuel Gould, were also descendants of Richard Smith.

Extending Beyond the Boundaries of Mills House

Just beyond the original eastern boundary of the property, a few feet beyond the outdoor basketball courts, was a tiny graveyard containing the tombstones of seven members of the Vail family, who were also among Richard Smiths descendants. This portion of the property was added to the St. Anthonys campus when the town wished to extend and improve Landing Avenue. For this reason, a parcel of land was taken from the Brothers by eminent domain, and the former Vail property was given in exchange. Family cemeteries, however, were seldom included when land was sold, and this one was no exception. Necessarily, the cemetery remained an incongruous part of the campus, providing a place to initiate newcomers to the Juniorate, who were sent in the dead of the night, on Halloween, to place a flower on one of the graves. Eventually, arrangements were made with Ms. Anne Blydenburgh, whose mother had been a Vail, to remove the stones to the family plot in the Presbyterian cemetery near the Smithtown library, and to integrate the tiny plot with the remainder of the campus.

Originally, the slope that begins behind the Administration building extended to what is now the Smithtown Landing Health Spa. During the 60s, however, the land was filled and leveled to create the Cy Donnelly football field, the track, and the Archie DiMarco baseball field. If the very contour of the land has changed, it is obvious that buildings have been altered or torn down and replaced. When the brick building constituted the entire school, the south end of the top floor (in 1983, the Guidance complex) was the boys dormitory, while the north end (now the English Department office) was the chaplains quarters. All the rooms along that hall, offices now, were then Brothers bedrooms.

Only the chapel, named Our Lady of the Angels after the first chapel used by St. Francis and his earliest followers, was then what it is now, and its entire interior appearance has, of course, been changed in response to Vatican II. Probably every room in the building has served some other purpose during the past fifty years, and perhaps has also changed size and shape, for it is always necessary to explore during the first week of the school year to learn what has been moved or altered.

A barn once stood near the northern extremity of the property, for the Mills family had farmed the land and had owned cows. As this building deteriorated, the Juniorate boys repaired it to use it as a basketball court, though it was too small, and had low beams to interfere with shooting or passing as well as an uncertain floorboard or two to complicate running and dribbling.

In addition to the grotto to the south of the Administration building, there was a rose garden behind the Mills house. The former was the domain of the Juniorate boys, who enjoyed a lovely sunken garden near Marys shrine, as well as a tiny pool with a simple fountain, long dry and concealed by grass and dirt, but recently uncovered again.

Fire Breaks Out in the Historic Old Mills House

On two occasions, fire has destroyed some part of the buildings. Just before noon on April 30, 1970, fire broke out in the historic old Mills house, by then a friary for part of the faculty. Despite the efforts of over 100 firemen, some from as far as Nesconset, the house was destroyed. Classes were distracted from such mundane topics as Math and English, and the boys spent their free periods on the horseshoe drive in front of the brick building, watching the excitement from a safe distance. For weeks after, until the close of the school year, the eight Brothers who had occupied the building slept in the classrooms or the nurses office. About eighteen months later, a new building, housing ten Brothers, was ready for occupancy. Officially named Padua Friary, its color caused it to be called the black Friary. Since it stands on the site of the Mills house, it was known also, for the first few years, as Phoenix House.

A less disastrous fire destroyed the Earth Science Lab on July 23, 1983. Although repair work was begun immediately on both the lab and the adjoining office (the Assistant Principals office), neither was ready for the opening of school in September. That the Attendance Office had been moved, as planned, to the foyer of the gymnasium prevented much confusion, for it had previously been part of the Assistant Principals office, but the Freshmen suffered endless confusion during their first month of school, trying to find their Earth Science class in a different room every day