There's a tiny hidden treasure tucked away in Cutchogue – a brand-new store bursting with unique and handmade gifts just waiting to be tucked under the tree this Christmas.
For the first time, the opened the doors this month of the 19th century Carriage House, located on the Village Green, as a holiday gift shop. Inside, volunteers will welcome visitors on Sunday and next weekend, from 12 to 5 p.m., offering a glimpse into an everything-Cutchogue Christmas. All proceeds benefit the historical council.
The shop offers handmade gifts and one-of-a-kind treasures from yesteryear that have been painted and spruced up as holiday ornaments and gifts, as well as newly crafted handmade items. Historical council trustee Janet Healy has lovingly hand-painted ornaments depicting the Old House, one of Cutchogue's most noteworthy sites. Built in 1649 in Southold, the house was moved to Cutchogue in 1660. Restored in 1940, it was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1962 – and stands today as a testament to Cutchogue's rich past.
Or, for a gift sure to delight, volunteer Emily Victoria donated her Aunt Edie's antique milk plates, which Healy lovingly painted. The plates, said Victoria, came from Aunt Edie's pantry, where just about everything was stored.
Volunteers rummaged through attics chock full of memories, and unearthed gift ideas such as a handmade stocking – crafted by Victoria's mother, who would have been 105 today.
The gifts on display resonate of beloved holidays past for the steady stream of customers who've happened upon the secret gem, located right in the heart of Cutchogue's historic hamlet.
Denise Markut, browsing through the colorful array of ornaments and stocking stuffers on Saturday, said the shop speaks to her sense of historic value.
"Some of these gifts are coming straight out of their attics," she said. "And they're refurbishing them."
Recycling and adaptive reuse is something Markut, an organic farmer for years, embraces.
"We're all going green this year," she said. "For the first time, it feels like the consciousness has been raised. It's great."
Markut said she believes the American public is turning away from large-scale commercialism and instead is beginning to re-use and recycle.
The Carriage House also offers a wide array of hand-crafted gift ideas created in Cutchogue. Birds and fish carved and painted by local artist Paul Gillen are displayed in bright colors. Also a favorite among customers are Gillen's handmade Nantucket Lightship baskets — in catalogues, similar products sell for $90; at the Cutchogue Gift Shop, they're offered for $30. Back in days gone by, the baskets were crafted by sailors and used as navigational tools. Gillen's North Fork baskets, a steal at $10, are another hot homespun holiday item. The shop promotes the whole concept of shopping locally and supporting area artisans and craftsmen – homemade ornaments, jams and salve are also perfect stocking stuffers.
On display for shoppers is a handmade 1920 Christmas village donated to the historical council by Paul Silansky and Joan Nugent of Cutchogue.
"It really belongs here," said Healy.
Prices at the shop are affordable – ranging from $1 or $2 and up for ornaments. A raffle is currently taking place for a chocolate house – also made in Cutchogue. Shoppers this weekend who spend $10 receive a free pickle ornament – according to German tradition, the pickle should be the last ornament placed on the tree. Legend has it that the child who found the pickle on Christmas would be blessed with a year of good luck.
During the year, the Carriage House serves as the historical council's information center, gift shop and starting point for guided tours. On display year round are historic artifacts and a model of the U.S.S. Holland, the Navy's first practical submarine that underwent trials off New Suffolk from 1899 to 1905.
The mission of the historical council, said Healy, "is to promote historical research, preserve and restore historical landmarks — and to acquire objects of historical interest."
The Cutchogue Village Green and the Old Burying Ground are owned and maintained by the Cutchogue-New Suffolk Historical Council, a non-profit, tax exempt organization.
The idea for a Christmas shop was born after Healy told historical council Director Zach Studenroth that she'd love to bring some historic heart to the holiday season. Studenroth, as well as volunteers, including Victoria and Jody Gillen, embraced the project and a new tradition was born.
"We'll do it again next year," said Healy.
For more information, call 631-734-2608.