Early American Life, Volume 6 By Early American Society, April 1975, p. 4ff.
Historical Times, Inc, Cowles Magazines, Inc.

This Month's Weathervane

We are indebted to Jamie Pokorny, who recently spent a month as part of our EAS editorial staff on a brief internship in connection with her college studies, for the following story, which she wrote to describe her favorite weathervane: The South Haven, New York, weathervane is a 150-year-old replica of a trout, carved in cherry wood and measuring four feet by one foot.

Until very recently, Long Island was a sportsman's paradise. Farming was the principal source of livelihood, wildlife flourished in woodlands and meadows, and natives boasted that Long Island streams offered some of the best trout fishing in the Northeast.

One fishing enthusiast was Daniel Webster, American lawyer and statesman of the early 19th century. Along with friends Martin Van Buren, Philip Hone (New York businessman and mayor of the city in 1825), and John and Edward Stevens (New York inventors and engineers of steamboat and rail transportation fame), Webster often stayed in the village of South Haven at the tavern owned and operated by Samuel Carmen.

Carmen play an influential role in the village of South Haven. Besides the tavern, he owned a general store and several mills located on a river that today bears his name. Like most general stores of the early 1800's, Sam Carmen's stocked everything from thimbles and shoes to snuff and rum! His shop also doubled as post office and bank. Carmen's grist mills ground the local wheat and corn, and his sawmills cut into timber the pine and oak logs felled in nearby forests.

Since there were no public buildings in South Haven, Carmen's tavern gained prestige as a political center. Meetings and elections were held there, and because the weekly stagecoach from Brooklyn to Sag Harbor made a scheduled stop at the tavern, it became a center for the dissemination of news.

On a Sunday morning in 1823, Daniel Webster was attending morning service at the South Haven Presbyterian Church located very near to Carmen's River. Webster had been trying vainly for several days to hook a giant trout said to inhabit the river. The sermon had hardly begun when one of Carmen's employees, who had been posted to watch for the fish, tiptoed into the church and whispered in Webster's ear. Webster followed the man out and headed for a small pool in the stream. Sam Carmen, unable to contain his curiosity, soon left the church, followed by several small boys. More and more of the congregation drifted out, for the "big fish" was a local legend. The Reverend "Priest" King eventually cut short his sermon, gave the benediction, and himself sped to the mill pond!

Daniel Webster was successful, and hooked a 14½-pound trout that, until 1935, was the second largest trout ever caught in America. A record of the fish was made by a tracing of its outline on the wall of Carmen's house. Webster, while celebrating his success, is said to have drunk too much of Carmen's rum and was carried upstairs by the proprietor. It is a fact that Webster later sent Carmen one hundred dollars and returned often to fish.

The trout was taken to the famous Delmonico's restaurant in New York City and provided the main course for a banquet given by Webster for his friends.

To apologize for disrupting Sunday service, and to leave a reminder of Webster's feat, Philip Hone ordered a weathervane carved in the exact likeness of the trout, but one-third larger. It was gilded and erected on the steeple of the South Haven church.

A few years later, Webster and his friends formed a fishing group. Among its members through the years have been many wealthy and influential men, including Theodore RooseveltFootnote.  They rented land and fishing privileges from Sam Carmen and became known The Suffolk Club, "widely recognized as the wealthiest club of its size in the world ." A pew with a metal plate inscribed "Suffolk Club" remains in the church today.

In 1873 the church steeple was struck by lightning and the vane came down. It was replaced by a more permanent vane. Webster's trout is now located in the pastor's home.

In 1960 the South Haven Church was moved a few miles to the small hamlet of Brookhaven. The structure, though, hasn't changed much since the early 1800's and the story of Daniel Webster and his trout is still a popular one in the area.