Where is Centerville, Anyway?
Where is Centerville, Anyway?

When I was just a child in Mattituck, I wished every day that small town life would be a movie, preferably a Western movie, with real gunslingers and women hiding behind chiffon curtains and real heroes and honest bad guys and a sort of moral certitude that the real world lacked.

Back in those days, I would sit on the front doorstep of the Canterbury Tales bookstore on Love Lane, which was near where Cecily’s Gallery is now, wearing a poncho and a cowboy hat, blowing “Red River Valley” on a harmonica and basically just confusing the heck out of the old-timers on their way to the post office or to the Village Market for coffee.

I heard, sometime around then, that famous people spent time in the Hamptons. It was like Hollywood, only it was near Mattituck. Bill Clinton even spent time there and he was the President then. I didn’t really believe in it. Love Lane was as fake-real as my world could get.

When I was growed, after ten years working in Sag Harbor, well, I just got bored of looking at all the ugly celebrity mugs you see every day. I’ve almost run down Paul Simon while driving on Main Street and I’ve been laughed at by Jerry Seinfeld when I fell off my son’s bike in the middle of the crosswalk (that wasn’t very nice). I’ve given Alec Baldwin directions to the dry cleaners and barrelled into Billy Joel while racing down the sidewalk on the way to a Planning Board scoop (this happened more times than I care to recall). All that stuff is just not very interesting.

•   •   •   •   •

So now here I am, back in Riverhead, which has suddenly become some sort of film destination. Forgive me for yawning. I know this is cool…er…sort of cool. People keep telling me I should think this is good for Riverhead. It puts us on the map, they say.

They were saying this a lot last week when Jodi Foster came to town to shoot an episode of “Orange is the New Black.”

All I could do was mumble.

Yeah, it’s great that Riverhead is now seen as a stellar place to film a series about a women’s prison. I think that will be just dandy and swell for Riverhead’s reputation. Really, I do.

I was lucky enough to see “Inside Llewyn Davis” out in East Hampton a few weeks ago, because it wasn’t playing anywhere near Riverhead. Part of “Inside Llewyn Davis” was shot in Riverhead, but that’s not why I went to see it. I went to see it because I secretly wish I was an unknown folk singer. That’s where all the fun is at. Once the fame comes, all you can do is act really cynical and say cryptic things, because if you don’t, well, you’ll end up just like Phil Ochs. And things didn’t end so well for him.

Now, back when the Coen Brothers were filming “Inside Llewyn Davis” in a small brick building that was dressed up for the film like a gas station, way up in the farm fields off of Route 105, everyone was telling me this movie would put Riverhead on the map.

Turns out, the scene in the film lasts about one minute, while our anti-hero, Llewyn Davis, is heading out to Chicago to seek out a club owner whom he hopes will give him his big break. The gas station is a rest stop in some nameless place somewhere along the cross-country highway. John Goodman gets out of the car there and goes in to use the bathroom. Then he comes back and gets in the car and they drive off again. That’s it.

•   •   •   •   •

That little brick building is in the middle of a place called Centerville. I know, I know, you’ve never heard of Centerville. That’s ok. That’s the problem with being a Young around here. You remember all sorts of things that just don’t mean anything anymore.

Centerville is west of Northville but east of Calverton. It is still a real place because the highway sign on Route 105 says so. Back in the olden times, it was just a way of letting people know you were talking about “that place west of Northville but east of Calverton.” If we were Native Americans, we’d probably have had a better name for Centerville, but we were English, so that’s the best we could do.

Centerville is also the place you go to buy a Briermere pie.

Last week, I got a chance to ask Richard Wines, who knows just about everything about Riverhead history, just what Centerville was all about. Here’s what he had to say:

“Centerville was sort of a place in the 19th century. One of my grandmothers, Henrietta Terry (who married Herbert Wells) lived there and used it in her diary. That diary was the basis of the wedding exhibit at Hallockville last year. The one surviving Centerville artifact is the Centerville Chapel, now a private home. It is a little west of Willow Ponds. My Terry ancestors donated half the property for that building.”

•   •   •   •   •

I drove up and down Sound Avenue for a while this week, wondering about my ancestors (I think Richard Wines and I have some common ancestors, though we’ve never done the research), and whether they’d been married in the chapel, but I couldn’t find the place and that’s just as well. It belongs to someone else now and it’s time to move on.

So there you have it, the Riverhead area has now become a prime filming locale for a place that means anywhere, everywhere and nowhere, all at once. Pretty powerful stuff. It’s not quite “Meet Me In Montauk,” but yeah, um, it’s powerful stuff.

In fact, I think I’ve seen it all before, perhaps, in a Frank Zappa movie. “200 Motels” wasn’t filmed in Riverhead, but it might as well have been. This town has gotta mean more than all of that.



Beth Young
Beth Young is an award-winning local journalist who has been covering the East End since the 1990s. She began her career at the Sag Harbor Express and, after receiving her Masters from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, has reported for the Southampton Press, the East Hampton Press and the Times/Review Media Group. She founded the East End Beacon website in 2013, and a print edition in 2017. Beth was born and raised on the North Fork. In her spare time, she tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

2 thoughts on “Centerville….A Real Nice Place to Raise Your Kids Up?

  1. There’s a Centerville NY in Western NY. If my calculations are correct, that 105 Sign is pointing right at it. Savvy Surveying I’d say.

    Glad to see you followed up your mumbling with such nice prose; wonderful.

  2. Beth, You probably didn’t know this, but your father and I – way back in the late 70’s – were enamored of that little Centerville Chapel, and it was on the market and we were dreaming of buying it to raise our family in – but it was too small – and impractical -I am really glad now, because a development grew up behind it.
    Tis a small world. Mom

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