Demolition of historic Southampton home delayed

The home at 51 Pond Lane in Southampton The home at 51 Pond Lane in Southampton Village, believed to be the former home of Pyrrhus Concer, a slave born in Southampton in 1814. (Sept. 26, 2013) Photo Credit: Gordon M. Grant

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Southampton's architectural review board has again delayed demolition of a house once owned by a former slave after preservationists presented evidence that the property dates to the 19th century.

A report by village historical consultant Zachary Studenroth said that an inspection of the interior, which was allowed by the owners, showed evidence that a portion of Pyrrhus Concer's home dated from the 1840s to 1850s, including structural framing with characteristic saw marks and floor boards.

"It appears on the basis of this preliminary assessment there is reason to conclude that the house at #51 Pond Lane was originally built in the mid-19th century," stated the report, presented Wednesday at a meeting of the Southampton Village Board of Historic Preservation and Architectural Review.

The report also added that its present size and architecture are the result of numerous alterations and additions to the original dwelling. The board delayed a decision on the demolition at least until November.

Concer, who was sold into slavery at age 5 and freed when he was 21, later became a prominent resident of the village. He operated a ferry on Lake Agawam and is believed to be the first African-American to visit Japan in 1845. His house, in the heart of Southampton Village, has become a rallying cry for historic preservationists and black leaders on the East End, who say too much of black history has been destroyed on Long Island.

Sally Spanburgh, a Southampton preservationist, submitted deeds and probate records at the meeting. One of the documents includes the word "homestead," which she said is key.

"It proves that he didn't just own the property, he lived there," Spanburgh said, noting that the original north end of the structure survives.

Nevertheless, David Gilmartin Jr., who represents owners David Hermer and Silvia Campo, said the couple still wants the property demolished to make way for a two-story house. He added that after the demolition permit is issued, "anyone can come in to take any material they want that they deem important."

If the architectural review board blocks demolition, it would be akin to illegally taking the land, Gilmartin said.

About 30 people attended the meeting at Southampton Village Hall, with some speakers passionately objecting to demolishing the house.

Georgette Grier-Key, director of the Eastville Community Historical Society in Sag Harbor, said volunteers have "taken hours out to do a scavenger hunt." She asked what further proof owners needed that Concer lived there. "Do they want a picture of him in his pajamas, in his bed?"

Ceal Havemeyer, of Southampton, said at the least that there should be more study done of the house and an independent historical consultant brought in, while other supporters suggested moving a portion of it to another location.

Gilmartin, whose clients paid $2.75 million for the house earlier this year, put another option on the table.

"They would readily sell the property to anyone willing to buy it," he said.

CORRECTION:

Georgette Grier-Key, director of the Eastville Community Historical Society, questioned what further proof was needed that former slave Pyrrhus Concer lived in the Southampton house that its new owners want demolished. A quote Friday was incorrectly attributed to someone else.

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