Southampton plan for Neptune as black history museum cheered
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Southampton's plan to turn a longtime beach club hot spot into a museum dedicated to its history as the second Coast Guard station staffed by black service members was met with applause -- and surprise -- by local members of the historical society.
"It's very exciting," said Brenda Simmons, chairwoman of the African American Museum of the East End.
Before the resolution passed Tuesday night, she had not heard of the Tiana Life Saving Station, which was staffed by black members during World War II.
The town board voted to purchase the former Neptune Beach Club and 2.78 acres for $3.2 million. It also voted to spend up to $1.2 million to rehab the building as a museum and build a boardwalk to the adjacent Tiana Activity Center, another former nightclub the town bought in 2004.
Steve Kenny, a former Southampton councilman from 2000 to 2007, said: "I'm thrilled. I think it's a fabulous thing for them to do."
In the 2000s, the town had tried to purchase Neptune Beach Club.
"The club became problematic for residents of the beach at that location," he said. "It drains a lot of town resources in the summertime."
He said that over the past two decades in Southampton "the nightclub scene has dissipated and disappeared. Clearly, the demographics have evolved into an older community."
He said the Tiana station -- which was ordered to have its tower torn down by the town when it was moved back from the beach in the 1990s -- is one of only two lifesaving stations left in Southampton.
The other station, in Quogue, is a house. Kenny said the Amagansett U.S. Life-Saving & Coast Guard Station should be the model.
The original Tiana Life Saving Station was built in 1871, according to U.S. Coast Guard history. In 1912 the station was rebuilt to replace the "decayed and antiquated buildings." In 1937 it was deactivated, but it was reactivated during World War II. It was staffed by a black crew and commanded by Chief Petty Officer CBM Cecil R. Foster, from 1942 to 1946.
It was the second black commanded and staffed station that was established along the U.S. Coast during World War II. The military branches were concerned about integrated crews on ships, said William Thiesen, a historian with the U.S. Coast Guard. The first and best-known black lifesaving station was on Pea Island, in North Carolina.
Thiesen said the United States established hundreds of stations along the coast in 1942 to patrol for enemy activities after a crew of German saboteurs was spotted near the Amagansett lifesaving station on Long Island.
Simmons said she had viewed the photos online and was trying to get more information on the station.
"Records have never been kept properly for African-American communities," she said.