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Southampton rejects tearing down Pyrrhus Concer house

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) Credit: Gordon M. Grant

A Southampton Village board has rejected a request to demolish a house that was once the home of a 19th century slave who became a prominent resident of the community.

Preservationists and black leaders who wanted to save Pyrrhus Concer's house applauded Wednesday night's vote, but said they expected a lawsuit from the house's owners, who bought it this year for $2.75 million.

"I'm elated but I'm also saddened," said Georgette Grier-Key, director of the Eastville Community Historical Society. "I know it's not going to be the end."

The village's Board of Architectural Review and Historic Preservation voted 3 to 1 to reject the application to demolish the house, at 51 Pond Lane, to make way for a two-story home. Board member Christina Redding cast the dissenting vote. Board member Esther Paster was not present.

"The board's decision is outrageous and it was improperly swayed by public pressure," said David Gilmartin, attorney for house owners David Hermer and Silvia Campo. The board did not follow village code and he will appeal to a Supreme Court judge, Gilmartin wrote in an email Wednesday night.

An anchor and plaque at Lake Agawam Park points to the white house as Concer's. But it escaped designation during a 1979 village survey, and an update in 1989. Another review of the demolition permit in January 2013, gave a preliminary go-ahead to tearing down the building.

The house falls within the village's historic district, which gives the board jurisdiction over approving any demolition permit, according to the board's written decision.

Concer, who was sold into slavery at age 5 and freed when he was 21, later became a prominent resident of the village. He is believed to be the first African-American to visit Japan in 1845 and later operated a ferry on Lake Agawam.

Historic preservations think the building was Concer's homestead since at least 1852. He owned it until he died in 1897.

Sally Spanburgh, a village historian, said she wanted the owners to agree to further study of the house's history. She said further proof of its historical significance would help proponents put together an offer to purchase the house.

Grier-Key said proponents of saving the house were trying to raise money from the town and county preservation funds as well as from private sources.

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