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Southampton Town moves to preserve the property where a freed slave once lived

Southampton historic figure Pyrrhus Concer once lived in

Southampton historic figure Pyrrhus Concer once lived in this house at 51 Pond Lane, seen on Monday, March 10, 2014. Credit: Gordon M. Grant

Southampton Town officials have voted to preserve the Southampton Village property where developers last year demolished the 19th-century home of Pyrrhus Concer, a freed slave, whaler and ferryman who was a prominent figure in the community.

Town board members voted 5-0 at a meeting Tuesday to buy the now-vacant property at 51 Pond Lane for $4.3 million, almost a year after a Brooklyn couple razed the house then put the property on the market for $5 million as a potential site for a 5,700-square-foot house.

Southampton Village officials plan to reconstruct a replica of Concer's homestead using materials salvaged in the demolition. Historic preservation activists are exploring forming a nonprofit to operate the site as a museum honoring Concer.

African-American leaders and preservationists, who had fought a losing two-year battle to save the home before it was demolished, applauded after town board members cast their votes Tuesday.

"The history of African-Americans in this country is complex, complicated, painful, difficult and not completely understood," Georgette Grier-Key, director of the Eastville Community Historical Society in Sag Harbor, said at the meeting. "This could be a teaching moment not only for local, regional and state history, but also a teaching moment for global history."

Brenda Simmons, director of the Southampton African American Museum, said it's fitting that the preservation is moving forward as the town marks its 375th anniversary this year.

"Three hundred seventy-five years ago, we as African-Americans didn't have much to celebrate," Simmons said. "Over the years, so much of our history has been erased and fictionalized. But Pyrrhus Concer's contribution to this world is a reality that we all cannot ignore and overlook."

Concer's life story was largely forgotten until a debate over razing his house erupted in 2013. Born in Southampton in 1814 and freed from slavery when he was 21, he went on to live an adventurous life as a whaler. Historians believe he was the first African-American to travel to Japan.

Concer eventually returned to Southampton and operated a ferry across Lake Agawam, located across the street from his home. A group of village residents formed a nonprofit and revived the ferry last year.

Southampton officials are tapping the town's community preservation fund, which is maintained through a special tax on real estate transfers, to buy the .82-acre site. Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst called the purchase "a happy example of how government can act in a positive manner."

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