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Couple demolishes historic slave home, then backs out of plan to build on East End site

A photo taken on March 10, 2014, shows

A photo taken on March 10, 2014, shows the former home of famous Southampton resident Pyrrhus Concer, on Pond Lane in Southampton, before it was demolished. Photo Credit: Gordon M. Grant

will.james@newsday.com - A Brooklyn couple who demolished the 19th century home of freed slave and Southampton Village historic figure Pyrrhus Concer has decided to sell the property rather than build a house on it as planned.

David Hermer and Silvia Campo's decision to abandon the property three months after razing the homestead angered historians and black leaders, who fought a losing two-year battle to save the structure.

"It really is a slap in the face," said Georgette Grier-Key, director of the Eastville Community Historical Society in Sag Harbor.

"They basically muscled their way around, I feel, to get the desired outcome that they have," she said of Hermer and Campo. "It's just shocking that they demolished American history for profit."

David Gilmartin, a Water Mill-based attorney for the couple, said they had no comment.

The 51 Pond Lane property was listed for sale for $5 million on Nov. 27. Hermer and Campo bought the 0.82-acre site for $2.75 million in 2013. An online listing for the property states that "all permits are in place" for a 5,700-square-foot house, pool and guesthouse to be built on the site.

Campo and Hermer wrote to the Southampton Village building inspector on Dec. 15 reporting "they're not going to go forward with the project" to build the two-story house, said village administrator Stephen Funsch.

The village board voted Jan. 8 to refund $18,750 in building-permit fees to the couple.

Concer's former homestead had become a rallying point for preservationists, who said too much African-American history on Long Island had been destroyed.

The house was torn down in August after preservationists were allowed to remove beams and other historic parts of the home that are to be used in constructing a replica of the building. Hermer and Campo had agreed to allow a plaque to be placed on the property commemorating Concer.

Concer, born in 1814 and freed from slavery when he was 21, led an adventurous life as a whaler and became a prominent figure in Southampton.

Historians believe he was the first African-American to travel to Japan, where he was aboard a ship that dropped off a group of stranded Japanese sailors in 1845, and that he later operated a ferry across Lake Agawam in Southampton. His headstone in the village cemetery reads: "Though born a slave, he possessed virtues without which kings are but slaves."

Hermer and Campo last spring sued Southampton Village for $10 million after the Board of Historic Preservation & Architectural Review denied their application to demolish the house, which was located in a historic district but lacked landmark status.

Village officials in May agreed to allow the owners to raze the structure after gaining permission to have a contractor remove pieces thought to date to Concer's life in the 19th century. Southampton officials have not settled on a site to build a reproduction, Funsch said.

Grier-Key questioned why the village refunded the owners' permit fees and said the money should have gone toward the replica. Funsch said the fees "cover the cost of the building inspector to make sure the building is built properly" and shouldn't be used for other purposes.

Southampton Village Mayor Mark Epley did not return a call seeking comment.

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