Friday, September 25, 2009

"The Oldest English Settlement in New York State"


The sign that greets visitors to the village of Southampton, located at the top of our road, states proudly that Southampton was established in 1640 and is the oldest English settlement in New York State. (Chris, of course, takes some proprietary satisfaction in this.) For me, I never pass that sign without a little jolt of amazement.


I make jokes to guests that back in California, if a structure is 50 years old, we knock it down (or an earthquake does the job for us) and build new. So when I first came out to the East End in 1992, I couldn't get over the sheer volume of history made visible that existed here. One example: Built in 1648, Halsey House on South Main Street is the oldest house in Southampton, and in season, you can tour it. Careful preservation and conservation by the Southampton Historical Society has meant that when shingles, roof, or windows on the house have to be replaced, they are made and installed to period specifications. To a much lesser degree, A Butler's Manor -- built in the relatively recent year of 1860 -- is designated a historic structure, which prevents us from altering the exterior of the house in any substantial way. (Fortunately we are free to update interior fixtures such as plumbing and electric!) When we had the house repainted a couple of years back, we had to clear it with the architectural review board.


Though the East End has lost some of its farmland...wealthy Wall Streeters have built some sprawling Mc Mansions where once potatoes grew... I am still pleased to note that others make every effort to preserve and rebuild some of our more historic structures. A case in point is the rebuilding of the old Presbyterian Manse on South Main Street. In Spring, they began demolition down to the studs inside, which apparently precipitates the difficult and costly process of lifting the house. Using massive steel beams and pillars made of stacked railroad ties, they raised the house up about six feet above grade in order to excavate a full basement beneath and pour all new foundations. Seeing a house that is probably 6,000 square feet lifted in one piece, and balanced there for a few weeks while brave souls work beneath it, is an amazing sight! The picture here shows the house, recently set back down and attached to its new foundation. Now they can reframe the interior walls, insulate and reshingle. And when the project is complete, the neighborhood will look...exactly as it always has. I love that. That continuity, that preserving a sense of place, is a special thing about the community that I have come to value.


Quote of the Day: Therefore, when we build, let us think that we build forever...For indeed, the greatest glory of a building is not in its stones, nor in its gold. Its glory is in its Age, and in that deep sense of voicefulness, of stern watching which we feel in walls that have long been washed by the passing waves of humanity. ---John Ruskin

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