Above: The historic Adelaide DeMenil and Edmund Carpenter homes before they were converted into the current East Hampton Town Hall. (Photo courtesy of SPLIA.)
By Claire Walla
The Society for the Preservation of Long Island Antiquities (SPLIA) semi-annually awards projects and local efforts to boost preservation in both Nassau and Suffolk counties. And this year, while pouring over the various preservation projects that came to fruition here on Long Island in 2011, SPLIA’s Director of Preservation Services Alexandra Wolfe said two projects from the East End stood out.
On Sunday, April 22, both East Hampton and Southampton towns will be recognized for their efforts to preserve history here on the East End.
SPLIA is honoring the architectural firm Robert A.M. Stern for its efforts to restore the Adelaide DeMenil and Edmund Carpenter houses and turn them into the new East Hampton Town Hall facilities.
“East Hampton got a lot of flack about the funding for the project,” Wolfe admitted. (The overall cost of the project was about $6 million.) “But, the bottom line is that it really is a beautiful project. These buildings were incorporated into a complex arrangement, which speaks to the history of East Hampton and serves a very important function.”
The project incorporated two, two-story homes, which now serve as town hall offices, and two old barns (all buildings dating back to the 18th and 19th centuries), which now serve as town meeting spaces. The buildings’ exteriors remained intact, while their interiors were modified to accommodate the current uses.
“By recognizing their good work, the hope is that it will influence the town at large to incorporate preservation into its larger policies,” said Wolfe, like in Southampton, where SPLIA recognition is being paid to the town-wide effort to promote preservation, rather than a specific entity.
“It can be a project, an organization or an individual,” Wolfe clarified. “It’s really about who comes forward and does good work.”
One big effort that came to the forefront of discussions was the efforts of the town’s advisory Landmarks and Historic Districts Board, led by Sally Spanburgh who also works at the Bridgehampton Historical Society, to update town code as it pertains to demolition permits. Now, the building department is required to run proposed demolitions by the Landmarks and Historic Districts Board before buildings are torn down.
But the other big change came from Zach Studenroth, who was hired last year as the town historian. He had been working as a consultant for the town since 2006, but last year his efforts to preserve the town’s historic burial grounds made a lot of headway.
“There are tombs here from as early as the 1680s,” Studenroth exclaimed. “And these carved stones are out in the open, unprotected.”
Studenroth was able to organize a slew of volunteers to help clean some of the headstones in the 10 cemeteries (of 40) actually governed by the town. He estimated there must be about 2,500 headstones that need to be maintained. He said a lot of restoration work still needs to be done.
“Some of the stones have toppled over and are broken,” he said. “We realize that the scope of the work far exceeds the resources of the town.”
He has been reaching out to local civic associations to help with the effort, and said that so far North Sea has gathered residents to clean up the cemetery there, realigning headstones and trimming some of the trees.
“The next stage is raising funds to hire professionals to realign some of the more heavy stones,” Studenroth added.
Wolfe explained that Southampton Town is also being recognized for the fact that it managed to involve the community in this effort to preserve local history, but also the creative steps it took to provide information to the public.
Working in conjunction with the Town Clerk’s office, Studenroth ultimately helped to create a searchable database online, providing the names of those who have been buried in Southampton Town and the locations and conditions of their tombstones.
Ultimately, Wolfe said Southampton Town is being recognized for “its creative approach” to preservation.
“It’s an initiative that has a much larger application,” she said.
This Sunday, Southampton and East Hampton towns are being recognized at SPLIA’s headquarters in Cold Springs Harbor, during a ceremony at 3 p.m.
Other award winners include The Seatuck Environmental Association, for its dedication to preserving “Wereholme,” the former Scully Estate, for use by the Suffolk County Environmental Center. And the Aquinas Honor Society of the Immaculate Conception School in Jamaica Estates, Queens for their ongoing efforts to report on local history.