By Kathryn G. Menu
Long before Anna and Daniel Mulvihill purchased what would become known in the Mulvihill family as “The Farm” off Brick Kiln Road in 1921, a native cherry tree had taken root in front of the home.
“By the time I played here in their front yard, the tree was huge, strong, solid and like one of the family,” said Anna and Daniel’s granddaughter, Mary Ann Mulvihill-Decker, last Friday. “My cousins, sisters and I all played up in its labyrinth of thick branches.”
Ms. Mulvihill-Decker spoke these words at a rededication of the Anna and Daniel Mulvihill Preserve on Friday, shortly before she joined three generations of family members in planting a new cherry tree in the same location the old tree once stood. The new tree was dedicated in memory of the late Dolores Zebrowski (the daughter of Anna and Daniel Mulvihill), and was nourished with water from a holy well in Ireland where her great grandfather, Patrick Mulvihill, was born.
Friday’s rededication ceremony celebrated Ms. Zebrowski’s efforts to preserve 85 acres of land off Brick Kiln Road—land that was home to generations of her family. Ms. Zebrowksi worked with Southampton Town and the Peconic Land Trust to establish the original 75-acre preserve and, according to family members, worked tirelessly until her death in October 2012 to preserve the remaining acreage as well as the Mulvihill farmhouse, which is now a historic landmark. In December 2013, the house and remaining 10 acres of land were purchased by the town through the Community Preservation Fund.
Ms. Zebrowski’s dedication to conservation was matched by her brother, William P. Mulvihill, who preserved 34 acres adjacent to the Anna and Daniel Mulvihill Preserve in the Great Swamp in 2006.
The 300-acre Great Swamp is bounded by Brick Kiln Road, the Bridgehampton Turnpike and Scuttlehole Road, linked to the Long Pond Greenbelt and a part of the Peconic Bioreserve. Centered on the Bridgehampton moraine, according to research gathered by William Mulvihill and fellow conservationists, the Great Swamp contains a host of vernal ponds and freshwater wetlands, untouched stretches of red maple-hardwood swamp and pitch pine oak and mixed mesophytic forests, providing a sanctuary for a number of animal and plant species, allowed to grow wild under the stewardship of the Mulvihill family.
On Friday, Southampton Town Councilwoman Bridget Fleming, the board’s liaison to Sag Harbor, said the board was unanimous in every effort to help preserve the acreage, but gave much of the credit to the Mulvihill family’s conservation ethos, and to New York State Senator Ken P. LaValle and Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr., the architects of the Peconic Bay Regional CPF, which has enabled towns on the East End to preserve vast acreage over the last 15 years.
“This year alone we have expended over eight million CPF dollars to preserve more than 44 acres and there is much more to come,” said Councilwoman Fleming at the rededication. “With the addition of these 10 acres and the landmarking and preservation of the farmhouse, we have accomplished the vision of Bill Mulvihill, Dolores Zebrowski and the whole Mulvihill family to assemble all 110 acres, which is now preserved in perpetuity as wild lands for the benefit of the public and in support of the wildlife and natural resources of this beautiful place.”
According to Assemblyman Thiele, within the next two years over a billion dollars will have been collected through the CPF for preservation purposes during the program’s 15-year history.
“To put that in context, that is more money than the State of New York has spent on open space preservation across the entire state,” he said.
“That being said, CPF or private conservation, it doesn’t work without one thing—you have to have a family that has the conservation ethic and sees the bigger picture, a family that realizes the stewardship of the land is not just important for the family but critical for the future and that is something the Mulvihill family recognized.”
“I think his legacy was really his children,” Daniel Mulvihill III, the grandson of Anna and Daniel Mulvihill and nephew of Ms. Zebrowski, said of his grandfather. “They inherited from him and my grandmother a love for this land and the desire to keep it this way for future generations.”
Daniel’s father, Daniel Mulvihill II, would introduce his own children to “woods walks,” days spent meandering the acreage around the farm.
“I think my grandfather imbued in his children a great sense of conservation and William and Dan were great disciples,” he said. “And then there was Dolores. I really think Dolores was the most remarkable woman I have ever met. When she died I think she was Sag Harbor’s most beloved person.”
“She wanted to complete this puzzle,” he added. “And she literally worked on this project until the day she died. I think in my mind, and for a lot of people in the family, this is a tribute to the dedication of Dolores.”