“So it gets pretty hot in here,” said Matt Habermann as he switched on the lights in the barn behind the Bridgehampton Historical Society’s Corwith House. As the rows of fluorescent bulbs flickered on, they revealed a jumbled maze of old wood and metal. The historical society’s antique engine collection sits quietly in the windowless barn, farm equipment still gleaming under a thin coating of 50-year-old grease, emblazoned with red paint and yellow lettering boasting strengths of five to nine horsepower.
“These things weigh a ton,” said Habermann, a fourth year University of Arizona history major who is interning at the historical society this summer for school credit. After organizing the society’s information on their annual road rally and formatting an annotated bibliography of their books on local shipping, Habermann is now completing a catalogue describing each of the 75 engines and tools stored in the barn.
He described how he also had to help clear a path through the heavy equipment so the exterminators could get to the bug-infested thresher, an enormous wooden contraption hunkered in the back right corner of the space.
“This is my favorite item,” Habermann said, walking over to a waist high green and yellow toothy apparatus with a small motor attached. The tall, thin metal wheels are spiked, and downward-pointing spades hang off the back like an insect’s mandibles. Habermann identified the machine as a “cultivator,” which he guesses would have been used to plant corn. Unfortunately, a lot of the identification process for Habermann is guesswork.
“We really have no resident experts,” said the historical society’s program coordinator Stacy Dermont, who explained that because the engines are from such an early time period, mostly from the nineteen-teens, there is very little information available. Apparently, much is still a mystery.
“The people who know about them are either dead or not on the Internet,” she says.
Consequently, Dermont noted that the work Habermann has been doing is vital, especially with the society moving to the Nathaniel Rogers House at the other end of Main Street in a few years time. She expressed that at that time the society wishes to be a fully functioning research facility.
Habermann is a native of Westchester County, N.Y., but has summered in Bridgehampton on Bay Lane with his family for years. Out of the heat of the barn under the shade of a tree on the historical society’s lawn, he remembered watching the seaplanes land at the Mecox Yacht Club. He is incredibly enamored of this area, and given the opportunity would like to focus more on Long Island history in the future.
The society is also being helped this summer by another intern, rising Southampton High School junior Chris Szafranski. Szafranski, another history buff, was paired up with the Bridgehampton Historical Society through his school’s “Broader Horizons” internship program. He too is working on their annotated bibliography, as well as helping photo archivist Julie Greene by scanning the museum’s extensive collection of photographs — over a century of images.
Both interns seem to be enjoying themselves as they dredge through the years and years of historic materials. Habermann’s only complaint is the building’s lack of air conditioning. Still, there was no chip on his shoulder as he walked briskly through the cramped hallways, past carved wooden geese and the amplifying horn of an old phonograph. Back in the barn, he laughed as he pointed at the back wall. There hung an old sign that read, fittingly, “These Old Engines: took the drudgery out of the teen.”
Matt Habermann, the Bridgehampton Historical Society’s intern surrounded by the antique engines in the society’s barn, which he will catalog this summer. (michael heller photo)