Tag Archive | "Old Burial Ground"

Mapping Headstones for Curious Historians

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Andrea Meyer’s life was forever changed at the age of 11 when she walked into Sag Harbor’s Old Burying Ground looking for answers and instead found a lifelong passion rooted in archival work and historic preservation.

It was roughly 12 years ago when Meyer walked onto the grounds, looking for information on a long-deceased wife of an original Sag Harbor homeowner, unsatisfied with the answers she found in the history room of the John Jermain Memorial Library (JJML).


“They had dated the homeowner’s wife at age 11 when she had her first child and being 11 myself I was determined to prove them wrong,” said Meyer on Tuesday. “I was a little stubborn.”

Unwavering in her mission to find the woman’s birth date on her headstone in The Old Burying Ground, Meyer did not find exactly what she was looking for, but instead literally stumbled into a tour organized by members of The Old Burying Ground Committee. Meyer has been involved with the committee, and its numerous projects to preserve and archive the ancient burial site, ever since.

The newest initiative by the committee will be a joint venture with JJML, where Meyer recently worked as an intern, on break from her studies at CW Post and New York University’s archival studies program. According to library director Catherine Creedon, the committee and library will team up to archive the burial ground’s numerous headstones on a website which will be linked to JJML’s homepage in an effort to provide research historians and interested parties worldwide the same information now found in Dorothy Ingersoll Zaykowski’s book “The Old Burying Ground.”

For over 150 years, The Old Burying Ground has been a central part of Sag Harbor History, located next to the Sag Harbor First Presbyterian (Old Whalers’) Church, although the grounds existed long before that church was erected.

According to “The Old Burying Ground,” the cemetery has been in use since the mid-1700s, a central burial ground for village residents until the mid-1800s when gravesites became hard to come by. Since that time, several committees have formed to preserve the historic resting place with several inventories of the headstones and restoration projects tackled over the years. In 1997, the latest committee was formed completing the last inventory and restoring parts of the 100-year old fence, part of which is still in disrepair as the village looks for funding to restore it.

While the history of the burial ground is well-recorded in Zaykowski’s book, Creedon said she would like to see that information available to a greater number of people as the historic village library embraces a new age of technology.

“The goal would be to make this available beyond the book or the history room,” said Meyer. “To make it available to people who live outside of Sag Harbor, or can’t get to the history room while it is open.”

“It was collaborative,” said Creedon of the decision to take on such a project. Creedon had been in discussions with Susan Rowland, a member of the Old Burying Ground Committee, for several months on a project the library and committee could focus on together.

“I am always interested in the library working with local groups to share information and exchange ideas,” said Creedon. “A couple of weeks ago we shared some rough ideas about programming and decided at this point this would be the best project the library could help facilitate.”

According to Creedon, the committee will focus on taking photographs of each headstone and matching it to a map, originally drawn by Zaykowski as a part of an inventory project conducted by the committee with member Steven Peters. A narrative will be developed to correspond with each headstone, said Creedon, who said she hopes to create a website that enables people to search a virtual database of headstones at The Old Burying Ground using keywords.

“This will have at least two great results,” said Creedon. “One is the headstone’s print is becoming less and less readable, so this will be important documentation for future scholars and those interested in local genealogy. Secondly, it will allow us to disseminate this information worldwide. We get lots of requests for this kind of information and now those people can do a through search for that information on their own.”

Creedon said this is exactly the kind of work JJML should be engaged in, and following a years long focus on the library’s building project, she is pleased to concentrate on this kind of work again.

“It is the best combination of things to me,” said Creedon. “It is the classic commitment of a library to preserve our local heritage and combine that with a new technology. For me, this is a gift and a joy to take on. I am excited about the building project, but it is nice to remember the building is just a receptacle for projects like this.”

Creedon said it is her hope this is one of several new projects connecting the library to its community and embracing new technology as a means of sharing information and resources.

“This project is the first of what I hope will be an ongoing commitment to digitizing local resources, which makes them more widely available, preserves them and lessens the amount of damage done to original historic documents,” said Creedon. “A headstone is not the best example of this, but if I have an archival, physical object in the library, if someone is interested in it purely for its content in this medium no one is touching the page, exposing it to light, water or the grease on someone’s fingers. It is just as good without the potential for damaging the original.”

Creedon said the hope of the committee is to complete the photography of the headstones this fall and over the winter develop the website with the library’s technical director Eric Cohen.

“I think it would be really fun to link the site to a You Tube video with Dot [Zaykowski] or Susan [Rowland] talking about the Burying Ground so someone coming into it from the outside would have a better understanding of what it means, the burial ground’s place in our community.”

“I would really love to have something on a website where people can go and basically take a virtual cemetery tour with information on different gravesites popping up,” said Meyer. “Kind of like Google Streetview, but for the cemetery.”

And for Meyer, working with the committee to continue the preservation of The Old Burying Ground will remain a lifelong priority. Meyer, who is in the midst of earning her masters degree at NYU and is studying public history and archives, credits her involvement with the committee as the impetus for her professional pursuits.

“I was telling my roommate this morning that I started out as an undergrad in historic preservation because of the graveyard, but I was told graveyards were an exception to the National Historic Trust, so I decided I was quitting that major,” said Meyer.

“The goal has always been to come back,” Meyer said later. “You never leave Sag Harbor. I have left and have been miserable about having left, but I will be back and forth and I hope I never really, really leave.”

Options for Old Burial Ground

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While one of the more difficult economic periods since 1929 may not be considered the ideal time to propose tackling at least two capital projects, the Village of Sag Harbor is looking towards replacing or restoring a derelict fence at the Old Burial Ground after years of delay and would also like to tackle traffic calming improvements on Jermain Avenue.

However, warned Mayor Greg Ferraris during a board of trustees meeting on Wednesday, November 12, both come with hefty price tags; which is why he would like village residents to tell the board what they would like to see Sag Harbor officials undertake.

“These are two projects that have been put off time and time again,” said Ferraris at the meeting, noting the Old Burial Ground fence is in dire need of replacement, bordering on a safety issue.

The village took over the management of the Old Burial Ground roughly 10 years ago from the Town of Southampton and for the last two years has been trying to fund the fence’s restoration, which also involves replacing a concrete wall on Madison Street.

The Old Burial Ground, which sits next to the First Presbyterian (Old Whalers’) Church, and overlooks Madison Street, was used as a burial site beginning in the mid-1700s, and is the final resting place for a number of Sag Harbor’s historic figures, as well as founding families and war heroes.

The village had budgeted $25,000 towards the fence’s restoration last year; however, bids for both the masonry and the ironwork have come in anywhere from $220,000 to $375,000, far beyond what the village hoped to spend.

On Friday, Ferraris said he believed the village should explore options other than restoration, including replacing the fence or hiring someone to complete a reproduction — both of which would be less costly to village taxpayers at the end of the day.

“We want to start hearing public comments on this and hear what people would like us to do with this project,” said Ferraris. “Everyone does need to understand that these projects do come with a price tag.”

Another project, often shelved in the face of looming costs, that Ferraris would like to see the village begin to address is traffic calming on Jermain Avenue.

Last year, the village explored applying for funding through the Safe Routes to School program — a national program designed to provide monies to construct roadway improvements and provide education and encouragement to get kids out of vehicles and promote walking and bicycling to school. As a part of that exploration, a study was completed by The Louis Berger Group, which was hired as consultants by the New York Metropolitan Transportation Council, the local branch of the New York State Department of Transportation. The goal of the study was to look at the challenges the village faces in getting children to ride their bikes or walk to school — whether lack of sidewalks, safety or traffic concerns.

Jermain Avenue was the centerpiece of a number of traffic calming suggestions, the most basic of which was that a continuous sidewalk, on one side of the road, stretch between the schools and nearby Mashashimuet Park.

On Friday, Ferraris said not every aspect of traffic calming suggested in the report — which he called an “elaborate, complex and expensive project” — would be implemented, due to cost.

“However, there are items I feel the village can accomplish,” he said. Specifically, he said, in addition to a continuous sidewalk, three problem intersections — Jermain Avenue and Suffolk Street, Jermain Avenue and Madison Street, and Jermain Avenue and Division Street — should be addressed whether through raised crosswalks and bump outs or signs.

“We will determine what is the most cost effective way we can make this a safer area for our children,” he said.

Ferraris said while he is personally committed to both the project at the Old Burial Ground and on Jermain Avenue, in these times of economic uncertainty, he needs to know this is what the taxpayers of Sag Harbor want as well.

“This comes with a cost and sometimes an extreme cost,” said Ferraris. “It is time for people to step forward and let us know how important it is to them. Obviously this is not the most opportune time to think about capital projects, but these two in particular have been neglected, in my opinion, for far too long. Personally, I am an advocate for both projects, but I will listen to public opinion on this issue.”

Ferraris has already moved forward by scheduling an appointment with iron worker and artist John Battle to discuss the Old Burial Ground fence, and will also begin a conversation with the Sag Harbor Historic Preservation and Architectural Review Board next week on options for the fence.

“Everyone is going to need to understand, everything comes with a price,” he said.

In other village news, the board passed a resolution on Wednesday to hire Jennifer Mesiano as a grants writer for the village at a rate not to exceed $130 per hour. Ferraris noted that most area municipalities have engaged grant writers, including Mesiano, to seek out funding for a number of projects. He added that Mesiano has had a successful track record in her work for the Village of Southampton.

The Village of Sag Harbor is also exploring the concept of partnering with regional schools and Southampton Town in a purchasing cooperative for items like fuel oil, diesel, copy paper and telephone services. The board authorized an intermunicipal agreement so the agencies can work together in this capacity in the near future.



Sag Harbor Village Anticipates Budget Shortfall

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As the nation braces for tough economic times, it looks like the Village of Sag Harbor is attempting to be pro-active to avoid its own fiscal shortfall.

On Tuesday, October 14 Sag Harbor Mayor Greg Ferraris announced that after sitting down with the village treasurer and administrator it appears the village is looking at a $215,000 shortfall for the 2008-09 fiscal year.

“Rather than waiting until the year ends, we are going to start to take some action at this point,” said Ferraris, noting the treasurer has been asked to carve out discretionary spending items in the budget for further review and all departments have been asked to cut roughly nine percent in spending to avoid the shortfall.

“This is a guideline at this point,” said Ferraris, noting if finances begin to track differently a change can be made, but right now he would like to see the village be proactive in avoiding a shortfall, which would have a negative impact on the next fiscal year’s spending plan.

“We want to make sure we don’t end in a deficit,” explained Ferraris on Wednesday. “Our goal here is not to move into 2009-10 with a tax increase and we might need to dip into the fund balance then to do that, so we don’t want to dip into the fund balance now.”

Ferraris said the shortfall was a result of overestimating revenues from mortgage taxes, interest earnings and fines, for the most part. The harbors and docks had a strong summer for this fiscal year, he added, which he hopes will make up for any shortfalls in revenue this coming spring.

Overall, said Ferraris, he does not anticipate the village having to deal with this on an annual basis, but rather just through the end of this fiscal year. The discretionary items that will be put off, he added, are not luxuries, but rather items departments truly need, but will be asked to hold off on purchasing when possible until the 2009-10 year kicks off in July.

Spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on the replacement of the wrought iron fence, concrete wall and sidewalk at the Old Burial Ground is one thing that will have to be delayed, said Ferraris at the board meeting.

For two years now, the village has looked towards the project, bids came in well above what the village planned on spending on the project, prompting Ferraris to contact the Town of Southampton for assistance. The problem? He has yet to get a response.

Village clerk Sandra Schroeder was empowered to contact town councilwoman Anna Throne-Holst, a Sag Harbor resident, about the matter. On Wednesday, Ferraris said ultimately the project must be completed.

“If we need to discuss bonding this, that is something we will have to do,” he said.


Residents of Sag Harbor who live on the Southampton Town side of the village will only have one Grievance Day – in May and in Hampton Bays – instead of two, for both their village and town taxes if a proposal to turn over board of assessment duties to the town is adopted by the village.

On Tuesday, Ferraris brought up the concept, which would have no impact on East Hampton Town residents who live in the village. Currently, Sag Harbor contracts with Southampton Town for assessment services, although the village board of trustees still serves as the assessment board, hearing out grievances on the village’s February Grievance Day. If the trustees opted to eliminate itself as the assessment board, village residents on the Southampton side would only have to grieve both their town and village taxes at one location and at one time, instead of two, explained Southampton Town Assessor and Sag Harbor Trustee Ed Deyermond.

The board will hold a public hearing on the change at its November 12 meeting.

Ferry Road

Village consultants received a communication from an attorney representing East End Ventures, the firm proposing to develop luxury condos and boat slips at 1, 3 and 5 Ferry Road on Sag Harbor’s waterfront, asking whether new planning board member Nathan Brown would be recusing himself from the environmental review of the project based on comments he made last February.

Brown, then a member of Save Sag Harbor, who has since submitted his resignation to that organization, was reported as saying, “I am totally against the project,” at a Coalition of Neighborhoods for the Preservation of Sag Harbor forum on the development in February. It was that statement and his affiliation with Save Sag Harbor, which has a sister organization, Save our Waterfront that was formed in opposition to the project, that prompted the attorney’s query.

According to village attorney Fred Thiele, Brown will not need to recuse himself as case law dating back to the 1980s allows the appointment of members of the community, regardless of their affiliation with groups connected to a project or application.

“It’s not a conflict and certainly will not prevent Mr. Brown from participating in any or all applications,” said Thiele.

Brown was officially made a member of the planning board at Tuesday night’s meeting. At the start of the evening, Ferraris also presented former member Jerome Toy, who resigned from the board this fall, with a certificate of appreciation for his nine years of service.

“The dedicated people like yourself, and all the board members who serve in a volunteer capacity is what makes this community what it is,” said board member Brian Gilbride. “All cogs in the wheel …”

In other village news, the board will hold a public hearing on November 12 to extend the commercial moratorium in the village another six months past its December expiration.

According to trustee Tiffany Scarlato, the village’s proposed zoning code is well on its way towards public hearings; however, village environmental planning consultant Rich Warren is still in the process of developing an impact statement on the code, which is required by law.