A public hearing about the possible demolition of a house connected to local historical figure Pyrrhus Concer has been closed, and a written decision by the Southampton Village Board of Historic Preservation and Architectural Review is pending.
Last Wednesday, November 13, the board closed the hearing—which had been open since September—at the request of attorney David Gilmartin of the Water Mill law firm Farrell Fritz, who is representing the owners, David and Silvia Hermer. Mr. Gilmartin said the owners would like an answer from the board as soon as possible, noting that they should not be held responsible for preserving the house and property since it is not a designated landmark.
The Hermers plan to tear the house down and replace it with a two-story residence.
The date of the house’s construction is unknown; it has architecture consistent with the early 1900s, but it is unclear whether the structure dates to the time when Concer might have lived in it, in part because records related to African-American-owned homes are incomplete.
Several investigations into the home, which sits at 51 Pond Lane, have determined that there may be evidence inside that Mr. Concer lived there. However, the board only has jurisdiction over the exterior—where, according to Mr. Gilmartin, only an antique rake board, a part of the roof, remains as evidence of earlier construction. “For this board to deny this application over the removal of this rake board, you must find that the removal would affect the appearance and cohesiveness of the historic district in its entirety,” Mr. Gilmartin said. “I would submit that this is an impossible burden for you to overcome.”
Although the board opted to close the public hearing, it did not specify when a written decision would be filed, meaning the owners may not have an answer by the next meeting, scheduled for December 11.
Since the hearing opened to the public in September, there had been a heated debate between the owners, through Mr. Gilmartin, and those who oppose the demolition, saying it is an integral part of African-American history on the East End.
Mr. Concer was born a slave in 1814. He was freed and went on several whaling expeditions. During one of them, on a boat captained by Mercator Cooper, he became one of the first Americans—and the first African-American—to dock in Japan. The whaling boat he was on rescued Japanese sailors in distress, going on to dock in Tokyo. Upon returning to Southampton, Mr. Concer launched the Lake Agawam ferry service.
Opponents of the proposal say the property would not be in jeopardy if it had been included in past historical references, noting that pieces of black history are often left out of such records. “This is a very uncomfortable application for everybody, and that is unfortunate,” said Brenda Simmons, a representative of the African-American Museum of the East End, during the meeting. “The village neglected to include this property, and I think that the village now has the opportunity to right that wrong.”
To date, almost 100 letters of opposition have been submitted to the ARB.
Lucius Ware, the president of the Eastern Long Island Chapter of the NAACP, is pushing for preservation of the house and the property. “I request, and strongly recommend, that you vote against the demolition of the Pyrrhus Concer homestead, and instead designate it as a historic landmark within Southampton Village, so it will be preserved and benefit future generations,” Mr. Ware said at the meeting.
“It survives as the only known structure in the village of Southampton associated with a previously enslaved family, and represents a tremendous educational opportunity to Southampton Village, its residents and students to come, as well as for the broader regional, national, and state audiences.”