Officials gathered Monday at the Suffolk County Center in Riverside to mark the opening of an exhibit that explores the history of the Long Island Pine Barrens, offering such tidbits as the price of an acre of land there in the 1920s—a measly $1.
The Suffolk County Historical Society exhibit, called “Barren and Waste Land: Long Islanders and the Pine Barrens,” was curated in 1997, though it sat in storage until April when county officials agreed to put it on display at the H. Lee Dennison office building in Hauppauge. Kathryn Curran, executive director of the Suffolk County Historical Society, said she was thankful it could be moved to the lobby of the Evans K. Griffing building in Riverside, closer to the pine barrens.
“It means the world to us,” she said.
The exhibit features a number of historic photographs that have been blown up for viewing, as well as boards featuring old writings about the history of pine barrens.
The opening of the exhibit coincides with the 20th anniversary of the Long Island Pine Barrens Protection Act, which established a commission charged with overseeing the protection and preservation the roughly 100,000 acres of forest that span Brookhaven, Riverhead and Southampton towns. The act also delineated the 53,000-acre Core Preservation Area, where development is virtually prohibited, and the 47,000-acre Compatible Growth Area, where development is limited.
“The Barren and Waste Land exhibit highlights the fascinating history of the pine barrens and brings to life the remarkable experiences of many individuals who lived and worked in this region of Suffolk County,” said Peter Scully, the chairman of the Central Pine Barrens Commission.
On display are written records and photos documenting life in the pine barrens, including two fires that broke out in 1845. A resident named Daniel Tredwell wrote in 1838 that it was customary for the owners of large tracts of land to sell off the trees for fuel, which became a profitable practice once supply decreased. It became necessary, he wrote, for leaders to establish laws to preserve and protect the land.
The ecosystem has been the site of many various industries, including berry harvesting and brick making.
“This exhibit shows the physical links between our environment and the county’s history,” Ms. Curran told the small crowd that gathered to observe the exhibit opening. “It exemplifies the importance of our county’s natural resources.”
State Assemblyman Fred Thiele Jr. recalled examining the land use maps dating back to 1972 while he worked as an attorney for Southampton Town and seeing that the zoning recommendation for the pine barrens—which were listed as “wasteland”—was light industry. He added that Long Islanders have learned much about the importance of the pine barrens since then.
“It is the heart of Long Island,” he said. “It was a pleasure to be a part of preserving the pine barrens, first as a land use attorney, then as a town supervisor and now as a state assemblyman, and I thank the Suffolk County Historical Society for helping us to commemorate that.”
The exhibit, which also offers information about the Sunrise Wildfires of 1995 that charred thousands of acres, will be on display through September. It is open to the public from 8:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday.