WWII-era flagpole finds a new home in Cutchogue

05/25/2015 6:01 AM |
Dan and Prudence Heston next to the flag pole at their Salt Air Farm in Cutchogue. (Credit: Grant Parpan)

Dan and Prudence Heston next to the flag pole at their Salt Air Farm in Cutchogue. (Credit: Grant Parpan)

Nearly two years after he donated a 46-foot flagpole to Salt Air Farm in Cutchogue, Mark Baxter began to lose faith the decades-old wooden beam would ever be erected again.

Each time he’d drive up New Suffolk Road, the Southold resident said, he’d check to see if the flag was flying but would ultimately pass by, disappointed.

Quietly, however, farm owners Dan and Prudence Heston were undertaking a lengthy project to restore the pole to its former glory. Now, on Memorial Day, the couple is proudly flying an American flag more than four stories high on the same pole Mr. Baxter’s father used to raise a flag more than 70 years ago. 

“After about a year, I think he started to doubt if we would ever do it,” Mr. Heston said. “But we were never going to let up, and it looks exactly as we had hoped.”

The pole was first erected in 1943 at Peterkin Park in Amityville, where Mr. Baxter’s father had been responsible for raising and lowering flags as a police officer. In the late 1980s, the younger Mr. Baxter moved to Southold, but noticed Amityville Village was beginning to replace flagpoles around town. An Army engineer in Vietnam whose father was an Army officer in the Pacific Theater, Mr. Baxter knew he had to save the pole.

So he hired a boating company to transport the flagpole on a long trailer usually reserved for boats and had it installed on his Southold property. But after he subdivided his lot several years ago, the pole needed to come down. Not wanting to see it on the scrap heap, he contacted The Suffolk Times for help finding a new home for the beam.

The Hestons, who host weddings on their farm, where they also grow flowers, plants and fruits used for weddings there and at other venues, were among 25 people to give Mr. Baxter a call.

“One woman wanted to cut it in half,” he told the newspaper in October 2013. “Someone wanted to use it as a mast.”

The Hestons had a more conventional proposal. They will fly the U.S. flag on the pole according to federal regulations, meaning it will fly at half-staff when appropriate, they’ll lower it at night and they’ll make sure it never touches the ground.

“Essentially, you’re supposed to treat the flag like a living creature,” Mr. Heston said. That’s why he went to painstaking lengths the past two years to make sure the pole was properly raised, studying regulations and assuring the reconstruction of the pole was first-rate. Initially, the plan was to erect the pole next to their house at the front of the property, but the pole was so tall it overpowered the two-story structure.

The Hestons eventually settled on its current location at the edge of the farmstead, a few hundred feet back from the property line in front of a small apple orchard and some kiwi plants, where Ms. Heston said it provides a “good focal point” from the roadway.

Before he could even entertain the idea of raising the pole, Mr. Heston needed to restore the wood. He also had to find a way to make sure the pole was secured properly, so it never came crashing down.

Mark Baxter with the flagpole in 2013. (Credit: Paul Squire file)

Mark Baxter with the flagpole in 2013. (Credit: Paul Squire file)

Working the land and managing their business made it difficult for the Hestons to dedicate a lot of time to the project at any one point.

“It was more 15 minutes here, 15 minutes there,” said Mr. Heston, who admits he spent many Sundays scribbling ideas on church bulletins during services.

Some plans he made were flops, like the initial six-foot flag he purchased.

“It was way too small,” Ms. Heston said.

“It looked like a bikini up there,” Mr. Heston joked.

Ms. Heston said her husband’s best idea for the flagpole came while they were stuck in traffic one afternoon on the New Jersey Turnpike.

Mr. Heston took notice of how the large sign poles were bolted in and he mirrored the process at his farm.

Of course, a lot of other local businesses played a part in raising the pole. North Fork Welding in Greenport helped install the metal base below it and Tim Gray Masonry of Southold poured the concrete, which rests six feet deep in the ground and is five feet wide.

Moving the 1,100-pound pole required five teams of two men each. When it was time to actually raise the pole, Will Parks of Coastline Cesspool provided additional manpower and a backhoe. Mr. Parks said it was a stressful two-hour process.

“I had to be careful,” he said. “Dan put a lot of work into that pole. The last thing I wanted to do was drop or crack it. I was happy to be a part of the process, but it definitely took a couple years off my life.

“It’s a nice piece to drive by now. I say, ‘Hey, we put that thing up.’ That’s pretty cool.”

No one appreciates the pole more than Mr. Baxter.

“It looks beautiful over there,” he said. “I thought it was stately, well done and positioned just right.”

Recently, the Hestons came up with one last idea for their new pole. They plan to have flags made for couples getting married at the farm.

That banner will have the bride and groom’s names and the date of their wedding stitched on it. At the end of the reception, a ceremony will be held as the couple lowers the flag to bring home and cherish forever, much the same way Mr. Baxter has always admired the pole that raised it.

“[It was first erected when] our whole country was at war and it was a frightening time,” he said. “There were a lot of people dying for their friends in those days, sacrificing their lives for their brothers.

“[It’s now] at a farm that’s 300 years old and if it’s there for another 200, 300 years, that would be great. It couldn’t be in a better place.”

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