Southold Town’s historic stone mile markers along Route 25 and Route 48 are getting a facelift thanks to a pair of Southold High School seniors.
Aidan Vandenburgh and Sam Basel are working to restore the mile markers as part of their Eagle Scout project.
“We’re both big into history,” Sam said Monday morning, as the two boys used brushes to clean off the first mile marker at Laurel resident Althea Travis’ property.
Aidan and Sam have spent the past four months surveying the set of markers and determining how much work is needed to restore each one. They’ve also been trying to get permission from markers placed on private land; they don’t need the state’s OK to work on the markers on public property.
“We’re going to work on all of those,” Aidan said.
Cutchogue-New Suffolk Historical Council president and local historian Zachary Studenroth has been working with Aidan and Sam to provide historical context for the project.
The mile markers, long thought to have been placed along Southold’s two main roads by Founding Father Ben Franklin, have been a part of local legend for decades.
But a recent investigation by historian Amy Folk intended for Southold Town’s 375th anniversary celebrations revealed the stone markers were actually placed by the Town itself 75 years after Mr. Franklin supposedly laid them down.
The markers were installed due to an obscure New York State edict from 1829 — Mr. Studenroth joked it was an “unfunded mandate” — that required towns to set up wooden or stone mile markers along postal routes.
Based on Mr. Franklin’s correspondences from the 1700s, historians say Mr. Franklin certainly visited the North Fork, though he didn’t place the mile markers themselves. But while many now side with Ms. Folk’s assessment that the stones had nothing to do with Mr. Franklin, Mr. Studenroth isn’t ready to separate the stones from the Founding Father.
He claims the mile marker stones may be replacements for markers set by Franklin, which he says may have all degraded by now. At the very least, Mr. Studenroth said Monday, the legend of Mr. Franklin’s visits remains.
“We’re not throwing Ben under the bus here,” he said.
“A lot of people associate these with Benjamin Franklin, whether or not he actually did it,” Sam added.
The two teens are trying to get historic designation for the stones as well as a New York State historic blue sign to mark the end of the route in Orient.
For their project, Aidan and Sam brought in Joel Snodgrass, a Huntington-based expert in material conservation, through a grant from the Robert D.L. Gardiner Foundation.
On Monday, Mr. Snodgrass showed the teens how to spray down, scrub and clean Laurel’s mile marker. The pair used a solution called “D2,” which won’t kill the surrounding grass but — if left on the stone — will eliminate mold and lichen.
The students will also reset stones that are tilting, and pour gravel around the base.
As the two brushed the dark grey stone, the etched words which had been hidden behind years of dirt became clearer to read: “7 MI TO SUFFOLK.”
The students left the first stone by mid-morning, ready to move onto the next one. Ms. Travis said the stone is looking cleaner as the restoration work by the teens takes hold.
“It’s amazing,” she said. “It’s getting better and better.”
Photo Caption: Aidan Vandenburgh (left) and Sam Basel (right) clean off the mile marker stone in Laurel Monday morning as restoration expert Joel Snodgrass (center) oversees. (Credit: Paul Squire).