The Southold Historical Society is celebrating a piece of Civil War history that was recently restored.
A historic banner discovered in 2014 in the attic of a local store once operated by the Richmond family has now been installed at the Ann Currie-Bell House on the grounds of the society’s Main Road museum complex.
The banner was originally brought to the attention of former society director Geoffrey Fleming. He and Amy Folk, the group’s manager of collections, worked to purchase and restore it. The banner was once used by the Wide Awakes, a paramilitary campaign group supporting the Republican party in 1860, when Abraham Lincoln was running for president.
“We’re very excited to have the restored Wide Awake banner here for all to see and enjoy,” said current society director Karen Lund Rooney.
When the item was found, it appeared to be a Civil War banner. The background was blue and fabric was glued to both sides. One side read “Union Forever!” and the other read “Welcome Home!”
Ms. Folk explained that this banner would have been hung on the street when the soldiers were returning from the Civil War. After peeling off the fabric, she noticed glue stains from letters that had previously been affixed to the banner. They were able to send it to a professional conservator who traced all the letters out to read “Lincoln & Hamlin Mattituck Wide Awake Club.” They came to the conclusion that the banner had once been used by the Wide Awakes and was reused later, after the Civil War, to welcome the soldiers home.
The society received a $7,500 grant for the restoration from the Greater Hudson Heritage Network and raised the rest of the money itself. All new letters were applied, following the remaining glue outlines. The wood pole on top of the banner, as well as the stars and lines on the bottom, are original.
Cathie Dunn of Cutchogue, who was involved in helping to raise funds for the restoration, said, “I really wanted something like this for the kids in town to have.” During last Thursday’s unveiling, she said she is very interested in anything related to President Lincoln and was really excited when she heard about the banner.
“The town just came around [to support] us,” she said. “It was overwhelming.”
Ms. Folk said the Wide Awakes were active in Mattituck and Orient. At that time, she said, political candidates didn’t campaign for themselves. Instead, groups like the Wide Awakes would help campaign for the Republican Party and would make sure rallies did not get out of hand and would safely escort speakers, according to Ms. Folk.
“For us, it’s really an amazing piece from the Civil War,” she said. “It shows you the beginning of the war and the end of the war — and it’s local.”
Ms. Folk said that after a little research she established that this is one of the only Wide Awake banners designed like this. The banner will remain displayed at the Ann Currie-Bell House and the society hopes to one day create a complete Civil War exhibition.
“We’re excited it has a home here,” Ms. Lund Rooney said.
Photo: The restored banner (right) and the pieces that were peeled off (left) were unveiled last Thursday at Southold Historical Society’s Ann Currie-Bell House in Southold. (Credit: Krysten Massa)