Historians say it’s time to move on 375th anniversary plans

The Tercentenary parade winds its way through a packed downtown Southold in 1940.  At center is the feather-covered float of the 'Old Crows.' (Credit: Southold Historical Society Courtesy Photo)
The Tercentenary parade winds its way through a packed downtown Southold in 1940. At center is the feather-covered float of the ‘Old Crows.’ (Credit: Southold Historical Society Courtesy Photo)

Southold Town Historic Preservation Commission chairman Jim Grathwohl called the historians of Southampton Town “colleagues and competitors” during a Southold Town Board work session Tuesday.

When he learned of the comment a few hours later, Southampton Town historian Zach Studenroth laughed, calling the remark “accurate.”

“We have a friendly rivalry,” he said.

Historians from the two towns even tease each other about which was founded first.

But when it comes to planning next year’s celebrations for the 375th anniversaries of Long Island’s two oldest towns, Southold historians freely admit that, this time around, Southampton is way ahead of them. 

Mr. Grathwohl and Southold Historical Society president Herb Adler said that despite communications with the Southold Town Board earlier this year, no action has been taken to prepare for those festivities until just this week, when the Town Board established an anniversary committee. The next step will be to appoint residents to serve on that committee.

Historically, Southold Town has celebrated its 1640 founding every 25 years.

“We’re behind schedule,” Mr. Grathwohl told board members, adding that Southampton had already planned much of its 2015 celebration even before 2014 started. “Events, schedules and publications are the major things we have to review and make decisions on if we’re going to have an effective celebration.”

Mr. Adler, who at 90 years old says he can still the recall the town’s 300th anniversary celebration in 1940, said that if Southold doesn’t act quickly on organizing a committee to plan and establish a budget for the anniversary it may be too late.

“We’ve lost four or five months,” he said, since the initial planning meeting he had with Supervisor Scott Russell at the beginning of the year. “We have no idea what kind of money we have.

“We have short time and we’re asking for your support,” Mr. Adler told board members.

But Mr. Russell expressed some hesitation about the town taking the lead in planning a big celebration, pointing to the 350th anniversary event in 1990, which he said featured a lot of “grand ideas, but not enough people to execute them.”

“We think this needs to be a more modest celebration,” Mr. Russell said. “I see this being a community-driven event, with the town playing a role from a distance.”

It’s a different approach from the one Southampton has taken. There, town and village historians are active in planning the 2015 activities, which include major events in February, June and October and other activities throughout the year. The centerpiece of Southampton’s celebration will come the week of June 12, which they’ve come to call Founders Day based on historical documents dating from 1640. Mr. Studenroth said an “open house” will be held that week and that historical groups and others plan to open the doors of places not ordinarily accessible to the public.

Other plans for Southampton’s celebration include walking and driving tours and the creation of a website that will promote all the events scheduled throughout 2015. Everything will be offered free of charge, Mr. Studenroth said.

The planning process hasn’t gone as smoothly in Southold.

Mr. Grathwohl said he submitted plans to the Town Board for a community picnic celebrating descendants of the town’s founding families and the town’s oldest living residents and an event focused on the historic Benjamin Franklin mile markers. He said his proposal also calls for establishing a budget for the celebration and designing an anniversary logo.

Mr. Grathwohl said he hopes Mr. Adler will serve as chairman of the newly formed committee and that its other members will represent each hamlet in the town.

When asked what events the Southold Historical Society is planning for the 375th anniversary, director Geoffrey Fleming said they’re still “watching and waiting.”

“I don’t know because the Town of Southold has always led the way on planning activities and providing funding,” he said. “Without the town’s support, we don’t have the funding to do much beyond what we’d ordinarily do [any year].”

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