A 23-mile journey to celebrate Southold Town’s mile markers

Derek Stadler and his mother, Hannelore, of Hicksville, pose next to Southold Town's 30th mile marker in Orient. (Rachel Young photos)
Derek Stadler and his mother, Hannelore, of Hicksville, pose next to Southold Town’s 30th mile marker in Orient. (Rachel Young photos)

The 23-mile trek commenced Saturday morning on a winding stretch of sleepy Franklinville Road in Laurel. It was 9:04 a.m. and Derek Stadler and his mother, Hannelore, had just arrived from Hicksville to take part in Mile Marker Day, Southold Town’s kickoff event for its 375th anniversary celebration.

That day, the Stadlers would spend two hours driving their black Ford Focus along Main Road and then Route 48 from Laurel to Orient, stopping roughly every mile to identify and answer trivia questions about the stone markers that until recently were believed to have been erected 260 years ago by Benjamin Franklin. (New research by local historian Amy Folk all but proves they were actually installed by the town as postal markers in 1829.)

“Frankly, I wondered why Amy Folk had chosen this particular time to come out with that information because it couldn’t have been worse timing,” said Mile Marker Day organizer George Cork Maul. “But when I looked into it a little deeper, I realized that history is very rich, and the more information you find out about a story, the better the story gets.”

The findings didn’t seem to matter to the event’s 100 or so participants. Mr. Stadler, a 42-year-old library webmaster for City University of New York with an avid interest in Long Island history, was more shocked he had never spotted the markers before.

“I’ve biked through here several times but never noticed them,” he said.

That began to change around 9:10 a.m., when the Stadlers stopped at a Franklinville Road tent occupied by Mr. Maul and volunteer Beth Young.

“We ask that you set your odometer to zero,” Ms. Young told the mother/son team. She handed them an informal quiz participants were asked to fill out along the way. “Each marker should be about a mile apart.”

The Stadlers’ journey officially began just up the road at mile marker 7, across from Aldrich Lane. Mr. Stadler, who found out about Mile Marker Day during a visit to Southold Free Library to check out its microfilm collection, explained that the first six mile markers had at some point been lost or destroyed.

But where was the eighth marker? Mr. Stadler thought he had perhaps driven past it.

“This is really like a scavenger hunt, trying to find these things,” he said with a laugh as he walked west toward Empire Gas Station in Laurel, scanning the area. His mother, a 77-year-old native of Cologne, Germany, had decided to wait in the car.

“He’s so interested in all of this and he takes me along,” she said cheerily.

Ultimately, the Stadlers never found the marker. It was raining more heavily at this point, so they determined it made sense to just move on.

“We’re going to be soaked by the time this is over with,” Mr. Stadler observed.

Fortunately for the pair, the markers were fairly easy to identify from the roadway from that point on. One of the Cutchogue stones was surrounded by lush greenery; another, in Peconic, was situated in front of some baby goats owned by Catapano Farms.