Featured Letter: Why the mile markers still matter to me

Cleaves Kuester House

To the Editor:

As the resident owner of Historic Laurel House, home of the first mile marker laid in the Town of Southold, I find the debate about the stones’ origins quite fascinating. But our celebrating the mile stones is not contingent on whether the markers known in Long Island lore as “Ben Franklin milestones” were planted as a result of his mapping the North Fork’s postal route nor on whether they later came to be identified with him as a result of his having served as postmaster, first by British crown appointment and then by Continental Congress appointment. 

What matters about the markers is they serve as mute, yet telling, witness to the faith our Founding Fathers (and Founding Mothers!) had in the future of this community and this country. Their faith envisioned that this region and this nation would develop and prosper and that the commerce which the postal route identifiers were meant to facilitate would advance achievement of that goal.

Surely Ben Franklin was a Founding Father whose governmental service, including as postmaster, exemplified that faith. That the markers, including the one on my front lawn, are associated in the public mind with his name is entirely appropriate. Behind the marker, to which I am honored to serve as a kind of caretaker, is Historic Laurel House, my home. On its exterior wall near the front door is a Town of Southold Landmark plaque that reads:

Cleaves – Kuester House
Circa 1703
Built for Captain John Cleaves
Veteran of the Pequot Wars
Great grandfather of Anna Symmes
Wife of President William Henry Harrison
Grandmother of President Benjamin Harrison

That I live in such a historic setting may account for why I am not hung up on whether Ben Franklin had a hand in planting the markers or whether his name came to be connected with them later because of his postal and patriotic service. For me (and I suspect for most North Forkers) what matters about the markers is that they convey the faith in this land that Franklin and his contemporaries exemplified. That is what we celebrate on Mile Marker Day.

Althea Travis, Laurel