Trio of nonprofits keeping history alive thanks to grant funding

T0521_burial2_mw_C.jpgOver 150 years ago, at a time of political unrest, members of the Mattituck Wide Awake club, a paramilitary group associated with the Republican Party at the time, marched through Southold during a torchlight parade holding a banner and showing their support for Abraham Lincoln, who won the election of 1860 the following day.

“American history is literally priceless,” said Priscilla Brendler, executive director at Greater Hudson Heritage Network, the company sponsoring the grant that will pay for the banner’s restoration. “Every day that goes by, irreplaceable objects can be lost to time and if they’re not cared for, they won’t be available for future generations. That’s the importance of this grant program.”

This Wide Awakes’, along with other local artifacts, is scheduled to undergo a historic restoration thanks to one of three recently awarded grants from two foundations.

The Greater Hudson Heritage Network, located in Elmsford, N.Y., gave the Southold Historical Society $7,500 to restore the 155-year-old banner. Two other local grants will come from Hampton Bays-based Gardiner Foundation: $22,750 to the Old Southold Burying Ground, and another $28,300 to the Oysterponds Historical Society.

The Old Burying Ground, directly next to the Presbyterian Church of Southold on Main Road, claims it has been recognized as “the oldest surviving colonial cemetery” in New York. With 20 graves predating 1700, those buried there include some of Southold’s first settlers. The cemetery contains a total of 754 graves — with many headstones in dire need of repair.

Among the grave markers that can be found at the site is the box tomb of Barnabas Horton (1680), who helped found the town; Helena Underhill (1658), who is buried under the oldest marked grave on the property; and Ezra L’Hommedieu (1811), a descendent of French Huguenots who is considered to be the most influential man in the town’s history.

Restoration of the headstones already began last month.

“The burial ground is a true gem,” said Fred Andrews, a volunteer at the cemetery. His wife, Jane, is the cemetery director. “It’s not forgotten, but it’s been neglected for a while. If we don’t do these repairs, it’ll soon be forgotten forever.”

The project is expected to take years to complete and involves removing many headstones so that they can be restored and replaced standing upright.

Further east, the Oysterponds Historical Society will put their $28,300 grant funding to use in the strategic and master planning of securing a safe home for their collection of historical artifacts. Some items include the diaries of early lighthouse keepers from the early 19th century and shells and photos from the same time period documenting the area’s early history.

According to director Karen Lund, strategic planning includes board and community members meeting to discuss the short and long term goals and objectives for the organization.

“[The grant] is a wonderful support because this is a nonprofit. We rely on membership contributions and grants in order to function,” Ms. Lund said. “This particular grant is just outstanding for us because it enables us to engage in a wonderful dialogue with the board, members and stakeholders about the future of Oysterponds Historical Society.”

Oysterponds isn’t the only local historical nonprofit that can’t wait to get moving with their new gifts. According to Amy Folk, manager of collections at Southold Historical Society, the organization will soon be sending the Wide Awakes’ banner up to Salem, N.Y. in Westchester County to have it restored.

After the restoration work is complete, the banner will be framed and displayed — hopefully by next spring. Ms. Folk said she has already had other historical societies reach out and ask to borrow the banner and the work hasn’t even begun yet.

Photos: Old Burying Ground in Southold — which features some creepy headstones — is in need of some fixing (Credit: Michael White); Courtesy photo