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Historian: Time to start plans for country’s 250th anniversary

The 250th anniversary of the United States might be four years away, but Southold Town historian Amy Folk has already started planning.

Ms. Folk approached the Town Board at a Tuesday work session to remind members of the upcoming semiquincentennial in 2026, for which both the state and federal governments have already started preparations.

New York has established a commission meant to develop a plan and promote events across the state, Ms. Folk said. The Association of Public Historians of New York will coordinate the program. Ms. Folk is the co-chair for Region 2 of that group, which covers Long Island. 

“The federal government, as well as the state government, is starting to gear up on it and I wanted to make you aware of it in case someone starts talking to you about it,” she told the Town Board. The federal government is calling the semiquincentennial “America 250.”

Congress has established the U.S. Semiquincentennial Commission, partnered with nonprofit The America250 Foundation, to celebrate the milestone. A website dedicated to the celebration, america250.org, highlights historical resources and a written and audio series focused on American history.

The theme for the upcoming celebration is the “unfinished revolution,” Ms. Folk said. The bicentennial in 1976 was not inclusive, she noted. 

“What we’d like to do this time, is to have topics that talk about abolition, suffrage, Indigenous displacement, enslaved people, the whole nine yards. What has happened since the revolution to make it more inclusive of what America has become?” she said. 

The state plans to coordinate with Native peoples in New York, Ms. Folk said, adding that she hopes the Shinnecock Nation will be very involved. 

Funding has not been established yet, but Ms. Folk said the celebration is planned to stretch from 2026 to 2033, for each year of the Revolutionary War. “They had planned it for the bicentennial but it kind of petered out after 1976, so they’re going to try to make that big stretch this time, and each year a different topic sort of will be in focus,” she said, although “everything can change.”

The hope is that the county will start forming a commission and set a budget for the celebrations, Ms. Folk said. She asked the Town Board to start thinking about the anniversary and said she eventually plans to reach out to different groups in the area, such as schools, religious groups and historical societies, among others, to help put together the celebration and a series of events. 

Ms. Folk said she has not discussed the plans with Supervisor Scott Russell yet, who was not present at Tuesday’s meeting. She said she’s not sure how accessible grants will be.

“We have to look into it and see how the money is filtering down and if they expect each town to [use] their budget or not. That’s a big deal,” Town Board member Jill Doherty said. 

Ms. Folk said that’s why she’s approached the Town Board now, a few years in advance, to start thinking about the event. “And to also think about, do we want parades? Do we want lectures? What do we want?” she said. 

Ms. Doherty said planning and events will depend on the budget. Ms. Folk said she might return in a few months with updates on planning at the state level.

Town Board member Brian Mealy thanked Ms. Folk for approaching the board. 

“It really is nice to celebrate our history and to be aware of it,” he said.