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Jul 14, 2015 5:00 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Southampton Town Board Approves Purchase Of Pyrrhus Concer Property

Brenda Simmons, assistant to the mayor and chairwoman of the African American Museum of the East End, speaks in favor of Southampton Town purchasing the Pyrrhus Concer site for $4.3 million at a public hearing on Tuesday, July 14. CAREY LONDON
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Jul 15, 2015 10:42 AM

The Southampton Town Board agreed on Tuesday to purchase the former Pyrrhus Concer property in Southampton Village for $4.3 million, using Community Preservation Fund revenues.

Southampton Village plans to reconstruct the house, which was demolished, and turn the site into a museum honoring Mr. Concer and the region’s African-American heritage.

The property owners, David and Silvia Hermer, will gain $1.55 million in the transaction, having purchased the 0.82-acre property at 51 Pond Lane in Southampton Village for $2.75 million in 2013. At the time of their purchase, they said they had planned to build a new single-family, two-story home at the site. After several months of debate, the Southampton Village Architectural Review Board denied the couple’s application to demolish the existing house.

Opponents said the house was an integral part of the village’s history, as it was believed to have been inhabited by Mr. Concer, an African-American who was born an indentured servant in 1814 who was later sold for $25 at the age of 5 to another village resident. Eventually, he was freed and went on several whaling expeditions. Most notably, he was part of a crew that saved stranded Japanese sailors and took them home, becoming one of the first Americans, and perhaps the first black man, to visit then-restricted Japan.

The property owners countered that very few, if any, historic elements remained in most of the house, which they said was built in the 1900s, after Mr. Concer had died.

The couple filed a $10 million notice of claim against the village, charging that their rights as property owners were being denied. Last May, the village and the homeowners reached an agreement, and the municipality was given permission to salvage historic artifacts before the building was ultimately demolished a few months later.

Historian Robert Strada, who had been tasked with preserving as much as possible before the home was knocked down, later told the Village Board that the core frame of the home was clearly a 19th-century building owned by the Concer family and was worthy of landmark status.

The Town Board vote on Tuesday followed a public hearing with speakers showing unanimous support for protecting the site from future development.

“We’re in a midst of the 375th celebration [for the town], and, to be honest with you, 375 years ago, African-Americans didn’t have much to celebrate,” said Brenda Simmons, assistant to Mayor Mark Epley and chairwoman of the African-American Museum of the East End. “And, over the years, so much of our history has been erased and fictionalized. But Pyrrhus Concer’s contribution to this world is a reality that we can all not ignore and overlook, Despite his servitude status, his name will always be associated as a major contributor of the whaling history, from New England to Japan.”

Tom Edmonds, president of the Southampton Historical Museum, shared ideas for how the site could be transformed to honor the legacy of Mr. Concer, namely turning it into a history center that helps to chronicle the history of slavery in America and in New York. “Southampton has gone through a very painful and public scorching for the disregard of the Pyrrhus Concer house,” he said. “Restoring his house on its original location would greatly rectify our reputation and increase the knowledge of a significant part of Southampton’s history.”

Georgette Grier-Key, executive director of the Eastville Community Historical Society of Sag Harbor, also expressed her support and noted how African-American history is often rife with misinformation. “The history of African-Americans in this country is complex, complicated, painful, difficult and not completely understood,” she said. “The inclusion of early history is unbalanced, has gaps, and is at times inaccurate. So we have the opportunity in terms of righting a wrong … and making sure that our history is inclusive,” she said.

In this case, Mr. Concer’s “life can be examined from birth to death, which is really unusual,” said Ms. Grier-Key. “It’s not often you can see the documentation of a slave’s life,” she said.

Along with the other speakers, Sally Spanburgh, chairwoman of the town’s Landmarks and Historic Districts Board, has been a longtime supporter of preserving the home and site. “By studying the property, Southampton can teach itself and others about how African-American families lived, cooked, farmed and related to their white neighbors,” she told the Town Board. “There’s so much to learn and share about this property and the house,” she said. “The acquisition of 51 Pond Lane will remedy what was almost a tragedy and total loss.”

At the end of the hearing, Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst said, “I think this is also a very good moment to reflect a little bit on the Community Preservation Fund and the evolution that it has gone through since its first inception. The name implies just that—that it is for community preservation—and this is community and preserving and celebrating a very important part of history here.”

This measure, she added, is “a happy example of where government can act in a positive manner to do things that are of a positive nature for its constituents.”

The CPF tacks on a 2-percent tax on most real estate transfers on the East End. Monies from the tax are put into a fund in each of the five towns that is set aside for open space purchases, and, in some cases, other community uses, such as historic preservation.

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what is "positive" about enriching the hermers by $ 1.5 million over the course of 2 years on a $ 2.75 million purchase-do the math-more than a 50% return even with demolition costs. how could the village and ms. holst have been so utterly stupid?
By wmdwjr (76), east hampton on Jul 14, 15 7:21 PM
Nothing positive, except that it was likely part of the payoff to keep them from suing for having their rights violated. This wonderful vacant lot that some foolish citizens seems to think is worth preserving suddenly became something the Town had to preserve AFTER the Hermers bought it and had started development of their dream house. If it was so valuable it should have been bought years ago for a fraction o the cost. The CPF has too much money - and the Town Council to little intelligence. ...more
By Funbeer (273), Southampton on Jul 18, 15 2:28 PM
Editor: Can the Press look into what the Town of Southampton is doing with the continuing rise in taxes in the Hamlet of Eastport? There are a number of properties that have been sitting waiting for determination on purchase by the Town as well as the 27 East access and other Town endeavors to lower the sting of the highest taxes in the Town. Thank you.
By Mouthampton (439), Southampton on Jul 14, 15 9:11 PM
Another politically correct stunt to be politically correct. A blatant disregard for the law of why the cpf was formed.
By chief1 (2800), southampton on Jul 14, 15 9:22 PM
2 members liked this comment
...and we have elected theses tools to run the village? How in the world did this happen? wmdwjr said it best!
By surfmat (15), Southampton on Jul 14, 15 9:33 PM
By zeke (40), southampton on Jul 15, 15 4:23 AM
Community Fund use needs to be investigated,I'm writing to State Attorney General today.This fund was never ment to purchase building sites,We hav a building on Dune Rd that was also purchased with money from this fund to have a museum honouting African Americans, Mr Concer could be honoured there.This an abuse of this fund"
By watchdog1 (543), Southampton on Jul 15, 15 6:03 AM
3 members liked this comment
Good idea. The Town wont investigate itself, an outside agency needs to be brought in.
By Funbeer (273), Southampton on Jul 18, 15 2:34 PM
1 member liked this comment
Criminal. The CPF needs to end.
By The Real World (368), southampton on Jul 15, 15 10:47 AM
isn't that what the "C" stands for in CPF ?
By wmdwjr (76), east hampton on Jul 15, 15 5:20 PM
1 member liked this comment
The Town stepped up after the Village, as usual, failed to do so. The Village should pay back the CPF.
By InnerBay (72), Southampton on Jul 15, 15 10:06 PM
No one ever knew who this guy was until 2 years ago. The man was not a slave it is a farce, and no one has proven he has ever lived here.A joke
By chief1 (2800), southampton on Jul 15, 15 11:01 PM
1 member liked this comment
Articles about Pyrrus Concer have been in this paper since the '90s when the anchor and plaque in honor of him was placed in Agawam Park, and for a hundred years there's been a tall Monument marking his grave in the old North Main Street burying ground. It can be seen from Windmill Lane.
By Crabby (63), Southampton on Jul 19, 15 5:00 PM
1 member liked this comment