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Sep 25, 2013 10:25 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Southampton Village Residents Hoping To Save Historical Pyrrhus Concer Home From Demolition

Oct 2, 2013 10:49 AM

Residents from throughout Suffolk County attended a public hearing last week, poised to fight to save a house said to be historically significant to African-American history in Southampton Village.

Located at 51 Pond Lane, the house is currently owned by David and Silvia Hermer, who want to demolish several structures on their property for a new, single-family, two-story home. Many believe the house was previously inhabited by Pyrrhus Concer, an African-American slave born in 1814. Long considered an integral part of both Southampton and local black history, Concer was freed and went on several whaling expeditions. During one expedition, on a boat captained by Mercator Cooper, he became one of the first Americans—and the first African-American—to dock in Japan.

While it is clear to members of the Southampton Architectural Review and Historic Preservation Board that a house inhabited by Mr. Concer would be a historically significant property—and would merit an investigation into whether it should be given historical status—there is some question as to whether he actually lived in the house, or if he lived in a house previously demolished on the same property.

“This is a house that has no architectural interests in and of itself,” attorney for the applicants Eric Bregman said during the meeting. “The historic interest of this property is in the place, not in the house.”

Concer is a prominent figure in Southampton history, according to Sally Spanburgh, a Southampton Village resident and preservationist. The whaling boat he was on rescued Japanese sailors in distress, docking in Tokyo, and upon returning to Southampton, Concer launched the Lake Agawam ferry service.

According to Mr. Bregman, the house was more than likely built after 1900, after Concer died. Mr. Bregman said the house has been viewed by several consultants and architects and is consistent with turn-of-the-century construction, materials and design. He added that there is no historical association with the house itself, which has never been included on any past registries of historical or potentially historical buildings in the village.

Even so, Mr. Bregman said the owners appreciate the significance of the property and are willing to work with the village to commemorate Concer on the grounds. Mr. Bregman said the family is willing to consider a plaque, or any other memorial the village would suggest.

At the meeting, Ms. Spanburgh disagreed that the house was built after Pyrrhus Concer’s death. She said it was purchased from Concer by an attorney and Nobel Peace Prize winner, Elihu Root, who, having owned several other homes in the area, would not have built such a small home.

“He would have surely replaced it with something more in keeping with their tastes and the times,” Ms. Spanburgh said. “They would not have kept it as such a modest structure unless they knew of Pyrrhus’s prominence.”

Lucius Ware, the president of the Eastern Long Island chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said last week that Mr. Concer’s legacy should be allowed to live on in Southampton. The house should be purchased and preserved, he said, and a museum should be considered.

“We are here looking at something that would demolish history—it would demolish history,” he said. “We should be sitting here tonight talking about how we are going to maintain that house. I implore you to take a great look in that direction, because there is an opportunity here that should not be passed.”

Georgette Grier-Key, president of the Association of Suffolk County Historical Societies, said that the fact that the house has not been listed on historical registries does not mean it is not important. She added that in the past, African-American history has been ignored. People who surveyed the village might not have known the significance of the property, she said, adding that the property should be studied again by someone who is familiar with African-American history in the area.

“This is a teaching moment, from which we can gain new knowledge and provide a real opportunity for the East End to develop and share the contributions of African-Americans here,” Ms. Grier-Key said. “I am saddened that we have arrived at this point today, and I am trying to be sympathetic to both sides, but it is our responsibility to [preserve] history—and in particular that of a slave who was born here and later freed here to accomplish the unthinkable in his lifetime.”

On Wednesday night, the ARB adjourned the first public hearing on the proposal to allow members of the board and the historical consultant for the village, Zachary Studenroth, as well as members of various local organizations—including the Southampton Historical Museum, the Eastville Community Historical Society and the NAACP—to research the property and determine if Pyrrhus Concer did in fact live in the house, a feat all agreed would be difficult because of the absence of historical documents surrounding early African-Americans in Southampton.

The proposal will be discussed again at the next meeting of the Architectural Review Board, which is scheduled for October 9.

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Phyrrus Concer left a generous legacy to the Presbyterian Church on South Main Street in his will. The will should be in the public records in Riverhead. Local lore has it that he left his house to the church as part of that legacy and that it rented the house out for years. If that is true, the church might have something in its records.
By oystercatcher (126), southampton on Sep 26, 13 12:45 AM
Sally Spanburgh has an interesting write-up on the history of this house and Mr. Concer. The earlier article here is informative also, although this link does not appear above for some reason:


See: shvillagereview [dot] blogspot [dot] com
By PBR (4956), Southampton on Sep 26, 13 4:42 AM
Ah yes, let's be sure to tell people what they can and can't do to their own houses...
By The Royal 'We' (199), Southampton on Sep 26, 13 9:39 AM
1 member liked this comment
If this house is so historically significant, why are we only hearing about it now?
By The Royal 'We' (199), Southampton on Sep 26, 13 9:40 AM
There have been numerous articles written about Pyhrrus Concer--and his house--and the fact is stated on his monument at Agawam Park. There is also an informative video about Pyhrrus, his accomplishments and house-shown this past summer at a Village Board Meeting and available on-line through a simple search--or at You Tube (Agawam Ferry Project). You haven't heard of it? Where have YOU been, "We"!
By ocean27 (21), Southampton on Sep 26, 13 10:41 AM
Is it too early to nominate the homes of: P. Diddy, Seinfeld, Martha Stewart, Richard Geer, Jimmy Buffett, Ralph Lauren, Kelly Ripa, Matt Lauer, Stephen Spielberg, Chuck Close, Jason Kidd, Howard Stern, James Lipton etc. etc. etc. for historical status?

How about the houses that the Clintons have rented, or that Joe Biden stays at when he is in Town?

History will always have important people, who (believe it or not) will always live/sleep in homes. Imagine if we preserved ...more
By Nature (2966), Hampton Bays on Sep 26, 13 10:55 AM
Oh, please...if you would just take a few minutes and check out the video--plus read the articles (on-line) and/or book about the revered Pyrrhus Concer-you would see that there is certainly no comparison to the celebrities you mentioned.
By ocean27 (21), Southampton on Sep 26, 13 11:15 AM
There's no historic value in those celebs now - but what will society think of them in 200 years? Speilberg is one of the greatest filmmakers of all time, Seinfeld is one of the most successful comedians of all time (and I'm sure the jewish community in 200 years will be quite happy to boast about both), anyone who was president or vice president has inherent historic value (more I would argue than virtually any one else alive during their respective terms).

What Chuck Close has accomplished ...more
By Nature (2966), Hampton Bays on Sep 26, 13 11:25 AM
Pyrrhus Concer's legacy has stood the test time. And his house is a daily reminder for all of the Village.
By ocean27 (21), Southampton on Sep 26, 13 12:31 PM
Perhaps CPF should have purchased it then if it's so significant. I'm all for history, but you own a piece of property and are allowed to do everything zoning allows. They should be able to tear it down. The whole notion that "this house is important because someone who did something interesting 300 years ago slept here" is silly to me. So every other structure which is "old" is of no relevance because no one important slept there?
By Nature (2966), Hampton Bays on Sep 26, 13 9:48 AM
2 members liked this comment
... Sally Spanburgh does a nice job of pointing out the historical significance of structures within the town. She is well prepared and adds tremendous value to any preservation attempts in Southampton.
By William Rodney (561), southampton on Sep 26, 13 11:58 AM
.....I know first hand that the house has a cinder block and concrete foundation!!!!!!! The beams are trimmed and dressed. There was no machine that I know of back in 1814 that could trim a beam. The beams were not hand honed. We checked the historical registry in NY state and this house was not listed as being of any significance.
By shalmar (1), southampton on Sep 26, 13 12:26 PM
1 member liked this comment
Nature, have you read Sally Spanburgh's blog article about Mr. Concer, as referenced above?

shvillagereview [dot] blogspot [dot] com
By PBR (4956), Southampton on Sep 26, 13 2:57 PM
Yup - and as I stated above I am not trying to take away from the historical significance of this man. I do find it ironic that we celebrate Cooper and others who were slave owners (even after slavery was outlawed in NYS) without much pause. While all of his accomplishments are great - I still don't understand the importance of preserving a home which he (may have!!!) lived in. And again, why is it MORE important than the homes of the above referenced people? (particularly say, homes that the ...more
By Nature (2966), Hampton Bays on Sep 26, 13 3:29 PM
1 member liked this comment
Thanks, I was just humbled by Mr. Concer's travels and historical significance, as you say. Nothing more. Your questions are valid.

Given our nation's sad legacy of racial discrimination, however, it seems to me you are missing a significant distinction or two (and in a rather insensitive fashion, might I add?).
By PBR (4956), Southampton on Sep 26, 13 4:03 PM
I disagree - and believe I've proven the opposite by questioning the air of importance we bestow on slave owners and noting that not only are Spielberg and Seinfeld's contributions to society important, but that the Jewish community likely fees even more so (and will likely have increased importance in the next few centuries).

If you are interested in reading about important people and their travels (especially those who are not well known) take a look at the life of Dennis Puleston (a ...more
By Nature (2966), Hampton Bays on Sep 26, 13 4:17 PM
As Gallagher says, perhaps it is a question of "Style."
By PBR (4956), Southampton on Sep 26, 13 4:47 PM
And a contingent of dignitaries came to Southampton from Japan to recognize the importance of Pyrrhus Concer's historic journey to their port in 1845.
By ocean27 (21), Southampton on Sep 26, 13 5:28 PM
I /literally/ have NO idea what you're talking about and am unsure of what you're accusing me of in your non-ad-hominem way
By Nature (2966), Hampton Bays on Sep 26, 13 5:46 PM
You my dear man, are unsure of everything except your own mean objective.
By summertime (589), summerfield fl on Sep 29, 13 10:49 AM
What is my objective and why is it "mean"?
By Nature (2966), Hampton Bays on Sep 30, 13 9:08 AM
I think of the Puleston's as Brookhaven folks...did they have a place in Southampton history?
By PQ1 (167), hampton bays on Oct 3, 13 5:09 AM

I don't want to get a slavery debate started, but there were two rather disparate conditions in the North, and the South. In the North it morphed into a system of indentured servitude after the revolution, unlike the plantations of the South. Some "slaves" were even permitted "free time" to earn a living at some other occupation right here on Long Island. And yes, there were also immigrants who were indentured servants in a legitimate manner as well at the time.

As we ...more
By Mr. Z (11847), North Sea on Oct 3, 13 6:47 AM
No doubt - but doesn't change the fact that he "owned" slaves.

and PQ1 - yes Puleston was unrelated to Southampton, I just wanted to point it out to PBR because he was a fascinating person that many people do not know about.
By Nature (2966), Hampton Bays on Oct 3, 13 9:08 AM
I feel sorry for the owners of the property who have to deal with the likes of Ms. Spanburgh, Mr. Studentroth and Mr. PBR. A contingent of Japanese had to travel 6000 miles to place a monument in the local park before anyone in Southampton realized who this person was. It does not seem fair that the property owner must deal with the public's opinion to simply live his life the way he would like to.
By Masticator (6), southampton on Sep 26, 13 5:25 PM
1 member liked this comment
My comments were limited to Mr. Concer's life which was remarkable indeed. No opinion was offered about the house, or about its preservation.

And yes, it is too bad that the general public did not know more about his inspiring life until recently.
By PBR (4956), Southampton on Sep 26, 13 5:33 PM
The historical significance of the Mr. Concer is certainly worthwhile, but there seems to be considerable doubt as to whether the house as it stands now was the one existing 300 years ago.

But even if it is the original house, it is patently unfair for the Town (or any government agency) to approach someone who has bought a property unencumbered by liens or restrictions, and paid a purchase price that reflects no encumbrances, and then only when the owners prepare to build/rebuild, say ...more
By Funbeer (273), Southampton on Sep 26, 13 8:08 PM
2 members liked this comment
Only Zach Studenroth would have you believe that the material on that house was used 300 years ago. Based on this information from the previous property listing, I am going to go out on a limb and suggest that there is good reason this home has never received any historical commemoration.

"The property class is Multiple Residences and the zoning is village. Positioned on just under an acre of the perfect lot, the grounds contain two residences: a five bedroom, 2.5 bath home with two floors ...more
By Masticator (6), southampton on Sep 27, 13 5:54 AM
Sounds like the house is in great condition!! Another reason it shouldn't be demolished!
By evergreen (19), Southampton on Sep 27, 13 9:20 AM
Two houses on site. Quote pertained to larger house, not this one IMO.
By PBR (4956), Southampton on Sep 27, 13 10:19 AM
The House is made of 19th and 20th century building materials and building techniques. I I think there are a couple idiots running around the village saying that every old house is historic. Just because the house is old and falling apart doesn't mean it has any historic value. Not one single person has brought any compelling proof that this house has any significance
By chief1 (2800), southampton on Sep 28, 13 8:54 AM
1 member liked this comment
The plaque on the Pyrrhus Concer monument in Agawam Park just across the street states that it was his house. And since no one has inspected the interiors of the two structures (unless you have?) it is very difficult to verify the age. But if you look at the real estate ad photos (search by address), you can see the wide floor boards in the second floor of the main house plus cottage to the rear.
By evergreen (19), Southampton on Sep 28, 13 10:43 AM
BTW age is but one factor that is considered when determining if a house/property has historical significance.
By evergreen (19), Southampton on Sep 28, 13 1:36 PM
Luckily there is an easy solution. The family that owns the eye-sore of a property in Hampton Bays that collects crowds of drunken drivers late into the early morning, yet thinks they can tell everyone else how to preserve their property can cough up $2,000,000, purchase it and do whatever they want with it. Until then I would hope that we can all see the irony in a village homeowner with a completely overgrown house on a disrupting flag lot which is the bane of residential development in this ...more
By BiListren (7), East Hampton on Sep 29, 13 5:35 AM
1 member liked this comment
What? It's unclear who (or what) you're talking about, though I'm picking up on allusions to the owners of Neptunes (which is slated to be sold to the Town)
By Nature (2966), Hampton Bays on Sep 30, 13 9:10 AM
A new related article by Dana Shaw reveals fascinating details about Mr. Concer's life. [link above]
By PBR (4956), Southampton on Oct 3, 13 2:56 PM