By Stephen J. Kotz
Julie Greene, who was recently named as the Southampton Town historian and serves as the archivist and curator for the Bridgehampton Museum, talks about her role in protecting the town’s historic character, what makes Bridgehampton special and why she supports the creation of a historic district in the hamlet.
You became the town historian in September. What are your duties?
I’m there two days a week and I oversee the archives. We have a vault in the basement, which has anything from old Indian deeds to the Dongan and Andros patents. The town also owns 10 cemeteries, and the Historic Division, where I work under Town Clerk Sundy Schermeyer, who is the steward for them. The town has historic markers on roadsides, and we determine what should get recognized. We also are asked to weigh in on whether houses or other historic buildings should be given landmark status.
The town has begun to talk about creating a historic district in Bridgehampton. Where are you at in the process?
The discussion is still in the preliminary stages. Nothing is set in stone. People often oppose historic districts because they get the notion they are not going to be able to do what they want with their property. But I think there is a way to make it work so it is not a hardship. Because Bridgehampton is just a hamlet, whereas Sagaponack and Sag Harbor are villages, it might be easier to make it a local district rather than go with state and national designations. If you do it locally, you have more control. The members of the Bridgehampton Citizens Advisory Committee seemed supportive, but now we have to see how the business owners react.
What would be included in a historic district?
There is an industrial area. There were a number of produce grading stations in the area around the railroad tracks. We have a historic downtown. It includes four churches. We have the old cemetery, the library — which was the only library between here and Brooklyn when it was built in 1876. Most of the buildings that stood on Main Street are still there, though quite a lot of them got moved around. And we also have a residential portion. The houses run the gamut, from the Ezekiel Sanford House, which was built in 1686, to Minden, which was built by John Berwind, a Pennsylvania coal magnate, in 1909.
What makes Bridgehampton historically significant?
Up until 1870, this was a very agrarian society. The turnpike was the way back and forth to Sag Harbor to send out products on the ships to the city.
When the railroad came, it really changed the dynamic out here. Not only did it give farmers easier access to get their produce to the city, but it brought people out here. The railroad came here and then went into Sag Harbor, but it didn’t get to East Hampton for another 25 years, so this was the terminus. Today, people know Bridgehampton more for being in between Southampton and East Hampton, but at the turn of the 20th century it had a very different role.
What about auto racing?
The whole racing history is pretty phenomenal. They had carnivals, which were a major thing in the summer, and on the heels of the Vanderbilt Cup, they put together races. The fire department was involved and a lot of the movers and shakers out here. By 1915, they had their first race. They started in front of the Sanford Water building, which is just the west of the Presbyterian Church. That building is still there. It is remarkable to see the cars all lined up on Main Street in old photos.
Why is it important to protect Bridgehampton’s heritage?
Before everything is lost, we have to think about why people come out here. If we continue on this pace, the landscape is not going to be recognizable. It’s one thing to build houses on subdivided farm fields. It’s a completely different thing to tear down a 250-year-old house. That’s not to say you can’t add a wing or put in a modern kitchen, but if you buy such a property you have to take some responsibility for it.