Preservation Long Island Recognizes Sag Harbor Historian, Library

2018 Preservation Long Island award recipient Zach Studenroth and Catherine Creedon, director of the award-winning John Jermain Memorial Library, photographed in the library on Wednesday, 4/11/18. Michael Heller photo

During Zachary Studenroth’s tenure as director of the Sag Harbor Whaling and Historical Museum, the discovery was made that at some point in the long-ago, pre-renovation days of the John Jermain Memorial Library, the library had discarded some of its original furniture, fixtures and architectural features, which found their way to the museum.

“Their well-meaning, thoughtful people had marched this stuff across the street. We were very happy to be the unintended caretaker of all sorts of really valuable architectural elements — doors, tables, original furniture, also some bronze lighting fixtures,” Mr. Studenroth said. “We were able to repatriate them to the library when their project was in its very early stages. That was fun.”

He and the library are linked in another way now, too. They are both being honored by Preservation Long Island, the organization formerly known as the Society for the Preservation of Long Island Antiquities, which says on its website that it is “committed to working with Long Islanders to protect, preserve and celebrate our cultural heritage through advocacy, education and the stewardship of historic sites and collections.” Mr. Studenroth will receive the Howard Sherwood Award for lifetime achievement and the library will receive a Project Excellence award, to be presented on May 5 at the Old First Presbyterian Church in Huntington during a 2 p.m. reception.

“I didn’t really foresee this because I do what I enjoy doing,” Mr. Studenroth said. “I go about my business and suddenly I realized I’ve been doing it for 40 years. I’m truthfully quite honored to be recognized.”

Not only is JJML being recognized by Preservation Long Island, but it has also received another accolade: the Preservation League of New York State has recognized the library with its award for Excellence in Historic Preservation.

“It’s pretty exciting,” said Catherine Creedon, JJML’s director, who credited her colleagues, current and former library board members, the architects and the many contractors and consultants “who brought the building alive.” “Already, I think the mind forgets how bad things were. We see this beautiful building and we self-edit a lot. But when I look back at the pictures, I am really struck by how big a leap forward this was for the people of Sag Harbor.”

Alexandra Wolfe, executive director of Preservation Long Island, praised Mr. Studenroth and the library.

“We’ve had a long relationship with Zach,” she said. “He’s your local historian, but he has done so much for the East End broadly. He’s done countless National Register nominations. He’s dedicated a lifetime to historic preservation on Long Island, and that’s what our Howard Sherwood award is about.”

Ms. Wolfe called the library “a very collaborative and thoughtful project.”

“It’s a wonderful project that incorporates the restoration of a very important historic building and a new addition to update the library’s connection to the public and keep it in place, where it should be,” she said. “I think this is a case where the library worked hard to gather all of the support and respond to the needs of the community and the needs of the building and come out with a solution that really gets what a library should be now. It was easy to imagine building a whole new structure somewhere else, but they really worked hard to make this project successful in place.”

Mr. Studenroth has a degree in art history from Middlebury College and a master’s degree in historic preservation from Columbia University, but he said he got his real education doing field work. He credits Daniel Hopping, the noted architectural historian and preservationist, with teaching him many things during the 10 years he worked as Mr. Hopping’s assistant. Currently, Mr. Studenroth is the consultant to architectural review boards in both Sag Harbor and Southampton villages, and is the part-time director of the Cutchogue-New Suffolk Historical Council.

“I’m not taking it as a slowing down,” Mr. Studenroth said of his award. “It’s a changing landscape. Having worked on so many of these houses and structures over the years, I find myself returning with new people, new directors, new volunteers.”

The library reopened in 2016 with much community fanfare after an eight-year, $16.5-million construction process.

This week, Ms. Creedon said looking back on what the library had achieved “sort of gave me this amazing lens of what we had accomplished. I never took a breath to say, ‘Oh wow, good job.’ We just rolled right into this building in the middle of July. In the day-to-day of it, you forget to look at what’s around you, and this is really truly splendid.”