Sag Harbor History Retold in Images and Letters

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Sag Harbor Historical Society members Jack Youngs, Bethany Deyermond, Barbara Schwartz, Nancy French Achenbach and Tucker Roth at the Annie Cooper Boyd House. Michael Heller photo

Named for a prolific local artist who once lived in this 18th century bungalow, the Annie Cooper Boyd House on Main Street is a fitting venue to showcase Sag Harbor’s colorful history. The Boyd house headquarters the Sag Harbor Historical Society and its extensive archive. The property also includes a small building dedicated to preserving the tools and history of William Cooper’s whaleboat shop. William Cooper was Annie Cooper Boyd’s grandfather; her father was William Huntting Cooper.

Attendees of this year’s Sag Harbor Cultural Heritage Festival who visit the Boyd House can enjoy two new presentations rich in local history. On Saturday, May 4, from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m., five historical society members will read moving passages from 15 historic letters in conjunction with a Google Slide presentation. The reading is titled “Voices from the Past: the Isolation of the Western Expansion.”

Historical society treasurer Barbara Schwartz has curated this selection of personal letters from the William Cooper Collection of over 3,900 documents, which is housed at the Long Island Museum of American Art, History, and Carriages in Stony Brook.

Many of the letters focus on the lives of 19thcentury female settlers — William Cooper’s daughters (aunts to Annie Cooper Boyd), Ann Eliza, Harriet, and Mary. The three moved from Sag Harbor to other waterfront villages — Lyons, New York; Troy, New York; and Pomeroy, Ohio, respectively. Patrons will be given a Cooper family tree to help them keep score of the names, places and passing generations.

“These letters are extremely interesting,” Schwartz says. “I’ve been reading them for the past three years and felt this the optimum time to share them.”

The oldest letter in the collection dates to 1835, just 10 years after the Erie Canal was completed. Lyons and Troy were both stops on “Clinton’s Ditch,” as the 363-mile-long waterway was called.

Some fascinating descriptions of life in this era involve barge travel, the raising of silk worms, flood, fire and, very often, being lonely.

“Women from here left to distant places, to isolation, they became very detached,” said Schwartz. “They had to be strong women to do this. Some of the letters detail sicknesses, young children dying.”

When another woman from the East End, Mary Ann Post Osborne, died in 1851, her husband Henry Osborne looked homeward for a new wife. Mary Cooper relocated to Pomeroy, Ohio, in 1852 to wed the widower and to raise his children. She sent a letter home commenting on the hard life along the Ohio River at that time, writing “This was never included in the contract!”

A common refrain in the women’s letters home to Sag Harbor is “When are you going to visit?” The trip could take weeks. In contrast, the Annie Cooper Boyd House is only a short walk (just one block north of the Sag Harbor Whaling and Historical Museum) from any location in Sag Harbor Village.

Tucker Roth’s exhibition “The Plethora of Outtakes Tell Tales of Sag Harbor” will be previewed over the weekend of the Cultural Heritage Festival. This is a sneak peek of a selection of vintage photos from the coming exhibition, which will officially open on Saturday, May 25.

Roth offers images of Sag Harbor that she could not fit into her 2018 “Images of America: Sag Harbor” book.

“It was very hard to slim down possible pictures for the book,” said Roth. “There are hundreds more photographs.” Check out aerial shots of our local shoreline, showing the rapidly changing business scape; vintage pictures of local sports teams and downtown shops; glamour shots of bathing beauties from many eras; and scenes from Noyac and North Haven.

Roth continues, intriguingly, “there were subjects not appropriate for the book,” quickly adding, “there were pictures of great interest that were not reproducible for print — we can show them here!” This includes some of the oldest images from the historical society archive, printed in enlarged formats.

Many images have never been publicly exhibited before, but now you can see them in this historic setting. The photographs will be interspersed with some of Annie Cooper Boyd’s related artwork. All will be on view through Columbus Day weekend. Also on view, beginning May 25, will be “Sag Harbor Long Wharf Archeology & History of Havens Beach” featuring many historic artifacts unearthed and curated by historical society board member Jean Held. These items were discovered on Havens Beach since last summer, deposited in dredge spoil from the harbor unearthed during the dredging of Long Wharf.

Admission to the Annie Cooper Boyd House, 174 Main Street, is by voluntary donation. For more information on Sag Harbor history and SHHS events, visit sagharborhistorical.org or call 631-725-5092.

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