Q: You’re very involved in local history. Are you a North Fork native? A: No, but I’ve been here full time about 20 years and I’ve been coming here all my life. My family had a house in Greenport and we’d spend summers out here. Now I’m in New Suffolk.
Q: Greenport’s changed a lot over the years, but in some ways it’s remained the same. Do you have a particular take on Greenport to share?
A: Well, when I came out here full time, I came out alone and moved right into downtown Greenport. Between Aldo's coffee and the rolled up sidewalks, I started writing music full time for the first time in my life. I wrote a mock Chinese Opera.
Q: Wait, what? Coffee and quiet combined to make opera?
A: Yes. I was only able to do write full time because of two things—Aldo’s coffee and Greenport’s quiet. I would get up in the morning and go to Aldo’s, and the coffee was so good that I would write music all day long. Around 4 o’clock I’d say I’d had enough, and head to Aldo’s for another cup. Then since it was late fall and then winter, nothing was going on. So I just went back to writing music. Though the season is longer now, downtown Greenport still closes up at night in the winter.
Q: You’re on the Southold 375 Committee; have you always been a history buff?
A: No, I never liked history at all. I never liked it in school. Probably what hooked me to local history is the Albert Einstein connection.
I’m a musician, I’m a composer. Albert Einstein made a record in 1932. It wasn’t about physics, mathematics, WWII, the nuclear bomb. It was a record of him speaking about human nature. It’s an amazing record, Einstein’s Credo.
One of the things he said——was that we all stand on the shoulders of those who came before us. For Albert Einstein to say that, it’s a very humble thing for him to say. Really moved me. Then I heard the story of him living out here on Nassau Point, writing the letter to Roosevelt. It’s amazing how much history we have out here on the East End.
Q: Ok, I get that Einstein's local connection caught your attention. Still, that’s a good cocktail party story, doesn’t really explain how someone who disliked history ended up getting so involved with it. How did that happen?
A: Well, Douglas Moore was a composer who used to come out here and write operas. He chaired Columbia University’s music department, and he had a house in Cutchogue. I was asked to be on the Douglas Moore committee of the Cutchogue-New Suffolk Historical Council. It made sense to me to join because I’m a local composer too.
Q: What’s the Douglas Moore committee do?
A: The committee hosts a concert on the Cutchogue Green once a year. It’s August 8th this year—the Atlantic Wind Symphony. You come at five to picnic, and the concert starts at 7:30 pm.
Q: Sounds like a great time. But I don’t see the connection to Mile Marker Day, the Southold 375 event this weekend that I know you’ve been heavily involved with. That’s not music-centric in any way.
A: I was invited to come to a meeting of the 375 Southold Committee to be a part of it with the Douglas Moore concert, and the subject of the Benjamin Franklin mile markers came up. I found them so amazing, these stone markers by the side of the road for hundreds of years.
They’re just sitting there; nobody knew anything about them. I just started noticing more and more of them. Then I just set my odometer, starting at Franklinville road in Laurel, and went looking for the mile markers. I couldn’t believe how many there were. After I took the ride, I just thought how wonderful it was, everyone could do it. It’s like a pub crawl through history. You can do it by car, by bike.
The other day I took a bike ride and just stopped at mile marker 10, it’s in the woods—in Maratooka Lake preserve, just sitting there. That’s the thing about the North Fork. It’s really beautiful but to appreciate it you have stop and look. At mile marker 7 the house was once owned by the grandfather of one of the Presidents of the United States. I forget which, it’s on a plaque on the house.
Q: How real is the Benjamin Franklin connection? Can you sort the history from the apocryphal tale?
A: Yes, so far as it has been sorted. The original story was that Ben Franklin put them up so as Postmaster he could properly calculate postage. The controversy came up because Richard Wines, a historian from Riverhead, and Amy Folk of the Southold Historical Society and Oysterponds historical society—heavy duty historians--discovered that Benjamin Franklin had nothing to do with the stone mile markers. There was a law, in the early 1800s, which required the commissioner of the highways to put them up.
And that started a huge controversy, was Benjamin Franklin even here?
Q: Well, was he?
A: If you look on the internet at the letters of Benjamin Franklin, he wrote one on October 25, 1750 in which he referred to a fence that he had seen in Southold. He wrote it to a friend of his, who lived in Southold, asking how to construct such a fence. I believe there was another letter, from his younger days, in which he washed up in Long Island. So by his own letters he’s been here twice.
Then there was a man in Southold who said his father had taken Benjamin Franklin across the sound to his mother, but the date has to be wrong because she was dead by then. Assuming it’s true, it was probably the 1750 trip.
Q: So he was definitely here. Is there any connection to the mile markers at all?
A: Maybe, but not to the stone ones. When he was here his carriage did have an odometer on it that he invented. Either that odometer or a copy is in the Benjamin Franklin museum in Philadelphia. So when he was here he might have placed mile markers, wooden ones, but not the stone ones we have today.
Q: So what do people do on Mile Marker day?
A: On Mile Marker Day come to mile marker 7, across from the Elbow Room 2, on Franklinville Road, and pick up a mile marker kit for five dollars. The kit includes a postcard featuring a water color by artist Alan Bull of Orient, instructions for the day, and questions about each marker. You can see the kit on the Southold 375 website.
Then people answer the questions as they travel east visiting each mile marker. The questions are designed to make sure people stopped at the marker. For instance, does Mile Marker 19 lean left or right?
Once they get to the end, with this proof of visiting each marker, they get to meet Benjamin Franklin (well, a person enacting him of course.) He will be at mile marker 28. In honor of the fact that Franklin was the postmaster for the British Colonies and then the first postmaster of the United States, he will stamp any postcard with an official Southold 375 stamp made by the United States Postal Service, making the postcards very collectible.