Widgets Magazine

Tom Edmonds, Executive Director of the Southampton Historical Museum on Architecture, N. Fork v. South & our Shared History

Q: You live here on the North Fork but run a Southampton historical institution; how did you come to the North Fork? A: We lived in Southampton for five years, but we spent a lot of our days off on the North Fork and fell in love. I mean, the South Fork is lovely too. We like to say we’re bicoastal. Or maybe biforkal is a better way to put it.

In any case, my wife and I were looking for a house. We looked two years in Southampton; we were very fussy. Then we found an Andrew Geller home in Mattituck; it has a lot of weird angles. He was a midcentury modern architect. Geller’s famous for having done the brassiere house in West Hampton. It’s two cubes standing on end.

As soon as we walked in the door—within 30 seconds—we decided we wanted it.

Q: Wow; what was it that so grabbed you about it?

A: Anybody who walks through the door immediately relaxes, because of the wood, the glass; it’s a unique mix of the indoors and outdoors. Geller was a genius at bringing the outdoors indoors. Most of the Geller houses were beach houses; we have one of the few that was inland. We’ve been there three years today.

Q: What's the biggest difference you've noticed about living on the North Fork and the South Fork?

A: You can see your neighbors on the North Fork; in Southampton everything’s behind privet hedges. While Southampton has beautiful beaches and places, driving around it’s hard to see architectural history, which is what I’m interested in.

What’s been unique about my experience in moving from the South Fork to the North Fork is an increased awareness on my part of the importance of land preservation; it seems to me the North Fork is about 20 years behind in housing and commercial development from the South Fork. And that’s a good thing; I hope the Peconic Land Trust can continue to do their good work on both forks.

Q: Thanks, we’re quite proud of our land preservation efforts. Your interest in architectural history makes a lot of sense since you run the Southampton Historical Museum. Tell me about that organization.

A: The Southampton Historical Museum was organized in 1898 and now has four separate properties with 14 historic buildings. One property is the Thomas Halsey Homestead; it was established in 1648 and is Southampton’s oldest home. It’s a 17th century building near the ocean.

Southampton Historical Museum Halsey House

Our main building is the Rogers Mansion, an 1843 Greek-revival home of a whaling captain.

Southold Historical Museum Rogers Mansion by Jeff Heatley 2013

photo credit: Jeff Heatley

We also have the Pelletreau Silver shop. That’s right in the middle of the business district in Southampton. It’s very unique. It was built in 1686; it’s the oldest continuously open trade shop in the America.

Pelletreau Silver shop  Exterior Southampton Historical Museum Q: Oldest continuously open trade shop in America? That sounds really cool, but what does it mean?

A: It was originally a dry goods store, then it was Ellias Pelletreau’s silver shop 1750-1820, and then it was a book shop until the 1960s, when it became a museum building.

Today we have a silversmith who sells his jewelry and gives classes in Jewelry making. A serendipitous bonus is that he’s French, just like Pelletreau.

In addition to those properties, we also have the Conscience Point Historic Site and Nature walk.

4 Conscience Point

It’s a five acre wildlife preserve on Peconic Bay, and it’s where the English settlers landed in 1640. Which leads me to the fact that 2015 is the 375th Anniversary of Southampton. Of Southold too.

Q: Well, Southold’s 375 is a bit of a debate, since we weren’t free of New Haven for several more years, but yes, 1640 is when New Haven sent people to found Southold. What’s the Conscience Point story?

A: Conscience Point is in North Sea, which back in the 17th and 18th centuries was called Feversham, and that was the third largest port in the British Colonies behind Boston and Philadelphia in trade and immigration.

Q: 3rd largest? New Amsterdam wasn’t really on the map yet then I guess. I mean, it was literally on the map, just… you know what I meant.

A: Yes, New Amsterdam was not an important place then. Feversham was close to all the natural resources that were being shipped to Virginia, Boston, England, Barbardos—it was a key part of the sugar trade, which was part of the triangle trade of slaves, sugar and rum. Feversham was also an Ellis Island; it was the gateway immigrants passed through on their way to settling on the North and South Forks.

Q: So the 1640 landing was a big deal.

A: Yes, 1640 changed everyone’s life on the East End forever. The Indians lost their lives by catching Western diseases and land through unscrupulous trading. Even though Feversham wasn’t a slave trading center, slaves did come with their ‘owners’ in the 17th century. Ten percent of the population in Southampton was black and most, though not all, of them were slaves. The two reasons settlers came here were religious tolerance and land development.

Q: How long did the journey from England take?

A: The first group that came here was from Massachusetts, which at that was a Puritan theocracy. Land had become scarce in Massachusetts.

There was a large influx of people into Southampton and then the rest of the East End. The very first Massachusetts people here really had to struggle; there were about 12 of them, and they were all under 25. They built primitive dug out homes and started immediately raising crops with the help of the Shinnecock.

It became successful right away because Feversham quickly became a port. Timber was big, and cattle—dried beef was being shipped to Virginia. Virginia focused on raising tobacco, the cash crop, not food. From the town records we know that one farmer shipped 1000 barrels of dried beef to Virginia from Feversham. That’s a large shipment, and a small example of what we know.

Q: Given how important a place it was, funny how no one ever talks about Feversham. I’d never heard of it before now.

A: After about 1790 Sag Harbor began growing, and replaced Feversham, because it had a deeper port and thus larger ships could dock there. There’s essentially nothing left of the Feversham port; I’ve seen the foundation of a brick kiln that reportedly was in Feversham. We know what buildings were in the port, such as warehouses and taverns, but we don’t know where they were.

Q: So what’s happening for Southampton's 375th Anniversary? Anything that incorporates the North Fork too?

A: A lot of events. Traditionally every 25 years the community gets together to celebrate a common heritage; one event is a pageant which always included the Shinnecock Tribe. This year we’re getting started right away; I’ll be giving a talk about Feversham on January 22nd. Implicitly that involves the North Fork because the port of Feversham, now known as North Sea, acted as the Ellis Island for all of the East End. Settlers landed at Feversham and would leave to settle in Southold, Quogue, East Hampton, Shelter Island, etc.

The first event explicitly involving the North Fork will be a convocation held at the Presbyterian Church in Southampton with representatives of both the North and South Forks. That festive assembly will celebrate the founding of both Southampton and Southold Presbyterian Churches and both Towns, and will involve speakers, music and poetry.

Following the convocation will be a reception and exhibit opening for “If These Walls Could Talk: The Families of the Rogers Mansion” at the Museum across the street, and refreshments will be served. After that is a convocation dinner.

A full list of all the events throughout the year and the details of each can be found at 27East. For more information about Southampton’s 375th Anniversary events go to:

For more information about the Southampton Historical Museum click here.