Mayor Mark Epley’s Grand Idea

The Mayor of the Village of Southampton, Mark Epley, is, in my opinion, a shining example of what a mayor should be. In a small community—the Village population is just 1,500 people within the Town of Southampton’s 40,000—it’s possible to do many things that might take forever to do in a town, because with so few people it is possible to get lots done if everybody rows in the same direction.

The hallmark of Epley is that, unlike many mayors who come in and just maintain the status quo during their terms, he takes advantage of this. His ideas are many. Some are better than others. Last week he thought of a gem. It’s sort of a win-win-win.

Epley has noticed the following situations. One is that the little brick building on Main Street that is leased to the Chamber of Commerce is nice but really very small and often gets overcrowded.  Another is that for 10 years or more there has been a boarded-up ramshackle building on Windmill Lane, adjacent to Rotations Bike Shop, which is an eyesore. Third is that the new Master Plan for the Village calls for making Windmill Lane—with its view of Lake Agawam beyond—a centerpiece main street of the town for its official business. And fourth is that whenever there is an opportunity to save a historic building—Southampton is the first English settlement in the State of New York—you should take it. [expand]

Epley recently learned, apparently, that the ramshackle building on Windmill Lane is actually a relatively new structure, built around 1920, which is attached to and sort of wraps part way around a beautiful 250-year-old home in the back.

Why not, thought Epley, ask the owners of this property, who have let it fall into ruin and would have to pay to tear it down, to instead donate it to the town, have the town rip off the front part of the building—the old structure inside is in good condition—and reveal the historic home?  After doing that, the town could relocate the building to Main Street to be the new home of the Chamber of Commerce.

Wow! At this juncture, the Chamber of Commerce says they just heard about it. (The Chamber is a private organization that rents the brick structure from the Village.) The owners of the Windmill Lane property, the Demetriades family, say they have yet to be contacted. Robert and Michele Murphy Strada, who tried to buy the building to save the historic structure in the back six years ago, say this would be a delightful solution. And the Mayor says he can find the funding, get volunteers and donations, and make all this happen. He would need to make it handicapped accessible. It would also have to have public bathrooms, something that could be put into a small adjacent structure that Southampton High School kids could build in the fall as a school project.

There is ample precedent for putting public services into historic buildings. In East Hampton the Village offices are now in a small historic wood-shingled building on Main Street and Huntting Lane. The Ladies Village Improvement Society moved years ago from a tiny brick structure in a parking lot to the Gardiner Estate across the street from Village Hall.

The old home on Windmill Lane was built approximately in the year 1760, in Colonial times, right on the corner in the center of downtown Southampton where the former Saks Fifth Avenue building is now on Main Street and North Main. It was originally built as an inn for tired travelers by Henry Rhodes, a prominent businessman. Rhodes and his family also lived in it. In the early 1920s, the town fathers decided, as the downtown became more hustle-bustle, to build a Town Hall on that corner—it would later become Saks—and so they moved the Rhodes House by horse and wagon to its present site at 22 Windmill Lane. It was no longer a private home, however. It became at first a hotel, then a multi-family residence and later, when the “new” front was put on, a speakeasy and brothel. There were wild times in Southampton in the 1920s. But what happens in Southampton stays in Southampton.

My hat is off to Mayor Epley. His ideas don’t always come to fruition. But that he puts them out there and then fights for them is what a good Mayor is supposed to do in my opinion. The Master Plan calls for a new Village Hall to be built on Windmill Lane. If it is, that street, backing up onto the main parking lot, will include the fire department, a church, the Cultural Center and, right adjacent, the Library, the Police Department building and the Southampton Press building. This idea is hard not to support.

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