In 1897, a prominent resident of Southampton died at the age of 83. Pyrrhus Concer was important enough to be given obituary in The New York Times; during his funeral service at First Presbyterian Church, one speaker read a poem about him, calling him “good as gold.” He was buried beside his wife Rachel, who predeceased him. His tombstone reads, “Though born a slave he possessed those virtues without which kings are but slaves,” written by Elihu Root, a neighbor who was also U.S. Secretary of State.
Yes indeed, Pyrrhus Concer, a black American, born a slave, was beloved by all in Southampton. His life was utterly extraordinary. More about that later, but first: the mighty efforts to preserve his ancient homestead, which failed, and the local efforts to rebuild his house ever since.
Concer’s Southampton house, at 51 Pond Lane, existed since at least 1800. Pond Lane is right next to Lake Agawam, a large body of water that stretches almost to the ocean. For many years it was a simple village house, but as Southampton changed from a farming community to a wealthy summer colony, the house was enlarged and transformed. By 2013, though, the old house was looking past its best and the property was sold for $2.75 million to a couple who wanted to tear the house down and build a bigger new one. The Southampton Village Board denied the request, which led to a $10 million lawsuit from the owners that, among other things, attempted to assert their property rights and decried the dilapidated state of the house.
The mayor of Southampton worked out a settlement whereby the owners were allowed to demolish Concer’s house, after myriad historical architectural elements, such as old wooden beams, were salvaged for a future reconstruction. Alas, after all the wrangling, and razing the house, the couple decided they didn’t want to build a big new house on the site after all. To be sure, locals and other onlookers who had hoped to preserve the house just about tore their hair out.
The upside, however, was that the town stepped in and purchased the property from the couple, in 2015 for $4.3 million.