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Aug 29, 2011 10:24 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Antique Blacksmith Shop At Historical Museum Demolished In Storm

Aug 31, 2011 10:43 AM

An array of 19th century blacksmith tools was on display outside at the Southampton Historical Museum and Research Center in Southampton Village on Sunday—but the exhibit was anything but intentional.

As Hurricane Irene ripped through the East End on Sunday, it split open a rotten tree behind a post-and-beam structure—a replica of the E. & C. Bennett blacksmith shop that, according to Tom Edmonds, the museum’s executive director, operated from the late 1790s to about 1810—and smashed it into pieces. The building itself was not historic, but period materials and methods were used to re-create the historic shop on the museum grounds on Meeting House Lane.

Lying atop the hand-hewn wood beams was a bellows and forge that is used at least once a year at the museum’s annual fall Harvest Day. This year, the Southampton SeptemberFest, a cultural festival, will be held the same day, September 24—but John Battle, the East Hampton blacksmith who traditionally visits the museum for that event to fire up the forge, will not be able to do so this year.

“Have you ever seen somebody smile with a missing tooth?” asked Mr. Edmonds as he surveyed the scene of destruction on Monday morning. There, between the Hildreth’s General Store and a carpenter’s shop, was a leveled blacksmith shop. A sign reading “E. & C. Bennett Practical Horse Shoers” rested on the ground. “That’s what it looks like to people who love this complex. There’s just a big hole in it, and it’s very sad.”

Mr. Edmonds estimated that the building had measured about roughly 12 feet by 16 feet. It was open to the public and featured a large bellows and forge, and numerous artifacts, such as rakes, keys, hooks, a large drill press and even horse bells.

“It’s a product of love,” Mr. Edmonds said. “The only reason we can maintain buildings like this is if someone adopts it.”

Those sponsors for at least the last five years are Carryl Bennett Howell, a descendant of the Bennett brothers who ran the shop until it went out of business in about 1820, according to Mr. Edmonds, and her husband, Ed Howell, a member of the so-called “1640 Club” for those who can trace their ancestry back to the time of the original English settlement of Southampton.

“Of course, we got quite a bit of effort in it, so it was a bit of a shock. Fortunately, it was the only one,” Mr. Howell said Wednesday morning from his home in Lexington, Kentucky, where he and his wife moved from the East End. He explained that a blacksmith shop similar to the one that was just demolished used to sit on Hill Street in Southampton Village, and his sister wished to memorialize the family’s blacksmithing history and so took it on as a project.

“It would be nice to see if that building can be saved. The walls are intact, but they appear to be very fragile,” he said, noting that Mr. Edmonds sent him photos of the destruction.

Mr. Howell said he and his wife visit the exhibit when they come back to Southampton a couple of times per year, in the spring and fall.

“We would like to restore it. If we can’t restore it, we’ll rebuild, possibly. But we’re going to try to save the building, because it’s ancient history,” Mr. Edmonds said, adding that he hopes to get Federal Emergency Management Agency funding, insurance money and community support to do so.

Shortly after the shop came tumbling down on Sunday, Mr. Edmonds said that he caught a man trying to make off with some of the tools and put them in his car. The man, he said, turned the items over once confronted. “People didn’t have electricity, but they had gasoline, so they decided to come over here,” Mr. Edmonds said about people during Sunday’s storm.

According to the Southampton Village Police blotter, a report of a possible looting was called into headquarters shortly after 2 p.m. on Sunday. The complainant told police that a man had taken a pottery jug but had returned it.

As for the Howells, there is a chance they will be in Southampton this fall. “If that happens, of course we’ll stop by,” Mr. Howell said.

And as for the upcoming Harvest Day festivities, Mr. Edmonds said, the blacksmith component might just have to take place outside the shop.

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