National historic preservation group organizing North Fork tour

01/26/2012 9:00 AM |

GIANNA VOLPE PHOTO | Historian Gail Horton stands on an old stepping stone near the corner of Main and North streets in Greenport. Passengers from the horse and buggy days would step from a carriage onto the stone to avoid getting clothing and shoes soiled by the mud streets.

Most North Forkers know all about the area’s colonial past and many are only too happy to share that knowledge. And in a few months, a few local historians will get to brag about the region’s rich past with a national historical group.

The North Fork has been selected as the destination for a June tour sponsored by The National Trust for Historic Preservation. The trust has offered study tours to its more than 200,000 members since 1970, but never before to the North Fork, which the organization’s brochure calls “Long Island’s best kept secret.” The tour will be a follow-up to several trips to the South Fork.

Richard Wines, chair of the Riverhead Town Landmarks Preservation Commission, said the “best kept secret” title is certainly appropriate for an area that’s “the least best known of Long Island.”

But there’s a downside to being “discovered,” he added. “I think there’s a part of us that would prefer the secret kept,” he said.

Gail Horton, a Greenport historian and longtime resident, bemoans those who visit the village but fail to realize “the richness and activity of this place and its history.” She echoed Mr,. Wines’ sentiment, saying she’d just as soon see the North Fork maintain its secret status.

Both Mr. Wines and Ms. Horton will serve as guides during the five-night excursion, which is limited to 25 people. Ms. Horton will lead the group on a walking tour of Greenport.

The visitors will stay at the Harborfront Inn on Front Street. Price for double occupancy is $2,875 per person, which doesn’t include airfare. Single occupants pay an additional $650.

“If you walk around Greenport, the story of the village is told and that’s how I intend to present it,” Ms. Horton said. The tour will include a lesson on Greenport’s maritime history, including its ports and the sailor’s life. They’ll discover how Sterling Harbor was known as Winter Harbor in the mid to late 1700s. “Our first port,” she said.

The group will also stop at Greenport Baptist Church, where they’ll be able to admire four Tiffany stained glass windows.

“I don’t know if any other church has that many of them,” Ms. Horton said.

Mr. Wines will show visitors around Hallockville Museum Farm and his own historic Jamesport property, which has been in his family for 350 years. The property includes a host of period buildings that he and his wife, Nancy Gilbert, a Peconic Land Trust board member, salvaged from the surrounding area and moved to their land.

“The house we’ll be showing was the house of a whaling captain whose ship made Jamesport its home port,” Mr. Wines said.
For anyone paying attention, North Fork history is hard to overlook. Southold, which included all of Riverhead prior to 1792, claims the title of the oldest English-speaking settlement in New York State. Cutchogue’s Old House, circa 1649, is the state’s oldest English-style structure.

But Mr. Wines argues that age isn’t what gives the area is special quality.

“My family has deep roots here going back to the founding of Southold in 1640, but I think the real attraction of the North Fork is more of what it is,” he said. “It’s the farming, the sea, the special quality of the air. You can always identify an Impressionist painting done out here because the light is a little different.”

The woman responsible for the tour, Protravel International’s managing director Susan Gullia, said she grew up coming out to Aquebogue, Shelter Island and Amagansett.

“Everyone knows about the Hamptons, but not an awful lot of people are familiar with the North Fork,” she said. “It hasn’t had the publicity and the jazz.”

Meg Annacone-Poretz, associate director of National Trust Tours, said the North Fork is an “off the radar” destination and an area “very much worthy of having a light shined on it.”

The June tour is being marketed in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.

“We’re hoping people in the tri-state area who have never been to the area will come and experience it for themselves,” she said.

gvolpe@timesreview.com