Despite great obstacles during the COVID-19 pandemic, North Fork not-for-profit Oysterponds Historical Society (OHS) continues its mission established in 1944, to celebrate their region’s culture and heritage—especially the history of East Marion and Orient, where OHS resides. The organization had to close its offices, but the staff, board and volunteers are working remotely to keep the community informed and engaged through online events, while also preparing as much as possible for post-pandemic programs and exhibits.
Chief among these new endeavors, which include fun activities like Trivia Tuesday questions via the org’s social media, OHS launched its exciting Alone Together Virtual Lecture Series last month, and all sorts of local talents are taking part and sharing their knowledge.
“It’s really been exciting to be able to do this…necessity is the mother of invention,” OHS Executive Director Sarah Sands says of the Alone Together program, noting that the webinars are extremely popular, attracting as many as 80 people from all over the country. Participants typically identify where they’re from as the lectures get underway, and Sands says they’ve had people from Arizona, Florida, California, and even Ireland, looking for an educational experience, or simply a connection to home.
Since it began, the Alone Together series has rolled out multiple Zoom webinars each week, starting with Historical Houses of Oysterponds Historical Society on March 28. Lectures continued with The Saint Thomas Home of East Marion; She Went a-Whaling: Diary of a Whaling Captain Wife; Captains of Oysterponds; A History of Iceboating; Enjoying the Sugar Arts: Cake Decorating Demonstration; and, most recently, Highlights of the OHS Collection.
This Saturday, April 18, from 2–3:30 p.m., the community is invited to enjoy the latest installment in the virtual lecture series: A History of the Oyster Industry on the East End. Presented by local science teacher, past Southold Town Trustee and oyster grower John Holzapfel, the program offers a visual exploration of oyster harvesting from Native Americans to the present-day boutique oyster farmers, emphasizing the natural history of the oyster along with the history of the local North Fork oyster industry.
On Sunday, April 19 (4–5:30 p.m.), Alone Together continues with Magic Carpet Tour of the Offshore Lighthouses of Southold. As noted by the event’s description, Southold is home to more offshore lighthouses than any other township in the United States. Presented by Edward “Ted” Webb, a member of Southold’s Historic Preservation Commission, the lecture will look at the town’s seven remaining lighthouses and of Fort Tyler aka “the Ruins,” a storied site north of Gardiners Island once used for bombing practice by the U.S. military, that’s now being swallowed by the sea. In addition, participants will hear fascinating stories told by men who served on the lighthouses, bringing these iconic, historic structures to life.
The series, which has a rich and varied schedule through mid-May—with more on the way—goes beyond even history and aquaculture. Presenting an active member of the region’s vibrant art scene on Thursday, April 23 (2–4 p.m.), Studio Visit with Darlene Charneco invites the community into the mixed media artist’s workspace. Current William Steeple Davis Trust Artist-in-Residence, Charneco creates three-dimensional mappings, called “memorypalaces,” and tactile “weaves” to see our dwellings, our communities and our evolving sensory perceptions in a new way—as part of a larger organism’s growth stage. This installment will be a casual visit to Orient’s historic William Steeple Davis studio and an introduction to some of Charneco’s art, thoughts and inspirations.
Then, next Saturday, April 25 (2–3:30 p.m.), brings Menhaden: The Most Important Fish in the Sea. Also presented by Holzapfel, this lecture will focus on the more than 200-year menhaden industry, which began in Southold. Holzapfel will examine the natural history of the “the most important fish in the world” along with the fishery and factories that developed on the East End.
Holzapfel leads all lectures next month, when the series looks at Hunting the Blue-Eyed Scallop on Saturday, May 2 (2–3:30 p.m.); followed by The Long Island Express: The Hurricane of 1938 on Saturday, May 9 (2–3:30 p.m.); and Poquatuck Hall: Oysterponds Community Center for Over 125 Years on Saturday, May 16 (2–3:30 p.m.).
Sands says she’s still booking new installments to the series, and will soon add specifics about an upcoming lecture with Louisa Hargrave about the history of Long Island’s wine industry, and another about the history of Gardiners Island, with even more to come.
Support Oysterponds Historical Society
On its website, OHS notes that the organization is maintaining employee salaries, even as some are unable to work without access to key materials, are ill or caring for others. All of this and its excellent programming, of course, requires donations and support from the community. Yet OHS says the board is aware people are suffering financially, and has pulled back on requests for membership renewals and donations. Still, if you enjoy the Alone Together Virtual Lecture Series, and are able to give, it wouldn’t hurt to help.