The ‘The’ – A Clash Over Springs’ Name and Its Sign

Town workers removing the The Spring sign
Town workers removing the The Spring sign
Photo by David Buda

I live in Springs. But barely. The community’s southern borderline crosses Three Mile Harbor Road just 200 yards down the way. So it’s a short walk to get outta town, so to speak. Anyway, I’ve been in this house for 55 years now. And for the first 20 years, no sign indicating one was entering Springs ever marked that spot.

In the late 1990s, however, a sign went up on the side of the road facing those who would approach us. It read “Welcome to The Springs.” And I thought, “The Springs? No. It’s just Springs. There’s no ‘The.’” However, the sign has remained and over the years people have debated whether a “The” should be on that sign or not. Sometimes the sign would get vandalized by someone whiting out the “The.” But then, later, it would be painted back.

The community has become increasingly restless about this, not only on my street, but on Springs Fireplace Road and also on Accabonac Road where similar signs were erected. Indeed, one night the sign on Accabonac was knocked down. It’s never been put back up. A victory for the opponents of “The.”

And who decided there should be a “the” on those signs in the first place?

Turns out that the town board had ordered the signs be put up all those years ago after asking the Springs Improvement Society, another group active at the time, what the sign should say. Local Bonackers, Bonackers, descendants of the original Bonac families in Springs, gave their opinions. The town historian was consulted. Then signmaker Chris Harmon was hired to create the signs and put them up. At that time nobody could have imagined just how controversial this would all become.

At Ashawagh Hall and the Parsons Blacksmith Shop recently, citizens have reportedly almost come to blows about what the sign should say.

Now more historians have waded in, some coming down on one side of the controversy, some on the other. Hugh King, the town crier, was consulted. Some old history books say the place was originally called “The Springs.” Others have found books that show it without the “The.”

The town board learned that a march down Main Street by those in favor of the “The” was being planned for the Saturday of the Fourth of July weekend. Then it was learned that marchers opposing the “The” intended to also march, but the other way, on the opposite side of the street, that afternoon.

The last straw came when still a third group announced it would be out on Main Street to protest that day. They had new information about how the original community got its name: It was named after a 19th-century mattress and box spring factory that in the end burned down but which in its time played an important role in putting Springs on the map.

As a result of this, hoping to cool things down, town board announced that they’d discuss everything and make a decision at the next meeting. Also at that meeting, they’d make it public that no permits for any protests on July Fourth weekend would be given out.

Two days before that meeting, local pharmacist Horace Beggins, who heads up that third group, held a press conference in Ashawagh Hall to make a startling announcement.

“Springs was originally named after this factory,” Beggins said. He displayed old newspaper clippings from 1804 which announced the ribbon cutting for the opening of Springs Mattress and Box Spring Factory on Springs Fireplace Road, about where the town dump is today.

“Many people today are descendants of great-grandparents and great-great-grandparents who worked at the Springs Factory,” he said. “And they remember.”

Mattresses were made from muslin stuffed with dried seaweed found on the beaches in Northwest, a small village which no longer exists. (You can see some of the ruins of the water mill, school and meeting hall that remain on Swamp Road.) And the box springs were made from seaweed strands baked in an oven overnight and then woven together to form a strong underpinning for the mattresses.

“Local girls worked 16 hours a day weaving those strands at the factory,” Beggins said. “It was a sweatshop situation. Lawsuits were filed. A judge ordered fines be paid. So to avoid paying anything, Springs declared bankruptcy, wiped away all their debts, and reopened as “The Springs Mattress and Box Spring Factory,” with the ‘The’ added. So this was a legal maneuver. It was originally without the ‘The.’ Then styrofoam replaced seaweed. And in 1894, the factory burned to the ground.”

So not having the “The” was correct.

“I think it would be a dishonor to those local girls if the community continued to allow the word ‘The’ to be on the signs,” Beggins concluded.

And so, the East Hampton Town Board met to announce its decision. The place was packed.

But before a decision could be announced, a member of the Springs Citizens Advisory Committee bitterly declared to those in attendance that they’d been told on good authority that the town planned to have the “The” removed. The week before, they’d sent a letter to the town board demanding that the “The” remain. This news, if true, was like a slap in the face.

The East Hampton Star reported that town board member Kathee Burke-Gonzales, in response to this, said they didn’t think the advisory committee represented a majority view of the community.

And then it was indeed announced that the replacement signs would all be without the “The.”

An audible gasp was heard throughout the meeting room.

With that, David Buda, a local attorney, announced he was resigning from the Springs Citizens Advisory Committee in protest.

The next day, The East Hampton Star, attending the meeting, quoted Loring Bolger, the chairwoman of the Springs Citizens Advisory Committee addressing the town board saying, “If the town board will not act on the unanimous recommendation of the C.A.C., what are we doing? Why are we meeting every month?”

She also reportedly announced that she was considering resigning.

This is being written in late July. As you know, no marches took place over the Fourth of July weekend. We will be writing again when there is more information to report.

I’ll just keep looking down the street to see what happens.

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