Saturday, February 25, 2012

Harry Barton Bailey - old friend!

In his 1998 book The Greatest Generation, Tom Brokow epitomized the the quiet, steady heroes that served, fought and sacrificed, not for fame and recognition, but because it was the right thing to do.  From this generation were the men and women who fought in WW II and then came back to build America as the great Superpower. The heroes the media or entertainment industry glamorize could not be farther from the truth! The real heroes are those among us who served, or as East Hampton recognizes now with yellow ribbons, those that serve today.

Last week, an old friend, one of those from the greatest generation - Harry Bailey - passed away. I'm sure not many of you knew Harry even though he lived his entire 89 years here in East Hampton. Upon graduation from one of the first East Hampton High School classes, he became a tool and dye maker, his career interrupted by WW II. Enlisting in the U. S. Marine Corp, he served in the Pacific Theatre and was awarded the Purple Heart for wounds sustained in combat. Coming home, he resumed his trade working at the J C. Barton Co. for 47 years.  Most of us don't realize the skill or significance of the tool and dye making profession.  Virtually none of our consumer products - automobiles, refrigerators, cell phones or what have you - are possible without their talent. But that's another story.
He raised a family - his son Barton, one of my best friends! Harry was one of those genuinely talented people who could make things with his hands. An avid surf fisherman, he turned a VW van into a beach buggy in the 1960s to travel far out on the sand dunes in Rhode Island or the Cape in search of the big striper bass. The trick to traveling over the beaches and sand dunes - deflate your tires. But what do you do when you get back to pavement? Long before compressors plugged into a cigaret lighter sockets, Harry retrofitted an old machine compressor to his VW engine. So successful was this, he assisted many of his fishing friends to install their own. I'm sure he was pleased with the success of rejuvenating the striper bass populations in recent years. He might even had said that this was something Government got right!

He became a certified pilot. My first flight was with Harry. Barton and I were passengers taking off from East Hampton's airport which is now Skyline Estates. In the 1960s it was the "hub" of the northeast. He remained active with his 3rd Marine Division comrades. Barton and I even attended one of their reunions in Washington D.C. I believe in August 1965. 

Harry and the men and women like him will be missed.  We salute him for a job well done and a life well spent!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Aftermath and Rebuilding the Congregational Church

Adversity often brings people and communities together. We as a nation witnessed this phenomena after terrorist attacks on 9-11 and hurricane Katrina. After the devastating Congregational Church fire in 1941, one would naturally expect church members to join together in an effort to rebuild their house of worship, but the outpouring from greater East Hampton attests to the nobility and oneness which did and should prevail in a close knit community such as ours. At that point in East Hampton's 200 year history, it was reported to be the Town's Most Disastrous Fire inflicting $70,000 of loss as the Church was totally razed and the adjoining Parish House receiving extensive damage. In today's terms, the loss would be well over a million dollars. At the time, the building carried only $12,500 of insurance. I suspect that was an example of Yankee frugality.

The partition where the flames worked themselves to the attic were only a short distance from where the organist, Sidney McAlpine, sat. He was rehearsing selections for the Sunday service, but unaware of the situation until he heard a commotion outside where the smoke was first seen. The fact that he noticed nothing amiss bore out the painters' early belief that the fire was not of serious nature. The pastor, Rev. Mr. Lair reported and gratefully accepted immediate offers of assistance from members of St. John's Episcopal Chapel, St. Patrick's Church and the Bethlehem Lutheran Church including acceptance of the Lutheran Church as a place for worship for the congregation. The church was build in 1854, succeeding a similar structure constructed in 1748 that burned to the ground in 1852 and considered an outstanding example of fine colonial New England architecture. Described as "a picturesque setting among tall trees on a green overlooking the Belltown's trading center, it was the subject of many canvasses and photographs."

Within days of the 1941 church fire, Fred Gates, Chairman of the Board of Trustees, and Church leaders had begun the painstaking and laborious process to build once again. Architect, Arland A. Dirlam of Maiden, MA was engaged by the Building Committee. On November 30th, Dirlam presented preliminary building plans and advised the group that the parish house, constructed in 1905, could be reconstructed within two or three months and the present foundation for the sanctuary could be used for reconstructing the church.

When the Congregational Church was being razed by fired on Nov. 4th, one spectator who was not a member of the church approached the pastor, Rev. J. Edward Lair, and said "Well, there is only one thing to do. We've all got to help put it back." The community did rally in support! Members of St. Patrick's Catholic Church, St. John's Episcopal Church and the Swedish Lutheran Church asked for the privilege of contributing and organizations such as the local Odd Fellows lodge held a dance, donating the proceeds. Mrs. George Leewitz (Alice C. Bevin) East Hampton artist held a tea in her home on Barton Hill donating 2 of her paintings as door prizes.

Had the situation been normal, work would have begun immediately. Although the fund raising campaign jumped into high gear, actual construction and rebuilding would wait until 1948 before seeing completion and re-dedication with its lofty steeple the focal point of the Village Center. You see, Pearl Harbor was attacked just a month later. As every community across this county rallied, people, resources and efforts were dedicated to supplying the war effort. Building materials would not become available until after the end of WW II. In that interim, worship services were held at the Lutheran Church. Originally it was the Union Congregational Church erected in 1855.