By LIZ BUTTON
The city’s Landmarks Committee has obtained bids from local conservation specialist companies to repair two of Rye’s three historic mile markers.
The volunteer committee, which is dedicated to maintaining the historic character of Rye, will repair two of the city’s milestones: Marker 25, which is embedded in a low stone wall on Boston Post Road located across from Parkway Drive, and Marker 26, which is currently being stored in the basement of City Hall and was formerly located at Christ Church off the Boston Post Road..
Landmarks Committee chairman George Zahringer presented the project to the City Council at its Aug. 5 meeting. He said the $4,800 project estimates are standard for companies that do tombstone work.
In 1763, 230 mile markers were erected on the Boston Post Road, which served as what amounted to the area’s first GPS, according to Landmarks Committee member Maurio Sax. The system brought communities together by helping residents understand exactly where their communities were situated along Boston Post Road, from New York City Hall all the way to Boston, Mass.
Founding father Benjamin Franklin first affixed the marker’s locations along the entire route when he served as deputy postmaster general of the United States, a position that entailed measuring the distances to determine postal rates using a distance recorder.
From the city’s founding, historic preservation has been a part of the Rye tradition.
Historical research has shown that over the years each of these markers have been moved from the original spots where Franklin placed them in the 1700s.
In 1927, Mayor John Motley Morehead bought the mile markers for $500 from the federal government when the city, then a village, bought the Boston Post Road. Rye is the only municipality along the iconic route that bought the portion of the road that runs through it. Morehead put bronze plaques on each of the markers and restored them to their estimated original positions.
Within the last five years, the Landmarks committee started discussing how to get the markers restored for future generations to enjoy. In July, the committee recommended A.M. Art Conservation out of Scarsdale to the city to perform the restoration work.
Zahringer said Marker 25 is in deplorable shape, from factors as diverse as the erosion of time and weather, to vandalism and vehicle pollution.
“It’s almost a disgrace,” he said. “It’s falling apart, the plaque has been torn off it, and we’re afraid if we took it out to repair it, it would [fall apart].”
In terms of the other milestone, Marker 26 fell apart when the Landmarks Committee previously tried to repair it. The plan is to repair it, but not to reinstall it, and instead, possibly exhibit it indoors at City Hall.
The Jay Heritage Center at 210 Boston Post Road will repair a third marker, 24, themselves, which is embedded in the stone wall that borders the estate. The center’s acting executive director, Suzanne Clary, had some concerns, but was brought into the process and from then on was very involved, Zahringer said.
“If not conserved, they would ultimately become the vanishing milestones and be lost to the community,” said Sax, a local historian and former chairman of the Rye Democratic Party, who joined the city-appointed committee in 2012.
The Landmarks Committee will also attempt to retrieve another of Rye’s original markers, which currently resides at the former site of United Hospital in Port Chester, Zahringer said, outside of historic Rye. In 1972, the marker was shattered by a truck and repaired by Rye City with the wrong number.
Zahringer said Sax and the committee’s City Council liaison Laura Brett, a Republican, are working to get the marker back and may put it on Orchard Road, where it was originally.
The process, Councilwoman Brett said, had been drawn out for years, ever since she was a member of the Landmarks Committee and the Rye Historical Society’s board.
Redoing the landmarks is a worthwhile project, Brett said. She emphasized the importance of protecting and preserving elements of Rye’s history, which can be seen all around the city.
“We’re so fortunate to live in a city that has as much history as this one does,” Brett said.
Zahringer encouraged local volunteers to get involved in the project to, as some Rye conservationists like to call it, “keep historical Rye Rye” and announced that, in the future, the Landmarks Committee will also work to officially landmark the Rye Meeting House on Milton Road.
The committee also has plans to turn the city’s central business district into a historical district, allowing landlords to opt in to a program that gives tax breaks for landmarking their building, an opportunity that comes from New York’s Ithaca Law, a tax credit abatement enacted in 1997 as part of the state’s Real Property Tax Law.