When the Village of Sag Harbor gave Long Wharf and two surrounding acres of underwater land to Suffolk County on Nov. 20, 1947, the wreck of the brig Middletown had been lying undisturbed on the bottom for 168 years, ever since British forces fired on her from Sag Harbor’s prominent pier during the Revolution.
When the county resolved to give Long Wharf back to the village in February of this year, the bones of ships, sections of “wharf cribs,” and yet-to-be-discovered artifacts remained undisturbed, and that’s the way it should stay, at least until money can be raised to do a proper archaeological study, in the opinion of Henry Moeller, a retired professor of oceanography, marine archaeology, and botany at Dowling College.
Mr. Moeller was instrumental in finding the wreck of H.M.S. Colloden in Montauk’s Fort Pond Bay in the late 1970s. Cannons, cannonballs, shoes, bottles, and even a length of tarred rope were brought to the surface. The collection is held at the East Hampton Town Marine Museum on Bluff Road in Amagansett.
In 1999 Mr. Moeller traversed Sag Harbor with a side-scan sonar, a machine able to paint a black-and-white picture of objects from rebounding sound waves. The bottom literally echoed with hints of the harbor’s rich past. Mr. Moeller said he was concerned that the county’s giveback would not be accompanied by sufficient protections of the surrounding bottomland and its submerged history.
Long Wharf is on the National Register of Historic Places and has its protections, but Mr. Moeller said he was concerned that the bottomland and its treasures did not, making them more vulnerable in village hands.
Sag Harbor’s resolution, which states that the village wants the wharf back “for the municipal purpose of constructing, maintaining, and/or improving roadways and highways,” was debated last week in the County Legislature’s public works committee, of which County Legislator Jay Schneiderman of Montauk is a member.
The roadway on the wharf is now owned by the county. Route 114, a state road, passes by the wharf’s landward end.