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Southeast Appoints New Historian

Jack Alcott

By Holly Crocco

The Town of Southeast has a new historian.

Longtime resident Jack Alcott was unanimously appointed to the position by the Southeast Town Board at its March 7 meeting.

Alcott has been a Brewster/Southeast resident since 1961. Except for a nine-year stint in California, he’s lived in the town/village most of his life.

His first significant encounter with local history occurred when he was a boy exploring the woods around Starr Ridge and stumbled upon huge steel rings attached to chains anchored in cement. The chains, he learned, were for circus elephants kept with other exotic wild animals – including lions and tigers – on a nearby farm more than a century earlier.

Local history did not sound so boring, after that, so he stayed alert to the rough-and-ready tales about Brewster’s circuses, railroad men, iron miners, robber barons and cattle drivers –“cowboys” – that are all part of Brewster’s unique and unusual past.

It’s an avocation that continues today, and he’s written numerous local history-related stories for newspapers, magazines and online websites over the years.

A staff writer and Putnam County bureau chief for The Reporter Dispatch from 1984 to 1988, Alcott was later deputy managing editor/investigations at The Journal News in White Plains. He was also group managing editor for Hearst Connecticut Media, overseeing The Connecticut Post, Stamford Advocate, The New Haven Register, Greenwich Time and The News Times of Danbury (where he also was editor).

He retired from the newsroom in 2020 but continues to freelance – hopefully you’ve seen his byline in the Putnam County Times/Press.

Alcott is the author of The New York Times-reviewed novel “Grim Legion,” which includes a passage or two on Brewster’s famed Tilly Foster iron mine. When not mucking around in dusty historical records, he plays bass and guitar for the all-journalist rock band, The Bad Slugs.

Also during the March 7 meeting, the Southeast Town Board received an update on the Historic Sites Commission, by chairperson Cathy Croft.

She explained that the commission, of which she has been a member for 10 years, is hoping to make code changes, update its website, and make other advancements.

“There are six roads in the town that are located on the scenic or historic route, and because they have to conform to a 50-foot buffer if they are going to have any disturbance in the buffer or do anything to their house if it’s withing that 50 feet, it’s supposed to come before the Historic Sites Commission,” she said.

Therefore, the commission would like to send letters to the 39 homeowners who are on the “historic sites list” and also those who live along the route, to notify them of their obligations.

In addition, the commission is interested in providing training for its members, as well as members of other boards of interest. “There’s a lot to the Historic Sites Law-Chapter 83, and most of the members on the commission have never had training,” said Croft.

Also, the commission is looking to erect signage along the town’s historic roads.

“I went out last Saturday driving around and I think I came up with 11 locations, if there was a sign at each end of the road,” said Croft. “That doesn’t have to be immediate because, obviously, we didn’t budget for any of this.”

She said that last year the town donated $1,500 each for blue and yellow New York State historic signs for the Old Southeast Church Cemetery, also known as the Sears burying ground, as well as a small cemetery near Sodom and Brewster Hill roads. A ceremony or unveiling is being planned for the Old Southeast Church Cemetery in the spring.

“So, there’s a lot that we’ve been working on,” said Croft.

Town Board member Eric Cyprus praised the work of the commission.

“I 100 percent support the code change,” he said. “When I was first on the Architecture Review Board we did training for all the boards, and I don’t think we’ve done it (again), so that’s like 12 years ago. So I’m totally in support of the training sessions.”

He noted that the board would have to discuss whether there is money in the budget for signage this year.

Supervisor Nick Durante also voice his support of the commission’s efforts.

“I’d love to see our symbol (on signage), because with some off these things that we are going to be doing, the clean-up a little bit, I’m going to try to incorporate that on some of our buildings.”


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