Victor Principe has written two “Images of America” books, “Bellport Revisited” and “Bellport Village and Brookhaven Hamlet,” meticulously researched, highly readable volumes with 19th- and 20th-century photos from private collections and their accompanying captions of significant places and people who lived here. He is currently at work on a third. But he also champions keeping the village aesthetically beautiful and historically accurate, and recently received the Bellport-Brookhaven Historical Society’s Pelletreau Award.
Principe, of Bellport, didn’t grow up in Bellport Village with its 18th- and 19th-century architectural allure. He was raised in Washington Heights, one of eight children, of Calabrese heritage.
“People ask, ‘Why are you interested in preserving things, it has nothing to do with your heritage?’ I think it’s just beautiful,” Principe said. “Even though the culture that created this is different from where my family came, it’s just a feeling I have for this place. This whole area has basically survived.”
“Victor has contributed greatly to documenting the history of Bellport and Brookhaven through his Arcadia books,” said BBHS director Tricia Foley. “We use them regularly to look up details and visual references in our work at the Bellport-Brookhaven Historical Society and they are a great introduction to the area for newcomers who are interested in our architectural and cultural history. And he is tireless about his passion for the preservation of our local architecture.”
He admits while some residents love him for his passion, some don’t. (He is persistent.)
“This whole area has basically survived with its look,” he explained. “And it didn’t just happen. You had people like Birdsall Otis Edey [president and founder of the Village Improvement Society], who convinced New York State to have Montauk Highway pass a half-mile to the north, setting the stage for slow growth, and Stephanie Bigalow, who led a 10-year effort that helped place 80 Bellport houses on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980. Former mayor Frank Trotta established the Bellport Historic Preservation Commission, which gave it power to designate and preserve historic districts. They did it to make sure this area stayed beautiful. You also have Elisabeth and Thomas Post-Morrow, who appreciated the beauty of nature and preserving it instead of making money. One of the last things they did was saving Loehmann’s Farm [now Deer Run Farm, which leases from Post-Morrow].”
His third book in the making is “Unhampton: Preservation and the Happiness of Place in Bellport Village and Its Environs.”
“When you see certain things, you know you’re here,” he said. “That’s what we share, a quality known as ‘sense of place’ by the tangible buildings and views. The purpose of this book is to explain why we love it so. The whole book is the history of the historic preservation movement and conservation and the people who preserved and conserved this area and what they did.”
Principe first came to Bellport in 1968 when he worked for The Gateway during the summer and built sets for its children’s theater. “I didn’t come back until 1976, looked at different areas and remembered Bellport for a country house,” he said. “At the same time, my friend’s partner purchased a house on South Howell’s Point Road.”
Eventually, Principe moved to First Street in 1981, then to his current home in 1993, which dates back to 1839, with his partner John Renninger.
Principe said he was surprised he was tapped for the award. “I guess it’s partly because of the books and also I have a reputation for trying to preserve history,” he said. “Right now, I’m trying to get ADA pads at the curb of a sidewalk painted black. (ADA pads are designed for the visually impaired to feel the raised, truncated domes with their feet. It alerts them with a tapping cane to an upcoming intersection.) There are two on Bellport Lane and Pearl Street and they are also on the dock and on Brown’s Lane, and they look horrendous. Michael Foster has offered to paint them, and The Bellport Village Program Fund will have them painted.”
Unsightly areas tend towards creeping inappropriateness, he said.
“To have a place like this is a treasure, so you want to preserve it.”
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