“Riverside is a purposely disinvested and confused hamlet inside the Town of Southampton. It has a Riverhead zip code, a Riverhead school district, Riverhead library district, and even the County Center that is in Riverside has on its address: Riverhead. So this pocket of people, longstanding families, has actually been put in limbo without belonging to one community or the other."

Sean McLean, Flanders Resident
VP of Development, Renaissance Downtowns

THE Story:

Riverside's story uncovers memories of a rich past in contradiction with current realities in the community. Despite the immense structural inequalities facing this community, connecting with the past has given residents hope for a revitalized future. As residents have become involved in their neighborhood's development, that hope has gained the potential to become a reality for the first time in over half a century.

Riverside provides an example of the challenges facing distressed communities across the United States. Documenting its reengagement and revalidation through recording the oral histories of elders and current voices of advocacy will show communities across the country that change is possible when people are empowered. 

“I’m describing The Tale of Two Cities. These are two different places. The really good, working class people of Riverside who have been captured by economics, they’ve been captured by low property values, by disinvestment, and they can’t sell their homes, they can’t get out, they didn’t gain the wealth in their homes that every other community on Long Island did. Yet, we find that their connection to the land and the beauty of this river is still as strong as ever... You feel like you should be in a place that’s absolutely spectacular, except when you come here, you’re greeted by prostitution and human trafficking.”
Sean McLean, Flanders Resident
VP of Development, Renaissance Downtowns

The Riverside Archive Project:

In a historically underrepresented community like Riverside, Southampton, every individual should be able to contribute to how their history is preserved. The Riverside Archive Project aims to achieve that goal through the preservation of history and the affirmation of a neglected community’s identity. The project is a website where Riverside community members can submit oral histories, photographs, maps and documents to an online collection accessible by anyone, anywhere through a computer or smartphone. By following a simple template, participants will be able to contribute their personal histories to a collective online database of community history. The project hopes to engage an underrepresented community in archiving a history that has been overlooked in traditional historical venues.

Contrary to the traditional image of the Hamptons, Riverside is the most economically distressed hamlet in Suffolk County and is in one of the most racially segregated portions of the country. Riverside’s resident population is nearly 3,000. As of 2015, Riverside had a 63% high school graduation rate, 18% unemployment, and 24.5% of residents living below the poverty line. In our research, we found that Riverside-- with large African American, Latino and Native American populations-- has also been neglected by local historical societies. Riverside has a rich history of a thriving African American middle class of family businesses and homeowners. However, that history is preserved only in memories and personal photo albums, putting it at risk of being lost when older generations pass away and neighborhoods are revitalized. Our team has spent the past year filming and editing parts of this history into 75-100 hours of personal narrative interviews to create the first collection of high quality video content for the Riverside Archive Project. This content specifically addresses Riverside’s history from the 1920s to the present, covering the social, cultural and economic history of the area. This is the largest historical collection that has ever been created in Riverside. By creating a website to house a historical archive created by community members, the Riverside Archive Project will give community members access and agency in preserving their own history.

"The position of Riverside in Long Island’s history and Long Island’s future is very important... When we lose generational history, we lose the knowledge of the communities and the connection to the communities. It’s important for a small place like the East End to keep that connection. The East End has some of the oldest businesses and family owned estates in the country going back 250-300 years. To lose that connection is a real shame, it’s a very unique and special place in the country.”

Sean McLean, Flanders Resident
VP of Development, Renaissance Downtowns

WHY RIVERSIDE?:

Lauren was hired to do some freelance work on a project in Riverside, NY over the summer. As soon as she met the people there and the story of the community began to unfold, she called Izzy immediately and said “You have to come down here.” Next thing we knew, we were working on a second documentary. We were both so drawn to the story of the Riverside community. We felt it had a history and an evolving present that were largely untold and needed to be recorded.  

Riverside is a hamlet that is a part of the town of Southampton (as in the Hamptons). Riverside is located in the East End of Long Island, right at the split of the two forks: the North Fork, made up of farms and vineyards, and the South Fork, home to the Hamptons. Contrary to the common image of the Hamptons, Riverside is the most economically distressed hamlet in Suffolk County and is in one of the most racially segregated portions of the country. It has a large minority population-- mostly African American, Latino, Native American-- and has historically been neglected by local government action and resources. Riverside wasn’t always this way, and we are working on uncovering pieces of its history to illuminate the vibrant Riverside of the past and its potential for the future.

WHO’S INVOLVED:

Since then, we’ve met an incredible crew from the local community who are a wealth of histories, knowledge and charm. We’d like to introduce you to some of the Riverside cast!