Professor Larabee had been nonplussed by those anecdotal accounts.
“Perhaps he was on his way to visit his mother; perhaps his carriage had an odometer. But it seems unlikely he ever visited in connection with the postal duties he assumed three years later, or that he’s responsible for the milestones so frequently attributed to him,” he wrote.
Franklin was appointed Postmaster General of the northern colonies for the English crown in 1753, but he was stripped of that title in 1774 when he became involved in the independence effort. The second Continential Congress hired him back again in 1775, and he served until 1776 before giving the job to his son-in-law.
The debate hasn’t deterred the effort to celebrate the mile markers.
“If it’s history, history has been recorded,” said Mr. McCarthy. “History can be disputed but give me a break, let it be discussed and argued. The markers came from somewhere. He was the postmaster. This is weird because he supposedly did do it and Mile Marker Day will be such a tribute to him.”
Mr. McCarthy is also an actor who has appeared in numerous productions at Northeast Stage and the North Fork Community Theatre. He’s been participating in period costume in the Southold Merchants’ annual Fourth of July Parade, where he has portrayed Benjamin Franklin, shopkeepers and farmers.
“To be asked to be Ben Franklin again for this special event is such a pleasure,” he said.
As Mile Marker Day nears, the town is also looking to restore and reset the broken and missing stones along the route.
When committee member George Cork Maul went out to check on the condition of the stones last summer, four were missing from the roadside. But two of them were later found in the Southold Town highway department garage. Earlier this year, the committee got word from Custer Institute Observatory Vice President David van Popering that one other missing mile marker is in the basement of the observatory in Southold.
Mr. van Popering, who also works at the Southold Library, was at work one day when he saw fellow library employee Melissa Andruski had left a book open to a photograph of one of the mile markers.
“I said, ‘I think I have one of these over at Custer Institute,'” he said. “One of the members found it broken on the side of the road. He asked around and people didn’t want it, so it ended up here. Some people said we can get money for it, but it belongs to America.”
Former Custer Institute director Colin Van Tuyl found the mile marker, #8, in 1990. It was in the woods not far from where it had once stood just east of the railroad bridge in Laurel.
Mr. Van Tuyl said the marker had been embedded in asphalt on the road side of a metal guard rail at one point when the state was working on the road.
It was hit in a motor vehicle accident in the 1980s and sheered off at the ground, leaving a granite impression in the asphalt that lasted until the next time the road was repaved.
“It didn’t take more than 20 minutes or half an hour to find,” he said. “I tried to estimate which direction it would have fallen. I found the bottom part and then the top. I figured a truck had come from the west and hit it.”
Mr. Van Tuyl, a professional surveyor, surveyed each of the markers as part of a 1991 presentation at Custer Institute, and another Custer member, Ted Fredricks, a geologist, analyzed the stones and said they were a horneblende granite likely quarried in Rockport, Mass.
He said groups of Southold citizens have been cataloguing the markers for generations, as time has changed their condition and locations.
“I’m glad attention is being brought to it,” said Mr. Van Tuyl, who hopes to get a group together from Custer Institute to ride the trail of the markers on Mile Marker Day. “They’re just there, part of the landscape.”
More information about Mile Marker Day activities is online here.