While you could say that historic preservation is its own reward, it is nice to have outstanding preservation projects recognized publicly. In this spirit, Long Island’s leading historic preservation advocacy organization, the Society for the Preservation of Long Island Antiquities, recently recognized several projects, organizations and individuals for outstanding preservation work.
The 2016 awards were given to
Friends of Connetquot State Park – Organization Excellence
People for the Pavilion – Organizational Excellence
Old Whaler’s Church, Sag Harbor – Project Excellence
289 East Main Street, Huntington – Project Excellence
Sands Point Lighthouse, Sands Point – Project Excellence
Mr. Jake Gorst – Huyler C. Held Award for Publications
All are worthy recipients, of course. But the one that was most meaningful to me was the recognition of the wonderful work of Peter Moore in restoring the late eighteenth century saltbox home at 289 East Main Street, Centerport. And not just because the house is located in the Town of Huntington. This project is meaningful because it shows that the most important ingredient in any effort to preserve our built environment is a sympathetic owner.
All the preservation codes, deed restrictions, tax incentives, and other carrots and sticks employed to preserve our past pale in comparison to the loving efforts of a dedicated homeowner. Most remarkable of all is that Mr. Moore had no previous experience with historic restoration projects. But he could see value in this little house that others could not. He saw the potential that others did not. He made the investment of time and money that others would not.
So what did Mr. Moore see when he first visited the property? He saw a historic house that had only been used as a summer residence since the 1920s. The last owner, Ruth Barto, died in 2009 and bequeathed the house to the Congregational Church of Huntington, which is located at the top of the hill behind the house (there is a stairway from the house to the church affectionately called “the stairway to heaven”). The church did not have the resources to restore the house, nor could it make any use of the building. In her will, Mrs. Barto encouraged the church to sell the property and use the proceeds to enhance the church’s endowment.
The house had been a cherished summer retreat for most of the twentieth century. It was purchased by two friends in 1923. Isabella Brandow and Eunice Allen, who lived and worked in the City, visited the house on weekends. Ms. Allen married and died in childbirth a few years later. Ms. Brandow bought Ms. Allen’s ownership interest in the house from her estate. Ms. Brandow thought that like any good vacation home, the little saltbox needed a name. When Ms. Brandow went to a performance of Hamlet and heard the Danish prince claim “I could be bound in a nutshell and count myself king of infinite space” she had the name: “The Nutshell.”
When Ms. Brandow died in 1945, her sister Margaret Muller, a Port Director for the United Seaman’s Service, inherited the house. She spent most of her time overseas, but spent her home leaves at The Nutshell. Ms. Muller died in 1973 and left the house to her niece Ruth Barto, who continued to spend summers at The Nutshell, just as she had as a child.
After Mrs. Barto died in 2009, the house sat vacant for three-and-a-half years. Mr. Moore closed on the house a week before Super Storm Sandy hit Long Island. This is what he found when he visited the property after the storm.
Mr. Moore, a master carpenter, was undeterred. Over the next several months he made many trips to Old Bethpage Village Restoration to learn all he could about authentic period details that would be appropriate for the house. He rebuilt the stone foundation, replaced rotted sills and siding, and made new moldings. He installed a new bathroom and kitchen. He winterized the house for the first time in its 200 year life. The results of his work are amazing.
Mr. Moore rents the house out. His tenant reports that the spirit of Ruth Barto continues to inhabit the house. I’m sure she is happy that her family’s beloved Nutshell has been given new life and that she thanks Mr. Moore for all his work. And so should we.