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Archive for the ‘Historic Houses’ Category

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.”

The Nutshell around 1930

The Nutshell around 1930 (photo courtesy of the Greenlawn-Centerport Historical Association).

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.

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Luckily this large tree wasn’t taller or growing closer to the house or it would have destroyed the house.

 

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Rot was clearly evident.

 

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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.

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Peter Moore on the restored front porch.

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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.

 

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 The Town of Huntington recently acquired twelve acres of open space in Greenlawn.  While valued as a natural habitat, the property also has a long history dating back to the early eighteenth century when it was owned by Charles Saxton, who sold a portion of his land to Jeremiah Smith in or about 1719.  An easement to allow Saxton access to Smith’s property to clear a drainage ditch refers to the earlier land transfer.[i]

But the property is known for its connection to the Brush family.  Thomas Brush was a farmer in West Neck who, in addition to his farm at West Neck, owned land in Old Fields (now Greenlawn).  When he died in 1862, he bequeathed to his son Samuel the large farm in Old Fields “where he now resides.”[ii] The 1858 atlas lists “S. Brush” in that location.  Samuel’s brother James owned the farm to the east across Old Field Road.

Samuel Brush was born in 1807 in Huntington.  He married Elizabeth Sammis in 1835.  Two years later, he acquired six acres from Moses Rogers on the west side of the road leading from “Centre port to the Old Fields” bounded on the east and south by the road, on the west by land owned by someone whose name is illegible and on the north by land of Henry Lewis.[iii]  Six years later he acquired from William Smith 20 acres of partly enclosed arable land and partly timber land near Centerport bordered on the south and west by an old road, on the north by the timber land of Henry Lewis and on the east partly by other land Brush already owned and partly by the highway leading from Centerport to Old Fields.[iv]  From the descriptions given in the deeds, these two tracts would appear to include at least part of the current 12-acre subject property.

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The Brush Homestead

An inspection of the original part of the house indicated a construction date in the 1830s, which is consistent with the date of Brush’s marriage and his acquisition of the property described above.

Samuel’s son Samuel Brush, Jr., who was born in 1845, and his wife Anna lived with him on the farm when he was widower (his wife died in 1864).[v]  Father and son were both farmers.[vi]  Samuel Brush Jr. inherited the farm when his father died in 1881.

In 1905, Samuel Brush, Jr. sold the 116-acre farm to Frederick A. Phelps of Brooklyn.[vii]  Phelps was a land speculator who acquired hundreds of acres of land in the Centerport-Greenlawn area as an agent for Dean Alvord, the developer of Prospect Park South in Brooklyn and Belle Terre in Port Jefferson.  Locally, he subdivided land overlooking Northport Harbor, known as Cedarcroft.  Part of that subdivision became the Grace Estate, and a part of that property including a log cabin, is now Town of Huntington parkland.

Phelps did not intend to live in the house and his acquisition of the property saw its transformation from a working farm to a wealthy gentlemen’s farm, where horses, sheep and show dogs would be raised.  Two years after he acquired the property, Phelps sold it to Harrison Gilmore of Utica.  Gilmore was a successful coal dealer in western New York[viii] and did not intend to live in the house year round—it would be a summer retreat.  Gilmore hired William A. Davis to work as foreman on the farm.[ix]  In 1912, Gilmore sold 12½ acres at the southern end of the farm to Claire A. Knapp of Bellport;[x] and the northern parcel of about 80 acres to Francis C. Hicks of Philadelphia.[xi]

Claire Knapp, who was only 23 years old at the time, was from an old Fairfield, Connecticut family.  Her grandfather made a fortune in the printing business in Brooklyn and was one of the founders of the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company.  Her father Joseph Palmer Knapp followed his father in the printing business, merging the family company with others to form American Lithograph Company, later known as ALCO.  Joseph P. Knapp also acquired and started several newspapers and magazines, including Everyweek magazine and Collier’s Weekly.

According to one account, Joseph P. Knapp purchased the Greenlawn property for his ex-wife, who divorced him in 1903, and his two children; and spent $75,000 fixing it up. [xii]  The work included adding a large wing to the west side of the old Brush farmhouse.  An article in December 30, 1914 editions of The American Architect shows the historic house with the new west wing forming an L shaped house.  The new wing contained a spacious living room and dining room on the first floor and a large master bedroom on the second floor.  The original deed was to Claire Knapp; but within a year, she transferred the property to her father.

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The Brush Homestead with West Wing added by Joseph Knapp

Miss Knapp, operating under the name Clairedale Farm, raised show dogs—and cats.[xiii] She apparently moved the operation to Mastic in 1916, where she later eloped with her chauffer (but that’s another story).   The same year, Joseph Knapp leased the farm to Baron de Stackelberg of Russia for the summer.[xiv]  A year later, the Knapps sold the 12½-acre property to Annie Brinley, the widow of Captain Edward Brinley of Greenlawn subject to a $15,000 mortgage held by Joseph Knapp.[xv]  Edward Brinley, a member of the Annapolis class of 1880, had died just six months earlier.

The property then changed hands several times over the next thirty years.  Brinley sold the property to James G. Hall of Garden City in 1924.[xvi]   Just three years later Ida Bell Hall of Coronado, California (presumably the heir of James G. Hall) conveyed the land to Waldron and Rey Belknap of Manhattan.[xvii]  The Belknaps also acquired a 76½-acre parcel to the north reuniting the property to close to its original size.  Waldron Belknap was a vice president of the Bankers Trust Company.  As a young man, he had been a member of Manhattan’s Squadron A Cavalry unit, whose Brooklyn rival, Squadron C, had a summer farm in Huntington.  He re-enlisted in 1916, at the age of 43, to serve in World War I.

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Stables, Water Tower and Kennel Building

In 1946, Rey Belknap, now residing at the St. Regis Hotel in Manhattan, sold the 12½-acre southern portion of the property to Henry Sanford of Smithtown Branch for $50,000.[xviii]  Two years later Henry Sanford conveyed the property to Anne N. Sanford.[xix]

Anne Sanford married Dr. Walter T. Carpenter and transferred ownership of the property to him in 1977.[xx] Dr. Carpenter was the first board-certified pediatrician in Suffolk County.  He was born in Brooklyn in 1911.  After graduating from Cornell Medical School, he volunteered as a ship’s surgeon during World War II and later joined the Office of Strategic Services.  After the war, he set up his pediatric practice in Greenlawn.  He enlarged the east wing to the house in the 1950s for his medical practice.

Dr. Carpenter died in October 2008.  His estate had the house and outbuildings demolished in 2010 in order to save the expense of insurance and taxes.


[i] Suffolk County Clerk’s Office Deed Liber X, page 85

[ii] The Descendants of Thomas and Richard Brush of Huntington, Long Island, compiled by Stuart C. Brush, Gateway Press, Inc., 1982, page 115

[iii] Suffolk County Clerk’s Office Deed Liber 28, page 121

[iv] Suffolk County Clerk’s Office Deed Liber 39, page 205

[v] Brush, page 244

[vi] Brush, pages 244 and 429

[vii] Suffolk County Clerk’s Office Deed Liber 567, page 314

[viii] History of Oneida County, New York
From 1700 to the present time
of some of its prominent men and pioneers.
By: Henry J. Cookinham
The S. J. Clarke Publishing Company
Chicago 1912

[ix] The Long-Islander, March 15, 1907, page 6

[x] Suffolk County Clerk’s Office Deed Liber 798, page 220

[xi] The Long-Islander, October 4, 1912, page 4

[xii] See http://www.spoonercentral.com/2011/Talk.html for an account of the Knapp family in Mastic.

[xiii] The Long-Islander, September 29, 1922

[xiv] New York Times, June 2, 1916

[xv] Suffolk County Clerk’s Office Deed Liber 959, page 353

[xvi] Suffolk County Clerk’s Office Deed Liber 1116, page 135

[xvii] Suffolk County Clerk’s Office Deed Liber 1270, page 149

[xviii] Suffolk County Clerk’s Office Deed Liber 523, page 68

[xix] Suffolk County Clerk’s Office Deed Liber 2835, page 106

[xx] Suffolk County Clerk’s Office Deed Liber 8261, page 123

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Most Long Islanders are familiar with the Island’s history as a place where the wealthy of New York City built lavish country estates.  In this regard, we most often think of the Roaring Twenties and estates such as OHEKA, which was completed in 1919, or Caumsett, which was built in 1925.  But the Country House era is generally considered to have started as early as 1860.  An early local example would be Fort Hill on Lloyd’s Neck built in 1879.

But in Huntington the Country House era can be traced back even further.  In the 1830s, of one of Huntington’s most magnificent early homes was built on a hill on East Neck between Huntington Bay and Huntington Harbor.  The home commanded spectacular views as well as attention from the surrounding community.

The house incorporates the standard two-story, center hall massing and plan of a traditional Georgian house, but is embellished with Italianate style elements, such as a flat roof with deep overhanging eaves on massive scroll-sawn brackets that frame frieze windows and tall first floor windows.  A construction date in the late 1830s makes it one of the earliest Italianate houses in the country.

The house was built for John R. Rhinelander, who was a member of a wealthy New York City family that was one of the largest landowners in Manhattan.  Rhinelander was a doctor who fought cholera outbreaks in New York and Montreal.  Although the exact date the house was built has not been determined, Dr. Rhinelander purchased land in the area as early as 1838 and by 1840 he was invited to give the oration at Huntington’s Fourth of July celebration.  The construction of his house was notable enough to merit a mention in Benjamin Thompson’s History of Long Island, which was published in 1839.  Thompson described the house as “a splendid mansion” built as a “country residence.”   The estate was soon considered one of the finest in Huntington.

Throughout the 1840s, Dr. Rhinelander was active in Huntington affairs.  He was a trustee of the Huntington Harbor school district (and its largest taxpayer), a founder and first president of the Huntington Farmer’s Club, appointed to represent the town’s interests to the Long Island Rail Road, a member of the committee advocating for permanent and direct steamboat service to New York City (the current site of the Huntington Yacht Club was the old steamboat landing, which had been part of Dr. Rhinelander’s estate), and a delegate to the convention of Democratic Republican Party (as the current day Democratic Party was then known).  He also gave talks to the Huntington Library Association and became embroiled in a debate in the Letters to the Editor column of The Long-Islander over temperance issues.  His gardens were said to be beyond description and produced bounties of fruit including peaches, plums and grapes.  A visitor described Dr. Rhinelander as being known for his good humor and friendliness to all.  In a report on the doctor’s treatment of the captain of a shipwrecked schooner, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported that the doctor’s “kindness on such occasions is proverbial.”  Apparently, some tried to take advantage of the doctor’s good nature, prompting him to place notices in The Long-Islander advising store keepers not to trust any person purporting to act on his account without written permission from him or his wife.

Dr. Rhinelander died in 1857 at the age of 62.  His wife Julia died seven years later.  In 1865, the estate was purchased by Dr. George White, who held the property only a  short time.  By 1873, Thomas Lord, Jr., the son of a wealthy New York merchant, had purchased the estate. During the Civil War, Lord had served as a captain in the Seventh Regiment of the National Guard and was a part of the official escort and guard of President Lincoln’s body while it laid in state at New York City Hall.  Shortly after purchasing the Huntington estate, Lord initiated legal proceedings to have his 79 year old father declared insane to prevent him from squandering the family fortune and marrying a 48 year old widow—but that’s another story.

The younger Lord, like Dr. Rhinelander, became active in Huntington affairs.  In 1875, he hosted a meeting at his house to consider incorporating Huntington into a village, but that effort foundered.  His wife was a member of the first Board of Directors of the Huntington Library Association, which was revived in the same year.  The Long-Islander wrote in 1877 that the mansion and grounds  are “perhaps the most picturesque site in this section of the country, commanding a view of the Harbor on the West, the Bay on the East, the Connecticut Shore on the North, and the Village on the South.”  While Dr. Rheinlander referred to the estate as “Rhineland,” Lord appears to have coined the name “Interbaien,” perhaps a reference to the Swiss resort town Interlaken, which means between the lakes.  Here it would referred the home’s location “between the bays.”

Lord sold the property to William Alsop of New York City in 1881.  Alsop died two years later, but his wife apparently held onto the property until 1891 when it was acquired by John P. Kane.  Kane was a partner in a large mason and building supply company in Manhattan known as Canda & Kane.  Two years after he bought the estate and following the death of Canda, Kane formed the John P. Kane Company.  Kane was the father of eleven children—ten by his first wife and one by his second wife, who was his first wife’s sister.

In accordance with common practice, the estate has been known as the Kane Mansion since 1979 when the Town undertook a historic structures inventory because Kane’s was the first name to appear on historic maps.  Kane also had the good fortune to have his name given to the street on which the house is located.

Kane died in 1907, but the property remained in the family for another five years.  In at least two of those years, the family rented the place for the summer.  The interior of the house was redecorated in 1910.  Two years later, Frederick L. Upjohn purchased the property.  Upjohn, along with his three brothers, was one of the founders of the Upjohn Pill & Granule Company in 1886 in Kalamazoo, Michigan.  The company’s name was changed to The Upjohn Company in 1902 and is today one of the leading pharmaceutical companies in the world.  Fredrick Upjohn opened the New York office of the company a year after the company was established.  He retired in 1907.  Upjohn was well known as a yachtsman and was a Commodore of the Huntington Yacht Club—located just down the street from his house.  Upjohn reportedly spent $20,000 remodeling the house and re-christened it “Highlindens.”  It was probably during Upjohn’s ownership that the two one-story flat roofed wings were added on either side of the house.  At the same time, the original bowed front porch was replaced with a straight porch on the same Ionic columns.  Unfortunately, Upjohn died suddenly at the age of 60 just five years after he bought the property.

The following year, the estate was advertised for sale in Country Life magazine as “one of the most unique and beautiful estates on the North Shore.”  The estate consisted of 22 acres, including 1,000 feet of shoreline on Huntington Harbor.  The “remodeled and modernized Colonial mansion” had “7 master’s bedrooms and 4 master’s bathrooms, which will appeal strongly to gentlefolk seeking a delightful country place of charm and pleasing atmosphere.” The property included the mansion, three cottages, a large greenhouse and a bungalow on the shore.

The lucky buyer was Thomas H. Roulston of the eponymous grocery store chain. Roulston’s father was an Irish immigrant who started the company in the 1880s.  The chain grew to boast hundreds of stores throughout Brooklyn, Queens and Long Island, including stores in Huntington, Huntington Station and Greenlawn.  Roulston was active in several Huntington organizations, serving on the boards of The Huntington Association (a forerunner of the Chamber of Commerce) and Huntington Hospital.  He also opened his gardens as a fundraiser for the New York Congregational Home for the Aged.

In 1939, the 65-year-old Roulston married Marjorie Hillis, the 49-year-old author of the best selling book, Live Alone and Like It, which provided advice for unmarried women on how to enjoy single life.  After the wedding, she said she would become an “old-fashioned housewife” at the couple’s Brooklyn mansion and Long Island estate.  Roulston died at High Lindens in 1949 and his widow sold the house soon thereafter.

David and Sue Davidson Lowe purchased the house.  Sue Davidson Lowe is a former theatre producer, playwright and editor and also the grandniece of the photographer Alfred Stieglitz.  In 1983, she published a biography of Stieglitz.  As a child, she had spent a lot of time with Stieglitz and his wife, the painter Georgia O’Keffe.  The Lowes sold the property to Joseph and Jean Mack in 1954.

Joseph Mack was a sculptor and his wife was a painter.  The couple met at the art school of Charles H. Woodbury in Ogunquit, Maine and later both studied at the American School of Design in New York City.  They briefly operated the Jean Mack Studios in New York where they created commercial murals, sculpture and illustrations.  Joseph Mack later founded Joseph Mack Associates, which was a promotion company that specialized in dimensional design for national advertisers.  In the early seventies, after Mr. Mack suffered a life-threatening car accident, the couple started the Huntington Fine Arts Workshop at High Lindens.  Five rooms in the basement were converted into sculpture studios and drawing and painting were taught in the ballroom.  The school was originally opened to adults as well as children.  But they “realized the real need was with the high school people,” Mr. Mack recalled, “young artists who needed help to get into college.” In 1978, it became the Huntington School of Fine Arts and eventually moved to a 5,200 square foot former boathouse on Huntington Harbor.  The school is now located in the former South Huntington Library building at the intersection of Melville and Depot Roads.

Joseph Mack, predeceased by his wife, died at High Lindens in December 2007.  The house was featured on the Huntington Historical Society’s 2008 house tour.

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