Heirloom homes, passed down through generations

Nikki Gaeta says she loves living in the Nikki Gaeta says she loves living in the home where she grew up, which was her parents' dream home. "They put their heart and soul into this home," she says. "It meant so much to them that their grandchildren are going to be in the same rooms that I was in, and my brothers were in." Photo Credit: Newsday / Audrey C. Tiernan

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Despite a bustling real estate market, with properties changing hands every day, Long Island still has a number of homes that are considered heirlooms, remaining in the same family for generations.

Here are three, and another that's for sale.

Newsday Homes

THE OLD FARMSTEAD

The small, three-story farmhouse sits in the same place on Hicksville Road that it has for more than 80 years, though to Rosemarie Columbo, it might as well be in another world.

Years ago, in rural Bethpage, the house was surrounded by acres of farmland as far as the eye could see. Hicksville Road lived up to its name as a small country lane covered in gravel. When she wasn't picking string beans or riding the pigs on the farm, Columbo, who was born in the home's living room -- back then, with no hospital nearby, home birth was a necessity rather than a trendy choice -- spent many of her afternoons in a one-room schoolhouse on Hempstead Turnpike, the kind of building that's now on display at Old Bethpage Village Restoration.

"Sometimes I wonder if I'm living the same life," says Columbo, 75. "It is so different from when I grew up."

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Columbo's maternal grandfather, Joseph Walsh, bought the property in the late 1800s and established a vegetable farm, later giving his daughter and son-in-law, Columbo's mother and father, a small piece of property to build the house as a wedding gift in 1930. They brought up five children in the house, and then Columbo raised her three children there. At one point, Columbo's eldest son, Tom Diognardi, lived in the house with his wife, Cindy, and their young daughter.

In all, five generations have lived on the property, with four living in the house. Later, Tom and Cindy moved into a house that the family built on subdivided property next door.

A lot of people have moved away from the increasingly crowded Island. Columbo's second husband at one point wanted to move to Pennsylvania, but they never did. "Fate stepped in and here I am," Columbo says.

While the area has certainly changed, the house has mostly stayed the same, aside from an extension with an open kitchen and dining room that Columbo added in 1998. While the addition looks new, it reflects the old-fashioned farmhouse character of the rest of the house.

The Victorian-style home that Columbo's grandparents built around 1900 still stands, though a different family now owns it. The family hasn't made any decisions about what will eventually happen to Columbo's childhood home, but having it remain with yet another generation is still in the back of their minds.

@Newsday

"I can't imagine anyone else living here other than family," Cindy Diognardi says.

SINCE 1799

Thirty miles away in Setauket, the view from the pre-Revolutionary War house on the corner where Main Street makes a sharp turn (if you go straight, it becomes Old Field Road) hasn't changed all that much.

Blanche Davis, 99, often shares a pot of afternoon tea with her son, Beverly Tyler, in a windowed room that was once the home's "summer kitchen," which was attached to the house in the early 20th century. The house was built in 1740 and has been in the family since 1799, when the original owner, Amos Smith, sold it and the surrounding 12 acres to Joseph Swift, a ship captain and Tyler's great-great-grandfather. He raised his family there, including Tyler's great-grandmother, Eliza, whose husband, Charles Tyler, purchased the house to keep it in the family. They raised nine children, including three daughters, who lived there until 1950, when Tyler's father, also named Beverly, moved there in 1950 with Blanche. (After the elder Beverly Tyler died, Blanche remarried, to a man named Lou Davis.)

"There's plenty to look at," says Davis, who will celebrate her 100th birthday in November.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Across Main Street to the north is the 1941 Greek Revival post office, designed by architect Richard Haviland Smythe, responsible for many of the buildings in the area that philanthropist and businessman Ward Melville helped restore. To the west is Setauket Millpond.

On the other side is the Setauket Neighborhood House, which was moved to that spot in 1820 and served as an inn. Until recently, Davis was on the board of the Neighborhood House. Both Davis and Tyler are interested in the area's history -- Tyler is a historian for the Three Village Historical Society.

The house has sections from a few different eras, with wide-plank wood floors and rustic ceiling beams. The kitchen, while certainly modern for a 275-year-old house, still has a vintage look.

While the Amos Smith house won't stay in Tyler's family, the property will eventually go to the Three Village Community Trust, which will maintain the house and two acres, including Patriot's Rock, where a battle of the Revolutionary War was fought.

'THE STORE'

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Growing up in a sturdy brick house on Association Road in Bellport, Louis A. Fuoco III remembers people from the neighborhood walking through to buy soda, penny candy and sandwiches, or to enjoy macaroni, bread, coffee and cake in the big country kitchen.

"People would walk in and out, literally," Fuoco says. "Even if we were eating in the kitchen, people would walk through the kitchen. It was a different time period."

Fuoco's great-grandfather, Antonio Fuoco, a stonemason who had emigrated from Italy in the 1880s, built the four-room home in about 1898. He opened a bar and grill and later a grocery store in the house, selling coal and feed and, later, fuel oil. Even then, the house served as a major community center, with a dance hall on the second floor that held weddings, funerals and parties for men leaving and returning from war. Antonio's daughters, Carmela and Elizabeth, ran the store until 1991.

While cleaning the house recently, Fuoco found documents dating back to 1916 from a Sons of Italy group that met at the house. These groups were formed in response to anti-immigrant sentiment.

"It was truly a gathering place," Fuoco says. "It was the heart and soul of this Italian enclave in north Bellport."

Fuoco's family put the corner 1-acre property on the market last fall for $265,000. Listing agent Joyce Roe of Douglas Elliman Real Estate says she remembers as a little girl buying candy at what was known simply as The Store.

Fuoco said the decision to sell the home was a tough one. "It's heart-wrenching for me," Fuoco says. "A lot of us want to see it saved and don't know how to go about it. Our hope is that somebody will take a liking to it."

A GENERATION HOME BEGINS

Nikki Gaeta's home in Wading River is not an antique, but it's an heirloom all the same.

Last summer, Gaeta and her husband, Dan, bought the four-bedroom Colonial that Gaeta's parents had built in 1994. They live there with their 15-month-old daughter and have another child on the way.

After the Gaetas got married, they moved into a small house in Ridge that Dan had bought when he was 21, though he had always loved the neighborhood where Nikki grew up. At the time, Nikki's parents, Sharon and Steve Tricarico, were thinking of downsizing. "I mentioned to my parents how cool it would be to buy this house one day," she says.

The Tricaricos were on board with the idea, and had the house appraised so both couples could settle on a price they would be comfortable with. They eventually moved out of the house and into a condominium in Center Moriches.

Nikki says she loves living in the home where she grew up, which was her parents' dream home.

"They put their heart and soul into this home," she says. "It meant so much to them that their grandchildren are going to be in the same rooms that I was in, and my brothers were in."

You also may be interested in: