Booker T. Washington home to keep landmark status

Booker T. Washington

Booker T. Washington (Credit: Undated / Handout)

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The owner of a Fort Salonga home where Booker T. Washington spent his final summers has backed away from a request to strip the site of its landmarked status so it could be torn down.

The owner, John Rice of Northport, has withdrawn the request he had submitted to the Huntington Historic Preservation Commission, according to his attorney, Michael Sahn. The home sits on 1.4 acres overlooking Long Island Sound.

"Mr. Rice decided it was worthwhile to take another look at the potential to use of the property and still retain the historic designation and retain the house itself on the property," said Sahn, of Sahn Ward & Baker in Uniondale.

Rice could not be reached for comment.

Washington, who was born into slavery in Virginia and went on to found the Alabama school that would become Tuskegee University, spent the summers of 1911 through 1915 at the home at 30 Cousins St.

Huntington Town Board member Glenda Jackson, who oversees the town's African-American Historical Preservation Council, which helped lead efforts to save the house, said the decision sounds like a victory for all involved. "It's refreshing to know the owner and residents understand and acknowledge the importance of such a significant and historic site," she said.

In a May request to the preservation commission, Rice cited economic hardship in asking that the historic designation be revoked so the house could be demolished to make room to build a new home. The house was designated as a historic landmark in 2005.

According to Sahn, Rice purchased the property in June 2007 for $1.295 million and planned to fix up the house and live there. But he soon learned of numerous issues including structural damage to the house, land erosion and water runoff from an adjoining golf club at a higher elevation.

Sahn said Rice "put a lot of money" into studying the problems and potential solutions before deciding that demolishing the house might be the most cost-effective strategy. Sahn said Rice had second thoughts after considering public reaction to his request to the preservation commission.

Sahn said Rice's tentative plan is to move the house to another location on the property and build a new house. But first, he said, the water and erosion issues must be resolved.

Town Supervisor Frank Petrone said Rice has made the right decision. "We expect that any alternative plans under consideration will satisfy the requirements of such a designation as well as town planning and zoning regulations, and afford the proper respect to a landmark that is significant to both Huntington and the nation," he said.

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