Cedarmere, William Cullen Bryant's historic Roslyn Harbor home closed to the public in 2008 due to deterioration and budget cuts, is again receiving visitors.
Tours of the 18th-century farmhouse purchased in 1843 by the poet and New York Evening Post editor began at the end of April and will continue into the fall after a $200,000 overhaul funded by the Hagedorn Foundation, which is now using Cedarmere as its headquarters.
The work was done along with improvements of the grounds by Nassau County, and the return of artifacts to Bryant's study overlooking his formal gardens and Hempstead Harbor by the nonprofit Friends of Cedarmere.
"The place was allowed to sit without any real maintenance," Friends president John Dawson said. After the renovation, "we have been able to have a lot more exposure to the public."
The agreement signed last year by the foundation and the county, which owns the property, provides for limited public access for tours and events. Tours of the first floor and the grounds are offered by the Friends on Thursdays between 2 and 4 p.m. and can be scheduled through their website, friendsofcedarmere.org.
The group hopes to expand the tours to weekends if more tour guides can be recruited.
The Hagedorn Foundation -- created in 2005 by Amy Hagedorn after the death of her husband, Horace, founder of the Miracle-Gro plant food company -- had lost its lease in Port Washington. The foundation paid for the renovation upfront in lieu of rent and utilities.
Hagedorn executive director Darren Sandow said the organization will use Cedarmere until the foundation distributes all of its assets and disbands by the end of 2017. Then the county would resume control, and the Friends hope to expand its management role, which began with maintaining the gardens.
The Friends arranged with the county to bring back artifacts from a county storage facility to return Bryant's study -- restored by the county in 1994-1995 -- as closely as possible to its historical appearance.
The foundation had the second floor modernized with some walls removed, Sandow said. First-floor spaces, other than Bryant's study, have been furnished by a decorating firm with a mix of period and modern furniture.
Centuries of history
The original house was built in 1787 along with a mill by farmer Richard Kirk, a Quaker who eschewed fancy woodwork or decoration.
A full historically accurate restoration to Bryant's era was not possible because much of the house was destroyed in a 1902 fire and then rebuilt, said Friends board member Kevin Angliss, who serves as chief tour guide. "Only a few remnants remain," including the study, the parlor in the southwest corner, the front door, and several bay windows installed by the poet.
Bryant died in 1878 and descendants lived in the house until it was donated to the county in 1975 by Bryant's great-granddaughter with the provision that it be used for the public. The county parks department opened it as a museum in 1994.
Bryant's grandson, Harold Godwin, who rebuilt the house in 1903, added a large room on the north, and made and installed a slate roof and a masonry exterior to make the house more fireproof. "So you're not seeing the original house that Bryant lived in," Angliss said.
Sandow said the foundation replaced 52 broken windows and installed a heating and air-conditioning system. "We were trying to preserve the history of the house as much as we could and yet make it a workable space," he said. Some of the old toilets and bathtubs were reused.
Restoration of the study is almost complete. Angliss said the desk, fireplace tiles and one chair are original, as are many of the books -- some first editions inscribed to the editor by authors such as Jules Verne. Some of the volumes are so fragile they can't be opened anymore, so the Friends are bringing in an expert from New York University to consult on conserving them.
Small groups visit again
In the meantime, the organization is showing off the house to small groups of visitors.
While Bryant spent many nights in the city editing the Post, "this was his home," Angliss told a half-dozen people gathered for a recent tour. "He really loved Long Island and the water and nature."
Among those in the visiting group were 10-year-old twins Grant and Sarah Callahan, there with their mother, Sherry, because Grant was doing a report on Bryant for his class at North Side School in East Williston.
"I like to see the artifacts," Sarah said.
Her brother said his family "had driven past it a bunch of times but really didn't know what it was. The house is really cool. It's really old."