Renovations prepare Farm at Oyster Bay
The bucolic sprawl of farmland along Split Rock Road in Oyster Bay Cove has seen several changes in the five years since the Littauer family sold it to Oyster Bay Town.
The mansion's heating and cooling systems were fixed, drainage on the grounds was improved, fire hydrants were installed and a barn is being renovated for the schoolchildren officials hope will eventually gather there for programs.
But one constant is the caretaker who grew up on the 26 green acres of the former Hillside Farm, and whose family has a long legacy of watching over the estate.
"It's strange, but it's normal," Amanda Roberts said of working on the farm just as her father, grandfather and relatives before them did. Roberts, 35, represents the fifth generation of her family to serve as caretaker.
"We baled hay. We had a full-blown apple orchard," Roberts recently remembered of her youth. "We worked every day, seven days a week." When she wasn't doing winter chores, she said, she was ice skating on the pond. Roberts was married by the property's wishing well.
More recently, her responsibilities include caring for the 14 animals -- including a donkey, goats, chickens and ducks -- gardening and managing several youth education programs at the estate.
The property was renamed the Farm at Oyster Bay after the town purchased it in 2007 for $5.8 million to preserve it.
Roberts, who studied horticulture at what is now Farmingdale State College, was formerly employed by the Littauers but is now on the town payroll.
"We got someone who knows the farm and has a history with the farm," town director of operations Andrew Rothstein said. "It worked out perfectly."
Roberts lives in a house on the estate with her husband, Chris, and their 2 1/2-year-old son, Tyler, who Roberts said takes on the role of sixth-generation caretaker when he helps to let the chickens out. Roberts is pregnant with the couple's second boy.
Farm renovations have included mostly safety improvements such as the widening of the roads to allow for emergency vehicles, Rothstein said.
The town could not immediately provide the amount spent on renovations since 2007, but the price tag topped $1 million as of last fall. The current budget crunch will slow improvements, but the revamping of the north barn into a handicapped-accessible classroom and the building of public bathrooms could be done by late spring, Rothstein said.
Though the farm won't likely ever be open to the general public, officials said, it will continue to host small groups such as the seniors who come for Tai Chi and bridge and the kids who harvest as much as 2,000 pounds of fruits and vegetables annually for a food bank.
Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts are the most frequent visitors. A teenager last month finished his Eagle Scout project, building thigh-high gardening beds for seniors and wheelchair-users. Roberts seemed to relish sharing with others the estate she calls home. "I can't see myself anywhere but on a farm," she said. "It's a lot of fun."