The roar of chain saws echoed through the grounds of Brookwood Hall on Tuesday as the project to bring back a century-old grand esplanade at the Islip Town-owned property -- part of a larger, overall restoration plan -- began in the morning hours.
The back of the mansion once had a pedestrian mall with shrubbery on either side leading out to the water's edge at Knapp's Lake. The former pathway is now thick with tall trees, obstructing the view.
About $400,000 in donated services and equipment from local firms was announced at a news conference on the grounds Tuesday. The materials will go toward an overall restoration of the building, Islip Town Councilman Steven J. Flotteron said. The town will continue to solicit donations and grants, as it is expected to cost several million dollars to complete the task.
"We want to keep the cost away from the taxpayers," Flotteron said of the restoration. "Some can see this as an extra luxury project, but we feel it's a beautiful, historical building that can really provide a great space for the community once it's finished."
The 41-room mansion, built in 1903 on Irish Lane for the well-to-do Knapp family, was sold in 1929 to financier Francis B. Thorne, and was once home to an orphanage. Islip Town, which purchased the property in 1967, now has offices and the Islip Arts Council occupying the space. It was designed by the renowned New York architectural firm Delano & Aldrich, which also dreamed up homes for the Whitney and Vanderbilt families.
In January, the Islip Arts Council announced it received a $25,000 grant from the Greenport-based John C. Dunphy Private Foundation to hire a landscape architect as well as to bring historical and cultural programs to the space.
Last September, town officials launched a bid to have the site added to the National Register of Historic Places. The town is currently in the approval process, town officials said Tuesday.