The Sagtikos Manor Historical Society has lost its lawsuit seeking $81 million to preserve and maintain the centuries-old Gardiner family mansion where George Washington once slept.
The historical society in 2012 filed a lawsuit against the Hampton Bays-based Robert David Lion Gardiner Foundation seeking funds to maintain the manor, which dates to 1697. The West Bay Shore house was expanded several times over the next 300 years to its current 42-room iteration.
The lawsuit argued that Robert D.L. Gardiner, the last of the Gardiner family to have used the house and who died in 2004, would have wanted the foundation money to go toward continued preservation of his family estate. The society has worked to preserve the manor since 1964.
While a lower court sided with the society, the New York appellate court on April 22 overturned the decision in favor of the foundation, which opposed putting the funds toward Sagtikos Manor preservation.
"Gardiner's will did not mention the Historical Society. Accordingly, the Historical Society was not part of a class of potential beneficiaries," the court decision concluded.
"The Sagtikos Manor Historical Society -- although it has a connection to the manor -- never owned it, doesn't currently own it, and doesn't have a legal relationship" other than being the custodian of the estate under an agreement with Suffolk County, said Joseph Baio, a lawyer for the foundation.
In 2002, Suffolk County bought the home from the foundation for $1.5 million. The county then entered into a custodial agreement with the historical society to maintain the manor.
Historical society representatives said the foundation was created to maintain and preserve the manor and thus should allocate the funds to do so.
"Our position is that Robert Gardiner intended to spend his money to preserve Sagtikos Manor," said Lawrence Donohue, a lawyer and member of the society board.
The lawsuit also questioned whether the foundation was misusing the trust funds, an allegation Baio denied.
Historical Society president Sarah Meurer said the society's budget was about $65,000 and any money from the lawsuit would have gone directly to the manor's preservation. Meurer said the board will need to meet and decide on the next step.
The home, where Washington spent a night during his tour of Long Island in 1790, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The house is filled with the Gardiner family's furniture and belongings, as well as curios such as rare hand-painted peacock wallpaper, which shows signs of water damage.
"In a house like this there's always damage," Norma Meder, the historical society's director of docents and head coordinator, said on a recent tour of the home. "There's any number of things that needs to be done. It's been taken care of to some extent, but it's old."
Restoring the wallpaper alone would cost more than $75,000, she said.
A statement from the foundation trustees said the historical society can formally apply for grants.
"We have never received any requests for funding from Sagtikos Manor or Suffolk County but would certainly welcome their application," Joe Attonito, board chairman of the foundation, said in an emailed statement.