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Best places to live: Buying a vintage home on Long Island

A Garden City home on 10th Street.

A Garden City home on 10th Street. Credit: Audrey C. Tiernan

When Joy Lewis bought the Sag Harbor home of a 19th century whaling ship agent, one of her favorite architectural details had originally been a mistake. "The trim, the millwork in the entrance hall . . . looks like it's been sliced in half," says Lewis, 85.

She learned from an architectural historian that the irregularity was likely the work of ship carpenters, who were known to forget to factor in the dimensions of interior walls when building a house instead of a ship.

Lewis is no stranger to these types of architectural curiosities: She and her late husband bought, restored and preserved five historic Long Island homes over the course of their marriage. "When you live in an early house, you have a sense of the people who built those houses, and the people who lived in them," says Lewis. "And what we did was a kind of homage to those people. We thought of them as sort of our ancestors of place."

Home buyers with a similar passion for things like early craftsmanship, period aesthetics and local history can find numerous options on Long Island, says Paul Mateyunas of Daniel Gale Sotheby's International Realty, an enthusiast who has written two books on the subject. "What I love about Long Island is we have such a rich, diverse history going back to Colonial times," says Mateyunas.

In this installment of Newsday's Best Places to Live series, we highlight homes and communities that reflect the many periods of Long Island's architectural history.


Sea Cliff, first settled in 1668, evolved over the centuries from religious retreat to summer resort town to its current incarnation as an upscale village with artsy flair. Dozens of historic structures in the one-square-mile village are listed on state and national registries. Sea Cliff's charmingly curious patchwork of architectural styles, ranging from Arts and Crafts cottages to ornate Victorians, represents different periods in the village's long history.

There are 37 homes on the market in Sea Cliff, with prices ranging from $309,900 to $4.199 million. Some 21 of those homes were built in 1930 or earlier, ranging in price from $309,900 to $2.3 million.

$589,000 in Sea Cliff

This Colonial, built in 1906, is brimming with original character. The home was completely restored in 2004 by its previous owner, who reclaimed the salvageable wood while modernizing necessities such as the heating and electrical systems. It's listed with Kristie Paget Werz of Sherlock Homes Realty (516-671-1717)

Also try: Roslyn

This 3 1/2-century-old village, once an active mercantile port, retains its early American charm thanks to the careful preservation and restoration of historic structures such as homes, a grist mill and the Ellen J. Ward Memorial Clock Tower, a centerpiece of the historic district. Some 21 of those homes were built in 1930 or earlier, ranging in price from $309,900 to $2.3 million.


Garden City is the brainchild of 19th century Irish entrepreneur Alexander Turney Stewart, who purchased the land in 1869 and began to design one of the first planned communities in the country. The village's historic district, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, includes original Apostle homes -- a nickname for notable Stewart-era Victorian homes known for their distinctive cupolas and mansard roofs. Stewart's vision continued to guide development, even as architectural styles came in and out of fashion over the years, such as the Tudors, Colonials and Victorians.

Home prices in Garden City range from $299,000 to $4.7 million. There are 36 homes on the market that were built in 1930 or earlier, with prices ranging from $345,000 to $3.295 million.

$2.375 million in Garden City

Architectural highlights of this 1930 English Tudor include arches, floor-to-ceiling windows, cathedral ceilings and three fireplaces. The five-bedroom home is listed with Fortune Heaney and Lisa Ann Heaney of Daniel Gale Sotheby's International Realty (516-248-6655).

Also try: Old Westbury

Rolling landscapes and stately architecture recall this village's centuries-long progression from Quaker farmland to Gold Coast estates to suburban development. There are nine homes for sale built in 1930 or earlier, with prices ranging from $1.099 million to $7.999 million.


From the time settlers purchased the land in the 1600s until the 1860s, Merrick was largely rural. Shortly after the first railroad arrived in the area in 1867, about 60 acres of nearby land were purchased for a Methodist summer revival camp. In the years that followed, a community of tiny cottages was erected around the meeting grounds. Though many have been expanded or replaced, some of the originals still stand in the North Merrick neighborhood known as Tiny Town. Another area with notable architecture is the neighborhood known as The Gables -- an eight-block development of about 400 Mediterranean-style houses. The homes, fashioned after glamorous West Coast tastes of the time, were designed for Hollywood elites residing in New York in the 1920s and '30s.

Prices in Merrick range from $225,000 to $1.999 million. The oldest homes on the market in Merrick are two built in 1925. Fourteen listed homes were built in 1930 or earlier, ranging in price from $319,000 to $1.5 million. There are five Gables homes on the market, all built in the late 1920s, ranging in price from $469,000 to $580,000.

$580,000 in Merrick

This 1928 Gables home features a Spanish stucco exterior and red tile roof, and the interior retains the home's original wood. The three-bedroom, two-bathroom home is listed with Marsha Welikson and Linda Reynolds of Home and Hearth of Long Island (516-536-2200).

Also try: Freeport

Over the course of its intriguing history, which dates back to 1659, Freeport has been home to vaudeville artists and musicians and its waterways were once frequented by Prohibition-era rumrunners. Historic residential architecture includes Colonials, Victorians, bungalows and Capes. There are 73 homes for sale that were built in 1930 or earlier, with prices ranging from $84,900 to $1.299 million.


This South Shore hamlet is perhaps best known for its maritime heritage, notably its shellfish trade. In fact, the Sayville General Store occupies a building that was once known as the Oystermen's Bank, circa 1899, and Main Street was paved with oyster shells until 1914. But throughout Sayville's history, which dates back to the 1700s, local industry has spanned farming, shell fishing, timber, shipping and summer tourism. Among the earliest architecture in Sayville is the Edwards Homestead. The house, built in 1785 by the son of Sayville's first known settlers, now houses the Sayville Historical Society. Sayville is also home to Meadow Croft, the Gold Coast-era former estate of John E. Roosevelt.

Home buyers can find authentic 19th and early 20th century houses such as Dutch Colonials, Victorians and Tudors. Home prices range from $89,000 to $1.85 million. There are 16 homes on the market built in 1930 or earlier, with prices ranging from $265,000 to $749,000.

$749,000 in Sayville

This four-bedroom home looks shiny and new, but it's actually an 1881 Victorian. The owner was able to restore a number of the home's original features, including the wood floors and both staircases. It's listed with Patricia Haid and Robert Dovale of Mill River Realty Inc. (631-874-9146).

Also try: Bellport

A number of historic homes in the pretty bayfront community of Bellport are approaching 200 years in age, though most are not on the market. The village's well-preserved commercial district offers small-town charm that appeals to both summer folks and year-round residents. Home prices range from $60,000 to $499,000. Of the 34 homes on the market, only two were built in 1930 or earlier, priced at $400,000 and $499,000.


Sag Harbor enjoys a rich variety of architectural styles, courtesy of its history as a thriving port during the whaling boom of the mid-1800s. A walking tour by The Society for the Preservation of Long Island Antiquities and the Sag Harbor Historical Society highlights some of the most outstanding examples, which include Greek Revival, Colonial, Georgian, Beaux-Arts and Federal period structures.

Home prices in Sag Harbor range from $495,000 to $23.5 million, according to A search of Sag Harbor listings with the keyword "historic" yielded 31 homes, ranging in price from $739,000 to $6.35 million.

$2.795 million in Sag Harbor

Although this two-story cedar shingle house has undergone a number of modifications over the course of its 225-year history, features from some of its earliest days still remain: Parts of the heavy-timber framing date back as far as 1790, for instance. It's listed with Carol Nobb of Douglas Elliman Real Estate (516-729-0897).

Also try: Shelter Island

The aptly named Shelter Island served as a haven for some of its earliest settlers: political and religious asylum seekers and refugees in the 17th century. Period architecture ranges from cottages with pitched gable roofs to Queen Anne and Colonial revivals adorned with scalloped shingles and other whimsical flourishes. There are more than 140 designated buildings in the Shelter Island Heights Historic District. An search of Shelter Island homes with the keyword "historic" yielded 14 results, ranging in price from $639,999 to $11.995 million.


Historic homes on a budget

Grand old estates may get all the glory, but Long Island also has numerous early homes for budget-conscious buyers with a soft spot for diamonds in the rough. There are 1,235 homes for sale that were built in 1930 or earlier and are priced below the median sale price for Long Island (including Queens) -- $410,000 in August, according to the Multiple Listing Service of Long Island. Communities with a selection of historic homes in that price range include Amityville, Baldwin, Hempstead, East Rockaway, Freeport, Patchogue and Lindenhurst.

-- Kristin Taveira

Tips for buying a historic home

Love historic homes, but nervous to buy one? Jason Crowley, preservation director of the nonprofit Society for the Preservation of Long Island Antiquities, addresses some common questions:
Will I have to keep every detail intact? 
Regulations vary from one municipality to the next, says Crowley. For instance, you could be required to preserve the exterior facade, but permitted to make interior alterations. “There’s a difference between properties listed on the National Register of Historic Places, either individually or within a historic district, versus properties that have been designated landmarks or within a historic district by the municipality, whether it’s the town, village or city,” he says. In the case of the latter, any significant changes to a home, such as a demolition or an addition, have to undergo a public review process, he adds. “The importance of the landmark ordinances is to ensure good stewardship of historic properties, Crowley explains.
What kind of condition can I expect a historic home to be in?
“It varies case by case,” says Crowley, pointing out that a licensed inspector should be hired before any home purchase. “There are homes in Sag Harbor that are 200 years old and have the structural integrity of being built yesterday and some that have not been loved well but can still be saved,” he says. Crowley’s organization can also provide a list of preservation consultants in the area who specialize in dealing with older homes.
What is the most common thing that most owners do after purchasing a historic home?
Change the windows, which Crowley recommends against and not only because it is often more expensive to replace them than to repair them. “It takes away the character of the overall feeling of the building,” he says. “The windows are equal to the woodwork on the inside.”

-- Valerie Kellogg


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