The deteriorating historic Mill Pond House’s fate remains unclear even as Oyster Bay has hired a firm to draw up plans to protect and renovate the Colonial-era structure.
The house was built in the late 1600s or early 1700s by members of the Townsend family, a prominent early Oyster Bay family that built a nearby mill to grind grains. Though landmarked by the town in 1976, the vacant house in Oyster Bay hamlet is now scarred by years of neglect, water damage and a 2014 fire.
Community groups have advocated for the town-owned house to be saved.
"You don't want just plaques saying, ‘Here once stood this historic building," said Meredith Maus, executive director of the Oyster Bay Main Street Association, a nonprofit focused on revitalizing the hamlet of Oyster Bay. "You want to really be able to see that. Not that it needs to be a museum, but it’s a living testament to how long this downtown has been here and how long it’s been a part of the North Shore of Long Island."
Last week, the Oyster Bay Town Board retroactively approved hiring Hauppauge-based Nassau Suffolk Engineering & Architecture PLLC for $248,400 to investigate the state of the structure and come up with plans to shore it up in the near term and restore it in the long term.
The firm is continuing work begun by architect Douglas A. Wilke, who died in 2019.
The work will include the "selective demolition" of parts of the structure to try to determine what can be preserved, according to the firm. The firm, headed by Michael Spinelli, a former member of the town’s landmarks preservation commission, initially inspected the site in December and will oversee the bidding process for the first contract.
The town board last week also approved putting a first contract out to bid, though the scope of the work was not included in the public documentation posted on the town’s website. Town spokesman Brian Nevin wrote in an email that it was for protecting the structural integrity of the house by reinforcing beams and walls and disinfecting it.
The firm estimated the cost of restoring the house would be $1.3 million, an estimate that could increase as additional rotted wood, vermin waste, mold and debris are removed, according to a letter from the firm to the town.
It’s unclear who would pay for the full restoration. A 2014 town strategy conceived of selling the property to a private party with restrictive covenants to ensure it would be restored, but it has not been sold.
Town officials declined to be interviewed about the Mill Pond House.
Oyster Bay Town Supervisor Joseph Saladino said in a statement that the house is an important part of the town’s history.
"We’re exploring all options to restore it and reopen it to the public," Saladino said.
Councilman Steven Labriola cast a lone "nay" vote against hiring Nassau Suffolk Engineering & Architecture.
"The Town of Oyster Bay has done a terrific job at protecting and preserving our history, yet more information is needed on the salvageability of the Mill Pond House due to decades of deterioration, exposure to the elements and extensive fire damage," Labriola wrote in an emailed statement. He also wrote that he wants to tour the house before the town spends additional money on it.
A HOUSE WITH HISTORY
1653: John Townsend born
1666-1720: Oldest portions of Townsend’s house built, exact dates are unclear
1929: Townsend descendants sell the Mill Pond House
1976: Oyster Bay landmarks the Mill Pond House
2008: Oyster Bay buys house for $1.9 million
2014: Fires damage 20th century additions to house
Source: Preservation Long Island