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Preservation group has 5 LI buildings on its rescue list

Cedarmere, William Cullen Bryant's 19th century home, as

Cedarmere, William Cullen Bryant's 19th century home, as seen in 2006. Credit: Society for the Preservation of Long Island Antiquities

Houses in early Native American and African-American communities, as well as the home of a famous Civil War-era journalist and poet, a former Vanderbilt estate, and a closed psychiatric hospital’s community center are newly listed as imperiled historic sites by Long Island’s regionwide preservation group.

The Society for the Preservation of Long Island Antiquities has created an Endangered Historic Places list every other year since 2010, with the goal of generating support for sites facing demolition, neglect or other difficulties. The organization seeks nominations from the public.

“Historic places across Long Island are threatened by a variety of adverse conditions, from outright demolition to a lack of appreciation for their historic value or the inability to develop sustainable long-term plans for preservation and stewardship,” said Sarah Kautz, the society’s preservation director.

The five sites selected this year “reflect the diversity of Long Island’s historic resources and cultural heritage,” she said.

The George and Sarah Fowler House, East Hampton

The small saltbox house once was owned by George Fowler, a Montaukett Indian who was born at Indian Fields in Montauk and whose family was among the last residents of the Indian Fields settlement at the time of their dispossession from the land in the 1870s.

The Fowlers and other Montaukett families were pressured by Arthur W. Benson, a real estate developer who purchased Indian Fields at auction, to relocate to Freetown, north of East Hampton Village. The Fowler House stands on one of these Freetown plots, and the family likely had the building moved there at the time they were displaced from Indian Fields.

Suffolk County took possession of the abandoned and deteriorating structure for back taxes in the 1990s. The county transferred ownership to the Town of East Hampton to facilitate restoration.

“Although the Fowler House was designated a landmark by the Town of East Hampton in 2016, the property remains vulnerable while the historic house awaits repairs,” Kautz said.

East Hampton Supervisor Larry Cantwell said the town has cleared overgrown vegetation and emptied the “fragile” house of debris.

“The next step is to bring a contractor in to stabilize the structure and then we can move on to restoration,” partnering with local historical groups, he said. No funding is available yet for restoration, Cantwell said.

The Rev. David and Mary Baker Eato House, Setauket

The Eato House represents the vital role that African Methodist Episcopal churches played in the development of communities on Long Island, as well as the challenges that confronted people of color before and after the abolition of slavery.

The Rev. David Eato, who was born in Roslyn in 1854, became pastor of Bethel AME Church in the early 1900s. His wife, Mary Baker Eato, was born in 1863 on a Southern plantation. Following emancipation, she moved to Long Island, where she met the young pastor and the two married. She was deeply involved in the church, teaching Sunday school.

Like many people of color during the Jim Crow era, the Eatos initially rented their house in Setauket. After her husband’s death in 1928, Mary Baker Eato purchased the property, making the Eato House an important example of early African-American homeownership on the Island.

Today, the house is one of only five structures dating from the late 19th to mid-20th centuries in the Bethel-Christian Avenue-Laurel Hill Historic District, the longtime home of Native Americans and African-Americans. Bethel AME Church purchased the deteriorating house several years ago to save it.

Though the building’s condition has recently improved, Kautz said, “critical repairs are still urgently needed to restore the building to use.”

The Rev. Gregory Leonard, pastor of Bethel AME, said, “We had some work done and had the house gutted because it was pretty bad inside” before running out of money. “Right now, we’re pretty much at a standstill.”

The church is considering transferring ownership to a nonprofit historical group, such as the Setauket-based Higher Ground Inter-cultural & Heritage Association, so it would qualify for state and other grants, he said.

Cedarmere, Roslyn Harbor

Famed 19th-century poet and journalist William Cullen Bryant, who also was the influential editor of The New- York Evening Post, made Cedarmere his country home, complete with a pond, boathouse, house, mill and gardens.

The house, built in 1787 and owned by a Quaker farmer, has been the property of Nassau County since 1975. From 1994 until 2009, Cedarmere was operated as a museum until the county’s cash crunch resulted in its closing.

In 2014, the county leased the main house to the nonprofit Hagedorn Foundation through the end of 2017. The foundation, which has given millions to Long Island organizations focused on youth, immigration and civic engagement since its launch in 2005, is winding down its operations and disbanding.

“Unfortunately, the county has no long-range plan to successfully integrate public access and adaptive reuse while protecting the integrity of Cedarmere as a nationally significant historic resource,” Kautz said.

Darren Sandow, Hagedorn’s executive director, said, “The county has already lined up two foundations and a few nonprofit organizations to fill and maintain this wonderful space.”

County spokeswoman Mary Studdert said new nonprofit tenants “will continue to generate revenue in our real estate portfolio. The county will continue to make every effort to preserve the historic integrity of Cedarmere” and provide public access. The county did not respond to requests for the names of the new occupants.

The Friends of Cedarmere, a nonprofit support group, “is very anxious to maintain public access and continue with the things that need to be done there with respect to the mill, icehouse and the grounds,” president John Dawson said. “So any assistance that can be obtained will be a benefit, naturally.”

Idle Hour, Oakdale

Idle Hour is the former estate of William K. Vanderbilt and was the centerpiece of now-closed Dowling College.

The 900-acre estate was built in the late 19th and early 20th centuries for the railroad heir. After he died in 1920, most of the property was sold off.

Dowling, a four-year liberal arts college, had been an anchoring presence in the community since 1968, using the manor house for administrative offices, classrooms and functions. But the school, beset by $54 million in long-term debt, closed last summer and filed for bankruptcy.

The 25-acre Oakdale campus was sold at auction. The first-place bidder ultimately withdrew, the property then going to the second-place bidder, NCF Capital Ltd., for $26.1 million.

Matthew G. Roseman, an attorney for NCF Capital, said, “We plan to continue to use the site as an educational facility.” He said nothing would be done to detract from the estate’s historic character.

Kautz, however, said, “Unfortunately, the Town of Islip has yet to officially recognize these buildings as local landmarks,” adding the former estate’s “most important structures, including the mansion” are vulnerable to demolition.

Town Planning Commissioner Ron Meyer said, “Islip is committed to preserving the exterior building facades of Idle Hour, engineer’s house, performing arts/theater and recreation center once a buyer closes on the property. The town’s planning department has an administrative process that precludes demolition of these structures.”

York Hall, Kings Park

York Hall was the auditorium and community center of the former Kings Park Psychiatric Center, now Nissequogue River State Park.

The structure, built in 1930, was used by patients for recreational activities and by community residents for meetings and social activities. In the late 1990s, the state Office of Mental Health decommissioned the hospital and transferred the property to the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.

It has been empty for years, but remained even as many other structures on the former center’s 521 acres have been demolished starting in 2012.

The Society for the Preservation of Long Island Antiquities is holding out hope that it can be rescued.

“The condition of York Hall has severely deteriorated due to deferred maintenance,” Kautz said. “The building needs to be stabilized and securely mothballed while a rehabilitation plan comes together and potential public-private partnerships with arts organizations and other groups are explored.”

Agency spokesman Dan Keefe said, “State Parks is currently focused on more pressing health and safety issues at the former Kings Park Psychiatric Center site. We would welcome a community partner to take a leadership role in revitalizing York Hall.”

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