David Rapelje, the director of Bayville Museum, is pictured in front...

David Rapelje, the director of Bayville Museum, is pictured in front of a restored iron gate that once marked the entrance to the estate of financier Harrison Williams in Bayville.  Credit: Howard Schnapp

David Rapelje was riding his bike along Bayville Avenue one day when, through the trees, he saw a peculiar looking iron fence adorned with designs of ocean waves and dolphins.

What had been the private entrance to the former estate of Harrison Williams, a financier who purchased the property in 1926, had fallen into disrepair, according to the Bayville Museum director.

Rapelje, 63, said he tried for more than a decade after that to get the gate restored. But the museum official said questions that remained about who was responsible for the structure and who would front the cost prevented the project from moving forward.

That changed last year during a meeting Rapelje had with Bayville Mayor Steve Minicozzi that jump-started a community-led push that has restored the entrance to its original state.

History Project

  • The gate of the former estate of Harrison Williams has been restored.
  • It had marked the entrance to the financier's 60-acre property, which he bought in 1926.
  • The financier's widow sold the property to a developer in 1965 and homes were built behind the gate.
  • A community-funded project restored the gate.

Williams was 53 when he bought the 60-acre property with his bride-to-be, Mona Strader Bush, for $750,000, and called the estate “Oak Point.”

Williams died in 1953, and Bush sold the property to a developer in 1965, who built the homes that stand behind the gates today, a community called Oak Point Woods, said Rapelje. 

Minicozzi said the project to restore the crumbling gate had to be done "before it was too late."

Minicozzi called Mario Gallo, the owner of Locust Valley-based Forest Iron Works, who volunteered his company's time and expertise for the physical restoration.

First, company workers disassembled the gate and brought it into the shop in January before sandblasting it. That’s when they saw the extent of the damage rot had caused and how many areas would need to be fabricated to complete the project.

It included filling in the spikes of the gate and reproducing missing tails on the dolphins that line its lower half.

“We didn't really even know what we were up against,” said Gallo, 47. “I said ‘yes’ quickly, and then I was looking at this gate and said, ‘What did I get myself into?’”

After work began, the gate’s transformation took about a month. Seeing the result now, Gallo said he’s “proud to drive by it.”

Rapelje installed a sign next to the gate that explains its history. He also designed some of the finishing touches that surround it, including a grotto area.

Minicozzi personally paid for the masonry, which cost about $1,000, he said. Rapelje said community donations covered the reinstallation of the gate, which cost about $2,800.

The homeowners association that represents the residents who live beyond the gate fronted the funding to remove the trees from the area, which were growing over the iron entrance, Rapelje said, and the village’s beautification committee planted flowers in front of the gate earlier this month out of its budget.

“It's night and day,” Rapelje said of the gate after the project’s completion.

Minicozzi called the gate “a piece of Bayville history that is now preserved for generations to come.”

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