In 1989, Bert Seides sprang into action after learning about the Town of Brookhaven's plans to bulldoze the nearly 300-year-old Havens-Terry-Ketcham Inn that was damaged by a fire.
Seides, of Center Moriches, is a longtime architectural designer who first visited the Center Moriches site two years prior. He quickly organized a group to establish the Ketcham Inn Foundation Inc., with the goal of raising funds to buy and restore the property.
“I was moved by what I saw, it was incredible,” he said of his first visit to the inn. “My eyes told me the story, the history. Then I found the owner and told him, ‘We want it.’”
In 1990, the foundation bought the inn for $175,000 with the help of a matching grant from the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. The historic property where Thomas Jefferson and James Madison once stayed was in “very sad condition,” Seides said.
The inn was built in 1693 by local blacksmith Samuel Terrill and has served as a tavern, public house and stagecoach stop. The site got its current name from a succession of owners after Terrill.
In 1763, the inn was purchased by farmer and merchant John Havens, according to the National Register of Historic Places application. During Havens’ ownership, with the help of his son, Benjamin, and several other innkeepers, a coach route from Brooklyn to Sag Harbor was created. It included a stop at the inn.
In 1851, the inn was bought by Samuel Ketcham, who kept it as a tavern. The property stayed in the Ketcham family until 1918.
In 1997, the Raynor family of Eastport donated a barn next to the inn to the group. Since 2002, the foundation holds book sales at that site, now called the Book Barn, from April to December on Thursdays through Sundays. The foundation also has operated an organic farm at the property since 2001.
Seides now wants to turn the inn into a living museum, and use five undeveloped acres of land across the street, which the Ketchams owned, to create a cultural visitors center. The center would be used to host art galleries of local artists' work and become a place to “bring the community together.”
The larger goal is to create a "cultural hub" that will bring attention to the other historic sites in the area on Main Street, including Camp Pa-Qua-Tuck, Mill Pond, the Havens Inn -- which are all within walking distance.
Tom Cardoza, a foundation volunteer, said the community “sorely needs to give young people a sense of history, while also a place to sell books, to encourage people to read.”
Mary Fields, who has been part of the Ketcham Inn Foundation since its founding, volunteers at the Book Barn.
“I believe in historic preservation,” she said. “It is good for the community to keep the local history moving and preserved for the future.”
Although the past 22 years has been a struggle for Seides to get the organization in place, he said it has been well worth it.
“It is the little guys I care about,” Seides said. “I want them to say, ‘Wow this is old,’ so I can tell them that this was the place that Jefferson and Madison stayed when they visited our neighbor William Floyd. That’s a beautiful thing.”