Shelter Island Town Supervisor James Dougherty paid a visit to the Suffolk County Treasurer’s office yesterday and delivered a check for nearly a half-million dollars. It was, he said, one of the best buys he has made since becoming supervisor six years ago.
“We closed on the purchase of 26.5 acres of development rights to Sylvester Manor. We only paid $91,000 an acre. It’s a bargain,” he said.
Because the money came from the special 2 percent tax on real estate transfers on Shelter Island, it had no impact on the town tax rate.
The money was the town’s share of a $2,389,241 development rights purchase for a working farm that goes back to 1651, when Nathaniel Sylvester and three partners purchased the entire 8,000-acre Shelter Island, set up a plantation worked by slaves, and shipped food to another, larger plantation in Barbados.
Sylvester Manor still stands, although the farm has shrunk over the years. By 1704, it took in only half of Shelter Island, and is now just 243 acres. Eben Fiske Ostby, the 14th Lord of the Manor, has decided to transfer most of the acreage to public ownership.
It is the only intact northern plantation left in the United States.
In January, Shelter Island purchased development rights to 57 acres, with Suffolk County paying most of the cost, just as it paid more than $1 million of this week’s purchase. The U.S. Department of Agriculture contributed $866,428 through a sustainable agriculture grant.
The property is in private ownership, but is opened to the public on special occasions and for occasional open-house tours.
Above: Dozens of hens wander the grounds at the Sylvester Manor Farm on Shelter Island. The farm produces organic vegetables, fruits, flowers and eggs. (July 9, 2011)