Officials say the historic Sylvester Manor mansion on Shelter Island,...

Officials say the historic Sylvester Manor mansion on Shelter Island, pictured here in June, needs an $8 million renovation.

Credit: Randee Daddona

The “crown jewel” of Sylvester Manor, a Shelter Island property that dates back to 1737, could use a facelift, according to officials with the nonprofit that manages the site.

The exterior of the historic Manor House in particular has fallen into disrepair, prompting the launch of a new $8 million capital campaign to fund a major renovation and preservation project on the property that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Georgian-style mansion is located on 236 acres where 11 generations of the Sylvester family once lived.

It is the property's “crown jewel” and “most significant artifact,” according to Stephen Searl, the executive director of the nonprofit Sylvester Manor Educational Farm — which owns the property and runs it as a working farm.

Merchant Nathaniel Sylvester settled Sylvester Manor in the 1650s when the entire island was a provisioning plantation for sugar cane operations in Barbados and the Caribbean. The original 1651 house was the home of Shelter Island's first European settlers.

Enslaved Africans, along with indentured or paid Native American and European laborers all worked at the site. As many as 200 enslaved servants and laborers are buried to the south of the home in what's called the “Afro-Indigenous Burial Ground.”

The site has been the subject of archaeological study, led largely by Stephen Mrozowski of the University of Massachusetts Boston.

Under the restoration plan, the back portion of the approximately 10,000-square-foot Manor House is slated to become the home of a new history and heritage center, featuring educational programming that tells the stories of all the people who lived and worked on the property, according to Searl.

He said the upstairs of the house could be used for scholars and artists in residence, in addition to some office space.

The nonprofit received a $500,000 grant in December from New York State’s Regional Economic Development Council Initiative, a grant that served as a launching point for the capital campaign.

A few years ago, Sylvester Manor officials partnered with a national leader in historic preservation, Architectural Preservation Studio based in New York City, to map out the various upgrades that are needed, ranging from a new roof and windows to modern fire prevention, according to Searl.

He said with a restoration plan in place, the nonprofit now needs to raise the rest of the funds and has applied for about $5 million in other grants. Work could begin as early as this fall and the entire restoration could take two to three years, according to the nonprofit official.

Amber Brach-Williams, Shelter Island's deputy supervisor, said while the town doesn't have "deep pockets" to help with funding, the municipality will try to assist the nonprofit during the process.

"To do the work that needs to be done is going to be a huge undertaking, but I think it's really a valuable asset on Shelter Island," she added.

The project represents a delicate balance between maintaining the structure’s history — wallpaper in one room dates to the 1870s, for example — and preserving it to make it viable for future generations, officials said.

Searl said the work, far more intricate than a simple home renovation, requires following specific architectural guidelines set by the U.S. Department of Interior.

Sylvester Manor at a glance

The Shelter Island property was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2015.

A 19th century windmill on the property recently was restored.

The area was home to Manhanset Indians prior to European settlement.

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