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TLC keeps historic cottage whole

Thatcher William Cahill works to repair thatching on

Thatcher William Cahill works to repair thatching on a cottage at Old Westbury Gardens. (April 19, 2011) Photo Credit: T.C. McCarthy

Peggie Phipps got a great gift for her 10th birthday in 1916 -- a cottage with a working fireplace.

Thanks to some maintenance, that cottage stands today in its original spot at Old Westbury Gardens.

The thatched roof is maintained by William Cahill, above, who visits Old Westbury Gardens roughly once every seven years to repair the damage that birds, squirrels and weather have done to the water-reed covering.

Using a set of tools left to him by the thatcher he studied under, he fills voids in the roof with fresh water reed, prunes sections that have slid down, and repairs areas that have begun to rot from lack of air or too much water. Cahill started his work last week and is scheduled to finish Thursday.

“This is part of preservation,” said Vince Kish, director of communications for Old Westbury Gardens, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. “Whether it is the roof of that house, or the main house. It is the preservation of the way of life they had at one time.“

Cahill, who lives in Ohio but learned his trade in his native Ireland, also does work for Grey Gardens in East Hampton. Being one of only a handful of thatchers left in the world, Cahill said his job keeps him away from home roughly 300 days a year. But, he said, structures like Peggie’s Cottage make it all worth it.

“It has a good strong life to it,” he said.


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