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Jul 22, 2019 4:22 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Dominy Shops Move To East Hampton's North Main Street

The Dominy clock-repair shop as it undergoes restoration this summer.  ELIZABETH VESPE
Sep 17, 2019 3:22 PM

The Dominy clock repair shop and woodworking shop were transported from the Mulford Farm to their original spot on North Main Street last week as the East Hampton Historical Society works to build a recreation of the original 18th-century house demolished in the mid-1900s.

The workshops will become a museum devoted to the history of four generations of the Dominy family, who built furniture and clocks, among other items, thanks to the historical society and East Hampton Village.

Earlier this summer, Richard Barons, chief curator of the East Hampton Historical Society, explained that the museum will allow the public to learn how a small rural community came to terms with the Industrial Revolution. As members of a community with no rivers, 18th-century craftsmen relied on wind power.

The Dominys built Pantigo Mill and Hook Mill, which still stand and function today. In addition, Mr. Barons said, they made bronze castings for bullet molds for the rebels in East Hampton during the American Revolution.

“People will really be able to see what they used to call the age of homespun,” Mr. Barons said at the time. “They’ll be able to see the beginning of industrialization.” He added that the Dominys also crafted smaller pieces such as wooden bowls and spinning wheels.

The historical society plans to one day book appearances by silversmiths, wood turners and others to demonstrate 18th-century craftsmanship. The village and the historical society plan to make the Dominy exhibits hands-on, giving people a chance to put their fingers on clocks, cogs and tools.

“What’s unique is the fact that you have this continuous generation of workers,” Mr. Barons said. “Everything is documented, and I think that’s what makes it special.” He explained that records show what the family built, who bought their products and at what price.

In 1946, Dudley Roberts, who had served in World War II, returned home to East Hampton and heard through the grapevine that someone was in the process of tearing down the old Dominy house. The main Dominy house was demolished, but Mr. Roberts, a fan of local history, saved the two workshops and moved them to Further Lane, joining the two shops together to form one building. He made minor changes, enlarging one window and adding wooden studs around the exterior to secure the structure, but most of the wood is original. Mr. Roberts put plywood on the outside of the building, which saved the historic value underneath.

An antiques dealer from Southampton bought most of the contents of the shops. Henry Francis du Pont, a renowned antiques collector and horticulturist, and creator of the Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library, tracked down the antiques, later purchasing the entire collection for his museum. The Winterthur Museum originally tried to acquire the two workshops from Mr. Roberts, but he was adamant about keeping them in East Hampton, Bob Hefner, East Hampton Village’s director of historic services, said.

“Back then, they were famous locally,” Mr. Hefner said earlier this summer of the Dominys. In current times, the Dominys are known nationally because of the book “With Hammer in Hand,” written in 1976 by Charles Hummel, but also because of the Winterthur Museum in Delaware, which has exact replicas of the two historic workshops. The museum also has historic photographs and architectural drawings that document the working environment of the Dominys, in addition to clocks, chairs, case pieces, looking glasses and tables displayed with templates, machinery and more than 800 tools used by the Dominys.

A handful of local residents still have some of the Dominy tools, furnishings and clocks. Last year, the village accepted donations of various clocks, tools, even a leather notebook, to place in the museum. The historical society currently has about 200 original Dominy tools being stored at the Osborn Jackson House on Main Street and in the Mulford Farm storage barn.

“The village also received a clock from a family that lived on Newtown Lane last summer,” said Mr. Hefner, adding that the same family also donated a couple of chairs and a chest, which will be displayed.

The village has one of the Dominy clocks, and the historical society has five, which all work.

“They keep time and chime. We have one in my office,” Mr. Hefner said.

“There is no other collection like this,” he said, explaining that the Dominy tools and shops are the most intact collection of woodworking gadgets that belonged to any 18th-century American craftsmen.

On a recent summer afternoon, Mr. Hefner inspected the small, bare-bones wooden Dominy clock-repair shop.

“Everything you see here is original,” he said. “This was the forge room where they did blacksmithing,” he said, pointing to where the forge and chimney once were. “There was a partition here with benches on the perimeter, and tools,” he said, pointing to one end of the shop where discoloration could be seen on the wall where the benches once were.

The restoration plans were drawn up by the Historic American Building Survey to exactly replicate the original shops.

“When everything is finished, this will be the only place in the United States where there’s a woodworking shop and metal-working shop in the same location from the 18th century,” Mr. Hefner said.

East Hampton Village Mayor Paul F. Rickenbach Jr. said that with the centennial of the village incorporation coming up in 2020, the Dominy museum “will add an additional gem in the village crown.”

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