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May 5, 2017 3:26 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Fordham Mill In Speonk Sees New Life With Charity Foundation

The Fordham Mill.  PRESS FILE
May 9, 2017 4:12 PM

A fresh beginning is being planned for the Fordham Mill, the historic former sawmill in Speonk that has sat vacant for more than a decade, following its recent acquisition by the John and Elaine Kanas Family Foundation.

The East Moriches couple, known for their charitable efforts on the East End and throughout Long Island, are already busy converting the old mill property—sandwiched between Montauk Highway and Old Montauk Highway, and featuring two buildings—into the new headquarters for their foundation.

Renovations, which include foundation and structural work, are already under way at the larger building, with Mr. Kanas hoping to be able to move into his new offices by the end of the summer.

Prior to acquiring the property, Mr. Kanas said this week that he operated his foundation, which has donated just under $30 million to various organizations since its founding in 2007, out of his offices at BankUnited. He has since retired from the bank.

“Like most people, I have driven by that building for the last 30 years, wondering what will happen to it,” said Mr. Kanas, who built North Fork Bank into a banking industry giant before selling it to Capital One for $14.6 billion more than a decade ago. “I always thought that it is such a beautiful location, and now that I am retired and moving my activities away from banking, we are moving to the mill.”

He declined to say how much he paid for the property, which had been on the market for more than a decade with an initial asking price of $1.35 million, though Suffolk County records show Mr. Kanas purchased it from the Mill Mont Corp. for $775,000 on March 13.

Mark Barauskas, who owns the Mill Mont Corp with his brother-in-law Peter Ring, declined to comment on the sale when reached this week.

In a prior interview, Mr. Ring had told The Press that his grandfather, Morton French, purchased the 1.3-acre property in 1985, about six months before Southampton Town labeled it a historic landmark. That label, Mr. Ring said at the time, made it difficult for his family to find a buyer for the building which, he estimated at the time, also required an estimated $500,000 in renovations.

The nearly 160-year-old building most recently housed an antiques shop that closed in 2006.

The Fordham Mill was built in 1859 by Daniel Wells Tuttle and is sometimes referred to has the Tuttle-Fordham Mill, according to Southampton Town Landmarks and Historic District Board Vice Chairman Stephanie Davis, who lives in nearby Remsenburg.

The main building originally operated as a sawmill that was powered by a dam on the Speonk River. The mill was purchased by E.O. Fordham in 1911 and converted to electric power. The mill was used in the construction of carriages, wagon wheels and coffins.

It is considered an iconic building in the Remsenburg-Speonk area. The mill building itself, which has been added to over the years, now measures roughly 8,000 square feet, while the smaller structure on the west side of the land is about 5,000 square feet, according to Mr. Kanas.

Ms. Davis, who focuses on the hamlets of Remsenburg, Speonk and Westhampton, said this week that she and her fellow board members are happy that the buildings have new owners who are interested in investing in them. She noted that the mill’s history dates back more than two centuries, explaining that a mill actually began operating on the land in 1802—almost 60 years before the structure was built.

“I would say the Landmarks Board is very pleased that we have a new owner who is going to be renovating and taking care of the building,” Ms. Davis said. “It is one of the few remaining historic mill buildings in our area, as I understand it.”

The town’s Landmarks and Historic District Board is currently reviewing the proposed renovations, though ongoing preliminary work is permitted, as the prior owners previously secured a certificate of appropriateness from the municipality in 2008, according to Ms. Davis.

The John and Elaine Kanas Foundation is well-known for its work, primarily on the East End. In 2014, it donated $2 million to East End Hospice for the construction of the Kanas Center for Hospice Care on Quiogue, a facility that opened in 2016.

The foundation has also been pivotal in the expansion of Peconic Bay Medical Center in Riverhead, where the 20,000-square-foot Kanas Center for Advanced Surgery opened its doors in 2009 thanks, in part, to a $2 million donation from the Kanases. Then last June, they gave another $5 million—the largest donation in the hospital’s history—to Peconic Bay for the establishment of a new $60 million cardiac care tower in Riverhead that, when complete, will feature two state-of-the-art cardiac catheterization labs, a helipad, an electrophysiology suite, recovery rooms, and an 18-bed intensive care unit/cardiac care unit.

Mr. Kansas said he intends to restore the historic mill building to its former glory, noting that some sections of the foundation were in such bad shape that he feared they would eventually collapse. Engineers hired by Mr. Kanas had to repair and re-pin the building’s foundation, which had sustained damage after years of exposure to a stream that runs on the property and under the structure. Contractors are also working to secure the first and second floors, mainly before installing secondary framing to support the original.

“I hate to see these old buildings falling into states of disrepair,” he said. “I honestly think the mill would have collapsed in one or two more years. We had one contractor who would not go underneath for the concrete work because it was so tenuous.”

Both buildings on the land are currently zoned Office Business by Southampton Town, meaning that Mr. Kanas does not have to apply for a change of zone to relocate his foundation’s operation to the mill property.

The exterior of the larger building, he said, will be designed to resemble what the mill looked like when it was originally built, aside from the new windows. The smaller building on the western end of the lot will be restored as well—it will feature antique brick on its facade—and eventually be rented out as office space, according to Mr. Kanas.

“I like to preserve old things and see them live on,” Mr. Kanas said. “This building also happens to provide a beautiful view down the Speonk River, looking south and toward the pond, so it won’t be a bad place for me to have an office—and I can’t wait to get it done. I am very excited.”

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Well done John... Your family has done a lot for the communities...
By knitter (1865), Southampton on May 6, 17 8:47 AM
1 member liked this comment
Thank you John and Elaine! I am a local, life-long resident who couldn't be happier to see this project's efforts to restore history. LOVE IT! xox
By jcos (3), Remsenburg on May 7, 17 5:14 PM
1 member liked this comment