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Jan 6, 2010 11:21 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Sayre Barn and Canoe Place Inn listed as endangered

Jan 6, 2010 11:21 AM

Historic preservation, a catchphrase with particular resonance on the East End, continued to gain prominence with the inaugural listing of Long Island’s endangered historic structures by the Society for the Preservation of Long Island Antiquities.

On the South Fork, Southampton’s Sayre Barn and the Canoe Place Inn in Hampton Bays earned distinction as endangered structures, according to the preservation society, a nonprofit organization based in Cold Spring Harbor. The group’s mission is based on the idea that the area’s heritage is threatened and that “much that could have enriched our lives is already gone,” according to the group’s website.

While recognition on the society’s endangered list does not lend monetary support to its honorees, it is designed to galvanize support for the significant structures in Long Island’s treasure chest of noteworthy sites.

The Society for the Preservation of Long Island Antiquities’ list was modeled after such national lists as the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the World Monuments Fund.

“Power lies in the hands of people on the ground,” said Alexandra Wolfe, a society preservationist who explained that goal of the list is to bolster support for preservation-minded groups and local civic associations. Shedding light on the sites is expected to boost interest in saving local resources.

“It’s like your grandma just dropped dead and you inherited her china, but you hate it, so you go sell it in a yard sale, but then realize you shouldn’t have,” explained Richard Casabianca, a member of the Hampton Bays Landmarks and Historic Districts Board about the common practice of haphazardly discarding items that turn out to be of tremendous value.

“Southampton was settled in 1640. It’s one of the oldest settlements in the country,” Mr. Casabianca said. “We have to start taking better care of our heritage, period.”

The Sayre Barn, which dates back to 1739, is the oldest site to be included on this year’s list. It is also listed among the National Register of Historic Places and once housed horses for the British soldiers during the American Revolution. The barn was nominated for inclusion by the Southampton Historical Museum and is one of the last remaining barns from the 18th century, many of which have been demolished or converted into houses. As such, the barn, built by the Sayre family, is often a forgotten part of Southampton’s history.

Tom Edmonds, executive director of the museum, said that the goal is for Sayre Barn to be restored as a Colonial-era working barn, and though it is not expected to house animals anymore, it has the potential to be become an educational center where children and adults can learn about the agrarian traditions of generations past, when building barns and other farming skills were more common knowledge. The barn could house exhibits of potato cutters, threshing machines, corn shuckers and spinning wheels, among other instruments. As a precursor of sorts to newspapers, Hamptonites used to gather at the three-bay English-style barn to hear the latest news, Mr. Edmonds said.

The barn may even hold stories that have yet to be fully uncovered. Legend says that old musket balls are hidden in the barn’s beams, although Mr. Edmonds has not seen them.

“It’s like preserving a piece of folk art,” Mr. Edmonds, who described the barn’s current condition as “critical.” Currently, the shingled barn’s heavy timber frame, hewn of white oak, is battling an infestation of powder post beetles. Gaps in the walls invite other creatures, though the barn did receive a new roof and structural supports last fall.

Meanwhile, the Canoe Place Inn, a fabled hostelry-turned-nightclub, was nominated for recognition by the Hampton Bays Historical Preservation Society.

Once a stately spot that welcomed crowds of different groups over the decades, from Native Americans in its early days to well-heeled Manhattanites in its latter, the building has since tumbled into some disrepair. Part of its historical significance lies in it serving as a pivotal landmark in the development of the western portion of Southampton.

Charles Bellows, chairman of Southampton Town’s Landmarks and Historic District Boards, extolled the historic significance of the inn, now the White House nightclub, and stressed that something must be done so the building can turn a profit and not just be “mothballed.”

Canoe Place Inn boasts a storied history the highlight of which was its emergence as “Tammany Hall East,” as former Governor Al Smith lived in one of the cottages on the property.

In recent years, plans for the inn’s demolition have emerged and developers are poised to tear down the structure and replace it with condominiums. Those plans are on hold during the ongoing Hampton Bays moratorium, enacted by the Southampton Town Board some 18 months ago, though the same developers are suing the town over the building ban.

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