When It Comes To A Historic Mecox House, Value Is A Relative Term - 27 East

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When It Comes To A Historic Mecox House, Value Is A Relative Term

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The central fireplace of the home.

The central fireplace of the home.

Larry Jones points to the bake oven in the central chimney.  DANA SHAW

Larry Jones points to the bake oven in the central chimney. DANA SHAW

Larry Jones with Bob and Rick Hirt, whose grandmother once lived in the house.  DANA SHAW

Larry Jones with Bob and Rick Hirt, whose grandmother once lived in the house. DANA SHAW

Larry Jones and Bob Hirt examine the bake oven.

Larry Jones and Bob Hirt examine the bake oven.

Mortar on the chimney shows a date of 1938 and the initials C.K.C.   DANA SHAW

Mortar on the chimney shows a date of 1938 and the initials C.K.C. DANA SHAW

Larry and Bob Hirt in the Jeremiah Halsey Jr. house.

Larry and Bob Hirt in the Jeremiah Halsey Jr. house.

Larry Jones with one of the wide wooden planks found in the house.

Larry Jones with one of the wide wooden planks found in the house.

The timber beams around the central fireplace.

The timber beams around the central fireplace.

One of the staircases in the home is being saved.

One of the staircases in the home is being saved.

Students (L-R) Erin Organi, Jessica McKnight, Liam McMahon, Christian Oakley, and Jack Motz are part of the first year of the Project Lead The Way, dedicated to introducting high schoolers to the basics of engineering and increasing the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math curriculum at Southampton High School. BY ERIN MCKINLEY

Students (L-R) Erin Organi, Jessica McKnight, Liam McMahon, Christian Oakley, and Jack Motz are part of the first year of the Project Lead The Way, dedicated to introducting high schoolers to the basics of engineering and increasing the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math curriculum at Southampton High School. BY ERIN MCKINLEY

Some of the doors and mantels from the house.

Some of the doors and mantels from the house.

Larry Jones shows some of the original timber beams on the second floor of the house.

Larry Jones shows some of the original timber beams on the second floor of the house.

Senior Jessica McKnight works on an engineering project as part of the Project Lea

Senior Jessica McKnight works on an engineering project as part of the Project Lea

Rebecca Nelsen, a seventh-grader at Eastport South Manor Junior-Senior High School, performed for the Board of Education at last month's meeting. ALEXA GORMAN

Rebecca Nelsen, a seventh-grader at Eastport South Manor Junior-Senior High School, performed for the Board of Education at last month's meeting. ALEXA GORMAN

Rebecca Nelsen, a seventh-grader at Eastport South Manor Junior-Senior High School, performed for the Board of Education at last month's meeting. ALEXA GORMAN

Rebecca Nelsen, a seventh-grader at Eastport South Manor Junior-Senior High School, performed for the Board of Education at last month's meeting. ALEXA GORMAN

One of the staircases in the house.

One of the staircases in the house.

Timber around the fireplace has bowed with age.

Timber around the fireplace has bowed with age.

The original timber framing in the attic is in remarkably good condition.

The original timber framing in the attic is in remarkably good condition.

The second floor of the house.

The second floor of the house.

Some of the boards salvaged from the house.

Some of the boards salvaged from the house.

Larry Jones, builder Jim Zizzi and Bob Hirt look over the detailed plans for an East Hampton restoration project.

Larry Jones, builder Jim Zizzi and Bob Hirt look over the detailed plans for an East Hampton restoration project.

author on Mar 24, 2014

If only walls could talk.

Some of them lay in rubble at the Jeremiah Halsey Jr. house in Mecox last week, having been torn away to reveal a pristine timber frame dating to before the birth of George Washington, back when carpenters used pegs and marriage marks to join beams harvested from local trees.

Others, still standing, wore wallpaper that’s outlived centuries of homeowners, from colonial farmers and their descendants to far more recent colonists, for whom a 1.5-acre corner parcel south of the highway will be of more value when the original farmhouse has been demolished to make way for an 8,000-square-foot new home.

The new owners, Jeffrey and Susan Tisch Allen, are offering the old Jeremiah Halsey Jr. house for free to anyone who is willing and able to move it from the site by April 14.

The hand-hewn frame of the house, which is believed to have been built between 1710 and 1730, is approximately 95-percent intact, with its unusually shaped timbers in “like-new condition,” said Larry Jones, a Westhampton Beach-based restoration consultant who has been measuring and photographing the building’s interior free of charge. At the heart of the old house is a sloping central chimney containing three fireplaces and a deep bake oven, as well as two more fireplaces on the second floor. Wide-plank beaded wallboards and the wide-plank flooring are among the other surviving original elements of the residence.

After three centuries of inhabitants, however, the building maintains none of the original exterior—windows, doors, siding and trim included—and appears far less interesting than it would if its historical look were restored. Mr. Jones envisions a sympathetic new owner setting that right by giving the house back its multi-light windows, detailed doors and trim, and similar treatments, which he said would not be difficult to accomplish.

That is the ideal scenario, he said last week in an “adopt this old house” memorandum: finding someone “to take this important piece of early Long Island history under their wing, move it and restore it.”

In the next-best scenario, if a home cannot be found for the house, its key elements, such as the pieces of its timber frame and perhaps the bricks of the central fireplace, will be numbered, disassembled and transported for storage until the Westhampton Beach Historical Society, which is now restoring the Foster-Meeker house in Westhampton Beach—another early 18th-century building that was moved—can find someone to reassemble them all “and bring it back to life.”

The fact that steps were already being taken toward the disassembling direction made adopting the house in one piece much less practical for Stacy Ludlow, who owns the Mecox Bay Dairy Farm down the road. She had hoped to move the house to her own property, both to preserve it and for her son to live in. But as she was beginning to explore that option, she realized that portions of the interior—a spiral staircase, for example—were being dismantled with an eye both toward preserving them and to free up the chimney, and that more recent, less authentic elements were also being taken out to be reclaimed.

Ms. Ludlow is not alone in seeing the building as a whole worth saving. Rick Hirt, a Southampton-based architect, and his brother, Bob Hirt, visited the Jeremiah Halsey Jr. house last week to see where things stood, as the home had been in their mother’s family—the Cooks, one of Southampton’s oldest families—for decades, at least.

“Larry is more interested in the structure of the house,” Bob Hirt said afterward. “I’m more interested in the memories.”

Ellen Cook Hirt was born in the home’s “borning room” and married in its backyard. At age 97, she now lives down the road with her son, Bob Hirt, on a lot that had once been part of the farm of Jeremiah Halsey Jr., one of the earliest settlers at Mecox and a descendant of one of Southampton’s founders, Thomas Halsey Sr.

Rick Hirt pointed to research that architect Marjorie Goldberg had done in preparation for a walking tour of Halsey Lane, which suggested that a road led to the house as early as 1700, and that Pauls Lane—where the home currently faces—was opened in 1677.

“If Halsey Lane was opened in 1700 and led to the Jeremiah Halsey house, my grandmother may have been right when she said the house was built in the late 1600s,” he said.

Mr. Hirt is uncertain when the house passed from the Halseys to the Cook family, but said he believed that, at one point, there was a marriage between the two families. At that time, two smaller farms were merged into one roughly 40-acre one, which was ultimately sold off in pieces during the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s.

The Jeremiah Halsey Jr. house most likely belonged to the Hirt brothers’ grandfather, Augustus Cook, a potato farmer who was born before the Civil War, by the time he was married to his much younger wife, Katherine Cook.

Mr. Cook died in 1931. Ms. Cook was 75 and living alone in the house when she was raped and beat up there in 1958. To be closer to town and safety, she sold it in 1961 to a speechwriter for John F. Kennedy and out of the Cook family’s hands.

Rick Hirt said it was sold next to “an owner named Brill.” Later, for at least 25 years, evidently, it belonged to one Don Anderson, whose pewter collection could be seen adorning the fireplace mantel in a 1994 Colonial Homes magazine spread.

“Through the years, the pre-Revolutionary farmstead, one of Bridgehampton’s oldest dwellings, has been little changed ...,” read the article in Colonial Homes, going on to note the home’s location east of “the more popular—and populous—summer resort town of Southampton, where newer, larger-scale homes provide New Yorkers with a haven from the city.”

Rick Hirt said his father recollected that when Grumman jets from Calverton used to fly overhead, breaking the sound barrier, he could hear little pieces of the delicate chimney crumbling.

“My grandmother would never allow a fire in the fireplace,” he said, noting that the magazine cited a “roaring fire” in it during Mr. Anderson’s tenancy.

Building permits were in fact issued for several additions to the house in 1967 and 2002, according to Mr. Zizzi, the present owners’ Quogue-based general contractor. Southampton Town issued a demolition permit in December 2013 so that the Allens could have the house torn down after purchasing it recently. Mr. Zizzi said the decision to demolish it was a function of how best to use the property, given the constraints of building setbacks and other regulations.

“It doesn’t fit the needs of their family,” he said of the old house and the lot’s new owners. “We have certain lot coverages and setbacks. And when you have a building, it takes away from your ability to utilize your property.”

For more information on the Jeremiah Halsey Jr. house, contact general contractor Jim Zizzi at 653-9676 or info@zizzihomes.com.

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