Long, Slow, Expensive-And Worth It - 27 East

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Southampton Press / Opinion / Letters / 1280729

Long, Slow, Expensive–And Worth It

A recent editorial in The Press titled “The Money Pit” [May 30] contained serious inaccuracies that misrepresented the status of the preservation and restoration of the Nathaniel Rogers House. Located on the corner of Montauk Highway and Ocean Road, the house is an integral component of Bridgehampton’s streetscape and is one of the few full portico (temple front) Greek Revival houses to survive on Long Island.

According to Preservation Long Island (formerly known as the Society for the Preservation of Long Island Antiquities), the Nathaniel Rogers House is one of the two most important architectural gems of its style on Long Island. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places—and it deserves to be preserved.

The case for preservation is wedded in its architectural significance and to its critical location, its rich history, and its potential as a repository for the history of Bridgehampton. In 2003, the threat to this structure’s survival was severe and immediate, and without government and community intervention an important piece of local history and architecture would have been lost.

In that year, the last private owner decided to sell the house and its 7 acres of surrounding open space. The Southampton Town Board and community members feared the house would be demolished and the property commercially developed, which they strongly opposed.

The Bridgehampton Museum agreed to assist the town in the purchase and preservation of the house and property. With Community Preservation Fund monies and community donations through the museum, the Town of Southampton purchased the property, and the Bridgehampton Museum became the stewards of the house.

Despite the Press’s assertion, restoration work on this important historic building has not stopped. Four different trades—carpenters, plumbers, electricians, and heating and air conditioning experts—are on site and are on or ahead of schedule to complete their individual contracts with the Town of Southampton by the end of 2019.

Funds for the current work already have been secured with CPF funds and a donation to the town by the Bridgehampton Museum. Previous restoration work was also completed with CPF and Bridgehampton Museum funds, along with two separate grants awarded to the town from the State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.

From the beginning, we knew that restoration efforts would be budgeted over several phases and over several years. And we knew that a lot of research would be required before work began. A Historic Structures Report was completed, project architects and structural engineers were hired by the museum, and engineers and wood consultants completed preliminary summary reports.

In 2009, the architect’s construction documents were submitted to the town and, upon approval, to New York State for its approval as part of a town grant application, which resulted in the first of two highly competitive grants being awarded from New York State.

In 2009, it was decided that the first phase, deemed to be urgent, would address structural, foundation and roofing issues. The town, as required by law, advertised a request for bids and, as per state law, awarded the low bidder the contract. Restoration work of this phase began in 2011 and was completed by the end of 2013. In 2013, the Bridgehampton Museum also fully funded the restoration of the four front columns of the house.

In 2015, restoration began of all windows and exterior and interior doors, as well as installing a heating and air conditioning system in the building, and work on that phase was completed the following year.

The current phase includes all remaining interior restoration and rebuilding of the south wing. But it was decided that installing the roof balustrades, cupola, shutters and fencing would be delayed until after the current work is completed.

Recently, the museum asked the town to consider allocating CPF funds for the balustrades and cupola so that the work could be scheduled for later this year. During these discussions, some individuals questioned the historic relevance of the balustrades and cupola, but they are, in fact, historic elements designed and installed by Nathaniel Rogers in 1840.

The one thing the Press editorial got right: Preservation and restoration of this historic structure has been a long, slow and expensive process. In part, that is because all restoration work at the Nathaniel Rogers House is being conducted in adherence to the U.S. Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties. The Standards are a nationally recognized tool for the preservation, maintenance and rehabilitation of our nation’s heritage. These Standards have become the accepted benchmark at all levels of government—national, state and local—for evaluating the acceptability of proposed changes to historic properties.

In addition, the Nathaniel Rogers House is subject to preservation covenants agreed to by the Town of Southampton and by the Bridgehampton Museum in exchange for restoration funding from New York State.

The house and surrounding acreage were purchased with $3 million from the town and $550,000 from community members via the Bridgehampton Museum—and considering the current value of open space, that was a bargain.

There is no denying that the restoration work has been expensive. The town has contributed approximately $5,257,700; the State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation has contributed $700,000; and the Bridgehampton Museum has raised from the community and contributed approximately $2.1 million for restoration efforts. The museum is continuing its community fundraising efforts to support its current and future care and use of the building.

With foresight and commitment, the Town of Southampton, the Bridgehampton Museum and countless community members are working to make the Nathaniel Rogers House an attractive landmark facility that will serve the community for generations by promoting historic preservation and by providing a spectacular repository and showcase for historic documents, artifacts and photographs.

John Eilertsen is executive director of the Bridgehampton Museum.

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