It was a moment of serendipity when mason Leander Arnold removed a brick from an aging support pier at the Thomas Moran Studio, currently under restoration on Main Street.
Unbeknownst to him, he had uncovered a hidden document marking the laying of the home’s cornerstone. It was dated September 30, 1884. Thomas Moran, friends and family all had signed the paper at 10:30 that morning.
Almost to the day, 129 years later, at 10 a.m., Mr. Arnold realized that a canning jar had broken while he was doing his job underneath the house’s turret. Surprised to find a note inside, he contacted John Hummel Custom Builders with the news.
The document states: “The corner stone of this studio building was laid this day at 10:30 a.m. in the presence of the following friends of the artist, Thomas Moran.”
Friends such as Edward Osborn, the Jefferys and Smith families, and E.E. Haldron signed the paper in support of their new neighbor.
Later in the note, it is stated that coins were scattered under the home, which was meant for good luck.
Thomas Moran was one of America’s premier landscape artists in the late 1800s, having painted many works of art, including “Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone” and “Chasm of the Colorado.”
Wanting to put down roots in East Hampton Village, he designed his home in 1884. Until now, it was not known when construction actually began, according to Robert Hefner, the village’s historic preservation consultant.
“We had no documentation that it was built in 1884,” he said. “All that was known from the record is that he moved in in 1885. This does tell us conclusively when they started construction. It animates the whole story.”
The home was originally styled as a Queen Anne home but became an eclectic mix of influences. For one, a turret was added on the southwest corner of the home, adding a romantic and almost theatrical look to the house.
Over the years, there were many expansions to the house, including a kitchen, a service wing and a front porch, but most important after all these years is Mr. Moran’s studio itself. One of the largest rooms in the house, it doubled as a living room. It was the center of activity, serving as the gathering place for many social events and meetings for artist friends.
According to Richard Barons, the executive director of the Thomas Moran Trust and the East Hampton Historical Society, the discovery of the document in the support pier more clearly paints Mr. Moran’s devotion to the community.
“He was really adopted by the community, and here he’s so excited about having his own studio,” he said. “The document brings it all to life and reminds us of the sheer, utter joy he had in creating it.”
At the moment, the home is still undergoing restoration, and about 90 percent of the foundation work is complete, according to Mr. Hefner. The hope is to set the home back down on a foundation within a month and begin working on the house’s walls.
“Sometimes you forget about the people who lived in the house when you get so involved in a restoration project,” Mr. Barons said. “It’s a little bit of serendipity when a ghost of the past delivers something personal to you like a message in a bottle.”
Mr. Arnold said he was surprised to find the note but that it wasn’t the first time he had discovered a historical treasure while working.
In 1976, Mr. Arnold was dismantling a chimney of a home built in 1876 in Bridgehampton, when he came across a time capsule that included a Sag Harbor Express, a message, and the names of the then mason and his children.
Mr. Arnold’s tendency to mingle with history runs in his family: His father, Sebastian Arnold, was the mason who rebuilt the Mulford House chimney in the mid-20th century.
“To find the document [at the Thomas Moran home] was amazing,” he said. “All of a sudden, there it was.”