East Hampton Farm Museum Inches Closer To Completion

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Slowly but surely, a small group of tenacious Bonackers is transforming the 1758 Captain Jonathan Barnes House on the corner of North Main and Cedar streets into the Barnes-Lester Farm Museum.

On Thursday, four members of the East Hampton Historical Farm Museum Committee stood proudly around a worn wooden sink from 1880. Things were coming together as new plaster and paint dried around them. Tossing around ideas about what each room in the two-story house should have, from furniture to purpose, their hope was clear—to open the farm museum this year.

The point is to celebrate what farm life was like around 1910 and its importance to the prosperity of East Hampton and its rich history.

“This is a heartfelt opportunity to tell what East Hampton was all about,” said member Prudence Carabine. “This is the kind of living that kept 12 generations here. This is the kind of life I grew up with. It was very basic but very rich.”

Ms. Carabine said the kitchen will likely be used to teach visitors about the crops farming families would grow and the foods they would prepare. She envisions live food preparation, pie and pumpkin bread, and storage barrels full of potatoes, onions and apples.

The kitchen will soon see the addition of a 1919 cast-iron stove capable of burning wood, coal and gas; it was donated by the Tillinghast family.

In the next room, in what would have been the living room or parlor, the committee would like to see a media room where oral history would be retold on a TV screen and where curious visitors could look up their ancestry in a small library.

“If you’re the cousin of someone named Lester, you could find out which one you’re related to,” Ms. Carabine said.

The group laughed about how everyone there had deep roots in East Hampton.

“The more Bonackers the better,” Ms. Carabine said, explaining that she hopes to get the Ladies Village Improvement Society involved. “I’m the last of 12 generations here. That’s one of the reasons why this is so important to me.”

In the next front room, the committee wants to showcase old textiles, books and small farm and house machinery. Since the museum will be educational, it only makes sense for East Hampton students to get involved, according to Ms. Carabine. She would like the schools to contribute student posters showing various farming activities for the room, which would have revolving exhibits.

Up the newly installed staircase, two rooms remain—a master bedroom and an office. The committee would like to see the master bedroom set up as it would have been to serve people with a modest lifestyle: a double-sized bed with a rag rug on the floor, a trundle bed for a couple of kids and hooks on the wall to hang one of only two outfits.

“They might’ve had some chests, but basically they have two outfits—one on the wall and one on their bodies,” member Alice Wood said.

From the master bedroom window, the barn sits in its dilapidated state, but there are plans to eventually renovate that structure, too, as another part of the farm museum.

“The barn needs a lot of work,” Ms. Wood said. “The barn will have a stairway instead of ladders to get upstairs.”

She said that right now there are handmade ladders that would be too dangerous to allow visitors to climb.

Ms. Carabine said she imagines the entire property as a park where people could sit awhile with friends, explore the museum and garden, even enjoy a night of live music.

She said she hopes to get the musician Nancy Atlas to perform in the barn once it’s complete. Ms. Wood said the renovation of that building has been budgeted for in the town’s 2014 spending plan.

In 2005, the town’s Community Preservation Fund purchased the 2.5-acre property to renovate the buildings there, and in 2008, the home underwent reshingling, reroofing and repainting.

The house and the barn sit on the Dominy “Mill Lot,” which used to be the site of wind-powered sawmills and was used as a town common for about 150 years, from 1700 to the mid-19th century, according to a report prepared for the town by Robert Hefner in 2006.

An early center of industry, the lot once had a blacksmith shop, too.

The Barnes House, a Cape Cod cottage, was moved from Old Montauk Highway in Amagansett to the property by Selah Lester in 1876 after he bought a 1.3-acre plot from Sybel Dominy for $300.

Subsequent owners of the house included more Lesters, like Talmage Lester from 1910 to 1947, and Robert S. Lester, who owned it from 1947 to 1961. The town bought the property from Charles Labrozzi, a mason, who owned it from 1971 to 2003.

According to Town Councilwoman and CPF liaison Sylvia Overby, the town still hopes to use one of the rooms for the office of its town historians, Stuart Vorpahl and Averill Geus.

But what excites her the most about the renovation is the preservation of East Hampton history.

“It tells us where we’ve been,” she said. “I think it’s important to understand our roots, whether you’ve been here for five years or you’re the 14th generation.”

Albert Lester of the Round Swamp Lesters works as the committee’s handyman—he plans to rebuild cabinets, among other projects for the museum, he said.

“It’s a wonderful thing—this brings back memories of things I’ve heard from elders,” he said. He reminisced about his grandmother, Winifred Lester, who was caught during Prohibition with having a whiskey recipe. He said the authorities took it to Riverhead, and to get it back she would’ve had to pay $10.

Ms. Carabine said memories and pieces of history like this should be preserved through the museum.

“We are here because this story has to be told,” she said. “This is the year we’re going to open this museum.”

Anyone who is interested in helping out, or in sharing their family history at the museum may call Ms. Carabine at (631) 324-3892.

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