After years of trying to preserve the Sherrill farmhouse on Springs-Fireplace Road in East Hampton, a mission to turn it into a historical museum has hit a bump.
Prudence Carabine, a driving force behind the preservation of historic homes in East Hampton, has been pushing East Hampton Town to tap the Community Preservation Fund to purchase the home from the bank that holds its mortgage. Now, she said, the bank has accepted an offer from a private buyer.
“We really wanted to save this house,” said Ms. Carabine, who helped create a nearby farm museum on the Lester-Labrozzi property. “It’s been on the historic register for a long time.”
The house was purchased by Stephen Sherrill from the Conklin family in 1792, Ms. Carabine said. According to East Hampton Historical Society director Richard Barons, the main part of the house was torn down and replaced in the 1850s, while the back wing remains true to the original 18th-century structure.
“It sits on the foundation of the 18th-century house,” Mr. Barons said, “but the main part of the house was like a mid 19th-century upgrade.” The home’s architecture, he added, is part of what makes it so important to preserve.
“That’s what is really most important to us,” he said, “the fact that it is a beautiful, stately Greek Revival house. It reminds you of the role the farmers played in the community,” He explained that Greek Revival architecture draws heavily from traditional Greek architecture, often embodying “heavy” and “strong” characteristics of buildings like the Parthenon.
The home remained in the Sherrill family for at least eight generations, said Mary Morgan, who, with her brother, Jonathan Foster, inherited the farmhouse and the surrounding property. Most recently, Mr. Foster was the sole owner of the farmhouse, while Ms. Morgan still owns two acres of the original pastureland and a solar-powered house, which sits on just under one acre of land next door. Only the farmhouse, which sits on a little more than one acre of land, is for sale.
“It would’ve been the only 19th-century house in East Hampton open to the public,” said Ms. Morgan of the home if the plan to turn it into a museum came to fruition. “It’s really the last house of that period that’s still intact.”
Ms. Morgan said during a Town Board meeting in early April that she and Ms. Carabine envisioned opening the home as a community space, displaying late 19th-century farm life through furniture and period art. The house acts as a “gateway to Springs,” said Ms. Morgan, who added that the house was recently renovated and its infrastructure is in excellent shape.
Adjacent to 16 acres of farmland preserved by the town, rolling hills and old John Deere tractors, the house and its surroundings still very much resemble what “old East Hampton” looked like in the 1800s, Ms. Morgan said. It is also one of 29 properties in the town on the National Register of Historic Places.
According to the National Park Service’s website, to qualify for the National Register of Historical Places, a house is evaluated in terms of its age, integrity and significance, but private properties on the list are not restricted as to use, treatment, transfer or disposition.
While Mr. Foster, who declined to identify the bank that holds the mortgage, said that to his knowledge the potential buyers have no intention of altering the house, that doesn’t rule it out as a possibility in the future. “If this buy goes through, the new owners could sell this to whoever they want,” he said. Mr. Foster did not want to speak on the record about how the bank acquired the mortgage.
Town Councilwoman Sylvia Overby said the town never made an offer on the house and considered a variety of factors in its decision-making process. Asked if going forward the town would be involved in trying to preserve the house, Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell said he could not comment.
“Even if they didn’t maintain the house, they could’ve had the property and turned it into a park,” Mr. Foster said of the land the farmhouse sits on. “They could’ve controlled the landscape over here, gotten rid of hedges and old trees, and they’d have this massive horizontal view, perfect for a park,” said Mr. Foster.
Ms. Carabine said while she is sympathetic to the town’s reasoning for not purchasing the home, the “new development is disappointing.” “Homes can be money pits,” she said. “I’m not sure if this means the end of our road, or if it means the road is just going to get more complicated in the future.”