Bethel AME Church of Setauket received an early Christmas present.
The New York Landmarks Conservancy, which is dedicated to preserving, revitalizing and reusing New York’s architecturally significant buildings, presented checks to the recipients of its 2018 Sacred Sites Grants Dec. 4 at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church of Northport. Representatives from five Long Island churches were on hand, including the Rev. Gregory Leonard and trustees of Bethel AME, which received a matching grant of $3,000 for the renovation of the former parsonage known as the Eato House.
“The 1917 Eato House is culturally significant to the area’s African American and Native American communities and a contributing building to the Bethel-Christian Avenue-Laurel Hill Historic District,” said Peg Breen, president of the conservancy. “The Landmarks Conservancy is pleased to be able to help with a conditions assessment of the house that will guide needed repairs. Bethel AME is important to Setauket’s history and reaches about 1,000 people a year by providing space to community organizations, the local fire department and the annual Setauket Pow Wow.”
Leonard said he was thankful for the grant, and in February or March the church hopes to start a fundraising campaign to raise additional funds.
“We’re overjoyed with it, and we know it’s a long journey to get the house totally back on its feet,” the reverend said. “A journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.”
Robert Lewis, president of Higher Ground Inter-Cultural and Heritage Association, a nonprofit historical group working with the church to restore the former parsonage, was also in attendance for the check presentation.
“Anyone with the experience of starting a building restoration project knows the endeavor is significantly more than just filling out applications for grants,” Lewis said. “The cost in terms of years, sweat and toil is not in dollars. After seven years of work, Higher Ground and Bethel AME Church are delighted to be the recipients of the New York Landmarks Conservancy grant. The grant represents the start of a building restoration project that will reveal the history of the Eato House, and the life of two remarkable people, Mary Baker-Eato and Rev. David Eato.”
In 2017, the Eato House was added to the Society for the Preservation of Long Island Antiquities List of Endangered Historic Places. Bethel AME historian, Carlton “Hub” Edwards, said in a previous interview with TBR News Media, the house was once home to the Rev. David Eato, one of the church’s first pastors, and his wife Mary Baker, a freed slave. Baker moved to the North after being freed from slavery and settled in Port Washington where she was an organist at a church. It was there that she met Eato and, after marrying, the couple moved to Setauket, and the reverend became one of the first ministers of Setauket’s Bethel AME in the early 1900s. Mary took on the role of superintendent of the Sunday school and held the position until the late 1930s. Edwards said the members of the Eato family owned the house until the church purchased it a few years ago.