The owners of a historic mansion in Poquott are hoping history won’t be lost when they sell the home which their family has maintained for more than 70 years.
Located on Van Brunt Manor Road, the mansion, which was built in 1893 and is part of the Benner-Foos-Ceparano Estate, was added to both the New York State and National Registers of Historic Places in August 2016 along with a neighboring farmhouse built in 1895 on Osprey Lane. The first homes in Poquott to be added to the registries, they are surrounded by houses constructed in the mid-to-late 20th century.
Rosemarie Sabatelli, who owns the mansion along with her sisters Felicia and Christina, said it has been difficult to find a buyer. In addition to interested parties offering less than the nearly $4 million asking price, Sabatelli said another factor is the family doesn’t want to sell the mansion to a land developer who may tear down the home, which is structurally sound. Most recently, she said she was wary of a potential buyer who wasn’t concerned with securing a house inspection, which led her to believe he was a developer who had no intent in keeping the home intact.
Chris Ryon, village historian for both Poquott and Port Jefferson, said while the mansion is on the registries for historic places, the recognition only protects it from various types of federal construction such as a new roadway, but not developers.
“It was my grandmother’s dream house so I feel like it’s ours,” Sabatelli said. “My mission is to make sure her legacy and the house go on.”
Ryon said local historians as well as representatives from the Society for the Preservation of Long Island Antiquities have come to look at the mansion.
“We want as many eyes on it as we can,” he said. “We want people to know that this house is here and it’s significant.”
When the mansion was built in 1893, Charles Benner, a New York City lawyer, was searching for a summer retreat where he could spend his days fishing and yachting, according to Ryon. It was a time when Long Island was less hectic than the bustling city. Two years later the farmhouse was constructed where the Benner family’s servants lived.
The historian said the house is architecturally significant as Charles Alonzo Rich and Hugh Lamb designed it. The duo were known for their work with President Theodore Roosevelt’s Sagamore Hill in Cove Neck near Oyster Bay as well as many of the buildings at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire.
A shingle-style structure with asymmetrical elements such as end gables, the mansion features a bowed footprint that overlooks Port Jefferson Harbor.
“I haven’t found anything with that shape to it,” Ryon said. “So it’s unique.”
A banker by the name of Ferguson Foos bought the property in 1909 and maintained ownership until 1944 when Sabatelli’s grandparents, Joseph and Rose Ceparano, bought it. She said the life of her grandmother, who was a seamstress, was a rags-to-riches tale.
After hearing stories about America, Rose married so as to be able to emigrate from Italy to the United States in 1928, since she would not be able to come here as a single woman. When the marriage failed, she married her second husband, Joseph. Soon after they bought the Benner home, Rose opened the original Schooner Restaurant in Port Jefferson, the eatery known for being a converted sailing vessel, and owned it for a few years.
Sabatelli and her sisters would visit from Flushing, Queens in the summers and play and run around the three floors of the mansion as well as the 18 acres of land. She said coming to her grandmother’s home in the 1970s was like being in a sanctuary. In 1980 after her father’s death, Sabatelli, along with her sisters and mother Mary moved in with her grandmother, who died in 1989.
The mansion remained in the family after Rose’s death, and Mary became known in the area as a philanthropist, humanitarian and businesswoman, who organized many events at the home including fundraisers for John T. Mather Memorial Hospital and the Suffolk County Police Emerald Society Pipe Band.
Sabatelli and Ryon said they think the mansion represents a time when the affluent would vacation on Long Island, and it’s important to save the reminder of a simpler time. They believe that many feel the same way.
“We love looking back at the past,” Ryon said. “Once it’s gone, that’s it. It was the past, and you just erased a piece of it. Part of it is that we can’t get it back, and people love houses like that. It takes them back in time. A time that they remember or time they would like to remember.”