Port Jeff historians decry potential loss of historic house

Port Jeff historians decry potential loss of historic house

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The boarded-up house at 49 Sheep Pasture Road. Photo by Kyle Barr

The vines inch up the side of the house at 49 Sheep Pasture Road. The grass was recently mowed, but only enough to keep the shrubs and the weeds from overtaking the lawn, and a unsecured Christmas tree light strand dangles from the front porch like a loose appendage. To the right-hand side of the one-acre property is a small, gazebo-like structure where old faded paintings cover the windows in flowers, hearts and what seems to be the names of children. Inside that structure, debris is strewn about, windows are broken and the back wall is caving in.

An outside building at 49 Sheep Pasture Road is filled with debris. Photo by Kyle Barr

On Long Island, zombie homes like this are a dime a dozen tragedy, but local historians look at the home along Sheep Pasture and see an even greater misfortune, since the house has real historical significance, having been built in the pre-Revolutionary War period by the famous Tooker family, which gave the house its name. 

“It’s one of the oldest homes still on its original location in the village,” said Nick Acampora, the president of the Port Jefferson Historical Society. “We have zombie problems with the Island, of course, and if it’s a house that was built later on, that has no historical value, people are quick, let’s get it out of here. When you have a 200-year-old building, it’s a little different.”

At a May 20 village board meeting, village officials voted to have the house at 49 Sheep Pasture Road demolished, citing the general state of the building and complaints of the residents.

At the May meeting, acting Chief of Code Enforcement Fred Leute helped present a number of pictures to those who attended the meeting. This included images of needles, used alcoholic bottles and other obvious signs of vagrancy. 

The village has yet to put out bids for the demolition, and Mayor Margot Garant said the village has paused in any further action on the building while continuing to take care of the grass and state of the property, all the while hoping to see what may come out of trying to communicate with the property owner.

“I’m glad we’ve brought awareness to the property because it hasn’t been in good repair for 18 months,” Garant said. “If they can purchase it, that would be great.”

The largest issue at hand is the property is privately owned, and it does not exist on any current historic registries. The village has reached out to the current owners, Jericho-based Tab Suffolk Acquisitions LLC, with no success. 

“I don’t think anybody’s been ignoring this, it’s just been a difficulty with the owner,” the historical society president said.

In the book “The Seven Hills of Port” by the late Robert Sisler and his wife Patricia, the house is referenced as “the only 18th century house still intact today in our village sitting in its original footprint on its original foundation,” being dated back to the 1740s.

In fact, the manner in which the book, written more than three decades ago, describes the house could not be any more distinct than how the home looks now. The book references Roman numerals on the attic rafters of hand-hewn post-and-beam construction. The building also contains a beehive domed oven in the fireplace and an old coat cellar in the east end of the building and an additional 20th-century modification to the living room for hiding liquor during the prohibition era, according to the book. Additional later modifications include added dormers and a porch. The book says even the original windows exist on the building’s north face. 

“We do have a couple of houses from that time that have been moved, but this one is still on its original property,” said Catherine Quinlan, historical society trustee. 

However, comparing then to now is staggering. A number of local residents who attended the May meeting asked for the building to be razed, saying they knew it had been broken into and used by vagrants in the past.

“To have a house from the 1700s, with this kind of context, is extraordinary.”

— Steve Englebright

State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) said he had been in touch with both the village and historical society, adding the preservation of such a venerable home would be a top priority for him and his staff. He said there should be a chance to bring in a historical architect to verify the real historical nature of the location, and he would be working to identify funds necessary to take over the building from the current owners and creating stewardship over the building with a nonprofit.

“To have a house from the 1700s, with this kind of context, is extraordinary,” the assemblyman said.

Preservation Long Island, a nonprofit historical preservation organization, posted June 6 about the house to its Facebook page.

“Instead of a village-funded demolition, perhaps the village could fund an independent engineering assessment for a second opinion on the condition?” it reads. “Long Island’s oldest houses are surprisingly resilient thanks to old growth timber-frames and incredible craftsmanship.”

The mayor and other officials were hesitant to allow people into the building since she said the engineers who studied it had told her there was major structural defect in the building.

“We’re really concerned about people going into the premises and literally falling through the floor,” she said.

In the book, it references the owner as of 1992 when the book was written as Tony Chiarini, saying he was rewiring the house at the time. 

Acampora said he understood the position the derelict property has put the village in, and only hopes that the historical society is contacted before the building is demolished or condemned in order for them to see if they can acquire any and all historical items from the house.

“They have to answer to the folks around it,” Acampora said.