Historical society launches campaign to restore home by its 300th anniversary in 2020
By Erin Dueñas
The William Miller House celebrated its 295th birthday on Sunday, complete with balloons, music and even a replica cake of the house. But in spite of the festivities, old age is catching up to the oldest house in Miller Place, which is in need of a long list of repairs and updates.
The house, located on North Country Road in the historic district of Miller Place, is the headquarters of the Miller Place-Mount Sinai Historical Society. Built in 1720, the house is on the National Register of Historic Places and is significant for the very few changes that have been made to the home’s interior and look over the centuries. The house showcases artifacts ranging from doctor’s equipment and farm tools to children’s toys and furniture from the 1800s.
“It’s a living museum,” said Antoinette Donato, vice president of the society.
Donato said the birthday party was the kickoff to a five-year campaign, which seeks community assistance in order to get the repairs completed in time for the house’s 300th anniversary in 2020.
The society acquired the home in 1979 from the estate of Harry Millard, the last descendant of William Miller, and restored it in the early 1980s.
“We’re working very diligently to get the house up to snuff,” Donato said, noting the house is in desperate need of a new roof as well as repairs to sixteen windows, paint, and doors that need adjusting so that they can open and close properly.
“We need it to be authentically restored,” Donato continued. “It can only be done by skilled craftsmen that have the expertise of historical restoration.”
According to society President Gerard Mannarino, who was presented with a proclamation from Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) at the party, estimates for the roof came in close to $20,000, with the least expensive at $18,000. He said that without help from the community, there is a slim chance the society will be able to foot the bill.
“We need people to join the society; it helps us,” Mannarino said. “We are hoping the party will get us exposure to get people interested in us.”
The society is currently constructing a brick pathway, which extends from the street up to the post office on the grounds of the house. Bricks can be purchased for $100 and personalized, and all proceeds benefit the Society.
“My big push is to get 200 families from Miller Place to purchase one of these bricks,” Mannarino said. “That’s the money to fix the roof.”
Mannarino said Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) has been a huge help to the society’s efforts over the years, securing grants that allowed them to continue offering programs to the community.
“She’s our biggest fan,” Mannarino said.
Anker said people need to be motivated to help the society, echoing Mannarino’s goal of getting support from local families.
“We need to prioritize getting these renovations done,” she said.
Donato stressed it is the efforts of the society’s volunteers who deserve credit for getting so much accomplished at the house so far.
“I call them the silent vigilantes — they see that things need to be done and they just do it,” she said. “They understand the importance of the history here.”
One of those volunteers is Miller Place’s Doug Flynn, who saw a loose and splintered board on the porch of the post office and quietly repaired the board and gave the whole porch a fresh coat of paint.
“I enjoy fixing things,” Flynn said. “There is so much to be done here, whatever I can do, I do it.”
Society trustee Margaret Dosher Cibulka chaired the birthday party committee. She said she was pleased with the way the party turned out and noted its importance to the community’s history.
“It was wonderful in all respects,” she said. “The purpose was to acquaint the community with the value of the house.”
“It’s the beginning of Miller Place,” she said. “We need to preserve it so the children realize what a jewel they have in their own community.”