Village House to get makeover

05/20/2010 12:00 AM |

The 1798 Village House on Village Lane in Orient has been a ‘sleeping beauty’ that will get a face-lift thanks to an Environmental Preservation Fund grant and matching contributions to Oysterponds Historical Society.

Thanks to a $228,000 Environmental Protection Fund grant and matching funds from a capital campaign, Village House on Village Lane in Orient will be saved.

Part of the house dates from the late 1700s or possibly early 1800s. It’s first mentioned in the diaries of Augustus Griffin in August 1798, when he wrote of buying timber from Thomas Young to build a house on the land, now the property of the Oysterponds Historical Society, which acquired it in 1944. An addition was built on the house in 1853, essentially doubling its size.

Besides its history as a private home, Village House had been used as a tavern, a polling station and a stop on a stagecoach route before it was transformed into a boardinghouse in the mid-1800s, when the area first attracted tourists.

“The boardinghouse era wound to a close with the end of the 19th century and Village House slept like Beauty in fairy tales,” society director Ellen Cone Bush wrote in a brief history of the building.

The aim is to eventually restore the house to its 1880s boardinghouse state, Ms. Cone Bush said, and to use the first floor as a community center and the second floor for multi-media interactive exhibits.

“To me, this screamed EPF,” she said during an interview last week about the grant.

She described the structure as “the most significant house on its original site” in Orient and the only surviving 19th-century boardinghouse still open to the public.

“It’s surprisingly pristine,” she said.

But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t need work.

The society invested $60,000 two years ago to restore the base of the house, which was rotting from the ground up because it had been built on a single course of stones. That work involved excavating a crawl space beneath the structure to replace rotting floor joists, she said. During that process, some artifacts were discovered, including a bottle of Thompson’s Eyewash believed to have belonged to Augustus Griffin’s wife, who was known to have suffered from glaucoma. Ms. Cone Bush expects more artifacts might be uncovered as work continues. She describes the discovery process as “forensic architecture.”

The work to be funded by the grant and contributions is aimed at preventing further destabilization resulting from moisture. The money will be used to replace the roof, improve drainage, seal foundation leaks and install an interior climate buffering system to mitigate extreme humidity. The HVAC system won’t be designed for human comfort so much as to assure that building humidity is controlled, preserving the structure long term, Ms. Cone Bush said.

The society still needs to raise another $100,000 to pay architectural and management fees that won’t come from grant money.

If all goes smoothly, Ms. Cone Bush hopes to see work in progress by this summer and estimates it will take at least three years to complete.

In the meantime, she’ll be organizing more fundraising activities because, once the structural work is complete, there will be a lot that will have to be done inside to restore wallpaper, paint and furniture.

Thanks to an architectural study commissioned by the society well before anyone knew the money would be forthcoming to save the building, members have a pretty good idea of what work needs to be done, Ms. Cone Bush said.

“The application process is a beast,” she said, adding that having the architectural report in hand made it easier. Working with grant money will require exacting adherence to requirements about how the project is done and stringent reporting methods.

“It keeps us on the straight and narrow,” Ms. Cone Bush said.

“There are always surprises in restoring an old house,” she said. Some needs won’t be known until workers start raising floorboards to discover what might be underneath, she said.

Joel Snodgrass of Historic Construction Management Corp. of Long Island will serve as construction manager, ensuring that “this is going to be treated with the kid gloves it deserves,” Ms. Cone Bush said. “Not only will it be a project we’re proud of, but that our grandkids can be proud of.”

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