Imagine being blessed with the gift of two neighboring properties, each with a century-old summer house in a pastoral 13-acre setting of broad lawns and woodlands nestled between a nature preserve and a saltwater pond.
What would you do with them?
The Oysterponds Historical Society is only too happy to face that question. So far, it has made no decisions.
Two weeks ago, the society became the owner of two properties between the Ruth Oliva Preserve and Dam Pond in East Marion, a bequest from the late Sonja Stein, a longtime summer resident and member of the historical society.
The society is weighing its options on what to do with the land, which at Ms. Stein’s direction must remain in its natural state and cannot be carved up into smaller lots. The organization is also charged with respecting the historical integrity of the two houses.
“We don’t want to close out any options, but we know the properties are important to the community historically and environmentally,” said Ruth Ann Bramson, president of the society’s board of directors. “She has entrusted the society to be good stewards of her beloved estate.”
She called the bequest “the most generous gift the historical society has ever received.”
As new owner of real estate with a tax bill of close to $22,000, the historical society has “to be mindful of the financial realities of owning a property this size with two very sizable homes,” Ms. Bramson said. “But we don’t want to feel rushed. We feel a burden of responsibility to do this right.”
In considering the property’s potential future uses, the society has consulted with the Town of Southold and the Peconic Land Trust.
“We want to carefully consider the full range of possibilities,” Ms. Bramson said.
Ms. Stein, who was born in Germany and came to the U.S. as a young adult, became a seasonal East Marion resident in 1971. She and her husband, Walter, owned a tool and die company and lived in the Manhasset area in Nassau County. The couple did not have children and Ms. Stein was without surviving relatives when she died in 2009 at age 82.
Ms. Stein had a few conversations with society officials about leaving the property to the organization in her will. But the group did not learn of the gift until after she died. The estate was only recently settled, said Ms. Bramson.
Ms. Stein acquired the westernmost property, previously owned by the Ward family, in 1971. She purchased the adjoining parcel, once the home of the Reybine family, in the late 1980s.
“Both houses are interesting examples of the type of homes that wealthy people built out here at the turn of the century as they became seasonal residents,” said Ms, Bramson.
The Ward house was built in 1896 and the Reybine house in 1900. Both are listed as historic structures by the Society for the Preservation of Long Island Antiquities.
Orient resident Ted Webb, who grew up in the area and is a historical society member, recalled spending time with the Reybines in his youth.
“They called their property ‘Skunk’s Misery,’ he said. “I don’t know why they called it that.”
When they went swimming in Dam Pond, the Reybine children jumped off a small dock, which they called the Skunk’s Misery Yacht Club, Mr. Webb recalled.
“Back in those days, there weren’t so many tall trees and you could look out across the bay all the way to Orient,” said Mr. Webb.
Early photos of the Ward house show it was “quite a stately home,” he said. He added that Ms. Stein was very closely involved in the restoration of the adjacent carriage house.
Both houses have been vacant for several years.