Historic Woodhull House breathes new life after period of neglect

10/05/2014 10:00 AM |
The Town of Brookhaven recently used $232,000 in grants to renovate the exterior of the Woodhull House in Shoreham. It hopes to receive additional funding to restore the structure's interior. (Credit: Rachel Young)

The Town of Brookhaven recently used $232,000 in grants to renovate the exterior of the Woodhull House in Shoreham. It hopes to receive additional funding to restore the structure’s interior. (Credit: Rachel Young)

From the early 1990s until 2006, the historic 18th-century Woodhull House on North Country Road in Shoreham, which recently received a long overdue $232,000 exterior makeover from the Town of Brookhaven, languished. 

Once the home of farmer Josiah Woodhull and seven generations of his descendants, the two-story structure, built circa 1720, was abandoned around 1992 by the Smithtown Hunt Club, which had leased the property, Town of Brookhaven historian Barbara Russell said.

In the nearly 15 years that followed, the house, isolated in the woods, fell prey to vandals and deteriorated steadily until the Town of Brookhaven acquired it in 2006, Ms. Russell said.

By that point, she noted, the dilapidated structure looked “very tired.”

But not anymore. This spring, the Woodhull House, which sits on three acres, received a new roof, siding and windows courtesy of grants obtained by the Town of Brookhaven. The town plans to renovate the house’s interior if it can find additional grant money.

“The house got caught up in the economy,” said Brookhaven Councilwoman Jane Bonner of Rocky Point, adding that she took the helm of the project when she first ran for office seven years ago. “This was the major culmination, to do the outside.”

Wading River Historical Society president Sid Bail said last week that the town “did an excellent job. The companies seemed to be very professional and the people who did the restoration seemed to really care about what they were doing.”

Still, he noted, the house’s journey to revitalization has been “a long road.”

The Woodhull House as it appeared in late 2010, before renovations began at the historic site on North Country Road last fall. (Credit: Jen Nuzzo, file)

The Woodhull House as it appeared in late 2010, before renovations began at the historic site on North Country Road last fall. (Credit: Jen Nuzzo, file)

When it was built in the early 1700s, the Woodhull House sat on 160 acres that extended all the way to Long Island Sound, Mr. Bail said.

According to Town of Brookhaven documents, the home was originally one-and-a-half stories. In the early 20th century, the first floor was raised and a new ground floor was built.

There are examples of Greek and Colonial revival features around the house, but its interior currently isn’t habitable, Ms. Bonner said.

The Woodhull family owned the property until 1920, when then-owner Frederick Woodhull died. According to town documents, subsequent owners included Raymond and Aimee Gilleaudeau, who spent summers there and renamed the property Seldoon Farms. In the mid-20th century, the property included a trout pond and putting green.

After the Gilleaudeaus sold the house in 1955, ownership of the structure and its land eventually transferred to Steers Sand & Gravel Co. and then Long Island Lighting Company in 1966. LILCO leased the house to the Smithtown Hunt Club, which used it as a headquarters until the early 1990s.

By the late 1990s, the house stood empty and had fallen into disrepair.

Around this time, Mr. Bail’s wife, Stephanie, noticed the structure one day and asked her husband to see what he could find out about it.

Mr. Bail inquired with the Brookhaven Town planning department, which supplied him with the single piece of documentation it had on the house at that time: a demolition certificate LILCO had taken out on it.

Luckily, the wrecking ball never made contact with the Woodhull House. Keyspan assumed ownership of the property and donated both house and land to Brookhaven Town in 2006, Ms. Russell said.

Despite this, nothing really happened for the next several years.

“The Woodhull House is one of many historic houses the Town of Brookhaven has,” Mr. Bail explained. “It’s a problem having so many of these structures and restoring them and finding uses for them.”

In 2011, the house was added to the National Register of Historic Places. Renovation work on its exterior began last fall and was completed late this summer.

It remains to be seen when funding to begin restoring the interior of the Woodhull House will become available, but Ms. Bonner said she’s beginning the process of applying for grants.

Her goal for the property, she said, is to perhaps convert it into a lawyer’s or architect’s office or convert part of the house into an apartment. The town’s law department is researching available options, she said.

Mr. Bail is hopes that the Wading River Historical Society can offer tours of the house or even establish an office there.

“We’ll try to play a role,” he said.

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