Richard Hardt isn’t a full-time resident and doesn’t hesitate to describe himself as a “half a local.” But as the great-grandchild of Orient’s Mervin Baker — once estate manager for Brecknock Hall, now part of the Peconic Landing community, in Greenport — his roots run deep.
Mr. Baker didn’t inherit the mansion, which was built for a relative of one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, but he did get a piece of it. Many pieces, actually, said Mr. Hardt.
Enough pieces of leftover lumber, in fact, for Mr. Baker to build a garage in his backyard on Main Road in East Marion.
“My great-grandfather kept his Model A in that garage,” Mr. Hardt said. “But I know it as the boat garage because that’s where my dad kept his little 15-foot runabout.” Mr. Hardt, who lives most of the year in Queens, said he visited the East Marion home often while growing up and, to him, the garage was merely a shed for tools and boating supplies.
Fishing nets still hang from the garage door and abut a yellowing paper sign that reads, “Pistol Club: Drink Till Midnight – Pistol Dawn.”
“My grandmother always told me stories about our family history when I’d come to visit,” Mr. Hardt said. “She’d tell me about how my great-grandfather used to take us behind Brecknock Hall when I was a little, little kid and show us the rose gardens and ponds. He’d net goldfish for me and I even have movies of me eating the goldfish!”
A nephew of Declaration of Independence signer William Floyd had Brecknock Hall erected in 1857, though Mr. Hardt remembers the Delafields, other Floyd family members, occupying the estate during his childhood visits.
“There was an old Black Forest cuckoo clock in the front reception room and when I’d visit, Mervin would set off the clock and pretend the bird inside was giving him a piece of Dentyne chewing gum, which he’d give to me,” Mr. Hardt recalled. “So anytime I went to Brecknock Hall, I had to run to the clock first thing.”
As the manager — referred to back then as the foreman — Mr. Baker was responsible for running the Soundfront estate and not onlyordered food for the trotter horses and livestock, but trained the horses as well, said Mr. Hardt.
“The foreman oversaw all the estate’s operations. He’d order water, grains and food for the animals, did building maintenance, all that kind of stuff. Whatever the property needed, he took care of it,” Mr. Hardt said. “I have his log books at home where it says on such-and-such a date he ordered, say, three tons of hay and four bundles of shingles.”
Mr. Baker, who worked at Brecknock Hall during the first part of the 20th century, was apparently a thorough record keeper, even marking the basement walls in his Main Road residence to track when the oil burner was installed, as well as every hurricane that hit the area. He recorded hurricanes even before the storms were assigned names.
The earliest he recorded happened to be the September 1938 storm, perhaps the most powerful and damaging hurricane ever to hit Long Island, according to Mr. Baker’s painted records.
Mr. Hardt and his wife, Lorraine, now own the residence his great-grandparents moved into on March 22, 1922. The Bakers bought the property with financial help from the Delafield family. Mr. Baker noted that date on his basement wall.