By Claire Walla
It may look dilapidated and exude the sound of drilling and the smell of fresh sawdust, but the intersection of Montauk Highway and Ocean Road in Bridgehampton is not your average construction zone. It is currently home to a veritable trifecta of ongoing historic preservation projects.
On the southeast side of the highway, the Bridgehampton Historical Society is working to preserve what’s known as the Nathanial Rogers House (the renovated building will serve as the organization’s new home). Across the street to the north, developer Bill Campbell and his crew are turning the old Bull’s Head Inn property into a new luxury Inn, complete with a restaurant and spa, to be called the Topping Rose House (taken from the building’s historic owners). And on the northwest corner of the intersection, developer Leonard Ackerman has already gone through with the demolition of the run-down beverage store and has plans in place to construct a retail center.
While Ackerman’s new development is the only arm of this trio of construction projects to be built entirely from scratch, the building will be designed to look like the white, columned Greek Revival buildings being restored to its east.
According to Julie Greene of the historical society, the Bull’s Head and Nathanial Rogers homes date back to the 1840s. A man named Abraham Rose once owned the property on both sides of the road, but he sold the southern parcel to Nathanial Rogers in 1829. A little more than a decade later, Greene said, both men simultaneously built their homes in the Greek revival style.
Greene somewhat lamented the fact that the original building on the former beverage store site — which was thought to have been built in 1698 — had been demolished decades ago when the beverage store was actually a Shell Oil gas station. But, she said the proposed alternative is a desirable alternative to what stood in its place.
“I think anything would be better than how that beverage store looked in its last days,” she joked.
“It’s great to have buildings that complement each other,” she said of all three construction plans.
Hal Zwick, a real estate agent with Devlin McNiff Halstead who is representing Ackerman’s development, said the site is scheduled to be completed by 2013. However, he’s already soliciting businesses that are interested in moving into the retail space. In total, the spot can potentially house up to seven unique businesses, although Zwick also said he’s been in talks with at least one company that expressed an interest in renting out the entire complex.
Across the street, however, history was of the utmost importance when the Bridgehampton Historical Society decided to buy the Nathaniel Rogers house back in 2003. Through a combination of grant money from the state and donations from the town of Southampton (all totaling roughly $1.7 million), as well as private funds donated by members of the Bridgehampton community, Bridgehampton Historical Society Director John Eilertsen said the current phase of the restoration project — namely revamping the building’s exterior — is set to be completed in April.
From here, he added, “What we’re hoping is that the town will come up with an additional dollar amount so that we can proceed with the interior.”
While Eilertsen said the time-frame for the rest of the project is largely dependent on whether or not the historical society secures enough financial donations and grant money to proceed, he ball-parked this building’s completion for two-and-a-half to three years from now.
Looking at a more immediate start date, the Topping Rose House aims to open its doors by the start of the summer season. Though the 3-acre site will ultimately include four 2-story guest cottages along the property’s eastern edge, a spa, a swimming pool and a crabapple orchard along the highway, building manager Fran Reres said only the historic Inn, with seven guest rooms, is expected to be open for business this summer. (The rest of the property — housing 22 rooms total — is expected to be finished a year from now.)
While historic preservation was a relative after thought for this project proposal, it is now ingrained in the day-to-day tasks of everyone involved. In fact, as part of Campbell’s deal with the Town of Southampton, he hired local historian Robert Strada to be the historical consultant for the entire redevelopment project. Since construction began back in August, Strada said he has already uncovered a historic barn (actually found hidden within a storage shed on the property), and he’s helped the project managers, JGP Pinnacle, LLC, identify elements of historical significance.
“The Southampton Town Planning Board is requiring that they document the entire process,” Strada said with an almost palpable enthusiasm. He even pointed to the project’s blueprints, which state specifically, “That alteration and restoration of the Inn shall comply with the Secretary of Interior’s standards for the treatment of historic properties.”
Strada said he gets calls from the site whenever someone uncovers something that may potentially be of historic significance. In fact, he said, it happens quite frequently.
“Just this morning, [Construction Manager Steve Knopp] found a special piece of iron,” Strada revealed.
He doesn’t’ know for sure whether it has historical significance or not, but Strada will certainly investigate it.
All his findings — pictures and historic information — will be put on display throughout the Topping Rose House. And, as it is the nature of their institution, Bridgehampton Historical Society members will do the same.
It may be over a century since the Toppings and Rogers families made Bridgehampton their home, but today’s building projects are making certain they are still remembered.