By Douglas Feiden
It was long believed that the Morpurgo house at 6 Union Street was built between 1850 and 1860. Not anymore. It now appears to be at least a century older.
The traditional dating of the two-and-a-half story, Italianate-style frame residence tracks to documentation Sag Harbor provided to the National Register of Historic Places in 1994.
But a rare tour of the three-bay dwelling, which once operated as the Lobstein Boarding House, indicates a pre-Revolutionary War vintage — and a possible birthdate in the 1740s or 1750s.
Developer Mitch Winston, who is one of the new owners of the property, and his architect, Anthony Vermandois, conducted the hour-long tour on Monday, November 21, for the Board of Historic Preservation and Architectural Review, whose members have oversight authority over the redevelopment of the exterior.
“This is a very big, very important 18th-century house that was like, the best house in town,” said Zach Studenroth, the architectural historian and the ARB’s historic consultant. “It’s a very prominent house of that period that only a very prominent and very wealthy resident could have built and would have wanted.”
And Mr. Studenroth added, “It’s very old and may be the oldest. This is a lot of house.”
He cited several factors in dating the 3,900-square-foot structure, including the presence of massive foundation rocks in the basement that appear to predate the quarrying of granite, which mostly began after the Revolutionary War. “They used stones that were just rolled here by the glacier,” he said.
Mr. Studenroth also spotted several architectural features that pointed to an earlier date, like the 18th-century nails on a door, the period hook and the “archaic slabs” he said provided a “rudimentary and pre-Revolutionary way of supporting a massive chimney.”
ARB Chairman Anthony Brandt initially said it would be tough to date the house because the beams, for instance, could have been relocated from another site, and in effect recycled on Union Street.
But as the tour progressed, Mr. Studenroth found other forensic evidence — like the old “dragon beams,” which are uniquely and diagonally shaped support beams in the corner of early timber-framed dwellings, and an ancient “gunstock post,” which is a vertical, structural support, so-named because it’s shaped like an upside-down musket.
Mr. Winston, who won a public auction for the derelict property on June 24 and closed on the $1.325 million purchase with two equity partners on October 25, had done his own research on the house. While he didn’t buy the traditional 1850-1860 dating, he thought the house probably hailed to around 1805.
“If you had to guess when it was built, what would you say?” he asked Mr. Studenroth.
“The 1750s,” came the reply. “But it’s hard to know because there weren’t any people here then.”
“Wow,” Mr. Winston said softly.
Mr. Vermandois is continuing to investigate the residence, but if Mr. Studenroth’s analysis is later confirmed, the Morpurgo house would be older than such classic Main Street gems as the Sybil Douglas House, Hannibal French House, Peleg-Latham House and Custom House, all four of which are pegged to circa 1790.
The Captain David Hand House on Church Street, often dated between 1732 and the 1750s, could be older or contemporaneous, but that house was built in Southampton and moved three or four times. And the Annie Cooper Boyd House on Main Street holds an interior beam bearing the year 1735, but the actual year of its erection has never been clear.
For homes that stretch back through the centuries, there is rarely a fixed date when the construction cycle begins or ends. For instance, an unsightly protrusion, dubbed a “carbuncle” by Mr. Vermandois, who wants to lance it off, was added to the home’s side to hold a bathroom during its boarding house days, and there is also a rear one-story addition that will have to be rebuilt.
“What was happening here was that there was a renovation in the 1840s and then another renovation in the 1870s,” the architect said.
Mr. Studenroth agreed, saying there appeared to be four basic construction periods — the pre-Revolutionary origins, a Greek Revival update in the 1840s and then renovations, overhauls or updates in the 1870s and the 20th century.
Board members, who expected to see hellish conditions inside the house to match the eyesore that villagers have long seen from the street, were stunned to see several large interior spaces that had somehow survived intact.
“I thought it would be rotten inside, but it’s not,” said Mr. Brandt. ARB member Christopher Leonard also observed that, while the house looks “awful” from the outside, he had no idea it was in as good a condition as it is inside.
What’s next for the Morpurgo house? “We’d be crazy not to repurpose as much as we can,” Mr. Winston said. “There are a lot of really cool things in there.”
With that, Mr. Brandt told the developer, “It may cost you a fortune, but you’ve got a real treasure in here. If you document it and restore it, the entire village would come out to cheer you.”
Said Mr. Winston, “We’re going to do a great job, we’ll work with you, and we’ll make you guys proud.”