The ongoing — and much delayed — renovation of the Nathaniel Rogers House in Bridgehampton inched forward last week when contractors lifted a replica of the building’s decorative cupola to the rooftop on November 4. The event was witnessed by a handful of Southampton Town officials and representatives of the Bridgehampton Museum, which will use the building as a center for programming, research, and offices for its staff.
“This is a significant accomplishment,” said John Eilertsen, the director of the historical society. “We call this the crowning jewel of the Nathanial Rogers House.” He added that the only major work that needs to be completed is the placement of a balustrade along the roof, the hanging of shutters, and the installation of a replica of the historic picket fence that once surrounded the circa-1820s Greek Revival house that was once owned by the miniature portrait artist National Rogers. After that, it will be down to mop-up operations, as contractors hit punch lists and clean up after their work inside.
Mr. Eilertsen, who has led the historical society for nearly 18 years, had planned to move into one of the building’s offices himself, but that was before problems uncovered during the restoration project delayed its competition by two years and added thousands of dollars to its cost.
With the finish line just over the horizon, Mr. Eilertsen recently informed the museum’s board of his intention to retire. He has agreed to stay on until a replacement can be found, but no longer than the end of 2021. This week, he joked that he might be able to move into the new director’s corner office for “a couple of weeks,” but said it is more likely “I will pass it on to the next director.”
A native of Queens, Mr. Eilertsen, who holds a doctorate in folklore and folklife from the University of Pennsylvania, worked on a Suffolk County project to document maritime life on Long Island and worked for a time with the baymen of East Hampton. He eventually became the first director of the Hallockville Farm Museum before coming to Bridgehampton.
His final project with the museum has involved the transformation of the Rogers House into its headquarters, while the Corwith House on the other end of Main Street will be dedicated to preserving a glimpse of Bridgehampton’s agrarian past.
“It is a historic home that is in a conspicuous location,” Southampton Town Councilman Tommy John Schiavoni added of the Nathaniel Rogers House. He said the Town Board had long supported the project and praised the historical society for taking a leadership role in the construction work.
The town teamed up with private donors to buy the property from its former owner, James Hopping, in 2003 for $3.55 million. The town used $3 million from its Community Preservation Fund and private donors chipped in another $550,000 to stave off a commercial development of the property. Over the years, another $5.6 million, including town contributions and grants, have been poured into the restoration project.