Final Phase Begins At Nathaniel Rogers House

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Nathaniel Rodgers House

Eight years after it began in 2010, and 15 years after the town purchased the property, the restoration of the Nathaniel Rogers House — the early 19th century Greek Revival mansion at the southeast corner of Montauk Highway and Ocean Road in Bridgehampton — has quietly entered its third and final phase.

Four contractors have been setting up over the past several weeks to begin a 16-month push to finish the job and allow the house to be opened to the public, according to John Eilertson, executive director of the Bridgehampton Museum, which will make the house its headquarters.

Phase III is expected to cost more than $4.6 million and will include a full interior restoration of floors, walls and ceilings as well as the electrical and plumbing systems, according to John Eilertsen, executive director of the Bridgehampton Museum.

He said the vanished south wing, which had fallen into such disrepair it was taken down, will be rebuilt in the same location; a cupola and rooftop balustrade damaged in the hurricane of 1938 and removed will be replaced; a parking field will be laid out; and a fence will be built around the property designed to look like one visible in a 1906 postcard.

Work is expected to be completed in December 2019, according to Mr. Eilertsen. By the following spring, if all goes according to schedule, the downstairs exhibition spaces and public rooms will be open and the Bridgehampton Museum will have moved its headquarters from the Corwith House — a half mile to the west on Montauk Highway — to the second floor of the Rogers House.

Originally built as a simple farmhouse around 1820, the structure was remodeled in the Greek Revival style in 1840 by miniature portrait artist Nathaniel Rogers. By the 1890s, the Hopping and Hedges families had acquired it and turned it into the Hampton House hotel, which operated until the late 1940s.

By early in this century, the house had fallen into disrepair and was a dilapidated eyesore with an abandoned gas station in the front yard. When its owner, James Hopping, entered into a contract to sell it to a developer, the Bridgehampton Citizens Advisory Committee raised the alarm and called for its preservation — as much to prevent retail development at Bridgehampton’s main crossroad as to save the building.

By 2003, the Town of Southampton struck a deal to buy the building and its nearly six-acre site using $2,533,854 in Community Preservation Funds and $500,000 in donations raised by the Bridgehampton Historical Society, as the Bridgehampton Museum was previously known. In 2004, the town and the society negotiated a 25-year renewable lease making the non-profit the steward of the property.

The final phase of the restoration has been a long time coming.

In 2005, the museum hired a structural engineer and an architect to assess the building. “It took a long time,” Mr. Eilertsen said, to move forward, “with lots of bumps in the road. We discovered the structure was very fragile,” with weak corner posts and a crumbling foundation. “It took several years,” he said, simply to stabilize the structure.

Phase I, intended to shore up the decrepit structure, was carried out in 2010, when the five-section roof was replaced, the foundation repaired and the building brought to level. Phase II, carried out in 2016 and 2017, included the replacement of windows and interior and exterior doors.

Each phase has been launched only after adequate funding had been secured from the Bridgehampton Museum’s donors and the town’s Community Preservation Fund. So far, the Bridgehampton Museum, which has a long-term agreement with the town to occupy the building and act as its steward, has contributed $1.28 million toward the project. The town has spent nearly $3.73 million, including $64,000 so far for Phase III. The state has contributed $700,000 through a parks, recreation and historic preservation grant.

With the budget for the final phase $4.644 million, the total cost of the project will be more than $10 million, the most ever spent on any town preservation project, according to Mary Wilson, the program manager of the town’s Community Preservation Fund.

The Town of Southampton has moved to dismiss a lawsuit filed in State Supreme Court in June by Ronald Webb Builders of East Hampton, an unsuccessful bidder on the Nathaniel Rogers House restoration project in Bridgehampton. Webb Builders claims his bid for general contracting was the lowest and the Town Board was required by law to accept it. Instead the board selected Lipsky Enterprises of Bayport.

Webb’s suit argues that its total bid of $3,863,199, including the cost of five project “alternates” — for details including a fence, balustrade, shutters and cupola — was lower than Lipsky’s total bid of $3,951,650.

But Webb’s base bid of $3,403,299, which did not include the alternates, was higher than Lipsky’s base bid of $3,338,650. In a motion to dismiss the Webb suit filed on July 5, Assistant Town Attorney Kara L. Bak argued that the Town Board made a decision not to proceed with the alternates because the bids were higher than expected.

“It is well settled that a decision of a municipality should be upheld unless it is shown that it acted with fraud, collusion, illegality or bad faith. Here, the petitioner does not allege that the town acted illegally …,” according to the town’s motion to dismiss. “The petitioner merely alleges the town made a bad decision when it chose not to complete the ‘add-on’ items.”

“Although the petitioner may disagree, it is clearly rational for the Town Board to decide to only complete those items that were within the project budget even though the building may not be restored exactly to its original historic condition,” the town argued.

The alternate items will be done eventually, according to John Eilertsen, executive director of the Bridgehampton Museum, which will occupy the house when it is restored. Those items “are not part of this contract,” he said. “They may have to be done under a different contract.”

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Peter Boody is news editor of The Sag Harbor Express. Previously he was the editor of the Southampton Press for many years and also edited several other papers, including the Shelter Island Reporter and the East Hampton Press, of which he was founding editor. He was a regular correspondent for the New York Times Long Island section and wrote the novel “Thomas Jefferson, Rachel & Me.”