Plans Afoot to Restore Forlorn Historic House on Main Street

Plans are afoot to restore a forlorn historic house at 156 Main Street in Sag Harbor. Peter Boody photo

With its almost austere simplicity, its unusual 12-over-12 sash windows, its peeling gray paint, rotting white trim and weedy growth along its picket fence, the old house just south of the Sag Harbor’s  business district at 156 Main Street has stood empty and forlorn for years, its front door padlocked from the outside.

Its sorry status as a crumbling relic from Sag Harbor’s whaling days is about to change, according to local architect Anthony Vermandois. He informally discussed the property with the Sag Harbor Board of Historic Preservation and Architectural Review on June 13 to get a sense of his client’s options for the structure’s restoration and renovation.

“I think we got in just in time to salvage the bulk of the structure of the house” and much of the interior trim, he told the board on June 13.

He told the board he had thought the house might be one of the very rare 18th-century structures in the village, with its hand-hewn floor beams, but when he opened up the walls he had found the framing to be “all machine cut” and therefore probably early 19thcentury.

He said the street side façade was as much as two feet higher than the original structure and that he believed the windows were “largely intact early 19thcentury” but that the presence of asbestos in the glazing made him wonder if they were “not original to the house.”

“We don’t want to save the windows” if they turn out to be “a mid-20th-century replacement,” he said.

Calling it “a Union Street 2.0” — a reference to the total restoration of the Italianate gem known as the Morpurgo House on Union Street behind the John Jermain Memorial Library — Mr. Vermandois was on the board’s agenda for a discussion only and had no completed plans to show the board. But he said the restoration would include rebuilding a one-story accessory building in the “middle of the property” and rebuilding it “in back with a small pool in between.”

In an interview this week he said the property had been divided into five apartments, three in the main house and two in the back, and that his client was “hoping to keep” some of them. He did not identify whom he was representing.

Calling it a “pretty big house,” he said his client would not be “proposing a radical addition.” He noted that a “later lean-to” or shed addition “encroaches as much as one foot on a neighbor’s lot.” He said plans would probably call for reducing it in size if not removing it and extending the rear of the house out by two or three feet. There will be no change in the front of the house within its current envelope, he added, but the roof on a rear addition would be raised about six feet, six inches.

The board’s historical consultant Zachary Studenroth called 156 Main Street “a very striking house” at the board meeting and a “15-over-15 sash going on” in the rear addition “an amazing artifact.”

Even if the window sashes have been re-glazed, he said, “It’s really the sashes themselves” that are rare and noteworthy. There are “very few 18thcentury houses in the village,” he added, even though its settlement date is often given as 1707; he said the house still might be “post-Revolutionary” from the decade between 1790 and 1800.

Board member John Chris Connor called it a “great old federal house” and member Judith Long said of the “lean-to” or shed “it’s a part of history, so it stays.” Board members agreed to meet for a walk-through of the house later that week.

In the official inventory of structures in Sag Harbor’s historic district, the house at 156 Main Street is described as a “two and one half story, three bay frame residence with 12-over-12 light wooden sash windows, clapboard siding, brick foundation and a side gabled roof. There is a late Georgian, early federal style mantel frame entrance with a transom with replacement glass. There is an early rear ell with its own late 19thcentury rear addition. There is also a late Victorian side entrance, a picket fence and a non-contributing outbuilding, now a residence.”

The owner listed as of March 1, 2019, was Albert C. Riggs, trustee, for the Albert C. Riggs Revocable Trust, according to village records. Its value was listed as $1,312,400 with an annual tax bill of $3,085.82.