By Dawn Watson
The fact that the Dominy Shops and their contents exist at all is practically a miracle.
Constructed in the 18th century as clock and woodworking shops, the two small wooden structures and their original contents have been removed, repurposed, reimagined, renovated, and in some cases, totally recreated. But soon the Dominy Shops will be returned to their roots an North Main Street, not too far from the original Dominy family homestead and the famous Hook Mill for which the prominent craftsmen are credited with constructing.
The fascinating story and historical facts of these buildings will be shared on Friday, March 25, by Robert Hefner, East Hampton Village’s Director of Historic Services, during an illustrated talk, “The Dominy Shops: On the Move,” at Clinton Academy Museum at 7 p.m. The lecture is part of an ongoing series, hosted by the East Hampton Historical Society, titled “What Goes Around Comes Around.”
The pair of centuries-old structures were constructed by the Dominy family—renowned clockmakers and woodworkers who were responsible for the creation of several notable windmills and furniture pieces, including the Dominy Grandfather Clock, among other historically significant things. The Dominy Shop buildings were built to be used as a retail clock shop and woodworking space that were either adjoining the family’s circa-1715 family home on North Main Street or located quite near it.
The actual Dominy house, a clapboard-clad residence, was torn down in 1946 but the two small accessory buildings were saved. They have since ended up as guesthouses on an oceanfront property on Further Lane, which has since passed through the hands of half a dozen buyers, including current owner Barry Rosenstein. The hedge fund manager reportedly plans to build a new house on the property, which he bought from the estate of Andrew Gordon in 2014 for $147 million—the current record-holder for the highest price paid for a home in the United States.
Mr. Hefner first visited the two timber-frame landmarks on Further Lane back in 2005 upon the request of former owner Chris Browne, who died in 2009 and left the estate to his partner, Mr. Gordon, who died in 2013. It was during that first visit the historian realized the true importance of what was actually sitting by the seaside.
“I was certainly very surprised to see how much was intact,” he says. “At the time, people didn’t know that the woodworking shop was there as well, just the clock shop. That was a fun discovery.”
Prior to the razing and removal of the original Dominy homestead and accessory structures nearly 80 years ago, the federal government deemed all three to be historically significant, calling a team from the Historic American Buildings Survey out to East Hampton in 1940. As a result, even though the house wasn’t saved, the entire compound was painstakingly preserved via surveys, blueprints, drawings and photographs, which are now on view at the Library of Congress. Additionally, all three buildings were recreated in the 1960s by Henry du Pont, to be exhibited, along with approximately 800 of the original clock-making and woodworking tools, furniture and several account books and other belongings of the Dominy family, at the Winterthur Museum in Delaware.
The journey of the landmark buildings and the tools that they once held is complicated and convoluted, says Mr. Hefner. But the end result is rewarding.
“It’s a long frustrating story, really, but with some bright spots,” he says. “Even when they tore down the house, they knew it was valuable but it was around World War II and people weren’t quite thinking about preserving an historic house at the time. It’s a good thing that the village protected them.”
He cites the 1940s drawings “the real key” in preserving the structures, which still retain a considerable amount of original details even though they were remade as luxury guest accommodations. “They were meticulously drawn up. That’s the most important act of the whole story.”
Before eventually landing back on North Main Street to be further preserved, the Dominy Shops will be relocated to Mulford Farm temporarily, Mr. Hefner reports. As far as he knows, even though the buildings have been viewable from the beach, the public hasn’t seen the interiors of the small wooden structures since they were shops. That will change eventually once they reach their final destination, hopefully within the next year, he says.
Historic preservation is important to the residents of East Hampton, adds Mr. Hefner. Founded in 1648, it’s one of America’s earliest English settlements and it still has enough original standing architecture to prove it. He credits Village Mayor Paul Rickenbach for his considerable efforts in preserving historically important architecture and artifacts.
“East Hamptoners are very proud of their village, and they have been leaders for many years in preserving things,” says Mr. Hefner, who adds that the historic charm is a big part of what makes East Hampton such a special and significant place. “Paul Rickenbach really deserves the credit for so much of it. His enthusiasm is a main force for the village.”
Mr. Rickenbach says that he is thrilled that the Dominy Shops will return back to the public domain.
“The village anticipates with excitement the return of the Dominy clock shop and woodworking shop to the original location,” he says. “Acknowledging the gifting by the Rosenstein family, allowing this transaction to occur, this gesture is another moment in time when the village adds yet another wonderful gem to her crown.”
“The Dominy Shops: On the Move” with Robert Hefner will be held at the Clinton Academy Museum in East Hampton on Friday, March 25, at 7 p.m. For additional information, visit www.easthamptonhistory.org.