A Bull Becomes a Rose

Known predominantly as the Bull’s Head Inn
Work continues apace at the site of the Bull’s Head Inn, soon to be known as the Topping Rose House when the inn reopens this summer under the direction of Tom Colicchio. Jennifer Landes Photos

   While never as down and out as the Nathaniel Rogers House across the street, the other Greek Revival structure at the intersection of Main Street and the Bridgehampton-Sag Harbor Turnpike has not looked its best in recent years.
    Known predominantly as the Bull’s Head Inn, it is being restored by a group of investors who are adding a modern commercial kitchen and restaurant, additional guest rooms, a meeting barn, and a spa. When it opens this summer, they will rechristen it Topping Rose House after the man who built it, Abraham Topping Rose.
    Tom Colicchio, known from the television series “Top Chef” and for his mini-empire of restaurants, will operate the “vegetable-focused” restaurant and the inn. Jeff Morgan, who has managed luxury resorts in the Caribbean, will provide day-to-day management. Bill Campbell and Simon Critchall are backing the development of the site.
    For the past year, the buildings there have been brought up to modern standards while keeping as much intact from the original structures as possible. At the same time, a state-of-the-art waste management system, a collection of guest cottages, the inn’s spa and pool building, and a new building that stands right behind the main restored inn have been laid out or are moving toward completion.
    At the site on Friday, Robert Strada said that the restoration had revealed some exciting finds, such as the foundation of John Hulbert’s 18th-century house that predated Rose’s 19th-century version. Mr. Strada is a historic preservation consultant from East Hampton who is working with Roger Ferris and Partners, an architectural firm from Connecticut, to advise on the restoration of the site’s historic buildings.
    The project has also revealed that a dilapidated building originally slated for demolition was Hulbert’s warehouse, a “historic gem of a building” dating to 1730, according to Mr. Strada. In “Discovering the Past,” Jeannette Edwards Rattray mentioned a Capt. John Hulbert from Bridgehampton, who designed a stars-and-stripes flag that predated the one made by Betsy Ross and that his company carried on its way into Philadelphia in late 1775.
    Once the building was identified, “the town committed to having it deconstructed and stored so that it could be rebuilt in the future on a suitable site,” Mr. Strada said. He supervised that project with the aid of the inn’s construction workers.
    Rose, who first lived across the street in the house he eventually sold to Rogers, built the grander structure on the northeast corner of the intersection in 1842. It was originally purchased from the Hulberts in the first decade of the 1800s by Abraham Topping, Mr. Rose’s grandfather. Born here in 1792, Rose was the son of Samuel Rose, a doctor and Revolutionary War surgeon. He received his law degree from Yale University and worked for the district attorney in New York City, according to a history of the site conducted for Southampton Town. When he married, he decided to practice law in Bridgehampton. He became a county judge in 1847 and died a decade later. Soon after, the family of Henry Corwith made it their summer house. In the 1930s, it became the first of a succession of inns and restaurants operated on the site.
    During excavation, other objects turned up, such as a number of granite fence posts and two gate posts that are being reincorporated into the property. All of the windows on the inn are being restored and will be reinstalled when the main building is ready. The original doorways have been taken off to be preserved and will return to the finished building. “The windows are an important feature of the building, they are key to this as are the entrances and the doors,” Mr. Strada said.
    Often restorations involve taking things off that were added haphazardly over the passing decades. In this case, something that was taken off — the second of the inn’s entrances as well as its porticos, porches, and their balustrades — is being put back. The resulting building may not be what local residents have been accustomed to seeing more recently, but it will be historically accurate. A western wing on the original house that appears to have been an office will not be added.
    In the construction trailer on Friday, between debating the merits of the region’s professional sports teams, much work was being accomplished. Steve Kropp, the site manager, was unflappable about all that remained to be completed. While some of the archaeological finds had cut into the construction time, the mild winter put them ahead of where they might have been otherwise. For example, an orchard with sod had been completed in March, long before they had anticipated, and has given the site some early polish.
    “We are pounding away to try to get this done by summer,” said Andrew Baekey, the project manager for the architect. The goal is to have at least the inn building, which includes the restaurant and several guestrooms, open by July. The rest will have to be phased in over time. Mr. Baekey pointed out that the owners are also trying to be environmentally friendly, using planted rooftops to diminish a “heat island” effect.
    On Friday, the focus of the work on the inn was on the porticos and the porches underneath them. The foundation for the kitchen had been finished during the winter while the inn was raised off it. It includes a new 12-foot ceiling to accommodate the needs of Mr. Colicchio’s restaurant.
    The third floor of the inn, which “did not exist when the judge built it,” will remain, Mr. Strada said. “Somewhere in its history in the 19th century they raised the attic roof to accommodate a true third floor.” The windows from the third floor, which were not original to the building, will be replaced.
    Behind the inn stands a new structure that echoes the old building’s form without replicating it. Part of the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards and Guidelines for Historic Preservation include an admonition against falsehoods — implying by appearance that new buildings on the site might be original. The guidelines were established in 1983 and provide technical advice “about archaeological and historic preservation activities and methods” and are administered through the National Park Service.
    If a structure is new, it should be apparent. “Otherwise, if everything looked the same it would confuse people,” Mr. Kropp said. At about half of the inn’s depth, but the same width, the new building was constructed to stand alone, but will connect to the three floors of the inn through a glass enclosure. The solution will allow an elevator to be installed in the annex to accommodate people with disabilities.
     Other new structures include the spa building and guest cottages at the middle and east side of the property. Both will be constructed from concrete block with primarily glass walls and wooden louver panels. The look will be boxy and minimal, designed to fade into the landscape with the wood panels graying over time, lending a more contemporary ethereal approach to what might otherwise look similar to a clapboard exterior.
    While the other buildings have a way to go on their completion, the foundations are all in place. They supply an underground link between the core buildings of the site: the inn, the barn, and the spa. The barn will serve as event and conference space and the spa site will house the outdoor lap pool and Jacuzzi, so easy access to the kitchen would be a concern for both. When completed, a total of 22 rooms will be available. Reservations are already being taken, according to the inn’s Web site.


My Grandmother just turned 90 this past July. She still talks of the time she spent at the "family" owned Bulls Head Inn. I believe her Aunt and Uncle owned and operated the inn in the 1930's.
My Grandmother just turned 90 this past July. She still talks of the time she spent at the "family" owned Bulls Head Inn. I believe her Aunt and Uncle owned and operated the inn in the 1930's.