With Halloween upon us, a ghost story would seem appropriate, and, as it happens, there is a tale of Congress Hall to be told.
The house, which stands on Main Street overlooking the East Hampton Village Green, is ancient and storied. It was in the Mulford family from when it was built, sometime after 1680, until 1976.
Congress Hall got its name somewhat cynically during the mid-19th century to note that it was where many of the men of the village would gather to talk, welcomed by their bachelor host, David Mulford.
A descendant, David E. Mulford, sent me an excerpt from a family history he wrote that described the place, from which I learned much about the house and its inhabitants. The story was told, he wrote, that around 1805, the family added an extra room for their “slave girls.”
Mr. Mulford related that the house was rented to summer tenants beginning in the 1870s and that the painter Thomas Moran, who later built a house and studio just up the street, was the first tenant. Another was Gen. Nelson A. Miles, a one-time commanding general of the United States Army.
Round about 1885, the town trustees ordered that Buell Lane be widened, and over the protest of the then owner, David G. Mulford, the work required that a triangular section of the house be removed. It was.
Mr. Mulford described his earliest memories of Congress Hall, which date to the early 1930s — how warm the massive central fireplace kept it and the sound of a Dominy tall clock ticking in the front hall. In summers until 1975, the house was rented to others, but that year, the family realized they could no longer maintain it.
Still, ties were strong, and they and friends decided to spend one last summer there. It was a glorious time, Mr. Mulford recalled, sprucing up the place and inviting friends for visits. Hurricane Belle struck in August, scattering tree limbs, but doing no particular damage to Congress Hall.
Several experiences that summer, however, Mr. Mulford wrote, suggested that the ancestors might not have approved of the decision to sell. He described a chill wind passing through the dining room on an otherwise close and sultry night. A fruit bowl set on a table cascaded into several pieces on its own. Another time, a glass hurricane lamp cracked, its fragments falling suspiciously neatly. A clock that had not run for years was discovered wound and running one morning; no one of this world claimed responsibility.
“I couldn’t help but think that perhaps some earlier generations of Mulfords were trying to discourage us from having the house leave the family, or at least get our attention,” he wrote.
Congress Hall today has new owners once again, who have set about restoring it. Bill Hugo, their contractor, took me around the place the other day, showing me the corner where the building was sliced away to make room for the road.
We saw no ghosts. But there is no saying whether or not they were there watching . . . us.