The juxtaposition between old East Hampton and new could not have been made more stark than the recent news, first reported in the New York Post, that a hedge fund manager had paid $147 million for a verdant 16-acre ocean-view property off Further Lane in East Hampton Village. While the supposed sum Barry Rosenstein agreed to pay for the three lots in the estate of the former owner was stunning in and of itself and a record for residential property, that two 18th-century Dominy family workshops remain there adds a significant twist.
The Dominys’ rank among early American craftsmen is well known. Working in East Hampton from the pre-Revolutionary War period until the mid-19th century, four generations made household furniture, several of this area’s iconic windmills, and tall clocks, which are particularly well regarded. The East Hampton Historical Society has held several seminars on the Dominys and the Winterthur Museum in Delaware has many of the family’s tools in its collection, displayed in reproductions of a clock-making and woodworking shop that once stood on North Main Street here. The originals, if the Post’s account can be confirmed, are on what is now Mr. Rosenstein’s largest lot.
As the story goes, Dudley Roberts Jr., himself a wealthy man by the standards of the time, had the workshops moved to the land in 1946, as the other Dominy buildings fell into disrepair and were eventually torn down. The ancient structures that stand there today overlooking the Atlantic are wrapped mostly in blue plastic tarps. What will happen to them now is anybody’s guess.
There are, of course, plenty of Dominy reminders around — Hook Mill, for one — but it would be nice if these buildings could be preserved in some way, perhaps by the historical society, perhaps offered to Winterthur. With every passing year, appreciation of East Hampton’s material legacy and role in the early years of American commerce seems farther away. If saved and seen by a wider audience, objects from this period can help assure that we continue to know and understand where we came from as a country.