Historic Sites in Transition

Efforts to preserve two East Hampton historic sites and open them for public use are continuing, while the fate of a third property, the Sherrill Farm in East Hampton, remains undecided.

The former Duck Creek Farm in Springs and the former Selah Lester farm at the corner of North Main and Cedar Streets in East Hampton were bought by East Hampton Town with money from the community preservation fund. Repairs to the structures at both sites are being made.

Speaking to the East Hampton Town Board on March 11, Prudence Carabine, a main force behind volunteer committee efforts to turn the Lester farm into a museum depicting the life of a farm family in the early 1900s, said there was continued interest in seeing the Sherrill Farm, just north of the Lester property on the other side of North Main Street, also preserved.

It dates to 1792, when Abraham Sherrill bought land at the foot of Fireplace Road in East Hampton, at its juncture with North Main Street, from Jacob Conklin. It is, Ms. Carabine said, “the jewel in the center, that in my opinion has to be saved.”

The house, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, was made over in 1858 in the late Greek Revival style, but elements dating from 1760 or earlier remain.

In 1910, A.E. Sherrill established the Sherrill Dairy at the family farm, which once extended all along North Main Street’s east side from Cedar Street to what is now Floyd Street.

The property, still in the Sherrill family, now includes three separate lots — some of the original pastureland, which abuts 16 acres preserved by the town through the purchase of development rights, the lot holding the historic house, and a separate lot with a contemporary house that has active and passive solar power installations.

A private party has made an offer to purchase, Ms. Carabine said, but it has not yet been accepted.

“The force of Bonac that I have captured and enrolled . . . to help with the Lester property, is also interested in helping with the Sherrill property,” she told the town board on March 11.

Discussion of using the preservation fund to preserve the Sherrill site has taken place, Supervisor Larry Cantwell confirmed this week. However, he said, “Every time we consider a historic site that includes a building, we’ve got to be concerned with the long-term costs of maintaining and operating any structure.” The fund may be used to buy and restore a historic site, but not for ongoing maintenance costs.

This is “a particularly difficult time,” Mr. Cantwell said, to add to the town’s financial commitments, “because we have existing issues with maintenance and improvements.” For instance, he said, Second House, the oldest building in Montauk, now operated as a museum by the Montauk Historical Society, “has major needs . . . and the list goes on and on.”

On the other hand, he said, “preserving our historic sites and history weighs heavy,” and is “always an important part of C.P.F.”

Various approaches other than an outright purchase, such as paying for a facade easement to protect a historic building against changes, could be considered, Mr. Cantwell said.

Ms. Carabine and her supporters are eager to volunteer their help in managing not just the Lester farm site but the Sherrill site as well, she told the board earlier this month. The group, which includes members of several of East Hampton’s founding families — Sherrills, Daytons, Fosters, and Talmages — along with historians and working farmers, sees the Sherrill property as a site for a facility melding the agricultural past with modern-day farming.

Exhibits at the Sherrill house, where, according to Ms. Carabine, some of Teddy Roosevelt’s troops once stayed, could provide an opportunity to delve into historic East Hampton topics that have been little explored, such as the history of the Dominy family of clock and furniture-making fame, whose house and workshop was once nearby; the Freetown area not far away, and activities here during Prohibition.

The Dominy farm, Ms. Carabine noted, was once the subject of preservation efforts, but after the attack on Pearl Harbor, drawing the nation into World War II, the focus was lost and the buildings torn down.

A number of Dominy pieces originally owned by the Sherrill family remain in East Hampton and have been tracked down by the East Hampton Historical Society, Ms. Carabine said, and could be exhibited. In addition, because the Sherrill house has remained so long in the family, numerous historical artifacts remain.

The family has offered a $50,000 endowment toward public administration of the site, which could increase if the town purchases the property, Ms. Carabine said. And, she said, a New York City architects’ group has expressed interest in funding its annual maintenance costs in exchange for being able to hold occasional retreats there.

At the Lester farm, Ms. Carabine said the museum group would like to see outdoor tables for chess and checkers placed out front, and to use the barn for musical performances.

In a media room in the house, which is being restored to portray a typical farm family’s life at the turn of the 20th century, more than 300 tapes of interviews with local residents speaking about life here from the early 1900s on will be screened continuously. Ms. Carabine predicted that the site will be important “countywide” as a working farm museum.

At Duck Creek, two public events took place last summer and fall, an art exhibit sponsored by the Parrish Art Museum and a Halloween celebration.

The town board recently voted to hire D.B. Bennett, an engineer, and the historic preservation consultant Robert Hefner, for a total of up to $37,900, to help guide further work on both sites.