A 19th-Century House: The Case for Preservation

John Hall Wheelock sold his house to would-be owners who promised to keep it intact
The four-bedroom shingled house overlooks lush gardens in the center of East Hampton Village.

It was 1977 when Jane Maynard and her husband, Walter Maynard, went looking for land on which to build a second home. They were shown a 10.7-acre site at the end of a long driveway just off Georgica Road, right in the heart of East Hampton. 

“Is there anything more to this property?” Ms. Maynard asked the broker, who said there was indeed a house there, but that she’d been reluctant to show it to the couple because it had fallen into such disrepair.

The Maynards faced little competition when it came to other buyers. “A lot of people looked at it and ran away,” Ms. Maynard said, explaining that she was immediately drawn to the expansive, peaceful feeling of the land, despite its being badly overgrown. “I think we’re the only large parcel in the village that’s left,” she said in a recent interview. “You had to be young to take on this project, which we were at the time. It was like building a new house — only far more expensive.” 

Before making an offer, Ms. Maynard paid a visit to the owner, the poet John Hall Wheelock, who was also senior editor at Charles Scribner’s Sons, the publishing house. Mr. Wheelock’s father, William Wheelock, one of the founders of the Maidstone Club, created a family compound there. The house the Maynards bought was built in 1891 for his son, and the ocean could once be seen from it. In addition to a house for his daughter, the senior Mr. Wheelock built himself a nearby house, where Ms. Maynard’s neighbors, Itzhak Perlman, the violinist, and his wife, Toby, now live. ­

During her visit with Mr. Wheelock, Ms. Maynard vowed to keep his house intact, while Mr. Wheelock gave her two volumes of poetry. She described him as a wonderful old gentleman, who “wrote a wonderful poem about this house.” Though she had also hoped to purchase his collection of antiques, a hundred or more items from the 17th to 19th centuries, they were already promised to the East Hampton Historical Society. 

Mr. Wheelock finally sold the property to the Maynards to “afford the nursing care and other medical expenses that longevity exacts,” he wrote in an anguished letter to Everett Rattray, The East Hampton Star’s editor at the time. He died some months later. 

After cutting down the woods, the Maynards turned their attention to the interior, eventually hiring Robert A.M. Stern, the well-known New York architect, to help bring in more light. After much back and forth, they decided to cut into the main entryway, adding two large balconies that connect the first and second floors. Outside, in the garden, two large spruces are the only trees to have withstood the test of time. “Everything else we’ve had to plant,” Ms. Maynard said. Ms. Maynard harvests honey, which she bottles and gives as Christmas presents, from four beehives throughout the property. 

Cypress, much of it imported from the South, lines the interior of the 4,000-square-foot, four-bedroom, three-bathroom house. The Maynards kept the original floors, made of narrow pine, although they required some sprucing up. They also chipped away at the ceilings, originally covered in plaster, to reveal wooden beams, which add warmth and character. Besides a new roof, cellar, and driveway, they added a garage, tennis court, and a swimming pool, where a statue by Edwina Sandys, a British sculptor, can be seen from the second-floor master bedroom. 

Ms. Maynard grew up in New England, the seventh of seven children. After graduating from Newton College of the Sacred Heart in Massachusetts (formerly a women’s college that later merged with Boston College), she ran a ski lodge in Stowe, Vt., for two winters before moving to New York City. Mr. Maynard is her second husband. The couple, who have six grandchildren between them, divide their time between East Hampton and an Upper East Side apartment. Now retired, Mr. Maynard worked as an investment adviser at Morgan Stanley. 

Spanning nearly 11 acres, the Maynards’ property contains three separate houses. Over the years, they often rented the main house, relocating to another fully renovated four-bedroom house on the property, which formerly housed servants and has a separate entrance off Baiting Hollow Road. A much smaller one-bedroom cottage, once a toolshed, sits nearby. For three summers in the ’80s, the Maynards rented the main house to Calvin Klein, the fashion designer, who apparently covered all of the furniture in white sheets. According to Douglas Elliman Real Estate, were the main house rented this summer, it might have fetched $250,000, from Memorial Day to Labor Day 

On a humid July afternoon, while sitting on the front porch, talk turned to the accumulation of stuff — namely, you can’t take it with you. “You have to cut back. Possessions can take hold of you,” Ms. Maynard said. “Don’t accumulate too much stuff, because eventually you’re going to have to get rid of it.”

Though the main house is no longer on the market (Sotheby’s International Realty previously listed it for $19.9 million), Ms. Maynard plans to list it again later this year, figuring it would make an ideal family compound. “Eventually, we’ll have to sell it, which is a bit sad,” she said. “It’s so expensive, keeping up an old house. You have to really love them in order to keep them up.” 

When the time comes to eventually part ways, Ms. Maynard is hopeful a new owner will similarly see beauty in its rich, storied history.

“It’s McMansions that people want. They don’t want anything old. Everybody wants things all white and a huge, white kitchen — and then they cater their dinners,” she said. She has yet to find a buyer interested in undertaking an extensive renovation, much like the one they began those many years ago. “This would be an instant teardown.”

During his 91 years, John Hall Wheelock spent 85 summers in East Hampton, where the ocean and life on the East End inspired much of his work. During long ocean walks toward Amagansett, he composed and revised many of his poems. At the end of each summer, returning to the city always filled him with great sorrow. In “Farewell to the House in Bonac,” he wrote: 

 

So shall I remember you always,
Country of my far childhood,
Refuge throughout all time until now.
Farewell, dear place, dear house.
Farewell, dear people who lived here and who are no more.
Farewell, youth and the dream —
All those years,
Such memories, such memories!
Farewell, farewell,
Cradle and grave of my poems.


All those years,
Such memories, such memories!
Farewell, farewell,
Cradle and grave of my poems.

Jane Maynard looks down from the second-floor balcony, part of an addition designed by Robert A.M. Stern. She found the chandelier, made of antlers, at a Water Mill antiques store.
In the family room, a tapestry purchased at an antiques show at the Mulford Farm hangs above a leather Chesterfield-style sofa.
Cozy sitting rooms and working fireplaces abound upstairs.
Cast-iron beds with brass accents are just right in a guest bedroom.
Part of the second floor balcony and an intricate wooden door evoke earlier times.
The expansive kitchen was a busy place during a recent family reunion.
The old well on the front lawn no longer works.
A stark sculpture by Edwina Sandys guards the swimming pool.