What had been called the most “genteel address” of its time, the Nathaniel Rogers House in Bridgehampton, will soon be brought back to much of its former glory as renovations continue to move ahead.
One of the finest examples of a Greek Revival residence in New York State, according to the National and New York State Registers of Historic Places, the house on the southeast side of the intersection of Montauk Highway and Ocean Road became an architectural landmark when its owner, Nathaniel Rogers, spent his accumulated wealth on its design and renovation in the 1830s.
Today’s renovations are being done by the Bridgehampton Historical Society, which now owns the Nathaniel Rogers House, with additional financial support from Southampton Town and New York State. All told, the project is expected to cost $6 million, according to John Eilertsen, executive director of the society.
As some of the most visible exterior work is completed in the coming months, passers-by will finally be able to see the results of efforts that have thus far been largely behind the scenes. It’s taken a good deal of historic structure research, not to mention engineering and architectural design work, to reach the point the restoration is at now, and along with that have come some interesting surprises, Mr. Eilertsen said.
Among them was the discovery of two cooking hearths from about 1820, around the time that Abraham Topping Rose built the original house. The portion of the residence that still exists from that period is one of the earliest known remnants to have survived on Main Street from the period of the 1720s to the 1820s. A whiskey bottle and a box of cigarettes were also found between the wall and floor, and have been archived for inclusion in a future exhibit.
Mr. Rose, the original owner, was born in Bridgehampton in 1792 and built the house for himself and his wife, Eliza Van Gelder, just after their marriage in December of 1823. A Yale University graduate and attorney, Mr. Rose lived his life in Bridgehampton, serving as a county judge. He was a popular speaker, renowned for “his remarkable knowledge and vocal skill,” according to “History of Suffolk County” an 1882 book by Henry P. Hedges.
Mr. Rose and Nathaniel Rogers had known each other since the elementary grades and were well acquainted during their lifetimes. Mr. Rose eventually built himself a larger residence for his household of 11 people on land his parents owned across the street, and sold his first house to Mr. Rogers for $4,000.
Mr. Rose’s house on the northwest corner of the same intersection, known in recent years as the Bull’s Head Inn, is also being renovated, with expectations of its being open to the public this summer as the Topping Rose House, an inn with seven guest rooms and eventually much more, when completed in about a year. The project’s blueprints promise that “alteration and restoration of the inn shall comply with the Secretary of Interior’s standards for the treatment of historic properties.”
It is interesting to many, including Sally Spanburgh of the Bridgehampton Historical Society, that both houses are being restored at the same time. Mr. Rogers and Mr. Rose had a significant connection. Mr. Rose presented Mr. Rogers with his first set of watercolors and paintbrushes when he was badly injured while working as an artistic apprentice to a shipbuilder in his younger years.
Mr. Rogers became a renowned miniature portrait painter, and was also a creator of other genres of art and design work in Manhattan and on the East End. Many of Mr. Rogers’s miniatures can be found in museum collections, including that of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. A founding member of the National Academy of Art and Design, he is also said to have been involved in the design of the Bridgehampton Presbyterian Church.
Born in Bridgehampton in 1787, Mr. Rogers married Caroline Matilda Denison of Sag Harbor, and the couple had six children. Mr. Rogers achieved success through his artistic career, and used much of it to improve his house, including elaborate decorations such as the cupola on the roof, carved with a pineapple finial. He expanded the house to include its two-and-a-half-story temple front structure with flanking one-story wings and iconic columns. He added a new entrance hall in front, four rooms to the first floor, and two bedrooms to the second floor. Mr. Rogers retired in 1839 to Bridgehampton at the age of 52, and died shortly after from tuberculosis. Many of his family members are buried in the cemetery by the Presbyterian church.
The restorations under way now will take the exterior of the house back to the era when Mr. Rogers expanded and remodeled it. The inside of the house will reflect the period between 1858 and 1873, when the house was owned by James R. Huntting, a whaling captain, Mr. Eilertsen said. The Rogers-Huntting residence was then called the Hampton House, and was a boarding house and restaurant.
The landscaping will evoke Nathaniel Rogers’s time in the house, minus the livestock, which at one time included a cow, two horses, two ponies, and chickens. The society’s photos of mature trees taken from 1840 to 1880 are being referred to, as is documentation about the philosophy of landscaping in that era.
The historical society will use the house as a museum, with changing exhibits and a climate controlled archive, space for records viewable by the public, and staff work space. Mr. Eilertsen plans a permanent exhibit on whaling, in honor of Captain Huntting. Loaned collections have been promised by East End residents, and others have been bequeathed to the society upon the deaths of their owners, among them a metal toy and bank collection that Mr. Eilertsen said is the fifth largest in the world.
As weather permits, the exterior of the house is being painted. Next, workers will reassemble the interior center staircases.
Inside, workers are removing mold that Mr. Eilersten said is most likely due to rainy weather and lack of heat for seven years. Workers will repair and restore the building’s framing and foundation, which Mr. Eilertsen said was “underdesigned” in 1820. Its roof and gutters will be replaced, and the four columns in front of the house, which have been held up for years by makeshift planks with rotted bases, will be replaced, as well.
After the columns are complete, windows, doors, shutters, and a baluster rail will be replaced. An ornamental cupola will be rebuilt. Heating, plumbing, and electrical work will come next, and then a large portion of the house’s south wing will be removed and replicated.
Already the historical society has received $1.3 million from Southampton Town and $700,000 from New York State toward the restoration, but it needs another $2 million just to finish the first phase of renovations.
When the work is finished, the Nathaniel Rogers House will sit on one corner of an intersection that will look radically different than it does now. Not only are the former Rogers and Rose houses being renovated, but a dilapidated beverage store that stood on the northwest corner of that intersection has been demolished and a new building is planned in its place. “It’s going to be a really fancy corner,” Mr. Eilertsen said.