Evidence of Arson in Sagaponack Blaze

A centuries-old house in Sagaponack may have to be demolished after a fire razed one wing of the house at 850 Sagg main Street and severly damaged the other Monday morning. Michael Heller, East Hampton Fire Department

Southampton Town detectives suspect arson as the cause of a fire that destroyed most of a historic Sagaponack house early Monday morning.

An automatic fire alarm went off at the house, at 850 Sagg Main Street near Cemetery Lane, at about 5:35 a.m. Bridgehampton Fire Chief Gary Horsburgh, the second to arrive on the scene after Jeff White, an assistant chief, said the house was “fully engulfed” when he got there.

“We had about 75 firemen on the scene. It was a hot, intense fire. Everybody did a great job,” he said. The north side of the house, which is the older wing, is still standing, though it suffered major damage. “The south side of the house is totally gone,” the chief said.

Firefighters and equipment from the East Hampton, Southampton, and Sag Harbor departments fought the flames, with the North Sea department standing by to guard against flare-ups. Neighboring houses to the south were a concern due to embers landing in nearby trees, and firefighters were told to protect them.

“We had it under control in about three hours,” Mr. Horsburgh said, adding that police had found evidence of arson nearby.

“It is so sad to go by the house,” Julie Greene, archivist and curator at the Bridgehampton Museum, said yesterday. “It is horrible to think that when people are tearing down historic houses, that someone would purposefully burn this house down.”

“I keep hearing that they found gas-soaked items in the cemetery,” Ms. Greene said, meaning Sagg Cemetery, which is directly across the street. Several of the house’s former occupants are buried there.

Ms. Greene said the north wing was thought to have been built circa 1750. The builder was said at one time to have been Jesse Pierson, a schoolteacher and farmer, but he was later found to have been born in about 1780, ruling him out. Even his father was born too late to have built it. Both father and son are buried in Sagg Cemetery.

Ms. Greene speculated that the builder may have been Jesse’s grandfather, Lemuel Pierson, who was born in 1717.

Adding confusion to the house’s history is a document that dates it to 1650, six years before Sagaponack is thought to have been settled by Europeans.

The south wing, which was totally wiped out by the fire, was built in about 1842, Ms. Greene said. It was owned by James Henry Devereaux until the 1930s, after which it became a boarding house, the Hearthstone Inn. It was converted back to single-family residential use in 1962. The current owner, Peter Smith of Easton, Conn., was not in residence at the time of the fire.

With the potential for the north wing being condemned due to the damage, all that history could vanish.

The Suffolk County arson squad is assisting in the investigation.