Unique Architecture: The Umbrella House

Picture 1

Our East End towns offer a wealth of interesting structures to behold. Oftentimes, rather than asking who the architect of a fascinating building is, you have to consult a history book. Indeed, if their walls could talk they would tell have many tales to tell.

Dorothy Ingersoll Zaykowski, author of Sag Harbor, The Story of an American Beauty couldn’t have said it better when she defined Sag Harbor as “The un-Hampton.” Describing the town as a “libido of the South Fork,” explaining that “When its famous neighbors, East, South and Bridge-hampton were still a God-fearing paradise of farms and fish, Sag Harbor proposed itself a sin city…full of foreigners, mischief, whale oil, and fool’s gold.” Although Sag Harbor’s reputation is full of fun, Sag Harborites fought in all the wars from the American Revolution through our current conflicts.

Sag Harbor’s Veterans of Foreign Wars take their service and their history very seriously – but many locals didn’t have to go abroad to fight – the war hit at home.

After basking in the rays of the local beaches, I advise all to take a historic field trip down to Sag Harbor’s “Umbrella House”- which many believe to be the oldest house in the Sag Harbor Village. “Umbrella House,” a name given to the building because of its oddly shaped roof, housed British troops in the American Revolution and it was hit by cannon fire during the War of 1812.

In 1812 preparations were made to protect the village against British enemies. At the time 3,000-4,000 men were stationed in a fort called Turkey Hill, which overlooked the Harbor. According to Zaykowski, on July 11, 1813 the British Fleet, under Commodore Thomas anchored in Gardiner’s Bay. Thomas was determined to bring troops ashore in Sag Harbor to burn the village. Although accounts differ on the exact details, one version stated that “…in the wee hours of the morning, five British ships came ashore after taking three vessels…the alarm was sounded by Henry P. Dering, one shot a minute for three minutes, followed by a three minute silence, and then repeated again. By dawn the roads leading onto Sag Harbor were filled with soldiers from the neighboring villages hurrying down to the waterfront …The Old Umbrella House in Sag Harbor bears the marks of the British cannon balls.”

Many think they’ve spotted a visual cue as to where the cannon balls hit because the lower left corner of the house contains a patch of lighter colored bricks. No, that was where an SUV slammed into the structure several years ago. The cannon ball holes were patched long ago.

According to their website, the Sag Harbor Historical Society – an organization that has taken pride in preserving historical structures has fought to keep the Umbrella House from being completely re-developed into an apartment complex.

In a recent interview with The Sag Harbor Express, Joan Tripp, the founding president of the Sag Harbor Historical Society stated that it is important to preserve our history because “…We learn from the past, it gives young people a sense of place, and since things today move so quickly, this is very important.”

Since 2004, the Umbrella House, which is located right in the village on District Street, has been the home of Cavaniola’s Wine Cellar, a store that specializes in wines that compliment cheese. (Cavaniola’s Cheese Shop is right next-door.)

Sag Harbor’s Umbrella House is a classic example of a historical structure that has transitioned into a new-age shopping luxury, while preserving the importance of the historical site. I’ll drink to that!

When in Sag Harbor, also be sure to check out The Old WhalersChurch on Union Street, the John Jermain Library on Main Street and the Sag Harbor Whaling Museum also on Main Street. Each of these buildings offers a unique glimpse of the past. Sag Harbor Village has been recognized as containing the best collection of 19th century houses in the country. It’s such a nice place to live and to play; perhaps one of its historic homes is just right for you.


Dorothy Ingersoll Zaykowski’s Sag Harbor, The Story of an American Beauty is available at all local bookstores and online.