We take our history very seriously out here on the East End, where the story our past is revealed in historic houses. The Nathaniel Rogers House, at the crossroads of the Hamptons, situated in Bridgehampton, across from the Topping Rose House, tells a big part of the story, from 1820 to the present.
Last July, Dan’s Papers ran an article describing the progress of the house’s restoration. So, what’s happened in a year? First, let’s go back in time.
The project to restore the Nathaniel Rogers House was begun in 2004 by the Bridgehampton Historical Society (BHS, now the Bridgehampton Museum), the Town of Southampton and New York State, through its Department of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. After the Town assumed legal title to the house and property, it was agreed that the BHS would restore and occupy it. The physical work started around 2008, after hiring architects and structural engineers, getting preliminary surveys, and painstakingly removing, cataloging, crating and storing what could be saved—and taking samples of what couldn’t be saved.
The Community Preservation Fund and the BHS funded the Exterior Stabilization Project, which began last year. The house had been on its last leg in preceding years: its columns were held up with two-by-fours and the roofs were open to the sky.
When BHS executive director, John Eilertsen, first entered the house, he found disintegrating plaster, peeling paint, crumbling chimneys, and raccoon droppings. Today the ceiling is sealed, the sub-floor is in, and the walls have been bared where plaster was damaged and white-washed with a fungicide applied against the mold bloom. The framing has been exposed and new wall studs added.
“The purpose of restoration is to not change,” Eilertsen says . “Where we had to, concrete was poured, but the rock walls remained from 1820 and 1840.
The Nathaniel Rogers House has had the distinction of being owned by several prominent Bridgehampton residents. Abraham T. Rose, a judge, built the Federal-style house in 1820. Rose inherited land across the street, built a new house, now called the Topping Rose House, and sold the original house in 1839 to Nathaniel Rogers, a renowned New York miniaturist who was returning to his birthplace. The Rogers family sold it in 1857 to James R. Hunting, a successful whaling captain, who sold it in 1873 to the DeBost family, merchants in the city, who turned it into what may have been the first summer home in the Hamptons, inaugurating the Southampton summer colony. The house turned over a few more times, and in 1894, John Hedges and Frank Hopping, father and son-in-law, turned it into The Hampton House, one of the first inns that catered to summer people. Jim Hopping, the last private owner, grew up in the house and returned to live there in the 1940s until he sold it in 2003. But it was primarily Rogers who expanded the house into what it is today.
“The most dramatic thing about the house was what a time capsule it was,” says architect Kurt Hirschberg, from the New York architectural firm, Jan, Hird, Pokorny Associates, who was chosen from the beginning for the project. The predominantly new-design firm, established in 1947, started doing restoration-related work in the late 1970s with the South Street Seaport, and had restored many house-museums similar to the Rogers house.
“Because it had not been touched for so many years, aside from what the Hampton House had done to make it service as an inn, it still had a lot of its historic character. As you walk through, you can still see very distinct elements of each era: at the foot of the staircase you’re looking at the original 1820s front door and sidelights. The black marble mantle pieces are from the 1840s. From the 1890s remain the Hampton House dining room with striated paneling and the fireplace with the little shingled top, an excellent study in eclectic design of the1880s and 1890s.”
Or, for instance, a lone sink by the back door—“So when guests of the Hampton House came back from the beach, they could wash their hands there, and then go into the dining room for their meals,” Eilertsen explains .
And there are two front doors. “When you walk in the house today, you go through what you assume has always been the front door,” says Eilertsen, “but it’s not; you have to go into the second door, the original 1820 front door for Abraham Rose’s house. Nathaniel Rogers built his Greek revival structure surrounding the existing house, with a new front, four parlor rooms and front door.
“The major improvement that’s happened this year is completing all the underpinning and repairs to the foundation walls, which is not glamorous but necessary,” Hirschberg says .
Today, Hirschberg can envision the project’s goal, restoring the house back to the Hampton House era (1890s). He says his role was to add his expertise in designing a use for the house, a structure that was so close to being lost. “It’s wonderful to save it, but it has to have a function,” he says.
Later this summer, the next phase of work will begin, addressing historic interior finishes and colors, replicating the original cupola, reconstructing the South wing, and mechanicals.
“Our hope is to finish by December, 2015,” Eilertsen says . “It will be the Bridgehampton Museum headquarters, open to the public, with archival space, exhibition and research rooms, administrative space, and an audio/video recording studio to record community memories from local people.”
“The Rogers house will open up another resource for the community to link the past and move forward with the future,” says Julie Greene, curator and archivist of the Bridgehampton Museum Collection. “These old structures are the natural resources of the East End, tying us to the past, which is incredibly important.”
Jane Julianelli is the author of The Naked Shoe, the Artistry of Mabel Julianelli. Visit thenakedshoe.com for more information.