Almost exactly five years ago, on October 25, 2014, Aquebogue’s beloved Witch’s Hat was rededicated after an extensive 18-month effort to refurbish the local landmark and roadside curiosity. Whether by design or coincidence, the Halloween season was a perfect time to complete the restoration project, given its decidedly witchy silhouette.
Today, five years after volunteer contractors and building materials suppliers, the property owner, members of the Riverhead Town Landmarks Preservation Commission and the Save Main Road community group, along with other supporters, celebrated their surprisingly Herculean accomplishment, the Witch’s Hat continues to stand tall. But deterioration could creep back onto the unused building. As years accrue into double digits and then, perhaps, decades, the pointy, wood-shingled treasure will require more work and maintenance.
Current Witch’s Hat owner, and owner of the Aquebogue Veterinary Hospital property where it’s located, Dr. Richard Hanusch says a plan is in place to ensure it remains solid. “We’re going to revisit it,” the veterinarian explains, noting that they will invite knowledgeable people to check in on the construction every five years or so.
Dr. Hanusch bought the property for his practice in 1990 and has been a dedicated and enthusiastic steward of the Witch’s Hat since that time. He hangs images of it in his animal hospital, and spent about $5,000 of his own money to help the most recent renovation, which was initially quoted at around $40,000 before others donated their work and energy to getting it done.
“A lot of people gave their time for it,” Dr. Hanusch says in appreciation of the many volunteers, including Landmarks Preservation Commission Chairman Richard Wines, who were instrumental in bringing the Witch’s Hat back from the brink of destruction. Dr. Hanusch points out that his contract to buy the veterinary hospital included an agreement not to remove or change the Witch’s Hat. But he had no intention of harming the landmark. In fact, the Town of Riverhead even offered to take it off his hands and move it to a local park, but Dr. Hanusch declined, choosing instead to keep the Witch’s Hat in it’s original location, where it belongs.
“It’s such a historical landmark—people used to judge their time coming out to the North Fork by it,” he says, demonstrating the value of leaving the building on Main Road (Route 25).
Due to its unique shape, the aptly named structure—which was also called “the Lighthouse” at one time—has long captured the attention and imaginations of motorists driving along Route 25. It was first dedicated as a Riverhead Town landmark and given a mostly visual makeover in 1987, six decades after 70-year-old retired machinist Harry Flemming built the stand to sell candy and other conveniences to passing drivers in 1927. Later, the Witch’s Hat was operated as a nursery to sell plants, and then local produce, but it hasn’t hosted any sort of business since the 1960s.
Though no business has resided at the Witch’s Hat for some time, Dr. Hanusch says the former owner allowed people to take wedding photos there 30 years ago, before he bought his business. Best of all, curious passersby still stop to snap pictures of the Witch’s Hat, proving that it continues to fascinate and welcome North Fork visitors, as it will for many years to come.
Find the Witch’s Hat just east of the Aquebogue Veterinary Hospital (357 Main Road) in Aquebogue.