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Mar 18, 2008 11:59 AMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Work begins on historic structure

Mar 18, 2008 11:59 AM

The grand dame of Bridgehampton historic houses is scheduled for a face-lift this year.

Some people know the weathered Greek Revival building at the southeast corner of Bridgehampton's Main Street and Ocean Road as the Hampton House—an inn that was famous for its lavish parties in the early 20th century. Others know it as the Nathaniel Rogers House, so named for its first owner. In recent years, it was known as the Huntting House, after one of its 19th century owners, and later as the Hopping House, after its longtime owners, the Hopping family.

Soon, the nearly 200-year-old structure will become more than just one of the oldest buildings in Bridgehampton. It will be restored to its former glory and then will house the Bridgehampton Historical Society. The society plans to use the space as its headquarters. The home will also include exhibition, archival and public space.

In February, architects and structural engineers commissioned by the historical society and Southampton Town started picking apart the building to determine how much restoration will be necessary. The project will likely begin in October and should be done by 2010.

"It's got a lot of history. It was always a place where stagecoaches would come. It's at a critical intersection, and it's also a site that was important during the American Revolutionary War," said Town Supervisor Linda Kabot. "The town went the extra mile to preserve this site. It's considered something that could be a national treasure, and here it is rotting on Main Street."

More than 270 Bridgehampton community members contributed approximately $500,000 to help the historical society purchase the house in a 2003 partnership with the town, which appropriated $2.5 million to purchase the land through its Community Preservation Fund. The historical society then gave the house to the town, but it will remain the building's steward.

The restoration project is expected to cost $3 million, $1.3 million of which has already been raised through a combination of state, town and private contributions. New York State has contributed $250,000, which has been matched by grants from the town and donations to the historical society. The town plans to contribute $400,000 per year for exterior improvements over the next two years through the Community Preservation Fund.

Abraham Rose built the original house in 1820 and sold it to Nathaniel Rogers in 1839, who renovated and expanded the building. Mr. Rogers is credited with adding the Greek Revival features including the two-story columns, rooftop balustrades and a fourth-story cupola. His influence on the structure is the reason historic preservation experts have agreed to refer to it as the Nathaniel Rogers House.

Mr. Rogers, a renowned painter and shipbuilder, lived in the house for only four years before his death in 1844. A series of owners, including Captain James Huntting and the De Bost family, owned the house over the course of the next generation. It was then purchased in 1885 by the Storms family, which opened it as a hotel and bar called The Hampton House.

In 1894, the Hedges and Hopping families turned the then-rundown hotel into The Hopping House, which many longtime residents remember as the most elegant inn in Bridgehampton.

While in the care of the last innkeeper, Caroline Hopping, who died in 1952, the house again fell into disrepair. She had even leased the front yard to a gas station.

The assessment at her death read "a house which is very old and in run-down condition."

The good news, from a historic preservation standpoint, is that little has changed since that time.

Historical Society Executive Director John Eilertsen has been working with the town to hire structural engineers, wood experts and architects over the past three months.

"The house is in much better shape than we expected," said Mr. Eilertsen. "What's positive is that the Hopping family didn't do any drastic changes. They didn't take out walls or remove moldings."

Still, "there's been wear and tear, deterioration in the roofs. Some of the structural elements need to be reinforced. They've rotted away and there's been insect damage," he said.

All five roofs and the timbers that provide the structural support for the basement and third floor will need extensive repair, Mr. Eilertsen said.

Once the society moves into its new home, its current headquarters, the Corwith House, built in 1840, will be used as a museum, with period displays and tours.

"We'll keep the Corwith House as our crown jewel at the other end of Main Street," said Mr. Eilertsen. "We're going to devise interpretive strategies for farm families in Bridgehampton."

The grounds of the Corwith House will also still be used for the popular annual engine run and the meeting place for the society's annual antique car road rally.

Other buildings on the Nathaniel Rogers House property, including a small shack that was used as housing for an African-American caretaker, will be demolished. "It's in bad shape. We can't restore it, but we'll document and replicate it," said Mr. Eilertsen.

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