Many supporters; an ambivalent owner
The property sits back at the start of South Country Road, a quiet presence as traffic whizzes by. A Queen Anne residence built in the 1880s here, a 1930 Dutch Colonial barn that sheltered horses there, and an 1820 gambrel-roofed house, now pocked with holes in its roof, spreads over a rambling 11.5-acre parcel. It’s as if the Avery Homestead in East Patchogue is hoping its burnished cache of longstanding family history will bolster the neglected buildings to new life.
Preservation Long Island, the historic and education nonprofit that advocates for the preservation of historic sites and collections, has just selected the parcel and its buildings for its 2019 Endangered Historic Places list.
Preservation Long Island director Sarah Kautz said the homestead fit three criteria. “One is threat, something that would impact that setting,” she said. “Or a loss of integrity, over time the lack of funding that has made the building lose its integrity. In this case you had a private owner, but now we have executors of the property who are out of town and difficult to reach. At Avery you have a failure in the planning process and there are a lot of options private owners can think about. There are easements and covenants we can help with. Also, its significance is a [criterion], historically, culturally, architecturally. It has to have a significance to the community.”
A large boulder is located prominently in the front yard. One proclaims the members of the Avery family who inhabited the site from as far back as 1699 with the first Humphrey Avery. The other provides a short history of the homestead; the land was originally owned by the Unkechaug Native-Americans.
Kautz said another push to add the Avery Homestead to their list were the partners in the community ready and interested to save and transform it. “Bellport-Brookhaven Historical Society is there, Suffolk County is very interested and hoping to help, also the Peconic Land Trust. It’s great to see all these folks at the table,” she said. Greater Patchogue Historical Society is among the supporters.
“It’s one of the most historic properties on Long Island and goes back to the original Avery land grant,” said Greater Patchogue Historical Society treasurer Steve Lucas. “We’d love to be involved in any way we can, especially with the barn.” Focus East Patchogue has joined in support. “Focus supports preservation as well,” said board member John Quatrale. Yaphank Historical Society is also on board.
The leader holding the torch for the Avery Homestead is Victor Principe, Bellport’s historian, the author of several books on local history, and a BBHS trustee. Principe, who spoke to Barbara Avery, the last owner, about the homestead’s family history several years earlier before she died, wrote the application. “I filled out a long application, but I had a lot of detail to give them,” he said. “Tom Williams [vice president of Post Morrow Foundation] suggested we apply.” Post Morrow is also a proponent for the Avery Homestead’s preservation.
Principe has said the barn could serve as a farmer’s market or be returned to a horse farm; the houses could be utilized as bed and breakfast sites. He cited Legis. Rob Calarco’s interest in purchasing the site.
“The stumbling block is the owner,” Principe said of the executor, Charles Wakefield. Principe said Wakefield has refused permission even for Principe and those interested in its historic value to tour the property. A letter signed by three generations of direct maternal descendants implored the estate for the protection of the family archive and the buildings without success or even an answer, Principe said in an Aug. 9, 2018 Advance article. Principe also said while Barbara Avery voiced her desire to have the buildings and property protected, and mentioned her longing for protection in her 2002 will, she did not stipulate anything concrete to that effect, only a “nonbinding” request that it be done.
“The county is willing to purchase it and I assured the executor it could be self-sustaining. It’s just a matter of getting this guy. I’ve called him twice. All I want to know is, what does he want?”
Calarco said he’s tried.
“I did speak to Mr. Wakefield, who is the inheritor,” Calarco said of his call last fall. “He was really not interested in talking to me. He didn’t really seem interested in what I had to say. I sent a registered letter afterwards requesting to walk the grounds and see the property. I think the barn has the most historic value and is the most salvageable and usable. So that’s where we’re at. The conversation I had with him left me with the feeling that he already knew what he wanted to do with the parcel.”
Councilman Neil Foley said he supported preservation as well. “It’s a large parcel and it will affect the land around it and I will definitely partner with the county to see if we can purchase it. I would have our town attorneys look at that to see what we could do and would love to sit down with Rob.”
The Long Island Advance called Wakefield Law PLLC asking to speak with Charles Wakefield about the Avery Homestead. The receptionist who answered said he wasn’t there but we might want to speak with Michael Wakefield, his son. Michael Wakefield’s response: “I’m not the proper person to talk to about this,” he said. When asked when Charles Wakefield would return, Michael Wakefield answered, “He’ll be back in mid-April,” and took a message .
Preservation Long Island also listed Idle Hour, the former Dowling College buildings that utilized the old Vanderbilt Estate, on its 2017 Endangered Places List; Islip Town rezoned it to a landmark preservation district, which means the district would preserve the mansion, performing arts center, “Love Tree” and water well on campus.
The Scully Estate was also in danger of being sold by the National Audubon Society; they had taken title to it in the early 1980s after Hathaway Scully died. Hathaway wanted her 1917 home preserved and used for environment and educational purposes but had a quitclaim deed. When Audubon “interpreted” the deed as approval to sell to a developer, the community fought the sale. Scully was sold to Suffolk County in 2004 and the Seatuck Environmental Association is now established there.
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