There are times when history needs a champion.
In the case of the Avery Homestead, several nonprofits have expressed interest in taking on that mantle, one that would preserve a family property that dates back to the 17th century. Should the property purchase occur, the 11.5-acre East Patchogue parcel off South Country Road with its three buildings will need a ready, cohesive plan that marries a cultural aspect with a historic role in hopes of creating a vibrant destination.
The Patchogue Arts Council has their eye on the 90-year-old Dutch colonial barn, in good shape, as an exhibit space possibility.
“We’ve had preliminary conversations with the county and had a meeting with other nonprofits, and we decided it might be appropriate for PAC to take the lead,” said Patchogue Arts Council president Lori Devlin. “I wrote a proposal for various uses, but the county needs more details, so I have to go back to the other nonprofits and flesh it out.”
The Peconic Land Trust, Preservation Long Island, Greater Patchogue Historical Society and the Bellport-Brookhaven Historical Society have all expressed some interest, as has relative Susan Avery.
Devlin said they were just at the beginning of an exploratory pitch.
“There could be multiple entities there with PAC being the lead,” Devlin said. “The barn could be a good place exhibit-wise, but we have to research some aspects, like how ADA compliant it is. Rob [Calarco] thought it would be in good condition as well as the house. We have to have another Zoom meeting with the others, but right now, I’m writing grants for PAC and applying for PPP loans. If we could marry the cultural with an agricultural aspect, there would be a nice synergy.”
Legis. Rob Calarco (D-Patchogue), who has been shepherding the Avery property for preservation, said the two independent companies conducting appraisals have been on the site. “I heard from the owner; they’ve been there,” he said. “Once the two appraisals are done, we have our in-house real estate staff review them. We don’t negotiate with the owner, but offer the highest and best value amount for the property.” Calarco said there were 30 such appraisals across the county percolating and mentioned continued meetings with community groups, including the Patchogue Arts Council. “We need to find the right mix for the property,” he said, “which could include some kind of agricultural farm use.”
Last year, the county passed an appraisal resolution in an agreement to partner with Brookhaven Town on the Avery Homestead in a 17-0 vote; the Brookhaven Town Board unanimously agreed to the county collaboration on Oct. 1, setting the wheels in motion for assessing the property’s worth, coming up with a figure which the town will agree with, then the seller’s acceptance, as well as finding partners, nonprofit, for profit or both, that will help run and maintain it.
Preservation Long Island had already selected the parcel and its buildings for its 2019 Endangered Places list.
The property has had many advocates, including Victor Principe, who had been in touch with Barbara Avery before her death. Councilman Neil Foley pushed the town resolution through. He met descendants Charles Wakefield and his sister, along with Calarco, who had contacted them in 2019 without success. But they agreed to discussions last year.
Last fall, Calarco was hoping the barn might attract a catering group.
The East Patchogue property is bordered by South Country Road, Robinson Avenue and Montauk Highway. It is already along a historical gateway that includes several Patchogue landmark buildings and cemeteries. The Swan River Schoolhouse, built in 1858, is walkable off Roe Avenue, and a couple of miles away is Bellport Village.
The Avery family, starting with Humphrey Avery, has owned and inhabited the site since the 17th century. Humphrey Avery of Connecticut was one of the earliest white settlers of East Patchogue who purchased the land from the Unkechaug tribe in 1752. Plaques out front outline the family’s history.
Besides the barn, the two other buildings include an 1820 gambrel roof house that had been used later as a landscaping office that needs serious work, and the 1880 Victorian house that Barbara Avery inhabited until her death in 2017. The property was beloved by her; she wanted it preserved.
Melanie Cirillo, vice president of Peconic Land Trust, said reintroducing agriculture on their end wasn’t feasible. She mentioned that a conservation buyer willing to purchase and preserve it, might be a solution. But her real suggestion was forming a nonprofit organization, maybe a Save the Avery Homestead group, to set up fundraising.
“You need a presence, someone needs to start living there,” Cirillo said. “It’s a gorgeous barn and setting up a new nonprofit would infuse it with energy.”
Richard Martin, director of historic services for Suffolk County Parks, explained at this point, the process is all in the legislator’s hands.
“Our department doesn’t get involved until after the county purchase,” Martin said. “If the county acquires it, we can have different contracts with different entities under the Parks Department. Rob has been talking to the family and they seem to appreciate the process he’s going through.”