Holding onto history…and losing it

If you’ve been to our Southampton bed and breakfast before, chances are you’ve noticed the large meadow-like vacant lot to the north of us, on the other side of our car park. Perhaps we’ve told you, as part of the history of our house, that the lot, and the house standing on it, was owned by the last direct descendant of the Jagger family, who settled in Southampton in the mid-1600s. Originally tanners, the family eventually became farmers and at one point owned all the property in about a one mile radius of us. The house at 244 North Main that we call A Butler’s Manor, built in 1860 by William Jagger, and it’s our understanding that the house north of us at 276 North Main was built by his son. It appears on an 1894 Village Survey map that hangs in our upstairs hallway as belonging to J.M. Jagger.

When we moved here, we met and became friends with Glena Jagger, and Chris in particular spent quite a bit of time with her. One of my favorite memories is the time she stayed the night with us. She’d had surgery and the hospital wouldn’t let her go home because no one lived with her, so she called us and asked to book a room. She refused to let us comp her, but she did permit us to drive her back up to her doctor in Riverhead the following day for post-op follow up. I thought it appropriate to offer her Goose Creek, our most historical room with its original wooden ceiling. Over breakfast the next morning, she told me that her grandparents had lived in the house until she was in high school. When she was small, she’d had scarlet fever (highly contagious) and her beloved older sister Elizabeth had moved to their grandparent’s house for several weeks while Glena was quarantened at home. This had been the first time she had ever stayed a night in our house.

Room with king-sized bed made with a light colored quilt, wooden beams on the ceiling
Goose Creek

Glena was a feisty little lady who had a degree in chemistry and had never married, who had been born in the house she lived in and intended to die in it. She had artifacts dating back to the early 1700’s including ledgers from her tanner ancestors that documented the trade of goods and services between neighbors, in English pounds sterling that was the currency at the time–all of which was destined for the Southampton Historical Society. Her will stated her desire to divide up the proceeds of her estate between a number of beloved charitable organizations. I don’t think she liked it, but did recognize that after her death her property would be sold and likely subdivided. That’s just the way it works.

Glena died five years ago, and after a couple of acrimonious court cases (one brought by Chris) and planning board roadblocks, the three+ acre lot is to be subdivided into three one-acre parcels called the Jagger Estates, with a 6,000+/- square foot house to be built upon each. This week, the builder received approval to demolish Glena’s house and begin clearing the property for development.

We watched on Wednesday as a house that had likely been many, many months in the building, that had withstood the Great Hurricane of 1938 without the slightest flooding, that had housed a woman from cradle to grave came down under the jaws of a bulldozer’s claw in less than three hours.

Was it historical? Not historical enough. Was it architecturally significant? Only as it related to one woman’s, and one family’s long history in the village of Southampton. Was it worth salvaging? In practical terms, no. Too much remedial work involved even if the layout was desirable.

Still.


So today, as I look out my kitchen window at the blank where once I saw the brown siding of our neighbor’s house, I think wistfully of Glena and her long life and rich family history. And wish the use of her family name as a development was more of a tribute to the longevity of that family line. And hope the new houses, when they are built, are in fact traditional in architecture, as proposed.


Though much updated and upgraded to meet the needs of our many guests, the Jagger family house of yesteryear still can be found in the bones of A Butler’s Manor. and we take great pride in maintaining it. 


Come experience the melding of the modern and the historical at A Butler’s Manor, Southampton’s best boutique inn.

Building that summer home in the Hamptons?

A recently-built “cottage” overlooking Halsey Neck Pond,
viewed from the pavillion at Cooper’s Beach

Many of our guests at A Butler’s Manor love to wander through the estate districts and look at the mansions on their large manicured multi-acre lots. These “south of the highway” neighborhoods–south of Montauk Highway, a.k.a. ocean side–are definitely the dominion of the so-called 1%. And early spring is an especially good time to traverse the wide, tree-lined streets and gawp at what a few tens of millions of dollars can buy you, because the ubiquitous European privet hedges that enclose most of them are deciduous and are only now starting to bud out with leaves. Which means you can actually see some of these incredible, enormous summer homes.

Older Shingle-style “cottage,” more traditional to Southampton area,
Cooper’s Neck Lane

(Somehow I don’t think the estate owners who ordered the hedging to be planted considered that for year round privacy, they’d be better served with the evergreen variety –the common name of which, I was amused to find out, is California privet.)

Assuming the economic slowdown of the last half-dozen years even affected the very wealthy, judging by the amount of construction underway on the oceanfront and some of our tonier streets, it is in their rear-view mirrors now.I took a drive around town today and was interested to see that after years of “new traditional” shingle-style building (here’s an example), it seems modern design  in the Hamptons is making a comeback. These necessarily are complete teardowns, and some of the ones I cruised by today were in full frenetic construction mode, presumably because their owners hope to enjoy this summer in the house.

This house, located just east of Cooper’s Beach, is reportedly 1/10 of a mile long

 

Front view of new house under construction, Meadow Lane,
immediately west of Cooper’s Beach

 

Same house, from beach. (Note all the workers.)

Of course, housing design is part personal style and taste and part trend, and trends are often cyclical (can we say “platform shoes?”). There was quite a rash of modern houses built in the Hamptons in the 1960s and 1970s, especially in the south-of-the-highway Bridgehampton/Sagaponack area, as farmers sold off tracts of land, opening the area to what some feel was a period of unrestricted development. (The concept of unrestricted development was the primary reason tiny Sagaponack became an incorporated village.)

A beach house from the last “modern era?”

And truthfully, at a certain income level, you are able to build your house to more closely reflect your taste and personality. Calvin Klein tore down this bizarre, oceanfront castle

to build this:

Calvin Klein’s new digs

The state of oceanfront building in Southampton has hit some snags, as FEMA regulations following Hurricane Irene and Super Storm Sandy have imposed rules that new construction be raised on pilings, stilts, or other such forms. Net result: the mansions previously capped at 35 feet above the original grade in the flood zone now threaten to be much higher, thereby impeding the views of other homeowners in the area. The house being built on Meadow Lane, pictured above, will reportedly be 53 feet above grade upon completion. Or witness the imposing house in the photo below, currently under construction on the bay side of Meadow Lane. The land in the distance, on the other side of the water, is the Shinnecock Indian Reservation.

But I digress.

As you see, even though I’ve lived here twenty-three years, I too love to rubberneck in the estate district. I love the rolling green lawns that spread from the hedges to the houses, set far back on deep lots. I love the stately gates and long driveways. I love the specimen trees that dot the landscaping. And I love what I imagine the views from their windows must be.

Ah, to view the vast array of extreme residences and dream of winning the lotto, or discovering that you are distantly related to one of these billionaires and may figure in their will…

But until that happens, remember you always have a home in the Hamptons at A Butler’s Manor!

Quote of the Day: If a man happens to find himself, he has a mansion which he can inhabit with dignity all the days of his life.—James A. Michener