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.


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.

A Butler’s Manor – House History, Part 3

Houses are adapted to suit the needs of their owners. Wings or second stories are added to accommodate burgeoning families; basements finished to accommodate the privacy needs of teenagers or to function as recreational space. In houses as old as ours (150 years), it’s sometimes difficult to know where the original bones are.

Unless someone decides to uncover them.

Chris and I had been told that at one stage in the many iterations of the house here at 244 North Main Street, the dining room’s walls were two stories high and that the center of the house was vaulted to the ridge peak. To relate that to the layout of how A Butler’s Manor appears today, this translates to two rooms missing: Cliffside (over the dining room) and Oak Knoll. I’m usually pretty good at visualizing things, but this one escaped me…until Mike sent his pictures.

As you see from the photo on the left, once it was possible to stand in the upstairs hall and look down into the dining room…or up and see the clouds through the round window up in the very top of the house’s face. In the picture on the right, what is now the room Goose Creek opens off the doorway on the left, and the stairs go down to the front door.

I wish I knew how the owners used the space in the left foreground. Was it a sitting room? A library?

Was there perhaps a circular staircase in one corner, leading up to the loft above? And what was that space used for? For me, getting a taste of history whets the appetite for more answers, many of which can perhaps never be answered.

A later owner (re?) enclosed the space and added the two guest rooms, but in this case, what was literally uncovered were all the original beams, many of which are still visible today…incorporated into the walls in the rooms Oak Knoll and Villefranche as well as the living rooms and halls. Our guests invariably comment on them with appreciation.  History has a way of doing that to you, I guess.

the dining room today

Though never on the scale of the renovation pictured here, Chris and I have remodeled all of the houses we’ve ever lived in. While none was as historic as A Butler’s Manor, we’ve always been conscious that others might find clues of the lives lived prior to their occupancy as interesting as we do. To that end, we’ve left little “time capsules” with a dated photo shut up in walls, for someone in the future to find…for it’s certain that humans will continue to remake their abodes to reflect their needs and wants.

Quote of the Day: “He who loves an old house never loves in vain.” — Isabel LaHowe ConantPosted by Picasa

A Butler’s Manor – House History, Part 2

244 North Main Street, rear, circa 1970

An old house is like a mystery, and old photos provide invaluable clues. I am like Sherlock Holmes with my magnifying glass poised over snapshots, looking for details.

I think the reason I am so drawn to discovering the origins of our house has much to do with the fact that my own upbringing was so decisively modern. Raised in southern California, I make jokes that if it’s 50 years old, we Californians knock it down (or an earthquake does) and rebuild! I watched the tract house I grew up in being built in the early ’60’s under my father’s watchful eyes. (It still gives me a distant shock to hear realtors describe my old neighborhood as “established.”) Palm Springs and Laguna Beach both have historic preservation committees to honor their structures that date back to the 1920’s and 30’s. By contrast, here in Southampton there are houses like the Halsey House on South Main Street that date from the mid to late 1600’s!

So once upon a time, before there was an amazing garden, there was this piece of property with a great big house on it that had orginally been part of a greater piece of land where the Jagger family farmed.

If you’ve ever visited us at A Butler’s Manor, you’ll especially appreciate the vast difference between the yard then and the garden today. On the right side of the top picture you can see the old (!!) barn, demolished sometime during this renovation. I’m not sure how the property lines were drawn back then, but today the foundation upon which that barn sat is located just on the other side of our northern fence. The grande dame centerpiece of our garden, the Sycamore Maple tree under which we serve breakfast in summer morns, looks so young!

What fascinates me is the back porch…or is it the entrance to another apartment within the house? The porch is located almost exactly where I am writing today in our sunroom/office; the doorway is where the kitchen meets the office, and the blank wall just above it is now contains a window so that Eton Court’s occupants can look out at the garden and pool.

In the second picture, taken partway through the remodel, the porch is gone, and some new windows have been added.  The barn has been removed, and some grooming of the grounds is evident. In fact, if you’ll look closely beneath the tree, you’ll see the original planting of the pink Queen Elizabeth rose garden that now surround our fountain on the patio. Forty years ago…guess that would qualify them as “old growth” roses?


While we’ve certainly made additions and enhancements to the property since we bought it in January of 2002 — especially to the garden — we didn’t start with the blank slate the yard appears here. Each of the many occupants of the house that William Jagger built back in 1860 has left their own stamp. Like animals, we mark our territory, figuratively carving our names into the doorframes of that which we call home.

To be continued!

Quote of the Day: “The past actually happened. History is what someone took the time to write down.” — A. Whitney Brown

A Butler’s Manor — House History, Part 1

Property at 244 No. Main St., ca 1970

I’ve said frequently that one of the advantages of living in a 150-year old house is that people knock on your door and tell you they used to live in it. Through these visits, we’ve learned of many of the iterations of the house at 244 North Main Street now known as A Butler’s Manor.

Late last fall, we had another one of those visits. Mike Spencer and his wife Jodi from Upstate NY were passing through, and came to the door late in the afternoon. Mike’s uncle had owned the house when he was a child, and he remembered helping to lay our iconic brick floor back in the early 1970’s when he was ten years old. His family, as it turned out, was responsible for many of the changes we have marvelled at hearing about. A few weeks later, Mike and Jodi sent us a wonderful Christmas surprise: a packet of snapshots taken during the renovation. They couldn’t know how much it means to Chris and me to have access to such history. I plan to share some of these discoveries over the next few weeks, in hopes that others find it as fascinating as we do.

We are blessed to have — as a baseline, if you will — information on the house’s origins provided by our next door neighbor, Glena Jagger, whose grandfather built the house in 1860. Glena still lives on the balance of the original Jagger property just north of us. Her ancestors were early settlers in Southampton, originally tanners, later farmers, and she has ledgers dating back 350 years detailing accounts of their trade. It will make a neat addition to the Southampton Historical Museum’s archives some day.
One thing we learned from Glena is that at one stage ours was a three-family home. Visible in the top picture is where a second front entrance once existed, entering into what is now our dining room. The second photo shows work in progress, where the door has been removed and the outside wall shingled. Also, the dark line above the front door is evidence of the removal of an original covered porch. Note the brick stairs into our house are not yet there.


A Butler’s Manor today

Another thing we were thrilled to see in the photo was evidence of the original barn which sits on Glena’s side of the property. The barn was decrepit back then, and apparently was either knocked down or removed…but the existing basement and foundations still remain, and are visible from the north side of our garden. Today, there are half a dozen full-sized trees growing out of the bottom of that basement. Amazing how fast Nature reclaims her own!

Next installment to follow soon!

Quote of the Day: “We shape our buildings; thereafter, our buildings shape us.”  –Winston Churchill

“The Oldest English Settlement in New York State”

The sign that greets visitors to the village of Southampton, located at the top of our road, states proudly that Southampton was established in 1640 and is the oldest English settlement in New York State. (Chris, of course, takes some proprietary satisfaction in this.) For me, I never pass that sign without a little jolt of amazement.

I make jokes to guests that back in California, if a structure is 50 years old, we knock it down (or an earthquake does the job for us) and build new. So when I first came out to the East End in 1992, I couldn’t get over the sheer volume of history made visible that existed here. One example: Built in 1648, Halsey House on South Main Street is the oldest house in Southampton, and in season, you can tour it. Careful preservation and conservation by the Southampton Historical Society has meant that when shingles, roof, or windows on the house have to be replaced, they are made and installed to period specifications. To a much lesser degree, A Butler’s Manor — built in the relatively recent year of 1860 — is designated a historic structure, which prevents us from altering the exterior of the house in any substantial way. (Fortunately we are free to update interior fixtures such as plumbing and electric!) When we had the house repainted a couple of years back, we had to clear it with the architectural review board.

Though the East End has lost some of its farmland…wealthy Wall Streeters have built some sprawling Mc Mansions where once potatoes grew… I am still pleased to note that others make every effort to preserve and rebuild some of our more historic structures. A case in point is the rebuilding of the old Presbyterian Manse on South Main Street. In Spring, they began demolition down to the studs inside, which apparently precipitates the difficult and costly process of lifting the house. Using massive steel beams and pillars made of stacked railroad ties, they raised the house up about six feet above grade in order to excavate a full basement beneath and pour all new foundations. Seeing a house that is probably 6,000 square feet lifted in one piece, and balanced there for a few weeks while brave souls work beneath it, is an amazing sight! The picture here shows the house, recently set back down and attached to its new foundation. Now they can reframe the interior walls, insulate and reshingle. And when the project is complete, the neighborhood will look…exactly as it always has. I love that. That continuity, that preserving a sense of place, is a special thing about the community that I have come to value.

Quote of the Day: Therefore, when we build, let us think that we build forever…For indeed, the greatest glory of a building is not in its stones, nor in its gold. Its glory is in its Age, and in that deep sense of voicefulness, of stern watching which we feel in walls that have long been washed by the passing waves of humanity. —John Ruskin