Monday, August 23, 2010

UPDATED: 383 First Neck Lane, "Foster House"

After this post originally appeared, a friend of the owners put me in touch with them, and they gave me and a friend a full-blown tour of their house and grounds!!! Anthony and Camille Stillitano are two very nice people and they adore their old house! Naturally I wanted to repost, with the additional photos (not interior, to respect their privacy) and information. New information is in italics.

This house has an AMAZING history which you would never know by just looking at it. You might think it looks old and wonder if it’s historic……..…………..You bet!

I haphazardly researched this house when I was researching the carriage house associated with Samuel L. Parrish’s mother’s house just south of #383. But I had no idea it was as significant as it is. Recently the owner phoned the Historical Museum inquiring about the history of the house and mentioning that there was a framed letter in the house by Samuel L. Parrish describing the history of the property! Turns out, in 1916 William S. Pelletreau also wrote the property’s history for The Southampton Press. Eureka!
South Elevation Below:

This house used to be on Main Street where the bank is now located. The original owner of the lot was Thomas Burnett in 1684. After that “the lot fell to his youngest son, Mathias Burnett, who moved to Easthampton, where he was a magistrate and very prominent citizen. He divided the lot into three parts, and sold them to three different men.” After a number of owners of all three lots, by 1807 Josiah Foster owned the whole parcel and built a house on it in the same year. “The house, when built, was by far the most stylish and modern in the village.” Josiah Foster was from Quogue. He married Abigail “Nabby” Jessup who was well known to be the “head” of the family. Josiah, while “an easy going man, [was] perfectly willing that his wife should take the lead and keep it, as she did.”[1] She set up the post office in the house known as “Foster’s Tavern” which became a popular stopping place for the mail stages until the arrival of the railroad. The house was also an inn where Daniel Webster, James Fennimore Cooper, and William Onderdonk were known to have stopped.

In 1916 Josiah Foster sold the lot to Alexander Cameron who intended to develop it for business. Hearing that the house was ‘in the way’ Samuel L. Parrish bought it and moved it to the property he owned on First Neck Lane. “Before moving, the back buildings were cut off from the main part of the house, and each was moved separately. Mr. Grosvenor Atterbury ( of New York was then employed by me to remodel the interior of the main part of the house, and at the same time to add new back buildings in architectural accord with the Colonial design of the original structure. The old back buildings now stand on the rear of the lot, having been converted into a housekeeping garage.”[2]
View of West Entry (from cottage/garage) below:

Samuel Parrish ultimately subdivided the property (the southern half is where his mother lived; Samuel lived in the Art Village) and in 1924, sold the “Foster House” (on the now northern half) to William Otis (1866-1946) and Annie Margaretta Dumaresq Gay of Boston. Before the purchase, they rented “Kilarney,” another First Neck Lane cottage, immediately to the north of this property. Mr. and Mrs. Gay had seven children, four daughters and three sons, all also of Boston. Records indicate there are still members of the Gay family living in Southampton.
William Otis Gay was a banker – a founder of the Boston investment firm W.O. Gay & Co. – and before that was in the textile industry. He was also an avid yachtsman and owned a sloop named “Athene” which he raced and a yacht named “Simoon.” “He also was the first commodore of the Southampton Yacht Club, which was founded in 1937.”[3] His brother Walter was a well-known painter.

The Gay children inherited the property and sold it to Alfred Corning Clark, the heir to the Singer Sewing Machine fortune, in 1953. He died at the age of 45 in 1961.
Two or three years ago, the former Mrs. Gael Wood visited the Stillitanos and recounted her memories of the house. She is English and is now divorced from Rodney Wood. She pointed out the area which she believed to have been the original kitchen, where there used to be a fireplace, that the current main hall staircase was built on top of the original staircase, and her impression that when the house was a tavern, it was run by prostitutes!?!
View of Rear of House Below:

During our tour of the home and property, we saw original beams along the living room ceiling and many original fireplaces and mantels. We also saw the original framing of the first floor from the basement which is always breath-taking to see still surviving in its round branch shape.

The Rubins, previous owners to the Stillitanos, added on and made renovations to the house, as did the Stillitanos. Rear bump-outs and additions were made, the living room was opened up and enlarged, and a small shed dormer was added on the rear of the second floor. But all of the additions (which are all sensitive to the original architecture) occur on the rear of the house, leaving the Foster House’s integrity and originality intact in all its past and present glory. The house is absolutely lovely. Among my favorite interior spaces are the kitchen, an amazingly wonderful balance of old and new – a large room with carrera marble and modern appliances but very comfortable, functional, and not grandiose; the service stair on the north side as it winds from the basement to the attic; and the finished third floor, with its four small bedrooms and perfectly quintessential shared bath, each complete with a wonderful barrel-vaulted doghouse dormer. Up there, it’s easy to imagine the hotel function from its early days. Gael accommodated her staff on that level. Not too shabby.

Not too long ago the property was subdivided and the back half (western) was sold. On it remains one of the original accessory structures. [I am so fond of all these unappreciated accessory structures. Why are they so undervalued?] There were two, but only one survives, and only barely. It is clear that once upon a time it was a little slice of heaven for someone. Now, it is overgrown with ivy, has a small hole in its roof, and an open door welcoming raccoons and other animals. It’s easy to imagine it rehabilitated however, as a very useful and charming guest cottage to the main residence now on the parcel. It’s so sad to see it abandoned. It should not be allowable to neglect properties to the point that they fall down.
This accessory structure was built at the end of a Right of Way off of Great Plains that was created before 1916 and which likely served a cluster of carriage houses. This right of way still exists but now serves as a driveway for at least three properties. Interestingly, it extends all the way to Samuel Parrish’s property, where that carriage house still stands.
I used to be under the impression that, the fewer owners a house had, the better shape it would ultimately be in. This house proves that theory wrong.

It was truly a pleasure to meet the Stillitanos and tour this property. Recently I was also priveledged enough to tour a house built in 1739. The owner is a contemporary art lover and has filled the old saltbox with extraordinary art. More importantly however, he put a new foundation under the house, thereby ensuring that the house will bless us all with its existence for many many many more years. These experiences, though few and far between, are more uplifting than I can describe.
Garage - Cottage Below

Renters (incomplete):
1918 William Ross Proctor
1919 Charles E. Mitchell (“An American banker whose incautious securities policies facilitated the speculation which led to the Crash of 1929.” Wickipedia)
1920 Mrs. Riley Miles Gilbert
1921-2 H. H. Benedict
1923 Julian M. Gerard

Property Owners (incomplete):
Anthony & Camille Stillitano, Liber 12344 of deeds, page 402, 9/20/2004
Robert M. Rubin, Liber 11100 of deeds, page 37, 7/10/1990
Robert M. & Katherine Kerna Rubin, Liber 10628 of deeds, page 227, 6/21/1988
R. John Punnett, Liber 8902 of deeds, page 161, 10/23/1980
Estate of Alix R. Plum, Liber 6154 of deeds, page 248, 5/18/1967
Rodney T. & Gael M. Wood, Liber 5318 of deeds, page 133, 2/14/1963
Alfred Corning Clark, Liber 3609 of deeds, page 70, 11/9/1953
William O. Gay Jr., Sophie M. Gay Griscom, John Gay, Philip D. Gay, Dorothea E. Gay Davis, Anne Gay Sharretts, Collette D. Gay Irving
Annie M.D. Gay, Liber 1120 of deeds, page 93, 12/4/1924 (wife of William Otis Gay)
Samuel L. Parrish
[1] W.S. Pelletreau, The Southampton Press, Nov. 23 and 30, 1916
[2] Letter by Samuel L. Parrish, March 1921
[3] NY Times, June 14, 1946

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