Thursday, December 16, 2010

"The Hildreth House," 75 South Main Street

Southampton Village is home to the oldest family owned department store in the country, Hildreth’s, which was begun by Lewis Hildreth, descendant of Thomas Hildreth an early settler of Southampton, in 1842. It was considered a general store then. “In those days, merchandise came by ship to Sag Harbor and was carted by horse & wagon to Southampton.”[1] The store sold bread, crackers, wheels of cheese, salt, flour, fruits & vegetables, sugar, coffee, tea, fabrics, butter churns, spittoons, buggy whips, scrimshaw, buffalo robes, and whaling harpoons. Lewis died in 1870 after contracting Small Pox during a buying trip in New York at the young age of 56.
Some 15 years later, Lewis Hildreth’s heirs - his wife Amanda, and her four children (Edgar, Henry, Harriet, and Charles) - purchased property on the west side of South Main Street from the First Presbyterian Church of Southampton and James H. Pierson for about $3,300 and had a home built. Until this year, this house has remained in the Hildreth family.

“The Hildreth House” has been called one of the only surviving examples of the Stick Style in Southampton Village, but it has become most widely known for its colors: deep red, deep green, and beige. It is an architectural marvel and a sight to behold with most of its embellishment and detail intact.

I will digress here for one minute. There once existed an extraordinary house on Ocean Road in Bridgehampton called “Tremedden” (photo above courtesy the Bridgehampton Historical Society) which I think bears too much of a resemblance to this house and hope to prove one day that the same architect designed both houses. His name was Carlos C. Buck. The colors were the same as well as the general forms and embellishments, only “Tremedden” was larger. Time will tell. Stay tuned.

In 1896, Dr. Charles Hildreth bought his siblings share of the property and owned it outright himself. After he died his wife and children continued to live there. Then when she died, the children (Helen, Charles, Alan, and Constance) inherited the property but moved out and rented the house until 1951, when Constance’s son, Leigh Berglund bought it and restored its original paint colors. He was born in the house and was the last member of the Hildreth family to live there.

Not too long ago, some prospective buyers of this house sought approvals to strip the paint from the house, replace the roof and wall finishes, paint all the trim white, and knock down the barn (one of the two surviving accessory structures). This resulted in quite a bit of outcry from the public and architectural community (both for and against the project) and the applicants were ultimately given approval for everything except re-shingling the walls; they could only strip the paint and stain it or leave it to weather naturally. It seems they were trying to homogenize it, turn it into just another house with natural colored shingles and white trim. But this isn’t just another house, and fortunately, these prospective buyers walked away from buying this architectural treasure before they could reap their irreversible damage.
This year a new family with young children bought the house and they love its style and history. They will be making interior improvements in order to make it a bit more comfortable and bring it up to today’s standards, and yes, they also wish to change the home’s paint colors (insert collective sigh). But they also wish to keep it “a painted lady” which is a wonderful thing. Paint is a temporary finish and this house’s so-called original colors have been well documented, both by the Berglund’s, and by Fairfield Porter, a renowned local American painter. During the 50s, Fairfield Porter, living and working a stone’s throw away, captured this house in at least two of his works (one shown above), and those will never be stripped.

[1] Hildreth’s pamphlet

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous11 June, 2013

    Hello, In this article regarding the "Hildreth House"(which was my grandmothers and grandfathers house)Susan and Charles, there was mention of there children Constance,Helen, Charles and Alan. There was also another son, Lewis Pierson Hildreth who was my father.