Come to Long Island where you can visit some of the oldest houses in New York State. Dating back to the Colonial Era, these Long Island manors and historic homes offer visitors a glimpse into the life of the early New York colonies and settlers.
Up until 1664 Long Island was split between the Dutch in the west and English colonists in the east near the present border between Nassau County and Suffolk County. At one point the Dutch had allowed an English settlement in Hempstead (in Nassau) in 1644 but, after a boundary dispute, drove out English settlers from the Oyster Bay area. In 1664, the English took over the entire Dutch colony of New Amsterdam (New York), including all their lands on Long Island.
The eastern region of Long Island was settled by English Puritans from Connecticut; who came to Southold in October 1640. They also settled in nearby Southampton. Southold and Southampton were the first two towns established by English settlers. In the decades after several settlers set up ‘manor’ houses,’ which served to organize the settlement and the land around them.
Some of the historic houses open to the public (some by appointment or during special hours only) include:
- The Halsey Homestead in Southampton was built 1660 by Thomas Halsey, one of first English settlers on the east end of Long Island. The house is believed to be one of the oldest English-style houses in New York State. It contains 17th and 18th century furnishings and includes gardens and an apple orchard.
- The Old House in Cutchogue is considered to be one of the finest examples of early English settler architecture. The Old House is a historic home on Route 25 in Cutchogue. It was originally built by John Budd in 1649 in Southold and was moved in 1661. His daughter Anna and her husband, Benjamin Horton were deeded the house in 1658 as a wedding present. They moved it to its present location at the village of Cutchogue.
- The Brewster House was built in Stony Brook in 1665 and is the oldest house in the Town of Brookhaven. It served as the residence for six generations of Brewsters. Interestingly during the American Revolution, Joseph Brewster was said to have operated a tavern there where British troops would come. His cousin, American Patriot Caleb Brewster, who was a frequent visitor to the house, covertly served as a member of George Washington’s spy ring. The house has been somewhat modified from the one-room cottage to its present saltbox structure.
- Stony Brook Grist Mill, c. 1751, is Long Island’s most completely equipped working Grist Mill, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In earlier times the mill was the center of community life, and as recently as the 1940’s, farmers still brought their wheat and corn to be ground at the mill. The Stony Brook Grist Mill is open to the public for guided tours with a miller on weekends, mid-April through mid-October, 12 – 4:30 p.m. Admission is $2 for adults and $1 for children. Please contact 631-751-2244 for more information or to book a private tour.
- The Mulford Farm in East Hampton (c. 1680) is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is considered one of America’s most significant English Colonial farmsteads. Since 1750 the framing and wood of the house has remained intact and tell the story of successive changes over time.
- Ketcham Inn in Center Moriches was built in 1693 as an inn and tavern. It was originally a single story frame cottage and was expanded to a two story structure with a rear wing and gable roof about 1710 and 1790. The Ketcham Inn Foundation claims it once hosted two presidents, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison.
- The Thompson House in Setauket was built in 1709 and is a fine example of a five-room saltbox farmhouse. The original owner was Samuel Thompson (1668-1749) and it served as the residence of five generations of Thompsons until the year 1887. It is now maintained by the Ward Melville Heritage Organization.
- Deep Hollow Ranch in Montauk has a unique claim to fame. It is said to be ‘the birthplace of the American cowboy’ after being founded as a cattle ranch in 1658. It has been operating continuously ever since and now offers horseback riding and hay rides.
- In the Town of Huntington, make an appointment to see The Arsenal, on Main Street and Park Avenue where Job Sammis, a local weaver, hid stores of gunpowder in his attic prior to and during the onset of the British occupation of Long Island.
- The Foster-Meeker House, c. 1740 has an extensive, intact framing system and is said to be the oldest surviving building in Westhampton Beach (formerly Ketchaponack, meaning “a place where large roots grow”). Ketchaponack was initially settled in the 1730s. It is currently being restored.
When New York colonies came under British rule, there was an effort to move away from the democratic forms of government and land rules that the original settlers established, and move instead toward allowing a class of ‘landed gentry.’ This privilege was granted to a couple dozen wealthy families who were permitted large grants of land with the ability to establish a manorial lordship, meaning they could collect taxes, and be exempt from the authority of the local town governments.
Apparently this didn’t work very well, because many of the settlers went to surrounding areas where they could be owners of their own land, instead of manorial tenants. And after the Revolutionary War, the privileges of these Long Island manorswere largely revoked.
Some of the historic Long Island manors open to the public (some by appointment or during special hours only) include:
- The Manor of St. George on Neighborhood Road and William Floyd Parkway, Shirley initially encompassed most of what is now Brookhaven. It was granted to Colonial W.E. (Tangier) Smith in 1693. The estate contains Colonial-era documents, furniture and portraits. It also served as the site of a small British fort during the Revolutionary War, which was destroyed by Major Benjamin Tallmadge and his dismounted dragoons when they attacked Fort St. George in 1780 and returned to Connecticut with the captured British soldiers. The Manor house was rebuilt after the war.
- The original house at Sylvester Manor in Shelter Island was built in 1652. It served as a plantation built by four sugar planters and as a home for Nathaniel and Grizzell Sylvester and their 11 children. In 1737 Brinley Sylvester built a new residence in the Georgian period of architecture. The house was modified several more times over the years. The 243 acre Sylvester Manor Farm now serves as an historic plantation and nonprofit educational farm and includes the manor house, farm, windmill, burial ground and archeological sites.
- Sagtikos Manor in Bay Shore was first built in 1697 by Stephanus Van Cortland with additions added on in 1772 and 1902. It is on the National Register of Historic Places. British forces occupied the Manor briefly during the Revolutionary War, and President George Washington stayed here during his tour of Long Island in 1790. The 42 room Manor has a collection of period rooms furnished by the Thompson-Gardiner family. This 10 acre estate includes a family cemetery, carriage house, buttery and walled garden. The estate was purchased by Suffolk County and is supported by the Sagtikos Manor Historical Society.