In the heart of Oyster Bay, Mill Pond House, a living relic dating back to the early 1700s, is caught in a tug-of-war between its storied past and an uncertain future. Once a bustling hub linked to the town’s mill operation, the historic dwelling has weathered the ages, but recent years have left it standing vacant, raising concerns about its preservation.
Built by Esther Townsend, widow of the town’s mill operator, Mill Pond House encapsulates centuries of Oyster Bay’s history. A utility in its early days, tied to a mill incentivized by town-provided land, the house evolved from a functional space to a residence to a gift shop throughout its 300-year existence.
Despite its historical significance, Mill Pond House has faced neglect since the town’s acquisition in 2008. Fires in 2014 took a toll on 20th-century additions, but the core structure from the 18th century stands resilient. The Town of Oyster Bay has shown interest in recent years in addressing the issues facing the property.
Last year the town commissioned an assessment of the state of Mill Pond House by Nassau Suffolk Engineering & Architecture PLLC, which estimated a restoration cost of $1.3 million, prompting the town to reassess its commitment to this cultural cornerstone.
”The town is evaluating uses for the building and potential partnerships to secure the private sector investments needed to historically restore the home,” read a statement by Joseph Saladino, the Town of Oyster Bay’s supervisor.
Harriet Clark, director of Raynham Hall Museum, added that the engineering report revealed the structural resilience of the house, offering hope for restoration. Clark discussed the town’s exploration of preservation options, including the intriguing possibility of a nonprofit consortium taking over, although no concrete decisions have been made yet.
“Right now we’re sort of in a situation where the potential economic viability of that site is probably somewhat diminished,” Clark explained. “But we’re really open to anything that preserves the house and its long term viability.”
Meredith Maus, the executive director of the Oyster Bay Main Street Association, emphasizes that post-2014 fires, efforts were made to stabilize the house. Maus said she envisions a dual approach: preserving open land in alignment with environmental funds and selling the historic house to a preservation-driven buyer. An open call for interested parties has been issued by the town.
“It’s an open and evolving conversation,” Maus continued. “But as of right now, the Oyster Bay Main Street Association is not taking over the maintenance of the building.”
Lisa Ott, executive director of the North Shore Land Alliance, reflected on the initial acquisition’s environmental purpose. The town’s proposal involves selling or leasing the property while safeguarding the remaining land. Ott stressed the importance of finding equilibrium between historic restoration and open space conservation, an imperative that aligns with the community’s character and environmental needs.
“I think that we don’t want to give up the open space purpose for which it was bought,” Ott continued, “but we also don’t want to see the house go to ruin.”
To secure Mill Pond House’s future, consensus among potential stakeholders leans towards subdividing the property. While open land, procured with environmental funds, should be preserved, the historic house is slated for potential sale or lease to a preservation-focused buyer. The approach aims to reconcile economic viability with the original intent of conserving open space.
As the Mill Pond House teeters on the edge of history and development, Oyster Bay finds itself at a crossroads. With key figures and the community discussing the best course of action, the fate of this historical gem hangs in the balance. The town must navigate a delicate dance between restoration and conservation to ensure Mill Pond House remains an enduring symbol of Oyster Bay’s rich historic heritage.