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‘Living in a part of history’: Couple seek to preserve 18th century Rockville Centre home

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On Hempstead Avenue sits a home about 150 years older than the incorporated village. The owners want the house to become a historic landmark recognized by the Town of Hempstead.

Though you won’t find it on DeMott Avenue, locals call it the DeMott House, after Anthony DeMott, who built it at 664 Hempstead Ave. in 1747. Gloria and Steven Bryan moved to the home from Jackson Heights, Queens, on Christmas Eve 1975.

Besides the house, DeMott owned much of the northern part of Rockville Centre, including a large mill on what is now Smith’s Pond — formerly DeMott’s Pond — where blood was shed during the American Revolution in June 1776. A loyalist was hit with a musket ball there, according to the Bryans, who gathered information from old newspapers and letters from past owners.

The house is considered historic because it has features such as post-and-beam construction, an ancient traditional method of building with wood, and interior chimneys. The oldest indications in the home include ax marks on the original cellar beams and hand-split shakes on the attic ceiling, which give the place a rustic feel.

“When we found this house, my wife hit me on the shoulder,” Steven said.

“No, I pinched you!” Gloria corrected him, adding, “I really wanted this home.” Initially, they were looking for a home built around 1935. “Not this old,” Steven remarked.

Aside from painting, the couple has not changed the home’s exterior. On the inside, the floors were improved and the laundry machines were relocated from the kitchen to the pantry, but the Bryans kept everything else the way it was. The house is all wood.

Steven said there were many houses in the village like theirs, but several were taken down — “along with their beauty” — and replaced with a cluster of smaller homes.

“We don’t want that to happen to our house,” Gloria said. “Sometimes I stand outside and just look at it and think, ‘I can’t believe I’m living here’ . . . and I don’t think I’d feel that way anywhere else.

“I’m living in a part of history,” she added.

They had the idea to have the home declared a historic landmark about six months after they moved in, when descendants of the DeMott family visited and told them about the its history. More than 40 years later, they are seeking recognition from the Town of Hempstead Landmarks Preservation Commission after encouragement by their children, whom the Bryans wish to inherit the house.

The commission takes into account “special character, ambiance, historical significance, aesthetic value and uniqueness of architectural design,” according to its website. If the Bryans’ application is approved, the DeMott House will receive the “protection it deserves,” which Gloria said means it cannot be destroyed or altered.

To make that happen, the couple is working with the Mayor’s Task Force on Historic Preservation in Rockville Centre, which formed last October.

At a news conference on Oct. 3, the New York State Council on the Arts, in partnership with the Preservation League of New York State, awarded the village an $11,200 grant for preservation efforts.

The mission, according to Jay DiLorenzo, president of the Preservation League, is to “save the places that are historic and special in our communities.” The organization, now in its 26th round of funding, has given out $2.6 million statewide. He noted the competition was “tough.” A total of 31 applicants across 20 counties were chosen.

Rockville Centre was recognized as “one of the most premier villages in the country,” said former Assemblyman Bob Barra.

The funding is for a “reconnaissance-level” surveying of the village and the task force, according to Mayor Francis Murray. He said he wants to “preserve our past for a better future.”

Nancy Solomon, executive director of Long Island Traditions, the arts organization behind the surveying, said she has completed more than 300 houses, and noted that she looks for architectural features that are indicators of historical significance.

Her mission is to “educate people on the development of the community,” she said, and “how Rockville Centre came to be and why it looks the way it does.”

Although Solomon has yet to see the DeMott House, she said she believes 75 percent of the houses in Rockville Centre are historic.