A ruin of a house stands not far from Flying Point Beach. In a neighborhood of multi-million dollar homes it is a mystery. In the summer it is barely visible behind the tall hedgerows. In spring, before the green buds open and fill in the privet, the house is more easily seen. Curious, I stopped for a closer look. Well, not too close. Even in the bright spring sunlight the weathered facade had a forbidding neglected air. Oh, did I mention that Flying Point Cemetery is right next door?
I walked around the cemetery looking at the names and dates on the graves. 1900s, 1800s, 1700s, squinting at the graves too worn to read. Was there a connection between the deserted house and the cemetery? I recognized a few of the family names. Some of Southampton’s founding families. Generations of the Burnett, Halsey, Rogers, Sayre and Topping families rest here.
It was a mystery. I could just move on. What would you have done? I had an errand to do in Southampton so I decided to make a stop at the Southampton Historical Museum to see if anyone there knew anything about the house. The museum is in the Rogers Mansion on Meeting House Lane in Southampton. This was my first visit to the Museum. What took me so long?! I posed my “haunted house” question at the admissions desk and was directed to visit the research library upstairs.
The research library is filled with books pertaining to local history. Mary Cummings, the Archives Manager, referred me to some books on the Water Mill area and its history.
I went home and read through a few different resources and did a little “google-stalking”. I found the proposal for the Water Mill Heritage Area. In this document, Flying Point Cemetery is mentioned as well as a home on Flying Point Road, but not THIS home. The “haunted house” was still a mystery. I printed a copy of the document thinking it might be a nice thing to donate to the museum library if they didn’t have it already.
I was back at the museum the next Saturday with my document donation and more questions. Mary kindly took the time to chat with me again. She made another suggestion. Why not call a long time resident (who I will refer to as “B”). That person would surely know the answer.
I was uncomfortable with the thought of disturbing this person in their home, but curiosity overcame my fear and I dialed their phone number. “B” kindly took my call. After I introduced myself, the first thing “B” asked me was if I wanted to buy the house. Typical Hamptons assumption! I told “B” that I was just curious what the house’s story was. “B” said that the house had belonged to Ed Sayre and was a Sears Roebuck House (“I bet you didn’t know that!). “B” thought that the house must have been shipped to Flying Point on the train, but didn’t remember the names of the people who had the house after the Sayre family.
John Sayre (1692-1767) was one of the founding families of Southampton. The property next to the Flying Point Cemetery was part of the original Sayre homestead. All of the graves closest to the house are Sayre family plots. I wonder if this cemetery was originally the Sayre family burial ground and became a village cemetery as the village grew. I believe that it was John Sayre’s great-great grandson Edward F. Sayre (1853-1938) that “B” was referring to, who built the house now standing next to Flying Point Cemetery. The dates match the dates of a house that I found on the Sears, Roebuck and Co. site. The house model called “The Lexington” was available in the Sears Homes Catalogue from 1927-1932. Could this be it?
Coincidentally, the following weekend I was having dinner with friends and mentioned the house. They said, “We tried to buy that house ten years ago! We found out the owner’s name at the Village Hall. It was a doctor in Manhattan who absolutely didn’t want to sell. The inside was all original arts and crafts. Now it’s just a home for raccoons, what a shame.”
I love a good mystery. You never can tell what interesting story lies behind a Hamptons Hedgerow.
(version previously published on the blog, Painting the Hamptons)