Master in his Own Time

Written By: Addie McKeon

Though he may not possess the worldly renown of a White, Hunt, or Trumbauer, Benjamin Glover contributed his share to the history of the American homestead, and he did it in the Hamptons, which was to become one of the most glamorous places in the world. The few who know of Glover’s oeuvre (primarily local historians and real estate experts) label Glover as anything from a cabinetmaker to master carpenter to master builder. According to Nancy Boyd Willey’s Built by the Whalers: A Tour of Historic Sag Harbor and its Colonial Architecture, Glover was responsible for, “…superintending and laboring on 14 meeting houses, 84 dwelling houses, 83 vessels of various builds, 12 schoolhouses, 18 barns and sheds, 12 vessel heads, 5 stores, 14 taverns and 197 coffins.” Wow, what a guy! Glover was evidently Sag Harbor’s jack-of-all trades craftsman, making him the essential go-to man for the East End’s whaling set when it came to designing and building their homes. Perhaps this group of mariners lacked the notoriety of the Jet Set, but they certainly made up for it in the charm department.
Of the domiciles we know that Glover built, they were all constructed between the first and fourth decades of the nineteenth century and it seems as though 1810-1820 was Glover’s busiest decade. In Sag Harbor, Glover’s known works stand on or around Captain’s row. These include Benjamin Glover’s own house on the corner of Glover Street and Main Street (c. 1810); another on Glover street standing three houses back from Glover’s own house and built in 1820 according to Henry Weisburg’s Guide to Sag Harbor, who classifies it as a “typical workingman’s cottage”; and then there is the “Van Scoy” house that stands on the corner of Jefferson and Main (c. 1810). The Van Scoy and Glover homes are noted as classic examples of Glover’s work, possessing his definitive stamp of the gambrel roof and unique and clever arrangement of windows. Also notable are the cornices and pilasters supporting the entablature of the entrance roof to the Benjamin Glover house, and the sidelights lighting the entrance to the Van Scoy house with its door set deeply into its frame. It is the ornamentation of the ordinary elements that make Glover’s houses true Sag Harbor gems and garner the historian’s praise.
Additionally, Glover may have had a hand in some of the design and construction of Sag Harbor’s William H. Cooper House. This Captain’s row property was built for boat builder William H. Cooper and stood in front of his barn-workshop, adjacent to the house now named after his granddaughter, Annie Cooper Boyd. Cooper’s accounting books, which were brought to light by historian Nancy Boyd Willey, show the expenses Cooper incurred for the construction of his house (c.1813-1819), bearing testament to the fact that Glover’s services were engaged for the price of $450, plus an additional $45 for “contract finishing.” The historic house was luckily saved from destruction by the local fire department in 1989, during the occasion of an electrical fire.
But not only in Sag Harbor did Glover make his mark. In Bridgehampton, Glover was responsible for at least two more houses: 195 Quimby Lane was built around 1840 for Benjamin Franklin Howell, the son of whaling captain Caleb Howell (of the prominent Howell whaling clan). This house was moved to its current location later on in the twentieth century; it originally stood on the Montauk highway east of Norris Lane. Another of Glover’s Bridgehampton houses— similar in structure to the Quimby Lane property— stands on the corner of Brick Kiln and Scuttle Hole road. Hampton’s historian William Donaldson Halsey once called this place home and we know from him that Glover built this property (c. 1840) for Halsey’s grandfather, Gabriel Halsey— a descendant of early Southampton’s settler Thomas Halsey. According to William Halsey, the timber used in the construction of his family’s home was procured from local trees, and the rest was imported from Maine. All the doors, sashes, window frames and mouldings were hand wrought, and the brick used in the construction was made, molded and burned on the Halsey farm. Glover’s foreman on this project was John Thatford and one assumes that Thatford would have worked on other of Glover’s construction projects.
In addition to his enterprises in Sag Harbor and Bridgehampton, Benjamin Glover also had his hands in the affairs of Shelter Island. At the Island’s Sylvester manor there stands the “Benjamin Glover barn,” (date of completion unknown). But we do know, thanks to the Rev. Jacob E. Mallmann’s history of Shelter Island and its Presbyterian Church, that Glover acted as inspector and trustee for the Presbyterian Church of Shelter Island in the years leading up to its construction in 1817, and it is likely that Glover would have lent his expertise and had a hand in its design. Glover also gave money to this church when funds were being raised for its construction and, once the church was opened, Benjamin Glover bought up a pew for the exorbitant cost of $3.25.
Glover was a great patron to the East end, donating a significant portion of his land holdings in Sag Harbor, much of which lay on the street that now bears his name (Glover Street) in addition to the land he owned on a meadowland by the water off of Glover street, formerly known as “Peter’s Green,” where rope makers , grain millers, et al, transacted their businesses, and where Glover owned and sold many houses lots.
The fact that Glover built homes in a community whose well-being revolved around the whaling industry, comes as no surprise when one understands Glover’s family background. Sifting through the seventeenth-century passage records of transatlantic voyages and published family genealogies, one can determine that Benjamin was a direct descendant of a Charles Glover who came to Boston, Massachusetts in 1632 from Dedham, England– a hotbed of religious dissent and from where many New England settlers came in the early to mid seventeenth-century. After reaching the shores of Boston on the ship Lyon (on which many soon-to-be prominent American names would come, including the Adamses), Charles Glover settled in Salem, Massachusetts and eventually moved to Southold, Long Island, where he worked as a shipwright and builder. This trade was handed down through the generations of Southold Glovers and it was Benjamin Glover, (b. 1782) who would take his trade to Sag Harbor where he, his wife Mary Wells, and his eleven children took root. There, Glover’s children were quickly integrated into the local community. Three of his sons: Alfred, Benjamin jr. and Daniel, were well-known captains and masters of whaling ships in their day. We can find their names among the list of captains on whaling ships from as early as 1825, such as on the Delta, Marcus, Roanoke, Harriet Thompson, and Acasta. According to the Guide to Sag Harbor, one of Glover’s sons (likely Alfred) was noted as a Master Mariner, “…whose services were in demand,” because of his prowess as a whale killer, from 1810 to 1835. But unfortunately, these three sons of Benjamin Glover would all die at Sea. Alfred Conklin was on the Acasta where he died in the attempt to catch a whale (commemorated on the broken mast monument in Oakland cemetery); Daniel Terry died on the ship Roanoke, and Benjamin died at Sea of consumption, on the Harriet Thompson.
Benjamin Glover, the Master Builder of the great whaling town of Sag Harbor, died in 1861. The whaling industry of America was clearly always an integral part of Glover’s world, and his designs were a reflection of the simple but educated tastes of its captains of industry and its communities. One hopes that more archives bearing testament to Glover’s home-building business will surface, so that we will be able to fully understand the scope of his work and the other homes he constructed. Certainly it behooves us to discover more about the man who designed and built so many homes and places of meeting for a community that played such an important role in the growth and prosperity of America. For as Henry P. Hedges noted in his 1896 address to the historical society of Sag Harbor, this small little town had “…pioneered the way to an enterprise so profitable, and so vast, that although other ports and places followed the same pursuit, this Port, in the magnitude of her marine, in the enterprise, exceeded that of all other ports of the Empire state.”