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Historic And Preservation Funds For Montauk’s Third House Approved By Suffolk County

Gabrielle Topping

Third House is the third residence constructed in the 18th century for cattle keepers. (Courtesy Photo)

The Suffolk County Legislature authorized the issuance of $500,000 in bond funding to finance the completion of the preservation and restoration of historic Third House at Montauk County Park in Montauk by unanimously approving Introductory Resolution 1204-20 and a companion bond resolution.

Third House is the third residence constructed in the 18th century for cattle keepers, who brought cattle to graze in Montauk each summer. Now, Third House is part of the Montauk County Park, which also includes camping, hiking, and the Deep Hollow Ranch, the first and oldest cattle ranch in the United States. The bills were sponsored by Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone and Suffolk County Legislator Bridget Fleming.

"We are pleased to bring an important part of the history of eastern Long Island back to life," Legislator Fleming said.

Jason Smagin, the Commissioner of Parks, Recreation and Conservation, requested that the approved funding will be used to complete the restoration of the Third House structure that has been in the works since early 2019. The funding will permit the Suffolk County Parks Department to complete the final steps such as installation of ADA-compliant restrooms, completion of the flooring throughout the building, repairs to the walls, ceiling, windows and doors in the Exhibit Hall, and upgrading the deck on the east side for public assembly use. Previously, a fire sprinkler system was installed throughout the building and the framing of the basement level was rebuilt.

"Finishing the restoration of this important part of Suffolk County history will add to Montauk's many attractive destinations," Legislator Fleming added. "I appreciate the support of my colleagues in Suffolk County government who realize the significance of our historical landscape."

Upon completion, the County will issue a request for proposals for a concessionaire to operate the site as an event space, with a potential 6-year return on investment for the County. It's anticipated that the County will seek a vendor who will act as an on-site facilitator of operations for the historic structure and grounds.

The County owns over 200 historic structures and buildings. The preservation is significant to the overall history of the local communities and Suffolk County, which seeks to develop public/private partnerships to ensure cost-effective maintenance and use of these publicly-owned assets. Bidders for the Third House contract will be required to maintain the historic integrity of the structure and grounds, consistent with the careful attention to historic detail, which has been a hallmark of the restoration work that will be completed with the approved funding.

Support for the project also came from Lake Grove resident, Mr. Kelly Dickinson, whose father, Mr. Frank Dickinson, was the last person to be born at Third House in 1924. Known as Shank, the elder Mr. Dickinson, passed away in 2018 after a career that included nearly three decades as superintendent of State Parks in Montauk and serving in the Air Force during WWII. It was Shank's grandfather, Phineas Dickinson, Jr., who first raised cattle and horses in Montauk.

"As history buffs, my father shared with us many stories of growing up at Third House. He taught us about the Montaukett Indians and was very fond of Native American art and culture," explained Mr. Dickinson. With County funding, Third House can be "renovated to its deserving stature, preserving the rich heritage, so it can again be a center for historic learning, environmental exploration, and a chance to view the world through the eyes of a cowboy," stated Mr. Dickinson.

According to the Montauk Historical Society, the present Third House was built in 1806. With is location nearest to the Lighthouse, in 1898 Third House became headquarters for Col. "Teddy" Roosevelt and other officers and veterans who were returning from the Spanish-American War and served as a respite for soldiers who camped on the hills and plains of Montauk to recuperate from wounds and tropical diseases.

Third House Nature Center, a 501c3 environmental education organization currently located at Third House, who have been stewards for many years, will continue to maintain offices and operate from the site.

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