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Historic Shelter Island, NY Waterfront Estate Is Listed For Sale

Anne White

81-82 South Midway Road, Shelter Island. (Photo: Courtesy of Saunders & Associates)

Penelope Moore, Licensed Associate Real Estate Broker of Saunders & Associates, announced that 81-82 South Midway Road, Shelter Island, NY, one of the few remaining historic Shelter Island estates, has been listed for sale for $14,995,000.

"Few properties epitomize the history of the East End of Long Island amid the backdrop of American history more succinctly than Kemah does," Moore said. "When you walk through the grounds, in the barn and in the home, and then gaze out onto the water, there is a palpable feeling that the land has witnessed countless significant events and seen great people over its nearly 300 years."

The pre-Revolutionary War, wood shingled colonial built circa 1750 named "Kemah", a Shinnecock word meaning "in the face of the wind" because of the prevailing southwest breezes is sited on 22.95 acres. Spanning over two separate waterfront lots, there are 17.35 elevated acres with 385 +/- feet on Great Fresh Pond to the north side, and over 5.6 acres of meadow with 596 +/- feet on Peconic Bay looking south toward the etched hills of Bridgehampton.

It is one of the houses built by George Havens, who in 1698 as a "newcomer" to Shelter Island bought one thousand acres, which included where the property is located, from Nathanial Sylvester II whose father claimed ownership of Shelter Island. "Kemah's" other owners over its 271 years have been the Tuthills and the current owners, the J.D. Robb family.

"This property was vital to the Native Americans who accessed fresh drinking water on Fresh Pond," Moore said. "They constructed a large berm, which exists today, to protect the freshwater from saltwater intrusion."

In a speech to the Shelter Island Historical Society in 1924, Amy Tuthill Wallace, the great-great granddaughter of John Wickham Tuthill, said that her father saw a dozen canoes in a "pow-wow" called by the tribal chief, and that there had been "two canals, still in good condition, [that] ran across West Neck from Tuthill's Creek to Fresh Pond, where the [Native Americans] kept their war canoes."

In her book An Island Sheltered, Priscilla Dunhill writes, "Given that the Manhansets had only stone and wood tools for digging the canals, they were ingenious constructions. They ran a quarter of a mile from the sea to Fresh Pond, providing an excellent channel for concealing canoes from the view of sea marauders. Today, the old canoe channel, which is about the width of a war canoe, terminates in a berm."

Jeremy Dennis, Shinnecock Indian Nation Tribal Member, in www.JeremyNative.com, writes "Manhansack- aqua-quash-awamock, the traditional Algonquian name for Shelter Island by the Manhanset group who lived there from pre-historic time until the seventeenth century; is approximately 7907 acres in area. This island is unique for having the largest glacial erratic boulders on Long Island, resulting from the Wisconsonian glacier...[The Manhansets were] apparently a large chieftaincy of considerable importance in the early days. They occupied Shelter Island, Hog Island and Ram Island, between the north and south forks. They were also compelled to pay tribute to the Indians of the mainland with whom they were in a continual state of war."

81-82 South Midway Road, Shelter Island. (Photo: Courtesy of Saunders & Associates)

Helen Otis Lamont, in her book The Story of Shelter Island in the Revolution, writes that a map of archaeological diggings on Shelter Island confirms "that Indian settlements were always near water...It is safe to say that in 1776, although many of these settlements had been abandoned, enough survived to support a considerable Indian population."

During the Battle of Long Island, in August, 1776, "Shelter Island, along with the mainland and other outlying islands, [became British-occupied] territory under martial law," Lamont continues. "Throughout September and October, families...were leaving the Island for safer shores. Those who remained faced six years of misery...our Island, with such a small population, could have harbored very few loyalists."

Obadiah Havens, a patriot, member of the Provincial Government, and 1st Lieutenant in the 8th Company, 3rd Regiment of Foot in the Suffolk County Militia lived at Kemah in the years leading up to the evacuation, when he fled to Middletown, CT where his service "must have been erratic and perhaps clandestine," Lamont writes.

John Wickham Tuthill, also known as "Squire Wickham", built the stone entry wall, hand-stacked fieldstone garage and barn, and collected countless arrowheads which he donated to the local library. Robb "later commissioned Otis Dickerson to plaster this wall, and if you look closely, the plastered wall bears the initials of the three Robb children," according to Ellen Bea Robb, J.D. Robb's granddaughter. Dickerson also built "a little stone chair with the splendid view looking out over the bay...at the same time."

"An ancient tree still spreads its shade over the 18th century [front]. A nineteenth century barn and twentieth century shed clad in beach rocks are admirable testimony to three centuries of Shelter Island's vernacular architecture," Dunhill writes.

Second owner, J.D. Robb, a scholar, writer and composer, traveled the globe recording chants and songs of diverse indigenous people from Nepal to South America and the United States, creating a collection which forms the nucleus of more than 25,000 items at the John Donald Robb Archive of Southwestern Music. Without Robb's dedication to preserving these chants, which often dealt with daily farming and home life, the language and insight to the daily lives of these indigenous peoples would have been lost.

Robb and his wife Harriet (affectionately called "Hattie") had been renting Kemah for several summer seasons and upon learning it was for sale, they bought it in 1933 during the Great Depression. Around this time, according to Ellen Bea Robb, Robb made renovations to the front entry. "The front door entrance [was transformed into] the colonial structure that exists today....they had the front steps, originally comprised of field stone and the peaked roof above the steps taken out and replaced with the present slate covered steps and white columns to frame the door."

By all accounts, Robb and Hattie thrived within the privacy and sheer expanse of the estate, furnishing the farmhouse with treasured, eclectic pieces including a distinctive front foyer bench from the William Randolph Hearst estate and a chest at the top of the stairs, which punctuates the views to the meadow, purchased in 1926 from the Wertheim Department Store in Berlin.

Many of the original details remain intact today including the wood shingles, the grand two-story 1600+/- square foot barn built in 1886, a hand-stacked fieldstone garage built in 1918, a water tower, chicken coop, a central chimney of bricks brought from Holland originally as a ship's ballast, and exposed beams. The beams were cut and seasoned in salt water for one year prior to being dried, cut and carved with Roman numerals for construction and possible future dismantling and rebuilding elsewhere. According to Shelter Island Historical Society, "Traveling houses are a leitmotif of Shelter Island."

81-82 South Midway Road, Shelter Island. (Photo: Courtesy of Saunders & Associates)

Robb raised a flock of approximately thirty sheep which were housed in the grand barn which "was filled with hay and the light wafted through the slats in the wood", Celeste Robb-Nicholson describes. "The wool was gathered and later cleaned by Hattie who said it was a messy job," added Ellen Bea Robb. Vegetable and fruit pigment from crops and the thirteen apple trees planted on the south side of the property in the meadows were used to dye the wool which he later wove into rugs, sweaters and jackets using spinning wheels and a loom that are still within Kemah. Celeste Robb-Nicholson recalls that over the years, there were many lively "summer concerts in the barn, as well as an occasional barn dance with square dancing and a caller who came over from Long Island to call the dance moves."

The first floor consists of a center hall foyer, living room with wide brick fireplace and hand carved mantle, dining area with doors to a wide screened, water view porch, two bedrooms with a full bath, kitchen with vaulted ceilings and exposed beams and a separate butler's pantry with half bath and laundry area. The second floor features two bedrooms with panoramic water views and two bedrooms with scenic farm views. The unfinished attic has double height ceilings, windows on each end, pegs for storage of horse gear, and a magnificent ladder to reach the very top of the ceilings.

In the chicken coop, Robb composed music on his piano, including "Chicken House Tunes." Priscilla Robb McDonnell recollected, "We went out to Shelter Island every summer, I think every summer since I was seven years old. And every morning we would wake up to the strains of Daddy composing out at what had been the chicken coop. We even had little plays in that makeshift chicken coop, but then they made a really nice studio for Daddy. And he had his piano there and his library and it became a nice big room but it was separate from the house."

A wide path wends through the lightly wooded rear grounds to Fresh Pond, offering a seldom seen perspective onto this vast lake which created a lasting impression for both owners. J.D. Robb recollected, "Its northern boundary is a lovely secluded freshwater lake where our grandchildren love to swim and navigate a raft made from two giant telephone poles. This old colonial house...has been the scene of many blissful reunions of our family since 1933...It has a frame of white oak, almost as hard as iron, held with great oak pegs. For our family it is a haven of peace."

"In my early childhood, I had the extreme pleasure of knowing the Last Queen of the Montauks," Amy Tuthill Wallace wrote in 1924. "I often walked with her in the shade paths between our home and Fresh Pond, and it was she who took me in thought to the days of her people, and taught me the beauties of nature as the [American] Indian knew it."

Victoria Araj of Rocket Home Loans says, "Owning a historic home is a one-of-a-kind experience that can bring lovers of history, art and architecture closer to their community and the past. For a niche group of homeowners, a historic home is an emotional investment. Many prospective home buyers seek a unique home that they can connect with. It's common for prospective home buyers to share a passion for architecture or history. So when these buyers look for historic homes on the market, they are guided by those passions and attracted to charming features and one-of-a-kind structures."

"Currently there are no other historic waterfront properties with this size acreage for sale in the Hamptons," Moore said. "It is a privilege to be involved with an estate with such a rich background in American history. There is nothing on Shelter Island that compares to Kemah, either existing or having sold in the last several decades, so the ultimate buyer will be getting an incredibly rare property."

Notable people in the arts have been drawn to Shelter Island, which has a year around community of fewer than 2,600 people. Among those who have owned homes here have included: designers Jonathan Adler and Simon Doonan, actress Julie Kavner who is the voice of animated character Marge Simpson, comedian Louis C.K., columnist Peter Vecsey, sports writer Robert Lipsyte, violinist Itzhak Perlman, cartoonist-author Jules Feiffer, and author Leon Uris.

For more information about 81-82 South Midway Road, Shelter Island, visit www.penelopemoorerealestate.com.

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