There are two kinds of people in the world, says Save Main Road organizer Larry Simms: there are people who love The Witch’s Hat in Aquebogue and there are people who haven’t seen it yet.
The roadside attraction, with its high-peaked roof, just west of Dr. Richard Hanusch’s veterinary office on the Main Road, wasn’t always known as The Witch’s Hat.
When it was first built by Harry and Lena Fleming, a retired carpenter and midwife from Brooklyn, in the late 1920s, a light beamed from the tower and passers-by knew the landmark as “The Lighthouse.”
Now, this week, after more than a year of extensive renovation, the light in the tower is shining again, thanks to a group of dedicated volunteers who took a few moments Saturday afternoon to pose for photographs at the Witch’s Hat.
According to local historian Richard Wines, the Flemings had used the building to sell candy, cigarettes, and the then-delicacy of ice cream, which wasn’t widely available due to lack of refrigeration. The peaked design, he said, was to attract the attention of vacationers bringing their new motor cars out to the North Fork.
“It’s roadside architecture, designed to attract motorists,” he said, not unlike the Big Duck in Flanders. “People knew they were on the North Fork when they passed the Witch’s Hat.”
After the Flemings passed away, the building was used to sell landscape shrubs, but it had laid vacant since before 1970, as the windows began to shatter, the old electric boxes rusted and the wood framing began to rot away.
Last year, Save Main Road helped to organize groups of volunteers and professional carpenters and tradespeople to clear the poison ivy and brush away from the building and conduct the renovation, which included fresh cedar shingles on the peaked roof, small copper-framed windows and a custom copper finial and a new light peaking through the windows in the peaked roof.
Among those who donated time and materials were Clement Carpentry, Gabrielsen Construction, Jared Hallock, Alan Hubbard Electric, Gary Hubbard, Kaiser Maintenance, Klatt Sheet Metal, Lampa Projects, Mastercraft Painting, RCR Backflow, Revco Electrical Supply, Riverhead Building supply, Riverhead Glassworks, Van Kemenade Paint and Wedel Signs.
Volunteers included Cliff Baldwin, Richard Wines, Gabrielle Bradford, Angela DeVito, Georgette Keller, Mike Reichel, Larry Simms and Janet Wright.
Photos from before the renovation are online here.