East Hampton will soon own a big chunk of its history on James Lane, after the town board agreed Aug. 7 to purchase the Lion Gardiner home lot, next door to the Mulford Farm and across the street from Town Pond and the South End Cemetery, where Mr. Gardiner, one of the founders of East Hampton Town, is buried.
The town purchased the property, at 36 James Lane in East Hampton Village, from Olney Mairs Gardiner, known in the community as Bill Gardiner, using $9.625 million from the Community Preservation Fund.
CPF Administrator Scott Wilson said at the Aug. 7 public hearing on the purchase that the town has a contract with East Hampton Village to spend 10 percent of the money it takes in through the CPF fund in East Hampton Village, but with so much of the property in the village already developed, few parcels meet the criteria to be purchased by the CPF.
He said the town has $14 million in CPF funds set aside to purchase land in the village.
This lot is one of the few that has remained in the hands of the original settlers of East Hampton, handed down from generation to generation within the Gardiner family since they first claimed the land in 1948.
Lion Gardiner, an English settler and soldier, had originally settled on Gardiners Island in 1638. He died in East Hampton in 1663, and his tomb is found just across James Lane from the home lot, in the South End Cemetery.
East Hampton Village’s director of historic resources, Bob Hefner, said the home lot, adjacent to the Gardiner Mill, which was deeded to the village in 1996, is an important piece in the patchwork of land in the village’s historic corridor at the west end of East Hampton’s business district. He added that the mill cottage, where the miller who worked the Gardiner Mill lived, is on the Gardiner home lot, and should be reunited with the mill next door.
“It’s an outstanding cultural setting for the Gardiner Mill,” he said, adding that, with a 1.3 acre agricultural reserve already in place at the rear of the home lot, together the property will preserve “five acres of open space at the core of the village.”
The East Hampton Historical Society’s Mulford Farm, next door to the Gardiner home lot, is just three acres.
“The Gardiner home lot, Gardiner Mill and cottage, togetherm will be another icon of the village,” he said.
Douglas Elliman Realty agents Brian Buckhout and Tyler Mattson had listed the property last October for $12.95 million, calling it “a unique opportunity for a savvy buyer with the vision of what could be.”
According to the listing, there are currently two houses on the property. The front house dates back to the 1700’s and now has five bedrooms and three bathrooms while the rear house was originally a garage and staff quarters.
“There is potential for a structural increase in the rear house which overlooks a pastoral 4 acres (2 acres of which make up this property) as well as the possible addition of tennis and horses if desired,” according to the listing.
East Hampton Village Mayor Paul Rickenbach has been advocating for the purchase since the property was put on the market.
At the Aug. 7 hearing, he called the property “a pristine open landscape, which is a perfect complement to the immediate windmill landscape.”
Village Trustee Barbara Borsach pointed out that in the 14 years since the CPF fund was established, the town has only made two CPF acquisitions in the village: a scenic easement on the Thomas Moran House and Pantigo Green.
“This will be such a beautiful addition to our historic district,” she said. “It preserves the setting of the Gardiner windmill and also helps protect Hook Pond and Town Pond from development.”
Village Preservation Society Executive Director Kathy Cunningham said her organization agreed.
“Support of this purchase comes easily,” she said. “It’s really a jewel to the village.”
She added that the town’s Community Preservation Fund “is heavily financed by sales occurring in the village,” pointing to a recent record $147 million sale on Further Lane which brought $3 million into the town’s CPF coffers.
East Hampton Historical Society Executive Director Richard Barons agreed.
“It’s truly one of most sublime places,” he said. “The Village Green is a vital part of our educational programming. We tell the story of East Hampton and her people using the Village Green as a textbook. This is one of the most intact colonial lots, with grassy pasture and old miller’s cottage. It has been in hands of the Gardiners for 356 years… It’s time to reunite the village-owned mill with the miller’s house.”
Ladies Village Improvement Society President Janet Dayton agreed.
“This is one of very few remaining parcels in East Hampton that has never left the family,” she said, adding that the property will maintain a natural habitat for birds, and in combination with Lion Gardiner’s resting place and Town Pond, provides “a peaceful respite for all of us.”