The protests in New Suffolk against the New Suffolk Waterfront Fund’s plan to tear down the Houston Barn at the foot of New Suffolk Avenue were muted ones, in a community that lost its plea last year to keep the non-profit Waterfront Fund from reopening the Galley Ho restaurant on their property.
The barn was removed to make way for the septic system for the 66-seat restaurant.
Neighbors chalked out a plea to “Save Our Barn” on the side of Captain Marty’s Fishing Station just in time for the Waterfront Fund’s Happy Hour fundraiser two weeks ago. Danny Petrie built a miniature replica of the barn that Barbara Solo took in a wagon to the head of the New Suffolk Civic Association’s annual Fourth of July parade, bearing the words “Save Our Barn: Bring Back the Spirit of New Suffolk”
But Friday morning, just one day after neighbors received word that the barn would, in fact, be demolished and not moved to another site or preserved, a track excavator made short work of the old barn — it had been standing at dawn, and by noon the only trace left was a dumpster filled with debris and an excavator sitting silently by a large pile of dirt, waiting for its next assignment.
Neighbors had heard the barn might be torn down Monday. There was some talk of chaining themselves to the fence around the construction site, but in the end the barn went quietly.
The site that now belongs to the Waterfront Fund was once a bustling shipyard, and served as the first U.S. submarine base at the turn of the 20th Century. Ira Tuthill owned the first business on the site, the general store, which he opened in 1827. He began building the surrounding shipyard in 1838. His great-niece, Ruth Tuthill married Floyd Houston in 1946 and Mr. Houston built the shipyard into a multi-million dollar business. The barn had been named for the couple.
The Society for Preservation of Long Island Antiquities described the 19th Century Houston barn as a “shipyard building of vertical boarding with three wide doors on both the first and second levels.”
Waterfront Fund owners began their site plan request last summer intending to preserve the barn, but scrapped that plan in favor of an advanced septic system after neighbors raised concerns about the environmental impact of the project, without asking the public to weigh in on whether they wanted to see the barn preserved. They’ve since insisted in correspondence with the community that the barn is not historically significant.
The Waterfront Fund was originally an offshoot of the New Suffolk Civic Association, whose mission was to preserve the tiny hamlet’s waterfront for the community to enjoy. Two years ago, the Waterfront Fund sold the southernmost acre of their property to the owners of Robins Island and announced plans to reopen the restaurant there, setting them on a collision course with the community organization that spawned them.
Those who are sad to see this piece of New Suffolk go will have a chance to cry for this latest operatic tragedy next Saturday, Aug. 8, when The New Suffolk Civic Association and the New Suffolk School are hosting a free opera concert on the New Suffolk ball field from 6:30 to 8 p.m. They’ll be accepting tax-deductible donations to refurbish the ball field for use as a space for the community to recreate in peace.