It’s hardly surprising that a community tracing its European origins back more than a century before the signing of the Declaration of Independence holds no small measure of pride in its historic structures, be they barns, houses or churches.
Much of the North Fork’s history is written in the gables, lintels and mullions incorporated into the architecture of buildings that may predate Lincoln’s assassination, the War of 1812, the colonists’ little dust-up with King George III, and the beheading in the 17th century of the allegedly treasonous Charles I.
Members of the very active historical societies found from Riverhead to Orient agree the survival of so much of the area’s architectural heritage is a wonderful success story.
But there are exceptions.
Tucked away in a quiet corner of Southold’s Bayview community are the abandoned remains of a once-popular resort inn constructed around a home built for a colonial military officer in 1784. That was the year Congress finally ratified the Treaty of Paris, formally ending the American Revolution. And now the entire structure is falling down and appears to be a likely candidate for a wrecking crew.
On April 5, Southold Town gave notice to the county, which several years ago acquired the building, the old General Wayne Inn and 3.1 acres for back taxes, that it has 30 days to secure or raze the structure. To date, there’s been no response from Suffolk’s real estate department. Should that lack of response continue, the town could commence its unsafe buildings procedure, which could end with the town’s removing the building and attach the demolition costs to a lien on the property. The site is on the Society for the Preservation of Long Island Antiquities’ list of historically significant properties, but it has never been officially declared a landmark deserving of protection.
“You can save some of them, but you can’t save all of them,” said Jim Grathwohl, chairman of Southold’s Landmarks Preservation Commission.
The property is also county-owned, and a local student’s efforts to secure its preservation have yet to succeed.
“If anybody walked in there, they’d probably fall through the floor after taking only a couple of steps,” Mr. Grathwohl said of the General Wayne. “There’s nothing there worth preserving.”
He added that the inn is in roughly the same advanced state of decay as the 1920’s Bavarian-style home not far from the General Wayne where Helen Keller and her teacher, Annie Sullivan, may have summered in 1936.
The building has been empty since 1998 when the inn went out of business. It’s last commercial use was as a restaurant named in honor of General “Mad Anthony” Wayne of Pennsylvania, who was with Washington at Valley Forge but apparently had no connection to the North Fork.
The oldest part of the structure is the Major Gilbert Horton House. The major, who was also a blacksmith and farmer, built the house for his bride, Keturah Reeves. Five generations of Hortons, who trace their lineage back to the North Fork’s first English-speaking settlers, lived there.
In the early 20th century, Edwin H. Brown purchased the building and surrounding land for the Reydon Country Club. It was never converted to that use and instead became the Cedar Beach Inn. By 1949 the complex included seven other buildings and 175 acres, including farmland and waterfront.
A circa-1930 advertisement for the inn boasted of opportunities for swimming, boating, golf, tennis and riding and promised, “…If you want sunshine and an invigorating climate, if you desire a congenial social life, you will be delighted with Cedar Beach.”
Mr. Grathwohl described the inn as “one of the better places in Southold Town. They had many big social events there.”
Much of the property was later subdivided and sold off, leaving just the inn and the three acres. The property had been split zoned, half business, half two-acre residential, but the Town Board eliminated the business zoning in 2008.
“The zoning was there because of the inn and once the inn was gone, it didn’t make sense anymore,” said Heather Lanza, Southold’s planning director.
Before the county took title, the property belonged to Ovlasid Realty LLC, which paid $830,000 for it in November 2003. The building was renovated and opened as the General Wayne Inn in 1982. After the business closed, the property was sold for $410,000. Local objections killed efforts to convert the building into a catering hall.
“It hurts to see any historic house not maintained and eventually have to be torn down,” said Mr. Grathwohl. “It’s too bad the owners didn’t have the ability or desire to maintain it.”