Volunteers team up to help rehab Witch’s Hat in Aquebogue

10/02/2013 12:15 PM |
RACHEL YOUNG PHOTO | Volunteers from Jamesport landscape company Kaiser Maintenance will clear some trees surrounding The Witch's Hat on Main Road in Aquebogue Thursday.

RACHEL YOUNG PHOTO | Volunteers from Jamesport landscape company Kaiser Maintenance will clear some trees surrounding The Witch’s Hat on Main Road in Aquebogue Thursday.

The town’s landmarks preservation chair, Richard Wines, has recruited a group of volunteers from Jamesport landscape company Kaiser Maintenance, which will donate tree removal services Thursday to the Witch’s Hat, a curiously shaped local landmark built in 1927 on Main Road in Aquebogue so-named for its hexagonal cedar-shingled spire.

“This is the first step we need to undertake for the restoration of the Witch’s Hat,” said Mr. Wines, also a member of Save Main Road, a community group dedicated to maintaining the rural character of Main Road. ”There’s a huge tree hanging right over the building and kind of crowding it out in one corner, and there are other trees in front of the building on its west side that are blocking it from view.”

In addition to Kaiser, Mr. Wines said other members of Save Main Road – a community organization aiming to maintain the rural character of Route 25 – have also recruited other volunteers to contribute to the effort.

Mr. Wines, who lives in Jamesport, said Kaiser Maintenance has already taken steps to kill the poison ivy surrounding the dilapidated wooden structure, which was once a roadside stand that sold gas, candy and cigarettes to motorists. It was named an official town landmark in 1987.

A Landmarks Preservation Commission document states that the Witch’s Hat was built in the late 1920s by Henry Flemming, an English immigrant and machinist who was around 70 years old at the time of construction.

“It was apparently kind of a retirement project for him,” said Mr. Wines. He speculates the stand was designed to resemble a witch’s hat so that it would attract passing motorists.

Mr. Flemming appears to have died soon after construction was completed because the 1930 federal census lists his widow, Lena Flemming’s, occupation as “Owner, candy and cigarette store.”

Years later, Mr. Wines said, the roadside stand was used to sell landscape shrubs. It has been unoccupied since the 1960s and was last restored sometime in the 1970s. The Riverhead Landmarks Preservation Commission hopes to nominate the Witch’s Hat, along with the rest of historic Main Road, to the National Register of Historic Places, he said.

“There will be no additional restrictions or regulations for property owners if [the Witch’s Hat] is designated a national landmark but federal rehabilitation tax credits may be available to owners of historic buildings along Main Road,” said Mr. Wines, who also led an effort to get downtown Riverhead on the National Register of Historic Places. It earned the recognition last September.

The Witch’s Hat has been owned for the past 23 years by by Dr. Richard Hanusch, whose veterinary practice, Aquebogue Veterinary Hospital, is located just east of the landmark.

“I really think the plans are great,” Dr. Hanusch said of restoration efforts. “I’d like to see it be totally restored.”

ryoung@timesreview.com