KATHARINE SCHROEDER PHOTO Used as a marine laboratory in the
1970s, the front room of the Helen Keller house is littered
with plastic bottles, broken glass and other junk.
Helen Keller, at the age of 6, did what many said was impossible. The
deaf and blind child, almost wild in her isolation, learned to speak.
She went on to become the first deaf-blind person to earn a college
degree and eventually became one of the most famous, admired and
celebrated figures in history.
13, Southold Junior High School student Ian Toy also wants to do what
many have said is impossible: save the dilapidated house near Cedar
Beach in Southold where Ms. Keller and her teacher, Anne Sullivan, may
have spent the summer of 1936 — the last summer the companions, later
made famous by the play, “The Miracle Worker,” spent together before
Ms. Sullivan died.
“All my life, I’ve really liked houses and
antiques, but especially old houses like this one,” said Ian, a
talented sketch artist who knows he wants to be an architect. “And this
house just has a really interesting style.”
Although some say
there’s no proof Helen Keller and Annie Sullivan were ever there, Ian
is certain of it. His research folder contains several letters from,
and interviews with, local people such as Joseph Townsend Sr., who
remembered Ms. Keller staying at the Cedar Beach house that summer. Mr.
Townsend, who is now deceased, wrote in 1987 that he had met Ms. Keller
that summer as she dined at Townsend Manor, the restaurant he owned in
“I was thrilled to death to have the chance to meet and talk with her,” he wrote. “Helen Keller really enjoyed life.”
about two weeks into his project, Ian is well versed on the history of
the badly neglected Bavarian-style house, built in the 1920s as part of
a subdivision that never quite happened due to the Great Depression.
It’s located just north of Cornell Cooperative Marine Research Center.
gathered reams of articles and documents from local libraries and
Southold Town archives. He’s also spoken with Washington, D.C.,
resident Maryann Sewell, the 73-year-old daughter of previous owners
Hans and Elizabeth Strauss, who grew up in the house before the Suffolk
County Department of Parks bought the property in the 1960s to preserve
As of Wednesday morning, Ian had almost 800 supporters
on his Facebook page, “Save the Helen Keller House in Southold, NY.”
Many have posted pictures and memories of the house on the site. Others
have commented that they’ve lived in Southold all their lives and did
not even know that the place existed. And others are helping to point
Ian in the right direction, suggesting the house be registered as a
historic landmark, which Ian says he wants to see happen on both the
state and national levels.
Standing on Saturday afternoon by the
house’s distinctive front-door facade