Historic Griffing House in Flanders. Courtesy photo: Southampton Town historian

The Flanders building that was the meetinghouse of the early Methodist Society on the East End may be restored to its original glory.

That was part of the discussion Sept. 27 when the Southampton Town Board held a hearing on the acquisition of the Griffing property in Flanders. It’s going for $2.34 million, and the town will use money from the Community Preservation Fund for the purchase. The CPF is a dedicated fund, originally designed to be used for open space, agricultural and historic protection.

While Southampton Town’s CPF coffers have amassed a record $1 billion since the program commenced in 1999, there are restrictions on how the money can be used. CPF can be used to restore historic structures, but not to maintain them.

“It’s very difficult,” Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman said. He’s conferred with State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr., an author of the original legislation, about revising it to allow for maintenance and operation of historic structures. If the law can’t be amended, the supervisor pointed out, historic structures can be very expensive to maintain.

So far, according to the assemblyman, “There currently is no consensus to make any changes to the law, but we are meeting to discuss and see if changes are warranted and if so, can the stakeholders agree how to do it.”

The concern among historic preservation advocates is that if a historic preservation organization takes on the management of a CPF historic property, it is limited in using the property to raise funds and cannot receive any CPF money for the operation of the property, he explained. CPF can only be used for capital projects to restore and rehabilitate properties.

“They are concerned that this is not a sustainable model to operate such properties and a disincentive to historic preservation,” he said.

“On the other hand,” Thiele continued, “the CPF is a capital fund, not a fund for operation of property. This would change the fundamental nature of the fund.”

Originally, town officials looked to buy the 4.5-acre site located on a peninsula that juts into Reeves Bay as open space — a spot where, Schneiderman said, “People could just enjoy the view.”

Then officials became aware that the Griffing house is an important building. “It’s an iconic building on an iconic point,” Town Historian Julie Greene said. If it was restored to its original state it would be “fantastic,” she said.

“I’m not worried about restoring it,” Schneiderman said. “I just don’t want to saddle future generations with the cost.”

Earlier in the hearing, Greene articulated the significance of the property, a location dubbed “Methodist Point.” The name was thought to be connected to the Griffing family, but they were not the first owners.

Captain Charles Smith settled in Flanders in the late 1790s. He and his wife, Dorcas Foss Smith, were instrumental in the establishment of the Methodist Society on the eastern end of Long Island, and specifically in the formation of a church in Sag Harbor in 1810. Before the churches were built, those of that faith met in private homes with “circuit riders” making stops to preach. The Smith home was one such stop.

A year after Dorcas died, Captain Smith sold the land, then a 25-acre parcel, to John L. Griffing, for $675. Combined with another CPF purchase to the northwest, the Griffing acquisition would effectively restore the property to its original size.

John Griffing’s son, Samuel Griffing, went on to establish a duck farm there, one of the first in Flanders. When it passed down to his son-in-law, T. Irving Havens, it was redubbed the Griffing and Havens Duck Farm.

The primary structure on the site, the three-story homestead, was built in 1890, big enough to take in summer boarders. The most prominent structure, well-known to the community, it has remnants of its older construction. The foundation of the house is old ballast, Greene explained, leading to the conclusion the house was built atop the first 19th century house. “Pretty interesting that they kept the footprint and the foundation of the original house,” the historian offered.

The property was in the Griffing family for 120 years, according to a historic summary provided by Greene. The house is still standing, and Greene recently toured the property, determining the house is in “pretty good shape.”

There is an array of outbuildings on the site, most of which could be razed. A circa 1800 barn is “pretty spectacular,” Greene said. Much of it is in restorable condition.

A third structure is a windmill barn. The mill was used as a wind-based water pump. A small barn was built or moved over the well. A tractor engineer was subsequently installed to power the pump. “It’s a pretty spectacular little piece of history right there,” Greene pointed out.

The former 7Zs site has sat vacant since 2005. File photo: Denise Civiletti

Across the water, the old 7Zs site could be a perfect platform for viewing the Methodist Point lands, Greene observed. It, too, was under consideration for purchase, the building to be demolished.

After the hearing, the board voted to buy the 7Zs site for $1.14 million.

The board also voted to move forward with the Griffing purchase that night. Schneiderman made clear that authorizing the purchase doesn’t obligate the town to move forward with a restoration project.

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in the OCt. 5 edition of The Southampton Press. It is re-published here with permission.

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