The Riverhead Electric Light Company building, which dates back to 1897, was purchased by the expanding Long Island Lighting Company in 1922. The steam-powered dynamos housed in the building were then shut down, as the Riverhead company's system was made part of the LILCO grid. Photo: Riverhead Landmarks Preservation Commission.

After local preservation advocates pressed the Riverhead Town Board to try to delay PSEG-Long Island demolition plans for a historic building that once housed one of the island’s first electric power plants, the utility company has shelved its plans — at least temporarily.

PSEG-Long Island spokesperson Elizabeth Flagler told RiverheadLOCAL last week the company is “happy to have discussions with the involved parties and give some time for those concerned with preserving the structure to develop an alternative plan.”

Demolition of the brick building on West Main Street had been slated for early this month. 

Landmarks Preservation Commission Chairperson Richard Wines of Jamesport and former Council Member George Bartunek of Calverton met with the Town Board at its Jan. 25 work session to implore the board to seek a postponement in the hope that the building could be preserved and repurposed for some other use. 

The structure, which dates back to 1897, was built by the Riverhead Electric Light Company to house a 150-horsepower steam engine and two dynamos that generated electricity for the village of Riverhead. It is on the site of a dynamo driven by water wheels deployed at the Perkins woolen mill in 1888 to generate electricity for the Perkins Electric Company—  the second electric generating company on Long Island, established one year after the Greenport Power and Light Company. 

The Riverhead Electric Light Company expanded to serve areas outside the village and in 1922, the expanding Long Island Lighting Company purchased the local company’s assets and placed the Riverhead system on the LILCO grid. Steam generation at the Upper Mills plant on West Main Street was discontinued.

MORE COVERAGE: Riverhead looks to save historic building that was one of Long Island’s first power plants

LILCO continued to use the building for various purposes after the generator was shut down, but it has not been used for a long time and, over time, has fallen into a state of disrepair, Wines told the Riverhead Town Board at its work session two weeks ago.

PSEG-LI, which took over as service provider to the Long Island Power Authority in 2014, determined the building to be “ unsafe, posing a risk and liability” to the utility and the larger community, according to a communication sent to the town by PSEG-LI. Its demolition “mitigates any risk for unauthorized access, trespass, and or encroachment on the property by third parties,” the company wrote to the town.

The building is “a very important part of Riverhead’s history,” Wines told board members last month. He asked them to seek a delay in demolition of nine months to a year to allow time to see if there are some other solutions and other possible uses for the building, he said.

The building is not a designated town landmark, nor is it listed on the state or national historic registers. In 1977, it was included in the catalog of the Society for the Preservation of Long Island Antiquities, Town Historian Georgette Case noted in a letter dated Nov. 2,  2022. The town historian also advocates for its preservation.

Supervisor Tim Hubbard said in an interview Monday PSEG-LI has agreed to delay demolition for “roughly six to nine months.”

Hubbard told preservation advocates at the Jan. 25 work session that the town does not have the money to buy or restore the building. Wines said he and others would seek other means of funding — including from PSEG-LI itself — to rehabilitate the building, which, he said, “has a lot of historic significance” and is “a great historic resource for the town.”

PSEG-LI’s agreement to delay the demolition is “a good first step,” Wines said Monday.

“I hope to be talking to a representative of the company shortly,” Wines said. The building is important to the history of electric power on Long Island, for that reason, an important piece of the Long Island Power Authority’s history as well, he said.

Wines said he hopes some other use can be found for the building, perhaps a river-related use, given to its proximity to the Peconic River and a State DEC fishing access site.

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