Fordham Mill, 1859, Remsenburg-Speonk
Society for the Preservation of Long Island Antiquities
LONG ISLAND’S INDUSTRIAL HERITAGE AT RISK
Long Island is gradually losing connection to its cultural heritage. Every year, historic places spanning the length of the island are threatened by adverse conditions including outright demolition, a lack of appreciation for historic value, or the inability to develop and implement long range planning. All point to the need for improved outreach, education, coordination, and region-wide support for the protection and reuse of historic resources. Recognizing the need to raise awareness and support, the Society for the Preservation of Long Island Antiquities established its Endangered Historic Places Program for Long Island in 2010.
SPLIA has taken a thematic approach to its 2015 list of Endangered Historic Places, focusing on Long Island’s endangered industrial heritage. Across the region industrial heritage is present in the form of wind and tide mills that once ground grain into flour, commercial waterfronts where boat yards built ships to transport goods and people, as well as aviation sites that built and tested the first airplanes that dominate our skies.
Industrial heritage contributes to the identity of communities, from Port Jefferson to Patchogue, Riverhead to Glen Cove, yet few examples of the industrial buildings have survived to the 21st century. 2014 experienced the destruction of the Glenwood Landing Power Plant, built in 1923 by a consolidated Long Island Lighting Company. The brick structure with soaring arch window openings that perched over the eastern edge of Hempstead Harbor helped generate gas and electric power for the region until operations ceased in 2012. While other communities in the nation have been able to witness old infrastructure repurposed into exciting centers of redevelopment, Long Islanders who fought to save the Glenwood Landing plant must now stand idly by while the massive white smoke stacks and brick structure are slowly carted to the landfill.
With so little industrial heritage east of Kings and Queens Counties on Long Island, the surviving examples of Long Island’s industrial history is all the more important to preserve and interpret for the future. The Bulova Watchcase Factory in Sag Harbor, one of the last surviving examples of large scale industrial architecture, recently completed a major transformation from neglected shell to luxury condominiums after an extensive multi-year adaptive reuse project. The 2002 proposed redevelopment of the former Bluepoints Oyster Company sent the West Sayville community into action to preserve their commercial waterfront, enabling a new owner to purchase the property and adapt the site for new maritime uses. The Village of Port Jefferson successfully reused certain industrial maritime buildings, such as the former J.M. Bayles & Son shipbuilders complex, today the Village Center. However, countering the success stories are boundless losses of Long Island’s industrial heritage, like the exuberantly designed Brooklyn Waterworks pump house in Freeport that moldered away until its remaining shell was torn down in 2011.
The success of SPLIA’s Endangered Sites program depends on public participation to nominate sites at risk of being drastically altered or lost. Local residents are the most aware of issues affecting historic resources in their community and the Endangered Sites nomination process is how SPLIA is able to raise awareness of endangered sites to larger regional audiences. This year SPLIA has chosen two in-house nominations representing Long Island’s Industrial Heritage at Risk. These examples are early industrial buildings threatened by neglect and a lack of use. It is our hope that these examples will initiate public interest not only for the preservation of these particular sites, but to also encourage people to think about industrial heritage in their own back yards and shed light on more examples of sites that are threatened by forces such as neglect, development pressure, etc.
Long Island’s Industrial Heritage at Risk
Roslyn Grist Mill ( c. 1720)
Village of Roslyn, Nassau County
A rare surviving early-18th century industrial building featuring unique Dutch framing methods, the Roslyn Grist Mill has been vacant and threatened by demolition by neglect since the 1970s. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, community members and local preservation groups have been in the planning process to restore the structure for over a decade. Owned by Nassau County, funding is earmarked for restoration of the Grist Mill, yet numerous false starts and lacking a clear vision for what the building could be repurposed for has delayed restoration. Located in the center of the village at the head of the harbor, the Roslyn Grist Mill is ready to become the keystone for a downtown and waterfront revitalization initiative. Community support is necessary to strengthen the partnership between the County, Town of North Hempstead, Village of Roslyn, and Roslyn Landmark Society in order to establish a viable new use for the structure.
Fordham Saw Mill (1859)
Remsenburg-Speonk, Town of Southampton, Suffolk County
Designated a Town of Southampton Historic Landmark in 1985, the building has been vacant since 2008. Once a center of industry in the area, the mill served as a location for carriage, wheel, and coffin-making throughout its history. Pressure has been placed on the owners by the community to maintain and rehabilitate the former saw mill. The owners claim the use is so restricted because of landmarks designation that they cannot find someone to purchase or lease the space, and instead, have let the property slowly deteriorate. The property is ideal for multiple uses, the site could become the East End’s version of the successful reuse of the Brooklyn Navy Yard as an artisanal manufacturing center.