Smith-Taylor Cabin, an Island treasure, nears completion

JULIE LANE PHOTO |  The Taylor’s Island Preservation and Management Committee will report to the Town Board this month that exterior work on the Smith-Taylor Cabin is practically complete.

JULIE LANE PHOTO |
The Taylor’s Island Preservation and Management Committee will report to the Town Board this month that exterior work on the Smith-Taylor Cabin is practically complete.

Nine years and about $300,000 later, restoration of the Smith-Taylor Cabin on Taylor’s Island is practically completed.

The cabin and grounds, in an idyllic setting, is becoming a new resource for the community, thanks to the efforts of of volunteers who have made it a reality. That’s how P.A.T. Hunt, a director of the Taylor’s Island Foundation and the guiding spirit of the effort, describes the evolution of the project.

In 2005 Ms. Hunt remembers there were those who thought the restoration was too large a project to tackle and the log cabin, left to the town by S. Gregory Taylor, should be demolished. Mr. Taylor, who died in 1948, provided that the cabin would pass to his nephew, Stephen Stephano, for his use, but that after that, it would become Shelter Island Town property for the “use and enjoyment of the general public.”

Looking around at the cabin and grounds being restored on a visit last week, Ms. Hunt said, “It is what Mr. Taylor wanted; it feels very good to be honoring his wishes.”

Town tax money has paid for only $36,000 of the work, Ms. Hunt said. She’s working up the numbers now, but said that $300,000 cost is pretty accurate and the result of both contributions and a $110,600 matching grant from the New York Department of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.

Despite those who argued for demolishing the cabin, Councilwoman Chris Lewis offered a resolution in December 2005 to create the Taylor’s Island Preservation and Management Committee. Incoming Supervisor Al Kilb Jr. got on board, pushing the restoration project, Ms. Hunt said.

The Smith-Taylor Cabin was placed on the New York State Register of Historic Places on July 13, 2007. Concurrently, there was an effort to get the cabin on the National Register, which happened September 28, 2007.

Because restoration of the cabin, sorely neglected for years, would require more than historic recognition of its significance, Ms. Hunt said, the Taylor’s Island Foundation was formed to seek grants and contributions to tackle work for which professionals would be needed. But for a few minor details “we’ve really taken care of the integrity of the building,” Ms. Hunt said.

Through the last few years restoration efforts have included a new roof and windows; restoration of the porch roof and deck; restoration of an east bedroom’s roof and walls; masonry work on one chimney and removal of another; and chinking between the original logs on the outside of the cabin. In the main room, the ceiling and sheeting had to be replaced, but original beams are back in place. The tower at the top of the cabin has been restored and what was a catwalk with serious holes in its flooring has been restored and new railings put up. The tower itself has new lookout windows.

Outside, members of the Garden Club of Shelter Island and the Group for the East End joined forces in May 2012 to plant natural beach grasses and other native species that would protect the shoreline from erosion.

There is work planned inside the cabin, including insulating and paneling the east bedroom, refinishing floors, work on bathrooms and some rough electrical work that needs to be done.

Since 2006, the committee has been speaking with individuals and members of various groups about the uses they would like to see the town implement on Taylor’s Island. There has already been a wedding, a 50th anniversary party, a 50th birthday, a wedding rehearsal barbecue and a number of activities for young people. The cabin also hosted an overnight for two Afghanistan war veterans and their significant others.

Ideas have included hosting photographers and artists to paint landscapes. Others have suggested yoga retreats. And thanks to town Highway Department workers, there are picnic tables and benches picnickers can use to enjoy the views of Coecles Harbor.

Looking back over the early years, Ms. Hunt admits some impatience in getting the project going and keeping it on course. But she credits the community with being so supportive of the project that it came to fruition.

“Love and gratitude are links to everything,” Ms. Hunt said. “This project has a lot of love and a lot of gratitude. What you don’t use, you can lose.”

Contributions are still being sought for the interior work and ongoing maintenance for the Smith-Taylor Cabin. Checks can be sent to the Taylor’s Island Foundation, P.O. Box 524, Shelter Island Heights, New York 11965 For more information go to taylorsisland.org.

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