Featured Story

Island Profile: Sylvester Manor’s Maura Doyle

PETER BOODY PHOTO |  Maura Doyle in the parlor at Sylvester Manor.

Maura Doyle in the parlor at Sylvester Manor.

For Maura Doyle, a job has to inspire passion. She hit the jackpot when she became historic preservation coordinator at Sylvester Manor Educational Farm.
“From the age of 9 or 10, I wanted to work someday in an historic house. My dream was Colonial Williamsburg,” she recalled during a talk in the sunny front parlor of the Manor House, where the white paint on the walls dates to the first half of the 19th century and the blue paint beneath it, visible where the white paint has chipped and cracked, dates from 100 years before, when the house was built.

“This is a living, breathing house,” Maura said, “one that was a private family home until well after 2006,” when the last resident, Alice Fiske, passed away, leaving it to the next-in-line Sylvester descendent, Eben Ostby, a founder of the Pixar animation studio.

Founded in the 17th century as a slave plantation with Caribbean sugar and rum connections, the manor has been preserved and revitalized as a working organic farm. The goal has been to celebrate agriculture as it was practiced before farming became an industrial process serving a mass market.

There was no such position as “historic preservation coordinator” when Maura first came to work at Sylvester Manor in April 2012.  She had recently left a job working in development for the Peconic Land Trust in Southampton. When a friend told her about a newspaper ad for a development job at Sylvester Manor, she jumped at it.

She lives in East Moriches but soon will be moving back to her family home on Shelter Island. She has been a part- or full-time resident here since childhood, when her parents built a place on Ram Island that’s still owned by Maura and her three brothers.

Her father Bud worked on Wall Street and her mother Mary Fran was into politics. “We had Peter, Paul and Mary in our living room” on West 13th Street in Greenwich Village in the 1960s, said Maura, who was born in Manhattan in 1963.

For the kids’ sake, the family got a place in Forest Hills Gardens. But when Maura was about to enter her senior year at York Prep in Manhattan, her parents decided the long subway ride to school was a scary thing in Mayor Beame’s beleaguered city. They went to live full-time on Ram Island, with Bud staying in Forest Hills weekdays until he retired.

Maura is a member of the class of 1979 at Shelter Island High School. “It was so weird,” she said of having to find a place in a close-knit group of people she didn’t know well or at all.

She hated hunting and was outspoken about it. “I took it as a cross to bear,” she said, when some of the boys would leave dead ducks piled in the beds of their pickups when they parked at school after a morning in the blind. “I wasn’t very tactful about it,” Maura said. Her male locker-mate taught her a lesson by hanging duck heads and feet in their locker.

She found a comfortable fit after landing the role of the devil in the senior play, “The Devil in Daniel Webster,” because working closely as a team brings people together.

She went to Goucher College in Towson, Maryland, majoring in American history and historic preservation.

“When I was eight or nine, on a trip to Valley Forge,” she said, “I remember standing in the front of the house that served as Washington’s headquarters. I asked my family to please be quiet because I wanted to concentrate; I wanted to feel it. I wanted to do everything that I could to get rid of the present to feel what it had been like then.”

“That’s the first time I remember having that feeling about the power of place,” she said. She finally got to Williamsburg — which she’d heard about but never visited — only after getting her driver’s license and pestering a friend to go along with her.

“I wasn’t committed to Goucher or even being a student,” she said, so she headed to New York and worked “at a bunch of nondescript jobs.” In 1989, she came back to the Island. She’d been here a week when a stroke felled her mother. “That added a sorrowful dimension to my belated life search.”

After helping her retired father through that tough time, she decided to go to Washington, D.C., working for a company that raised money for real estate investments. She had an apartment in Alexandria’s Old Town and on weekends she’d drag visiting friends and family to Mt. Vernon or nearby Civil War sites.

In the 1990s, she decided to “find a way to make a living on Shelter Island.” After getting her bachelor’s degree in art history at Stony Brook, she took a part-time job at Guild Hall in East Hampton helping catalogue and track artwork in exhibits and collections. Eventually the job of assistant curator opened up and she took it, hoping it eventually would become full-time. During that time, she married Adam Penna, a master’s degree candidate in fine arts at Southampton College. After he got his degree and joined the faculty at Suffolk Community College, they rented a place on the Island for a while and later bought a house in East Moriches. When it became clear Maura needed to add a full-time job to help pay the bills, she went to the Land Trust.

When she took the job at Sylvester Manor looking for some passion in her work, it so happened that the manor began to attract international media attention — from the BBC to the New York Times — for its value as a unique, unspoiled relic from four centuries of American history. More visitors, including historians and other experts, wanted see the house and grounds.

Maura was recognized as a natural for conducting tours. Overhearing her give one last year, a member of the manor’s board decided it would be a good idea to put her talents to better use, meeting the rising demand — and so the post of historic preservation coordinator was created.

There’s a lot on her to-do list. “We’re now seriously addressing this house,” she said, determining what needs attention and how best to use it in the future. An application to enter the house into the National Register of Historic Places “is in the home stretch.”

The place is in pretty good shape. “Go kick the the fieldstone foundation in the basement sometime. It’s pretty solid. It’s solid hand-hewn timber frame construction,” she said.

The interior will never be a museum. A lot of people come in and ask how the rooms will be displayed and interpreted, as if they’ll all be given “assigned roles” as examples of 18th century and 19th century aesthetics, she said.

“It can never be that … When people lived here and the evidence of their lives is mixed over this 365-year history — who gets to say which is more valid than another?

19 Comment

  • Hi! Someone in my Facebook group shared this site with us so
    I came to take a look. I’m definitely loving the information.

    I’m bookmarking and will be tweeting this to my followers!

    Terrific blog and great design and style.

  • I am extremely inspired with your writing abilities and also with the format to your blog.
    Is this a paid theme or did you customize it your self?
    Anyway keep up the excellent quality writing, it’s rare to look
    a nice blog like this one today..

  • Today, I went to the beachfront with my kids. I found a sea
    shell and gave it to my 4 year old daughter and said “You can hear the ocean if you put this to your ear.” She placed the
    shell to her ear and screamed. There was a hermit crab inside and it pinched her ear.
    She never wants to go back! LoL I know this is completely off topic but I
    had to tell someone!

  • Write more, thats all I have to say. Literally, it seems as though you relied on the
    video to make your point. You obviously know what youre talking about, why throw away your intelligence on just posting videos to your site
    when you could be giving us something informative to read?

  • At this moment I am ready to do my breakfast, afterward having my breakfast coming
    over again to read further news.

  • I think that is one of the most significant information for me.
    And i’m glad reading your article. However should commentary
    on some general things, The web site style is ideal, the articles is really excellent
    : D. Excellent activity, cheers

  • Hello there! This is kind of off topic but I need some guidance from an established blog. Is it difficult to set up your own blog? I’m not very techincal but I can figure things out pretty quick. I’m thinking about setting up my own but I’m not sure where to begin. Do you have any points or suggestions? Thanks

  • Hello, i believe that i saw you visited my web
    site so i got here to go back the choose?.I am trying to to find things to enhance my web site!I suppose its adequate to make use of some of your

  • If you would like to grow your familiarity simply keep visiting this site and be updated with the most recent information posted here.

  • I¡¯m not sure where you’re getting your information, but good topic. I needs to spend some time learning much more or understanding more. Thanks for great info I was looking for this info for my mission.

  • I loved as much as you will receive carried out right here. The sketch is tasteful, your authored subject matter stylish. nonetheless, you command get got an impatience over that you wish be delivering the following. unwell unquestionably come more formerly again as exactly the same nearly a lot often inside case you shield this hike.

  • Howdy! This article could not be written any better! Looking through this post reminds
    me of my previous roommate! He always kept talking about this.
    I am going to send this post to him. Pretty sure he’s going
    to have a good read. Thanks for sharing!

  • What’s Taking place i am new to this, I stumbled upon this I have discovered It absolutely useful and it has aided me out loads.
    I’m hoping to contribute & aid other users like its
    aided me. Great job.

  • I blog often and I seriously thank you for your
    content. This article has truly peaked my interest. I
    am going to bookmark your site and keep checking for new
    information about once per week. I subscribed
    to your RSS feed as well.

  • Thanks, I’ve recently been seeking for details about this subject for ages and yours is the best I’ve located so far.

  • I have seen that car insurance providers know the cars and trucks which are at risk from accidents along with risks. They also know what style of cars are given to higher risk plus the higher risk they’ve got the higher the particular premium rate. Understanding the simple basics of car insurance can help you choose the right style of insurance policy that should take care of your requirements in case you happen to be involved in an accident. Thank you for sharing the ideas on the blog.

  • Please let me know if you’re looking for a article author for your weblog.
    You have some really good posts and I think I would be a
    good asset. If you ever want to take some of
    the load off, I’d absolutely love to write some material for your blog in exchange for a link
    back to mine. Please send me an e-mail if interested. Kudos!

  • Good post. I learn something totally new and challenging on sites I stumbleupon every day.
    It will always be helpful to read through articles from other writers and use something from
    other sites.

  • Aw, this was a very good post. Finding the time and actual
    effort to produce a good article… but what can I say… I procrastinate a whole lot and don’t
    manage to get anything done.