Around the Island

Slice of life: History in a house


Just when you think you know everything about someone or someplace, something happens that proves how much there may still be to learn.  So it was the case this past week when I read the account (“When the war came to West Neck Road,” November 7) of Carl Sabal, who relived the day in January 1945 when his mother, Grace, received the news that her brother Ed had been reported missing in action in the Pacific.

It didn’t take me long to realize that the house “down in the hollow” where Carl was born was, in fact the very same house where my wife and I now reside.

According to Carl’s brother Ed, who was our neighbor when we first moved in 31 years ago this month, his mother Grace was also born and died here.

Our daughter was born in an A-frame over on Marc Street on May 1, 1982.  Having tried to heat that house to little avail the previous winter, we decided to look for something a little cozier for our new family.  We happened on this rental on West Neck Road and moved in around mid-November.  Not having much insulation it wasn’t much warmer than what we had left, but it was somewhat of an improvement.  We eventually bought the house, closing in February of 1983, and it was then, armed with a slew of original documents, that I started looking into the history of where we had ended up.

According to Bill Meringer, at the time the leading authority on old houses, the house wasn’t on the 1860 map but it was on the 1870 map, so sometime between those years it  was built.  It was erected by Max Walthers, who with his wife Henrietta sold it to William Konrad in 1879 for $650.  William acquired some adjacent land from one Bernard Walthers for $70 in 1884.  Five years later William also acquired some more land from Althea and Adrian Raynor for $25.
In April of 1912, William Conrad (now with a “C”) deeded the land to his son Carl for one dollar, but also accepted a mortgage and a bond totaling $1,800.

What happens next is a little confusing.  Evidently, Carl’s daughter Grace married John Joseph Sabaliauskis and in 1956 had their names, along with the names of their children Carl Raymond, Nancy Lee and Edward Conrad, legally changed to Sabal.  But according to a deed dated September 25, 1953, Carl had deeded the house to one Grace Sabal.  So how the deed had her name that was not legally hers until nearly three years later is a question I don’t have the answer to.

It gets a little murkier after that, and hopefully Carl or his brother Ed can shed some light on it, but evidently the land was left by Grace to her son Ed, who sub-divided it and sold a portion to Cecelia Beckwith, who we bought the house from in 1983.  Ed and his wife Dawn were our neighbors for several years before they sold their house and moved upstate.  That house has changed hands two more times since then.  Our house has gone from Walthers to Konrad to Sabal to Beckwith to us, now the fifth owners of this house and land.

Our home has been totally renovated over the past three decades.  Every wall has had its plaster and lath removed, and has been insulated and sheet-rocked or paneled.  Two layers of siding, one asbestos and one cedar, were removed and replaced with the current cedar shingles.  A basement was dug under the house in 1987, the barn torn down and replaced with a cottage in 1996, the kitchen torn down and replaced in 2000, and a pool put in last year.  Over those years we’ve come across numerous artifacts, like school notebooks belonging to the Conrad children, little toys and bottles and even a calendar stuck in the wall in 1887.

The Behringer sisters, Anna and Juliana, whose brother George ran the Shelter Island House (now Maison Blanche)  gave us a very special gift one Christmas.  Evidently an artist who had been staying at their inn over the summer in 1930 had sat outside and painted a picture of the landscape looking out towards West Neck Road, which just happened to include our house, then still owned, I’m guessing, by the Conrads.  Anyway, we now have the picture, and if we ever sell the house (not likely) it will stay here.

We have our own history now.  Our son Adam, a true Harelegger, was born upstairs in September of 1983.  We’ve had our graduation parties and weddings, logging more memories into this house as time goes on.

Every old house here probably has a similar story.  You never know what you’ll find until you start digging.

I’m writing this on November 11, Veterans Day.  It’s also the day in 1925 that my dad was born.  Pop had me convinced when I was a kid that all the school and government office closings, parades and such were because of his birthday.  “Bill” left this world almost two years ago.  I still think about the fact that had he not answered an ad in the New York Times on my behalf in 1978, I would probably have never landed here.

But I love the Island where we live.  I love our family and our yard and our house.

Thanks, Pop.