The deteriorating state of the Baxter House is a cause for concern for many Port Washington residents.
The Baxter House is located at the corner of Shore Road and Central Drive. It is a historic residence that was given landmark status in 2005 after Sabrina Wu, the current owner, purchased the property in 2003.
The home has been allowed to deteriorate for several years. It remains in serious disrepair and is currently uninhabitable.
The Village of Baxter Estates has recently taken preliminary action to protect Baxter House. According to a letter to the editor from Nora Haagenson, mayor of the Village of Baxter Estates, “the Village Board directed its counsel to prepare a proposed local law to amend and strengthen its Historic Preservation Law. The Board has on several occasions adjourned consideration of that amendment at the request of the owner, when her counsel was unable to attend the relevant public hearings. Now, the Village Board, at its Jan. 7, 2016, meeting, has enacted that amendment, which we believe strengthens the hand of the Village in requiring remedial and maintenance steps be taken by the owner of a landmarked structure as the application process goes forward. The Village intends to act promptly under that new law to require appropriate repairs and maintenance by the property owner. Actual work by or on behalf of the Village on private property to preserve the Baxter House, whether that involves a tarp covering or more, present issues for the Village and its residents that go far beyond those presented by cutting tall grass. Nevertheless, the Village has now reached out to the owner to explore the possibility of cooperating with the owner to accomplish at least the basic remedial step of protecting the structure with a tarp.” (To read the full letter to the editor from Nora Haagenson, mayor of Baxter Estates, go to page 2A.)
Chris Bain, president of the Cow Neck Peninsula Historical Society, is not sure this will be enough to save the historic house. “In response to the bright light that the Cow Neck Peninsula Historical Society (and other individuals) have been shining on this issue, the Village [of Baxter Estates] is now, in January 2016, passing an ordinance requiring a homeowner to better maintain an historic property,” said Bain. “The Village lives in fear of a lawsuit that the homeowner has threatened and has been voicing concern for a long time. However, the house has been allowed to decline for several years and we hope that this isn’t too little, too late. In order to save the Baxter House is must be tarped by the Village immediately to save it from this winter’s extreme further damage. Anything less continues the demolition by neglect.”
At a public hearing in December, Wu, who does not live in the area, presented preliminary plans for the subdivision of the property and construction of a new home adjacent to Baxter House. Speaking on behalf of Wu, attorney Thomas Levin explained that the cost of renovating the landmarked home has become prohibitive. Approval of the plan would provide Wu with the funds she needs to rehabilitate the historic residence. Engineers engaged by Wu concur that it is unlikely that the home can be restored and have recommended it be razed. Notwithstanding, Levin said that Wu intends to restore the home and the proposed plan is essential to finance these efforts.
“It is sad to say that the Baxter Homestead today is willfully neglected,” said Bain. “For several years, it has been allowed to deteriorate rapidly by an owner who doesn’t live there and who wants to divide the property into two pieces, building a brand new house in what is now the Homestead’s backyard. It is also being allowed to happen by a Village who claims that there is little that they can do. In the parlance of those involved in historic home preservation, this is often referred to as ‘demolition by neglect.’ Everyone voices concern, but little is done.”
In order for Wu to proceed, any application will require approval of several Village boards, including the Landmark Preservation Commission. A joint meeting of all the relevant Village agencies will be scheduled at a future date to further consider the matter should Wu continue the application process.
The Baxter House house was built in 1673 by John Betts and Robert Hutchings and still stands on its original site. In 1741 or 1743, the home was purchased by Oliver Baxter. The property was subsequently occupied and farmed by generations of Baxters, who were shipbuilders, sea captains, whalers and blacksmiths, until the end of the 19th century. It was later occupied by Addison Mizner, architect-developer of Palm Beach. An early survey of the land shows an Indian wigwam near Baxter’s Pond, evidence that a wigwam village probably existed on the site. During the Revolutionary War, Hessian troops, engaged by the British, were quartered in the house. In 1895, the first library of Port Washington met in the parlor.
For more information and photos on the Baxter House, go to www.cowneck.org.