Lifestyle: Spotlights

Annie Cooper Boyd House in Sag Harbor

The Historic Home You Never Knew Was There
By Alison Daniels - July 23, 2018

I have to say that it is simply astounding that in all my years on the South Fork I had never even noticed the Annie Cooper Boyd House. A squat shingle structure, it is set back from Sag Harbor’s Main Street by a few yards, yet it is fronted by a glorious garden. You’d think the sign announcing it as the headquarters for the village’s historical society might have pinged my consciousness, but no. It went unheeded for years until a recent tour.

I am not alone. Many people admit the same shameful ignorance says Barbara Schwartz, a trustee and treasurer of the society. It has been open to the public for 20 years having been bequeathed to the village in 1998.

It wasn’t always so shrouded in shadows. Back in the 1930s, owner Annie Cooper Boyd kept the property as a tea house serving her comestibles from the charming front porch. The society still has the tea house sign, which now hangs from a dining room wall. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

The house itself dates back to 1796 when it was owned by one Joseph Foster who descended from one of the first families of Southampton. At the time it was considered half a house with a door and windows on only one side, the second half of the house not being added onto till 1803. The Fosters lived there for about 20 years till son Joseph Jr. left it to his nephew Henry Clay Foster who never lived there, instead rented it out. (Sound familiar?) When he sold it in 1871 William Cooper the latter also rented it out.

It wasn’t till Copper left it to his daughter Annie Cooper Boyd in 1894 that she and her family began to spend summers there, traveling from their home in Brooklyn. In 1906 they undertook major renovations adding an upstairs dormer, the front porch and an enclave of delightful parlor window seats. They also took out a central chimney system and fireplace to build a staircase to replace the single ladder that led to an upstairs bedroom. They moved in permanently in the 30s when they finally added a bathroom.

Boyd was an accomplished artist, studying at William Merritt Chase’s famous Shinnecock Studio that opened in 1891. The society owns more than 500 pieces of her works, and her splendid watercolors of local scenes from Sag Harbor to Montauk line the walls. Having been born to a wealthy family, she married a small businessman and the family struggled. Her works were meant to be sold and sell them she did – including many small seasonal gift cards – from the aforementioned tea house.

To publicize her business, Boyd called her home the Herald House, promoting a family story that credited the abode with being the location of the printing of the area’s first newspaper, the Long Island Herald. But after some digging the historical society discovered that, alas, she was wrong. That paper had been printed across the street. Hopefully, the tale attracted a bustling clientele.

The society did their own renovation in the 90s mainly to insulate the building but also to add character such as exposing ceiling beams and repainting the wide plank floor boards. The dining room paneling still retains a handsome patina of the original colonial blue paint.

Open 1 – 4 PM, Saturdays and Sundays through early October.

There is currently an exhibit, Presenting Sag Harbor, “designed to stimulate curiosity and interest in Sag Harbor history.”

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