Historic town building is left in the cold
In an undated photo, Capt. Gillette relaxes with his wife, Phoebe, in the parlor of the Gillette House.

Photo courtesy of the Sayville Historical Society

Historic town building is left in the cold

Story By: LIZ FINNEGAN
1/18/2018


ISLIP TOWN—The Islip Town-owned stately colonial on the east side of Gillette Avenue has long been significant to the local community and beyond. The former home of an Islip Town supervisor, Capt. Charles Z. Gillette, is now the headquarters for Bay Area Friends of the Fine Arts. It’s also used as a meeting center for various groups, but it is mostly known as the location of the Greater Sayville Food Pantry. However, now those who depend on the building are concerned for its future if necessary repairs are not completed in a timely manner.

 Last week, Chestene Coverdale, director of the food pantry, held a meeting inside the building to address this issue, which was attended by representatives from that local community and Suffolk County Legis. Bill Lindsay. She explained that the building does not have heat because the oil boiler shut down during single-digit temperatures, which caused some pipes to freeze and rupture, thus causing water damage inside of the building.

“We are operating in the freezing cold,” Coverdale remarked, noting that after she contacted Islip Town she was told the repairs wouldn’t happen for two to three months. She said that the town suggested the pantry either close or move. “I said we’d rather not. The people who come here… know where we are.” Coverdale added that to move would disrupt the routine of those who rely on the food pantry and in some cases, their ability to get there. 

At the meeting, local residents who inspected the heating unit said the burner would need to be replaced and there should be repairs to the chimney. 

Over the years, the building has experienced structural issues: swelling doors, animal infestation and a leaky roof. After years of dealing with the leaks – using garbage cans to collect the water – Coverdale said the roof was replaced last summer after pressuring the town to do so. In 2015, the outside oil tank tipped over and spilled 100 gallons of heating oil into the ground around the Gillette House, requiring an inspection by the Department of Environmental Conservation and then remediation. That incident was documented in this newspaper in two articles: “Oil spill and Gillette House,” April 9, 2015 and “It’s all cleaned up,” April 16, 2015.

“There’s no reason to let this [Gillette House] fall apart,” said Coverdale. “We need to have more respect for these older buildings.”

Carole Shepphard, president of BAFFA, said she is very concerned about a donated piano that’s in their section of the building since the instrument would not be able to tolerate extreme temperatures. The piano and some of the other equipment remains covered in heavy blankets and waterproof tarps.

“It’s the town’s responsibility to fix the furnace,” said Shepherd. “This is their building.”

“This should have all been dealt with months ago,” said Sayville resident Linda Leuzzi, and likened the situation to the recently reported deplorable conditions at New York City Housing Authority, a low-income housing agency where residents demanded accountability for neglected buildings in such severe disrepair that they pose unhealthy living conditions. 

Legis. Lindsay said that the town’s options were not viable. “How do you tell a food pantry to close during the winter when it’s most [needed]?” he remarked. “It doesn’t make sense.” He advised Coverdale to obtain estimates for the repairs and said he’d try to get in touch with the town. He noted, however, that he usually gets a better response from Brookhaven Town than Islip Town. Lindsay also noted that he’d look into county funding, as he was able to procure $5,000 for a new furnace for the boathouse at Long Island Maritime Museum.

The house was built by Gillette, a Salem, Mass., sea captain, who discovered Sayville on one of his many trips to Long Island. He married into the hamlet’s oldest family (Edwards) in 1947 and built the house the following year. 

After a profitable career at sea that included three voyages to Mediterranean ports, he served once again at the helm of a ship during the Civil War, following Gen. Farragut’s ship into the Battle of New Orleans (April 24-25, 1862).

When he returned from the war, he opened a large general store in downtown Sayville. He later served as Islip Town supervisor from 1864-1871. The house was bequeathed to a Sayville church upon the death of Gillette’s last surviving daughter. The church then donated it to Islip, which designated it a park in 1944.

Tom Owens, Islip Town commissioner of parks and department of public works, said the town is committed to repairing the building.  “We are absolutely actively working on it. It’s important to us,” he said.