Built mid/late 19th c.
Town of East Hampton, Suffolk County
Featured in our 2016 Preservation Notes, the Fowler House provides an extraordinary glimpse into the lives of Montaukett Indians on Long Island over a century ago. This storied house is a powerful reminder that Native American history is an integral part of American heritage locally, regionally, and nationally. The small vernacular saltbox house was once owned by George Fowler, a Montaukett Indian who was born at Indian Fields in Montauk, and whose family was among the last residents of the Indian Fields settlement at the time of their dispossession from the land in the 1870s. The Fowlers and other Montaukett families were pressured by Arthur W. Benson, a real estate developer who purchased Indian Fields at auction, to relocate to Freetown, north of East Hampton Village. The Fowler House now stands on one of these Freetown plots.
Historical documents and oral histories indicate the process of resettlement involved relocating Montaukett houses from Indians Fields to Freetown. For example, an 1885 indenture record states that Benson agreed to transfer a twelve-acre parcel at Freetown to George Fowler and his relatives; Benson also agreed to transport “the materials of the houses belonging to the above mentioned Indians [Fowler and his relatives], now on Montauk, to the above described lands in Free Town and their re-erection thereon…”, which suggests that the Fowler family’s dwellings at Indian Fields were dismantled, then the building materials were moved to Freetown for rebuilding. While research continues into the origins of the Fowler House and its building materials, the property has important stories to tell about the lives of the Fowlers and the resilience of Montauketts throughout the late 19th and 20th centuries.
In the 1990s, suffering from abandonment and deterioration, Suffolk County took possession of the property for owed taxes. The County transferred ownership at the Town of East Hampton’s request and mutually agreed to: preserve the site as parkland; protect any buried cultural resources on the property; and consult with Fowler descendants and the Montauketts to interpret the site for the public. A committee of local supporters and residents was formed in 2015 to advise the town on preservation plans, but progress has been slow. Although the Fowler House was designated as an historic landmark by the Town of East Hampton in 2016, the property remains vulnerable while the historic house awaits repairs.
Preservation Long Island advocates for stabilizing the structure according to the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Preservation until a rehabilitation plan is in place to open the site as a public center for Montaukett culture and history. By bringing attention to underrepresented sites of Montaukett culture on Long Island, SPLIA also advocates for greater recognition of places with significant ties to Long Island’s past and present American Indian communities.
Follow the Friends Of Fowler House’s Facebook page for more news and events.
Preservation of the Fowler House would greatly benefit from the resources and recognition made possible by restoration the Monatukett Indian Nation’s tribal status. Over 100 years ago, a New York State judge decided that the Montaukett Indian Nation was extinct, despite the presence of a number of Montauketts in the courtroom when the ruling was made.
In June 2017, a bill to grant official New York State recognition to the Montauketts, introduced by State Assemblyman Fred Thiele (I-Sag Harbor) and State Senator Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson), passed both chambers of the NYS Legislature unanimously. Unfortunately, Governor Andrew Cuomo vetoed the bill on November 30, 2017 and a veto override is unlikely since the legislature is not in session.
Nevertheless, the campaign to restore tribal recognition for Long Island’s Montaukett Indian Nation continues! You can help by contacting Governor Andrew Cuomo to let him know you support restoring the Montaukett’s tribal status.
Send a message to the Governor online here.
Or call: (518) 474-8390
Or send by mail to:
The Honorable Andrew M. Cuomo
Governor of New York State
NYS State Capitol Building
Albany, NY 12224