By Sarah Kautz, Preservation Director, Preservation Long Island.
We recently visited the fantastic Homan-Gerard House in Yaphank, where the Yaphank Historical Society and Suffolk County Parks Historic Services are overseeing an exciting restoration project with funding support from the Gerry Charitable Trust and Robert David Lion Gardiner Foundation.
Preservation Long Island is especially excited about this restoration project because of our organization’s deep relationship with the house, which began in the early 1960s with Philip H. Dunbar, our first executive director. Originally from Worcester MA, Dunbar was a World War II veteran who studied at Dartmouth College and Yale University. Before joining the Society for the Preservation of Long Island Antiquities (now Preservation Long Island) in 1961, he served as assistant curator of collections at Colonial Williamsburg. Dunbar departed the Society in 1963 to start a 20-year career at the Connecticut Historical Society Museum in Hartford.
During Dunbar’s brief but significant tenure with our organization, he collaborated with James Van Alst, an accomplished architect based in Centerport who restored Cutchogue’s Old House in 1939. Van Alst volunteered his services in 1961 to assist Dunbar in preserving the Bayles-Sweezey House in Setauket, a structure that is now owned and interpreted by the Three Village Historical Society.
In 1962, Dunbar and Van Alst visited Yaphank to study the vacant Homan-Gerard House, which was then owned by Kenneth Hard and known as the Hard House. Dunbar and Van Alst’s research on the property was later continued by Barbara Van Liew (1911–2005), who prepared detailed surveys of historic buildings across Long Island between the 1960s and 1980s. Van Liew also served as editor of our organization’s Preservation Notes newsletter from 1965 to 2001 (our blog, Preservation Long Island: Everything Worth Celebrating, is dedicated to the memory of her influential work).
Today, nearly 60 years after efforts to preserve the Homan-Gerard House began, Preservation Long Island’s archive of photos and research materials assembled by Dunbar, Van Alst, and Van Liew are providing valuable insight for the ongoing restoration work at one of Long Island’s brightest architectural gems.
To learn more about the fascinating history of Preservation Long Island, please see SPLIA Society for the Preservation of Long Island Antiquities, 1948–2012 by Diana S. Waite, Jessica Fisher Neidl, and Cornelia Brooke Gilder. SPLIA adopted the name Preservation Long Island in January 2018.