History, sense of place and a quiet charm all unite in this one-of-a-kind home that is looking for its third owner since its build date circa 1750. It is one of the few still-intact estates built by George Havens, an early landowner and somewhat of a developer. The house is part of a 1,000-acre parcel Haven bought in 1698 from the Sylvester Anglo-Dutch sugar merchant family, who were early settlers of the island.
The property has historic connections to Native Americans who constructed a berm as part of a scheme to access potable drinking water from Fresh Pond. Indeed, Havens named the estate “Kemah,” a Shinnecock word meaning “in the face of the wind,” a nod to the southwest breezes crossing the property.
“Everyone on the island knows this house whether they walk by it or bike by it. It’s a very unusual property and the owners have been the custodians of something very special on all of the East End – not just Shelter Island,” said Penelope Moore, the Saunders real estate broker who lists the property.
The estate is comprised of two lots divided by South Midway Road, and each offering water access, one to an inlet and the other to Fresh Pond. The 23-acre grounds are simple and pristine, making it easy to imagine 17th-century life here. Says Moore, “It’s so quiet here, you can hear the bees and the music of nature.”
The grounds include century-old trees, a two-story barn dating from 1886 that has been used for square dancing and special events, a hand-stacked fieldstone garage built in 1918 from locally sourced rocks and a building used as a music studio. An old wooden water tower—no longer in use—is a historic leftover from the estates’ early days.
Other original features include the exterior wood shingles, a central chimney of Dutch bricks and exposed beams that were seasoned in salt water for one year prior to being dried, cut and carved with Roman numerals should a future owner wish to dismantle and rebuild elsewhere.
The six-bedroom, 2,978-square-foot house has two baths, two half baths and, while updated over the generations, has retained its elegant and spare bones. Says Moore, “The core of the house is how it was in 1933 [when the current family bought it]. Very simple.”
The center front hall features hand-blown Colonial-era glass in the transom about the front door (the doors have their original lock sets) and a handsome polished staircase. Floors, finishings, doors and trim are oak, Douglas Fir and pine throughout, all authentic to the spirit of the house and the era. To the right, the nearly 400-square-foot open living room features beamed ceilings, pine paneling, a wood-burning fireplace, built-in shelves and a window seat with storage. Two sets of French doors lead to the screened-in porch, with bluestone/slate flooring.
The living room also adjoins the 92-square-foot dining room, which leads, via a small hallway, into the eat-in kitchen, about the same size as the dining room. Though the kitchen has been updated with countertops and propane cooktop, it remains in context of the house with washed-pine cabinets and wall paneling. Through the kitchen, a summer kitchen (added on in the 1980s) is supplied with plenty of cabinets and counter space for food storage and prep.
The main floor also contains two bedrooms, which share a hallway bathroom. The other four bedrooms anchor each corner of the second floor and share a full bathroom and a half bathroom. The double-height attic is unfinished, but features large windows and can be adapted for several uses such as a master suite, home office or study, Moore said.
Kemah is 1.5 blocks from Wade’s Beach, two miles from South Ferry and two and a half miles from the center of town. “Here you can be parts of a scene on Sunset Beach or you can create your own private Idaho. People who come here want natural beauty and peace but don’t want to be isolated.” Moore said. “This is one of my favorite places to be: It’s the quintessential Shelter Island place and it really is all about the place.”
Kemah is listing for $14,995,000 and the details, including a well-researched history by Moore, can be seen here.