If These Walls Could Talk

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EXHIBITION DATES: Saturday, March 7th – Thursday, December 31, 2015

IF THESE WALLS COULD TALK
MEET THE FAMILIES OF THE ROGERS MANSION

To commemorate the 375th Anniversary of the Founding of Southampton, the Southampton Historical Museum has curated an exhibit exploring the history of Southampton through the families who built and lived in the Rogers Mansion. In 1648, the Rogers family was the first to settle on the property, establishing a farm, and the first of three influential Southampton families who would follow. A whaling captain, a country doctor, and a retired lawyer-turned-philanthropist each made it their proud residence and when its days as a private home were over, the Mansion was sold to Southampton Village and used as headquarters for the YMCA, the Red Cross, a community center and presently the Southampton Historical Museum. This exhibit will highlight the families who lived here and the role the Mansion has played throughout Southampton’s long history.

Early Southampton
A Land and Sea of Plenty

Imagine a fertile land with rolling hills surrounded by the sea, a wilderness without our villages, houses and cars that crowd this narrow stretch of land today. Native Americans roamed and thrived on the abundant fish and shellfish harvested from Southampton’s waters and the wildlife that filled the woods. Southampton had this quiet existence for thousands of years, until 1640, when everything changed.

In June of 1640, the sloop carrying the original 10 English-born settlers from Lynn, Massachusetts, entered Peconic Bay and anchored in the harbor today known as North Sea under the high sand dune we know as Homes Hill. Tradition tells us that when the one woman stepped ashore, she exclaimed, “For conscience sake, we’re on dry land!” This place has ever since been called Conscience Point. The settlers most likely followed the Indian trail that became North Sea Road and settled near the shores of today’s Old Town Pond. Their first homes were where Southampton Hospital stands today.

These first homes were far simpler than the glamorous mansions that surround us today. They were in fact pits in the ground, encased with timber and lined with bark. With helpful advice from the Shinnecock, they quickly planted hay, oats and corn in hopes that they could survive the first winter. Though wary of each other, the native Shinnecocks and the settlers created a relationship with benefits for both. The settlers, with their abundance of firearms, provided protection for the Shinnecock while the Shinnecock permitted the settlers to purchase their land and taught them the secrets of Southampton’s land and sea. The first winter was extremely difficult for the settlers but the population continued to increase and before the New Year the original ten settlers had grown to 150.

1650 Rogers Mansion
A New Land, A New Life, A New Story Begins…

In 1630, Thomas Rogers was the first of the Rogers Mansion line to leave England and venture forth to America boarding the Mayflower along with his three sons William, Joseph, and John. Unfortunately, Thomas Rogers was one of the many who died in the first wave of sickness that spread through Plymouth, Massachusetts, in 1641. In 1642 William Rogers, Thomas’s oldest son, settled in Old Town, Southampton. It is at this pivotal point in the history of the New World that the story of the Rogers Mansion begins.
By 1648, the settlers felt they would be better off on land further east and moved the village to its permanent location a mere half mile away. Southampton’s Main Street was divided into forty lots and William Rogers received the lot on which we stand today. As the Southampton colony continued to grow at its new site the community remained virtually self-governed but maintained a close tie with New England, just a few hours’ sail away. A census report, taken in Southampton in 1686, lists the total number of inhabitants, men, women, children, servants, transient persons and slaves at 787. While life was easier by 1686 than it was in the earliest days of the settlement, survival still depended on everyone assuming a share of the work. The main industry was agriculture, supplemented by occasional whaling and fishing.
In 1655, William Rogers’ oldest son, Obadiah, was given the Rogers homestead in Southampton after his marriage to Mary Russell. During their long marriage they had seven children who were born in this house. At this point, Southampton remained the domain of the original undertakers, while newcomers were carefully vetted before they were allowed to purchase land and settle.
Unfortunately, no images of the earliest structures erected on the Rogers property exist today. But we can assume that during the Colonial chapter of Southampton’s history, when self-sufficiency was imperative to everyday life and architecture was the servant of Puritan practicality, there would have been few aesthetic refinements. Colonial houses in the 1650’s were rustic structures with small rooms. Even the most affluent colonists were still trying to create homes from what was available in the wilderness. There was little time for frivolity in their lives and little room in their homes for frivolous things. At this time form followed function, not beauty.

1850 Rogers Homestead
Southampton Grows and Prospers…

Two hundred years after the move from Old Town, profits from a booming whaling economy brought prosperous times to Southampton in the pre-Civil War era. It was a brief but heady chapter in the life of the village when the worldly class of captains and their backers spent lavishly on handsome homes that were architectural reflections of their status.
Captain Albert Rogers was born on January 10th, 1807 at the Rogers’ Southampton home. At the age of 20 he became the 6th generation of the Rogers Family to own and live on this very land. Mary Halsey became Albert’s first wife in _____ but just six years later, at the young age of 25, Mary died from unknown causes and without children. Two years after Mary’s death Captain Rogers married her older sister Cordelia Halsey. Born only five days apart in Southampton, they likely had known each other all their lives. Cordelia and Albert had four children together, presumably all born in the Rogers Mansion.
In 1843, Captain Albert Rogers was wealthy enough to build a house worthy of the successful whaling captain he was. He chose the popular Greek-Revival style for the Rogers Mansion, testimony to his refined tastes and local prestige. In response to the gold rush of 1849 many whaling captains from Southampton joined together to form the “Southampton California Mining and Trading Company.” Albert Rogers became a member and joined George White, Pyrrhus Concer and many other gold-hungry 49ers who ventured to California at this time. During his travels hunting for both gold and whales he brought back many treasures from exotic port cities. He would have used these souvenirs to decorate the Rogers Mansion, putting many on proud display in his “Best Parlor”.
During the 19th century there was a shift in architecture that focused on an increased attention to detail, decoration, openness, and symmetry. The Rogers Mansion, like most affluent homes of the time, would have boasted two parlors serving two separate but similar purposes. The Best Parlor was almost always located on the first floor and was designed to impress and demonstrate the family’s affluence. It was usually the first room shown to guests and was decorated with the family’s most impressive furniture–often more ornamental then functional. Whole-room carpets were common and helpful when furniture was constantly being moved. Walls would commonly be decorated with a few prints or paintings. The Rogers family during the 1850’s, would have done as others did, and “never sat in the (best) parlor but usually visited it” (At Home; The American Family 1750-1870).

Dr. John Nugent & Family
Lived in the Rogers Mansion From
1889 – 1899

Dr. John Nugent was born in 1858 in Riverhead to Robert Nugent and his wife, Ellen Ducy, both immigrants from Ireland. After attending high school in Riverhead he attended the University of Michigan where he received his medical degree in 1881. After graduating he returned to Long Island where he opened an office in Southampton for the general practice of medicine, in which he continued for the rest of his active life. In 1886, he married Helen Howell Fordham, a descendant of Robert Fordham, Southampton’s second minister, and their first son John Jr. was born in 1888.

In 1889, the young Nugent family purchased the Rogers Mansion before it was enlarged and moved back from Main Street. Once in their new home they had two more sons, William born in 1893 and Paul who was born in 1897. Dr. John Nugent was an “ardent card player” and announced the birth of his youngest son by saying “now we have three of a kind.” (Nugent Family History). He smoked cigars, pipes, and was never seen without his round spectacles. For Dr. John Nugent being a doctor was not only a profession but a way of life. At any hour of the day or night his neighbors could call on him and he would treat them in his home office at the Rogers Mansion. The family’s time in the Rogers Mansion was short, a mere 10 years, but they built the Nugent Carriage House on the Northwest corner of the property, which still stands in its original location.

Dr. John Nugent was a member of Southampton Hospital’s first medical board and took an active role in planning community health care. He was also Southampton Town’s health officer for 40 years and the Suffolk County coroner for 20 years. His sons inherited his passion for helping and caring for others and it became a family commitment. His oldest son, John Jr., was his father’s first assistant before joining his father in practicing at Southampton Hospital. He served on the hospital’s medical staff for fifty years, including as Chief of Medicine. William or “Bill”, the middle son, attended Cornell University in Ithaca and took courses in mechanical engineering. After serving overseas in the First World War, Bill married Hazel Jagger and settled in Southampton. The Nugents’ youngest son, Paul, attended Cornell Medical College in New York City and married, Margaret White, a former schoolmate and longtime friend. He established his medical practice in East Hampton where his father had advised him that another doctor was needed. Eventually, the three family doctors practiced locally at Southampton Hospital and the trio allegedly earned the moniker, “Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.”

In 1899, the Nugent Family sold the Rogers Mansion to Samuel Parrish but continued to live and work in Southampton for the rest of their lives.

Samuel Longstreth Parrish
Lived in the Rogers Mansion From
1899 – 1932

Samuel Longstreth Parrish was born in 1849 into a family of prominent Philadelphia Quakers, the youngest of seven children. After the death of his father when Samuel was just three, the family went to live on his uncle’s New Jersey farm where Samuel developed a taste for country life that would eventually bring him to Southampton. After earning a degree from Harvard and studying law, Parrish opened a law practice in New York in 1877.

Though he did not retire until 1897, Parrish became enamored of Southampton in the 1880’s when he began acquiring real estate and taking a role in civic affairs. By that time, Southampton was established as a fashionable summer resort and Parrish was far from the only New Yorker spending summers in the village, which had become easily accessible after the arrival of the railroad in 1870. In 1889, Samuel asked Stanford White to design a house for his mother on First Neck Lane. And when, in 1897, he conceived the idea for an art museum, he chose architect Grosvenor Atterbury, a member of Southampton summer society, to design the building on Jobs Lane which he filled with original art works and reproductions acquired in Europe.

In 1899, Parrish purchased the Rogers Mansion from the Nugent family and immediately began to make improvements and additions. He enlarged the mansion’s South Parlor and created a music room, a billiard room, a butler’s pantry, and a servant’s wing. By 1926, he decided to move the house back from its Main Street location and add a pergola and lush gardens, at this point he had nearly doubled the size of the mansion. He again hired Atterbury to design commercial buildings for the vacated property fronting on Main Street. The handsome brick buildings survive, along with so many other reminders of his generosity toward his adopted village. In addition to the museum that bears his name, the Shinnecock Golf Club owes its existence to him and a small group of his friends who brought golf to Southampton; the Parrish Memorial Hall was a gift from him and his brother James; the Rogers Memorial Library and Southampton Hospital were both established with his help; and he played a pivotal role in establishing the nations’ first outdoor art school in Shinnecock Hills.

Civic-minded, as befitted a man of his times, social station and Quaker upbringing, Parrish was active in Republican politics and served a term as Southampton’s president (mayor). Parrish loved to entertain and during his residency, the Rogers Mansion was a vibrant center of activity, whether he was hosting a lively political discussion in the south parlor, an elegant dinner in the dining room or a summer repast under the pergola.

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