Bridge Gardens’ Garden House: The History

October 13, 2017

By Kathleen Kennedy

Bridge Gardens

The potato barn-styled building at Bridge Gardens is an example of the type of structures used by local farmers to support the thriving potato farming industry for which Long Island has long been known.

Since the late 1600s, Bridgehampton has been the setting for a number of multi-generational farm families. Prior to 1915, the land that Bridge Gardens is situated on was owned by George Vail and Silas Corwith. In 1915, they sold it to William C. Esp, who later conveyed it to Frank and Helen Bishop in 1920. The Bishop family cultivated potatoes throughout the mid-century, and their farm stretched from Snake Hollow Road, north along Mitchell Lane and east to Butter Lane, and was bordered on the south by the railroad tracks. More recent generations of the Bishop family leased the land to John and Dan Neylon who continued to grow potatoes even as building lots began to populate the farmland around them in the 1960s and 1970s. The Neylons used the potato barn to store their crop and ready it for market. In 1978, Helen Bishop Hamlin sold the section of the farm that is the 5-acre Bridge Gardens to Martin Cohen, Vivian Shapiro and Jeffrey Hogrefe who converted the potato barn into a residential home sometime in the early 1980s. The converted barn was sold ten years later to John and Barbara Mercier.

Jim Kilpatric and Harry Neyens subsequently bought the property in 1990 from the Mercier’s in order to fulfill their desire to create a beautiful garden near their Bridgehampton home, and used the barn-styled home primarily for storage until they were ready to tear it down and begin again in the existing footprint. Kilpatric and Neyens hired architect Stephen Levine of Sagaponack, and together they created a barn-style home that maintained the integrity of the topography and utilized the lower level for the cool-weather storage of tender plants. This portion of the building was also used to store their extensive library of botanical reference material. The construction of the new home, handled by local builder Bert Numme, was completed in 1992. Architect Levine’s design for the home was influenced by the view of the beautiful knot garden created by Kilpatric and Neyens, along with the east-west axis which followed the path of the sun. In keeping with the functional nature of potato barns, the new barn-style home was made of long-wearing materials including a lead-coated copper roof, and sided with a polymer stucco material, reinforced with fiberglass. The interior roof trusses, standard structural support materials for a roof of that shape, are made of engineered wood and metal tubes, custom made to fit the space.

In 2008, Kilpatric and Neyens donated the established garden to the Peconic Land Trust to ensure that their vision for the public garden would remain for the enjoyment of future generations. Today, the barn is used by the Peconic Land Trust for an array of diverse education programs, as a meeting space, and as the setting for the Spring Lecture Series. Currently, the building also displays an exhibition of art work by the artists of Plein Air Peconic, who donate a portion of sales to the Trust. Additionally, the Trust’s Garden Manager, Rick Bogusch, uses the space as his residence.

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