Thomas Dodge Homestead
270-Year-Old Dodge House Now a Museum
By Nancy S. Hochman
WHEN Marie Dodge Ross moved with her parents at age 3 to the family home in Port Washington to live with her grandmother, she became the seventh and last generation to occupy the home built by Thomas Dodge in 1721. The Dutch Colonial farmhouse, perched over the Mill Pond and facing Manhasset Bay, is one of the oldest homes in the town of North Hempstead, and one of the few homes on Long Island inhabited for more than 270 years by the same family.
"The genealogy kind of hangs over your head," said Mrs. Ross, who left home when she married and returned at age 70 to care for her parents. In 1993, after moving to a nursing home, Mrs. Ross, who is in her 90's, sold the home to the Port Washington Water Pollution Control District.
A reminder of her genealogy and one ancestor's ingenuity is a brown gin bottle that was placed above the kitchen stove. In 1776, she recounted, Thomas Dodge 2d's sloop was stopped in British waters on Long Island Sound by a British frigate. To save his cargo of farm produce, smoked pork and flour from confiscation by British troops, Dodge, an ardent patriot, welcomed the officer aboard and repeatedly toasted the crown with rounds of gin. The officer emerged from the cabin arm in arm with Dodge. The cargo remained on board.
The house's architecture maintains much of its original Colonial and 19th-century flavor and family relics, including farm tools and original furnishings, because the house was looked at as a family home for many generations, said George Williams, chairman of the Cow Neck Peninsula Historical Society's Landmark Committee in Port Washington.
The Dodge House was leased to the Cow Neck Peninsula Historical Society by the Water Pollution Control District in 1993 to be restored and operated as a public museum. The museum, which will be housed on the first floor and include the 19th-century outbuildings -- a chicken coop, a privy with a child's footrest, a wood shed and a two-door horse barn -- is scheduled to open for tours and educational programs on a weekly basis in late summer or early fall.
The Water Pollution Control District bought the property, which is adjacent to its waste treatment center, in 1992 to serve as a buffer zone in compliance with the State Department of Environmental Conservation regulations requiring minimum distances between sewage treatment plants and residential property.
The 25-year lease stipulates that funds to open and maintain the museum be covered by the Historical Society. Control over the house can revert back to the Pollution Control District if sufficient funds are not raised, or if needed for district operations, said Peter Zwerlein, supervisor of the Water Pollution Control District who added that there were no plans to do so. State law prohibits the district from operating the home as a museum and spending funds to restore it.
The Historical Society has already met $33,000 of its $50,000 goal for the renovation. The seed money includes $8,500 in state grants to make the museum handicap accessible, and to build a handicap accessible bathroom.
A $2,000 Community Development grant from the Town of North Hempstead was used toward asbestos removal and a $2,000 Levitt Foundation grant has been applied to the construction of a new split rail fence around the vegetable garden outdoors and toward window repairs.
The Dodge house and its outbuildings have been listed on the National and State Registers of Historic Places since 1986. The home is also a designated landmark of the Town of North Hempstead's Historic Landmark Preservation Commission. On Saturday, the Historical Society will conduct a walking tour of the Historic Mill Pond area, which includes the Dodge House and cemetery, and turn-of-the-century houses in the Port Washington Heights area, which was designated the Town of North Hempstead's only historic district in 1993. Proceeds from both tours will go toward repairing, renovating and operating the Dodge House.
Mrs. Ross said the conversion to a museum would have made her parents very proud. "People were always coming and wanting to see the condition of the place," she said, adding, "My parents were always willing to show it any time anyone asked."
The Dodge homestead was part of a working farm for more than 200 years, acquired by the first Thomas Dodge on 350 acres that originally extended to Hempstead Harbor. William Dodge, Thomas Dodge 2ds son and the coroner for Queens County, which included Nassau, began selling most of the property as a legacy for his children. When William's son Henry Onderdonk Dodge, died in 1898, his children sold the farm to developers. One son, Henry Thomas, bought back one acre with the homestead.
Nostalgic for what was once a very large farm, Henry Thomas Dodge set aside an antique room where old farm tools and implements are still kept, Mr. Williams said.
"This house offers a wonderful opportunity for anyone seriously interested in architecture to see how these houses were built,' said Joan Kent, trustee of the Cow Neck Historical Society and historian for the Town of North Hempstead. "If you don't look at the wires or automobiles, and squint just right, you can pretend you're in the 19th century."
The L-shaped one and a half story colonial rests on an acre of land. It is sheathed with natural cedar shingles and supported on a fieldstone foundation, built over a cold cellar used originally for storage and refrigeration.
In 1721, the interior included an entrance hall, a living room with a fireplace for cooking and heat and an upstairs with two bedrooms. Because there were no closets during the Revolutionary War era, a wide corridor was also built for wardrobes and for the children's beds.
In the years that followed, the first Thomas Dodge added a dining room with a larger fireplace, a kitchen, and a weaving room. The original low ceilings with exposed handhewn beams still dominate the first floor and all of the first floor rooms have 18th-century tongue-and-groove flooring and walls. A Victorian sideboard and six 1840 country painted hardwood chairs with cane seats are in the living room/dining room.
In the early 20th century, the house was expanded and modernized; porches were added and dormers were built on the second story. Heat was supplied witih potbelly and Franklin stoves until 1910, when central heating was installed.
The original kitchen, which included a Dutch oven with a wooden store in the stone wall backing the hearth, was also replaced with more modern, Victorian decor. A cast-iron stove for cooking, a galvanized sink with a water pump, soapstone tubs closets and a pantry were added. Within the last 50 years, the kitchen was modernized again with new appliances.
Plans are also under way to put a modern kitchen upstairs for use by the caretakers, Marina and Richard (Ezra) Delaney.
Mr. Delaney, who is assistant director of capital projects at the New York Botanical Gardens, is planning a vegetable garden, a strawberry patch and fruit trees to resemble the family's original landscaping.
He said that during the snowstorms last winter, he looked out the house across the mill pond. "You had the sense it was exactly as it was 250 years ago."