If the walls of the Bartlett House Inn could talk, they’d tell a story that would leave you on the edge of your seat.
Originally the summer home of a wealthy New York politician, the 106-year-old structure later became a convent and is now the North Fork’s largest bed and breakfast.
“I love the history of architecture, so when we saw Bartlett House I was over the moon that we would find something with such historical details for sale,” said Diane Gilmore, who purchased the building in 2003 with her husband, Jack.
Ms. Gilmore, who now spends her days tending to the 10-bedroom inn and cooking up plentiful European-style breakfasts for guests, has also taken care to preserve the home’s history.
“It is fascinating,” she said.
Bartlett House was custom-built in 1908 for New York State assemblyman John Bartlett, his wife, Mary, and their domestic staff. Mr. Bartlett, a delegate to both the 1904 and 1908 presidential conventions, fashioned his Greenport summer home as the site of lavish parties for business, political and entertainment stars.
“It was a destination for luminaries of that era,” Ms. Gilmore said.
Mr. Bartlett chose the location, on the corner of Fifth and Front streets, to make it easier for guests arriving from the newly constructed Long Island Rail Road station, Ms. Gilmore said.
By the time the early 1960s rolled around, the partying had come to an end and the house began serving those with a drastically different lifestyle.
After her husband’s death, Mary Bartlett donated the home to the neighboring St. Agnes R.C. Church on Sixth Street. It was converted to a convent for the Sisters of Charity, who taught at St. Agnes Elementary School, Ms. Gilmore said.
The church quickly got to work renovating the home into more modest living quarters for the nuns. Several bathrooms were added, the original wood floors were painted over with brown outdoor deck paint and Mr. Bartlett’s office was transformed into a chapel for prayer.
“Although the house was gorgeous, it was too ostentatious for the sisters,” Ms. Gilmore said. “So they got to renovating. They took out all the chandeliers and replaced them with schoolhouse lighting and painted all the walls white. When you walked in, you did not feel like you’d be in this place to have a party anymore. You were in a place more holy.”
As the congregation began to dwindle in the 1970s, the convent was left vacant for some years before St. Agnes put the home on the market, Ms. Gilmore said.
Then, in 1982, the building changed hands again.
John and Linda Sabatino, who now reside in Orient, purchased the home and established it as the Bartlett House Inn. However, the structure had suffered storm damage while it was unoccupied, so before it opened to the public in May 1982, renovations were needed, Ms. Sabatino recalled.
“We walked into the main living room and it was absolutely gorgeous even though all the ceilings were falling down … literally down on the floor,” she said. “We had friends that were in the construction business that basically lived with us to get the renovations finished.”
In addition to replacing the damaged walls and ceilings, the Sabatinos also restored the original parquet floors the church had painted over.
“It was the Sabatinos who discovered the paint the nuns put on the floors had actually protected them from the damage from the rain and the storms,” Ms. Gilmore said. “When they stripped the floors, the original wood was there in all its beauty. So, in retrospect, the nuns knew what they were doing.”
Although the house has changed ownership a few times since the 1980s, the Bartlett House has operated as an inn ever since the Sabatinos converted it. The Gilmores purchased the home in 2003 after deciding to trade in their corporate lives to run a B&B.
After more than a year searching for the right place, Ms. Gilmore said, she knew the Bartlett House was it.
“We saw it at 10 a.m. on a Monday and bought it by 1 p.m.,” she said. “I felt the warmth in this house instantly and I wanted to share it with others.”
The Gilmores added a new side porch and breakfast room, extended the kitchen and converted the back porch into their private living quarters.
The rest, she says, is history in the making.
Today, Bartlett House is perhaps the North Fork’s grandest B&B in both size and elegance. While village code prevents other B&B’s from renting out more than three rooms, Bartlett House is grandfathered under older laws. It is the only B&B in the region that offers 10 bedrooms, Ms. Gilmore said.
“Our inn is unique because of its size,” she said. “It has the warmth and character of a bed and breakfast but also the space and the common areas that a small hotel offers.”
As Mr. Bartlett originally intended, the home’s location near the train station and downtown Greenport restaurants and shops is still a draw for visitors.
“My guests love that they can walk into the village or hop on a ferry to Shelter Island for the day,” Ms. Gilmore said. “Our placement in the village is fabulous.”