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A pile of rocks and bricks from cleaning up the property on Ackerly Pond lane in Southold. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTOPile of rocks and bricks from cleaning up the property.

Once upon a time, it was a tavern.

That’s what people keep telling Theresa Ward and Mick Murray about their house on Ackerly Pond Lane in Southold, which they purchased in September 2013.

With its high ceilings and exposed wooden beams, it’s easy to see why. But the theory can probably never be proven.

That’s because the 957-square-foot house was erected long before building permits existed. A 1987 New York State Parks and Recreation building-structure inventory form indicates it was constructed “circa 1789 but probably much earlier.”

Whether the property once served as a North Fork watering hole is up for debate. But one thing Ward, Murray and their 10-year-old son, Jack, can be certain of is that the single-story structure, which sits on a half-acre adjacent to Lower Road, is bursting with history, some of which they’ve already unearthed.

The home's exterior. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)
The home’s exterior.

Last fall, while using pry bars to carefully excavate layer after layer of the house’s foundation, said Murray, who moves and restores artwork for a living, he discovered relics of Americana, including a vintage Nassau Brewing Company bottle and a single baby boot, thought to have been wedged inside the wall by a previous owner for good luck. He and Ward plan to eventually put the shoe back in the wall and add one of Jack’s.

During construction, Murray also found a perfectly preserved May 22, 1927, issue of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle announcing the success of Charles Lindbergh’s transatlantic flight from New York to Paris.

The interior of the 900-square-foot house has been gutted.
The interior of the 900-square-foot house has been gutted.

“It was pristine because it was encapsulated between layers of oilcloth,” Murray explained. He later took the newspaper to a New York City art warehouse for storage.

“It wasn’t even yellow,” Ward, an urban planner, added.

Initially, the property itself wasn’t as flawless

Wisteria vines had overtaken the yard, Murray said, so a “massive clearing” took place. The couple plans to replant trees in their stead.

They were also forced to demolish an old chicken coop and wooden shed, both of which will be replaced.

“We were looking for a project and we found it,” Ward said, laughing. They have a firm move-in date of May 1.

The family, who formerly lived in Brooklyn and used to rent a weekend home in Sag Harbor, said they were drawn to the North Fork — and Southold in particular — because of its “small-town feel.” They’re renting an apartment around the corner from Ackerly Pond Lane while construction is underway.

A boot found in the Ackerly Pond Lane house (Credit: Ccourtesy Mick Murray)
A boot found in the Ackerly Pond Lane house (Credit: Ccourtesy Mick Murray)

Frank Uellendahl, a Greenport architect the couple hired to oversee restoration of their new home, said he plans to convert the space into a one-bedroom house with an open kitchen, living and dining area. A spiral staircase will lead to an upstairs loft, where Jack will sleep. To add space, a screened porch will be built off the first-floor bedroom.

“We are creating this beautiful space which was not there before,” Uellendahl said. A concrete floor was recently poured and new foundation is being built.

Jack, a budding architect and a fifth-grader at Southold Elementary School, is happy with the design plans.

“The thing I love about this is that it’s going to be like our apartment back in Brooklyn — very open,” he said. “There will be a lot of sunlight coming in.”

Uellendahl, who is also chairman of Greenport’s Historic Preservation Commission, said the project is about “transforming an existing old building into something new, but keeping the character and the substance.”

“This is what I like about them,” he said of Ward and Murray. “Everybody else would have probably just taken it down and done something new. But they are giving this back to Southold.”

In a way, Murray said, their undertaking is like a civic project.

“Mick said we’re restoring it for the next hundred years,” Ward said.

“Two hundred!” Jack corrected her.

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