Village House may have started as a humble boarding spot for visiting city folk, but the purpose and initial push for preservation at the small-but-mighty Oysterponds Historical Society rests on this Italianate building’s sturdy foundation.
“It is the cornerstone — the original building,” says Alison Ventura, executive director of the Oysterponds Historical Society, which encompasses 8.5 acres and seven buildings significant to the East End’s history, as well as the 4-acre Poquatuck Park.
“What’s really interesting is that Village House was built in 1798, but it looked very different then,” she says.
How different? There are no photos for comparison, but in all likelihood, smaller and much more simple in design. It was originally owned and operated as a some-time boarding house by Augustus Griffen (1767-1866), a local schoolmaster, store owner and tavern keeper who, during his near 100-year life, kept prolific and meticulous diaries of daily life in Orient.
“I like to call Griffen the patron saint of Orient history,” says Ventura. “A lot of what we know of Oysterponds, we know because of Augustus Griffen.” Indeed, if you go inside Village House today, you can even see the desk where he sat and faithfully penned his prolific journals.
Toward the end of his life, Griffen sold the house to the Vail family, who continued to use the building as a boarding house for vacationers escaping New York City on steam ferries bound for Orient. Even back in the day, wild renovation was part of the evolution of local architecture, and the Vails decided that the plain ol’ white clapboard building on Village Lane would do better with a little European-style zhuzhing. They expanded the home and added fanciful touches, like a multitude of cornices, broad windows with pretty shutters, and a grand front porch with six decorative arches divided between the seven stately white columns.
The newest addition to the building — a sweeping brick patio built a decade ago via a donation from Orient resident Ann Flolliott — is the site of concerts, receptions and other programming events for the community. “That patio added a lot to the campus and Village House, which is such a dynamic building,” says Ventura.
Perhaps it was the destruction during World War II on their minds when OHS was formed in 1944 by three Orient residents with a mind toward preserving items important to area’s history. One of them was George Latham, who over the coming decades would pinpoint and move six East End historical structures to OHS’s acreage: the Old Point Schoolhouse and Amanda Brown Schoolhouse (“It’s such a sweet little building,” says Ventura, “We hope to start using it as an educational space for programming.”); Webb House, Latham’s personal museum that he donated to the cause; the Hallock Building; the Red Barn; and Vail House, which houses OHS’s main offices.
Visitors are permitted in Village House and its Beach Plum Gift Shop at 1555 Village Lane in Orient, as well as the Old Point Schoolhouse, May through September on Fridays and Sundays from 2 to 5 p.m., and Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Webb House on Saturdays and Sundays from 2 to 5 p.m., and by private appointment in the off-season.
“Visiting Village House and our other buildings and grounds is a wonderful and engaging way to not only learn about the history of Oysterponds,” says Ventura, “but of a small town, its people who lived and continue to live here, and why it’s such a rich community and very special place.”