'Nothing left to save': Historian
Owner says he will raze Swezey House
January 19, 1989

Swezey House after the fire. Photo by Jim McMahon.

'Nothing Left To Save': Historian
Owner says he'll raze Swezey House

By Mitchell Freedman

A suspicious fire that gutted the pre-Revolution Swezey House in Middle Island last weekend left nothing of historic value salvageable, Brookhaven Town Historian David Overton said.

Overton who inspected the building yesterday said the fire destroyed the 1 ½-story wooden structure, which was built between 1717 and 1740. ' 'There's nothing left to save. The walls are all shot, nothing salvageable at all.''

The Saturday night fire was the second in a year at the site. Last spring, a barn on the property, which may have been older than the house, burned down. "They caught two kids [for that fire]" said Sal Malguarnera, owner of the Swezey House property. Malguarnera wants to build on the property through his Sala Development Crop.

The cause of the latest blaze is under investigation.

Among the oldest houses in Brookhaven, the Swezey house was considered one of the most historically important structures in the town because it remained on its original location, on Old Middle Country Road, the site of town's first colonial Post Road.

Last month, the town broad gave the Swezey House landmark status, a preliminary step toward forming a historic district that would have made altering the house more difficult. But that action would not prevent construction of a shopping center-office complex proposed by Malguarnera for the site. No town action was being planed to acquire the property for preservation.

Malguarnera said the Swezey house had been vandalized and graffiti covered the inside walls. "Most of the windows were broken. It needed work," he said.

The house had a cyclone fence around it, but a hole apparently had been cut in it. The electricity had been turned off, but late last year, several neighbors complained to town officials that children or vagrants had been using the house.

When the site plan for the proposed shopping center on the 23,380-square- foot lot was filed last summer by the Sala Development Corp, town officials complained the Swezey house was not on the map. They told the developer to redraw the map indicating the house's location.

Malguarnera said yesterday that the house was in fact sited on the plan but in a very light color that was difficult to see. The property is zoned for business use, and the proposed center would contain 2,900 square feet of retail stores and 1,625 square feet of office space. He said plans called for building the center without tearing down the house.

Now that it has been destroyed, he said that if the town declared it, an unsafe structure, he expected to raze it.

Malguarnera said the property's zoning would allow shopping center construction, but that he took no action on the land since filing the application because he wanted to see if the town would try to rezone it for residential use. "I lelt this piece alone," Malguarnera said. "If the town in its wisdom made it residential. I wouldn't have touched it."

Malguarnera said he gave the local civic association permission to put a fence around the property, and never asked for a key for the padlock on the gate.

In the 1960s, the property's previous owner, Emil Lengyel, operated a small museum next to the house. Town historical surveys say the Swezey house painted white with red shutters, had a gabled roof, two fireplaces, and five small windows under the front and rear eaves, an indication of Dutch influence in home construction in central Suffolk before the American Revolution.

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