Bob Weible: Making History in Difficult Times

I was disappointed to hear the recent news that Schenectady County officials have chosen to cut funding for their county historian. This decision appears to have less to do with the historian than it did with the county’s fiscal problems.

Many of us are familiar with the state law that requires municipalities to appoint historians, and as Gerry Smith has pointed out, NYS County Law, section 400, also requires counties to make similar appointments. Many counties and many municipalities comply with these laws. Many don’t. But that’s not what’s at stake here. Read more

Jamesport State Park Draft Master Plan Released

The New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation has completed a Draft Master Plan and Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for Jamesport State Park in Suffolk County. A public hearing on the plan will be held Tuesday, May 18th at 6:30pm at the Naugles Barn located at the Hallockville Museum Farm, 6038 Sound Avenue, Riverhead, NY 11901.

The master plan outlines OPRHP’s vision for potential capital improvements, operational enhancements and natural and cultural resource stewardship within Jamesport State Park for the next ten to fifteen years. Availability of funding, the need to invest in rehabilitation of existing park infrastructure, and other pressing needs in the entire state parks system will influence the timing and implementation of the improvements.

Copies of the Draft Plan/DEIS are available for review at the Wildwood State Park office, the offices of the agency contacts listed below and at the Riverhead Public Library, 330 Court Street, Riverhead, NY 11901. An online version is available at:

People unable to attend the meeting may submit written comments by Friday, June 11 to one of the following:

[email protected]

Ronald Foley, Regional Director
NYS OPRHP Long Island Region Regional Headquarters
625 Belmont Ave
Babylon NY 11704

Thomas B. Lyons, Director
Resource Management
Empire State Plaza
Agency Building 1
Albany, NY 12238
(518) 474-0409

OHEKA Castle Chronicled in New Book

A new book chronicles the untold story of the largest restored home in America – OHEKA Castle. The 291-page work, entitled OHEKA CASTLE Monument to Survival, is the definitive behind-the-scenes look at the 20-year and $30 million dollar historic preservation of New York’s largest home and Long Island’s largest Gold Coast mansion which, at 115,000 square feet, is more than twice the size of the White House. OHEKA Castle, placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2004, has previously been featured on Home and Garden Television Network’s (HGTV) Restore America as well as the final episode of the Arts & Entertainment Network’s (A&E) America’s Castles. The new book is the only work that reveals the mansion’s 90-year history, the extraordinary efforts to save it and the restoration itself depicted in over 250 black and white and full color photographs.

The book opens up with personal reflections about OHEKA by best-selling author and Long Islander, Nelson DeMille. DeMille’s introduction begins with the statement: “Ellen Schaffer and Joan Cergol have worked eight years to write this remarkable book about a remarkable house: OHEKA Castle.” In the book’s foreword, entitled “Why OHEKA matters,” the authors state: “In sharing OHEKA’s story, we also tell a tale of victory for all those who believe historic structures should and can be saved for future generations. By documenting this successful large-scale experience in historic preservation, we hope to educate and inspire others to attain their own hopes and dreams of saving that ‘big old house’ down the road.”

The new book is the product of an eight year collaboration between co-authors Ellen Schaffer and Joan Cergol, who were introduced in 1996 by OHEKA Castle owner Gary Melius. Schaffer, a civic leader and longtime resident of Cold Spring Hills, the community in which OHEKA is situated, and Cergol, a local public relations professional, worked side by side to create a not-for-profit organization known as “Friends of OHEKA” and develop an innovative zoning approach to preserve the structure and maintain its residential zoning. At that time, OHEKA’s future was at risk due to zoning issues threatening Melius’ ability to advance his restoration plan for a 127-room “single family home” on Long Island’s North Shore.

The story illustrates the importance of public-private partnerships for historic preservation in America, where government funding is almost non-existent. It also documents a successful “public awareness campaign” to garner the public support needed for government intervention. The story reveals how a dedicated and resourceful owner, a supportive community and an enlightened town came together to accomplish what seemed impossible &#8211 rescuing, restoring and ultimately succeeding in finding adaptive reuses for an otherwise obsolete Gold Coast mansion in the center of a residential community.

The book encourages owners of historic structures, local communities and governments across America to think “outside the box” of historic preservation. The story reveals how a preservation tool known as a “historic overlay district,” when combined with good old-fashioned American ingenuity, can turn a devastated Gold Coast ruins into a useful structure to serve our modern-day society. Now carefully captured and preserved by the co-authors, this “preservation success story” is itself preserved to serve a larger goal of encouraging ordinary citizens and local governments to save historic homes for future generations.