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The Mast-Head: A Dominy Plea

Wed, 12/01/2021 - 18:18

Eighty years ago this month, the mayor of the Village of East Hampton issued an urgent plea. An important piece of early American history was in danger of being lost, and the clock was running out to save the Dominy house and workshops on North Main Street from demolition.

The Dominys were a leading family of furniture makers and craftsmen here in the 18th and early 19th centuries. Three generations of Dominy men built houses, barns, windmills, furniture, gunstocks, clocks, and coffins. They repaired watches and fixed farm and household implements. They hired Montaukett Indians and used the labor of enslaved and free people of color, leaving a physical record of great beauty and superb function in the objects they made.

Mayor Judson Banister made a public plea on the front page of The Star as Christmas 1941 neared. The house, built in 1715, was about to be torn down, but the mayor had convinced its new owner, Oscar Brill, to postpone the demolition for a short time. Banister’s hope was to raise enough money to buy the property and restore the house, which still contained Dominy patterns and tools, as well as many other antiques.

“It is only through the public spirit of Mr. Brill that this property may be purchased for the purpose of a museum, etc., and it is not for sale otherwise,” the mayor wrote. When that failed, there was a talk to move the clockmaking shop to the village Memorial Green, to save some of the legacy. But this also was not to be.

The house was removed in 1946, and the workshops sold into private hands, to an antiques dealer who collected most of their contents. The tools eventually made it to the Winterthur Museum in Delaware, where they are displayed, along with Dominy furniture, as one of the museum’s centerpiece exhibits.

In 2016, the 1798 clock shop and 1791 woodworking shop were donated to the village, which then commissioned a replica of the Dominy house on its original site itself as a museum. The house now appears complete from the outside, though money is needed to complete the interior before it is opened. Only enough to keep the heat and electricity on was included in the 2021-22 village budget. An official opening day may still be a long while off.

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