2/5/17: Fire Consumes the Baxter House
[click here for some of the back story and historic photographs]
New York Times coverage here
The Baxter House can still be saved! Don’t believe the alternative facts.
Here are the FACTS vs. the corresponding FICTION.
Read the FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)
As one engineer stated, with years of experience
"Any structure can be restored.
Just two things are required: The will, and the money."
The Baxter House
It is 2016 and it is sad to say that the Baxter House today is neglected. For several years, it has been allowed to deteriorate rapidly by an owner who doesn’t live there and who wants to divide the property into two pieces, building brand new house in what is now the back yard. It is also being allowed to happen by a Village who claims that there is little that they can do. In the parlance of those involved in historic home preservation, this is often referred to as Demolition by Neglect. Everyone voices concern, but little is done.
Take a look, see for yourself, and then consider our suggestions:
Several Baxter Estates residents have told us that if a village homeowner allows their lawn to grow wildly to an unkepmpt and unsightly state, the Village has the power to send in a crew to clean up the mess. The Village then sends the homeowner the bill. If that is so, why doesn’t the Village employ the same principle, and fix the roof, the gutters, the front porch?
This historic house has been allowed to deteriorate for many years. Water, time & temperature are its enemies. Water is seeping into the structure with every rainfall and as the temperature drops, the freezing rain, snow and ice will do tremendous damage. It can be prevented in one of two ways. Either fix the roof and the gutters or tarp the house. Blue construction tarps could be draped over the house for the remainder of the winter until the Village, the owner, and the residents of Baxter Estates come to a solution. Just do it. Waiting for more board meetings, more wringing of hands, month after month gives the rain and snow time to do affect their damage. Fix the house or tarp the house. Anything less is willful neglect of this iconic house from the colonial days of Cow Neck. Anything less makes the owner and the village accomplices in Demolition by Neglect.
There is nothing the historical society can do other than bringing this to everyone’s attention. This is up to the citizens of Port Washington to voice their opinions. So let your opinion be known!
Email the village your thoughts by sending them to
The Baxter Homestead
In early April, 1904, local photographer John Witmer set up his view camera in the middle of Shore Road. A large dark cloth covered his head as well as the back of the camera so that he could carefully frame and focus his lens on the old Baxter Homestead, their family farm, and the edge of Baxter’s Ice Pond. A couple was approaching, walking up Shore Road, about to enter the left edge of the carefully composed scene, so Witmer had no time to lose. Once the couple walked into his frame, John Witmer clicked the shutter, and captured this scene for us to view 111 years later.
To truly enjoy John Witmer’s photograph greatly enlarged, click here!
John Witmer was well aware of the rich history surrounding the Baxter property. Long before the Baxter family purchased the property in the mid 1700’s, this had been the site of a thriving Matinecock Indian village. A home had been built on the property by Robert Hutchings and John Betts in the late 1600’s, and about 1742 the property was purchased by Oliver Baxter who established a fullering business to serve the few hundred people who lived in town, then known as Cow Neck.
During the American Revolution, the British hired more than 18,000 Hessian soliders from Germany, posting them throughout the American colonies, eventually to fight alongside the Brits against the American colonists. The Hessian mercenaries often occupied rooms in local homes, including the Baxter House and the Dodge House, both situated near the water and the center of town. Most American, those loyal to King George and those favoring independence, feared the Hessian soldiers, who had reputations for brutality second only to actual British soldiers. Having them living in your home in 1776 was not a welcome circumstance, to put it mildly.
John Witmer had heard these distant stories of early Cow Neck. The Baxter family had been been involved in many trades over the previous century, as whalers, shipbuilders, fullers, blacksmiths and other trades of the era. Ida Baxter had been the village’s third postmaster, working out of the nearby McKee’s General Store, at the Mill Pond. Just a decade before, in 1895, the State of New York had chartered the town’s first library, where townspeople could meet, read, take out books, all in the parlor of the Baxter house. A few years after Witmer took these photographs the house was purchased by noted American architect Addison Mizner (1872 - 1933) who created homes and resorts in a Spanish Colonial Revival style as well as Mediterranean Revival style largely in Florida. He realized the importance of historic tradition, and thus left the Baxter home largely unchanged.
Witmer photographed the Baxter house and property many time in April, May and June of 1904. He focused on the house, on the rolling farmland, and on the ice pond. Here are some of his most arresting images (all of which can be enlarged by clicking on them).
Here is a view of the Baxter Ice Pond, which had been formed in the mid 1800’s by damming up the stream that ran down through the property to the bay. “Baxter Estates” was still a few years in the future.
A rare view of the house from the north.
The last of the Baxters to live in the house sold it in the late 1890’s, before Witmer began photographing the area. Although the owner’s names in 1904 have been lost to history, Witmer was friendly with whomever he met, and captured more intimate views of the home and its inhabitants, including an exceptionally rare interior, shown below.
This photograph hints at the magnificent sunsets seen daily.
A rare interior photograph of the dining room of the Baxter House, April 1904.
Many other photographers photographed the area, of course, some of them with the intent to make postcards, which were extremely popular in the early 1900’s. Wherever people traveled, they often sent postcards off to family and friends, showing off their travels. Here is the most beautiful of the Baxter Pond cards, showing the rolling hills and farmland, before the 1910 development of Baxter Estates.
Here is a view of the newly created Baxter Estates, circa 1910, showing off the beautiful stone wall which survives into 2016.
In our final views of the developing hills of Baxter Estates, you can see children enjoying the frozen pond, which the people of Port Washington did until the early 1970’s, often referring to it as “The Duck Pond”. Central Drive appears to be in place, and additional roads are probably under development.
An enlarged section from the image above. The two houses on Central Drive are still there today!
Fire Consume the Baxter House
February 5, 2017
Photos Courtesy of Patti Ann Stanchio