The historic Baxter House burns down after 324 years

Rebecca Muratore, Assistant News Editor

On the morning of Sunday Feb. 5, the historic Baxter House in the Village of Baxter Estates burned down in a fire.  Investigations are underway, but authorities have not yet determined the cause of the fire.

The fire broke out around 3:30 a.m.  It took four hours to get the flames under control by the Port Washington Fire Department and 10 other local fire companies. Firefighters stayed on the scene until 10:00 a.m.  The house was vacant at the time of the fire, and no injuries or deaths have been reported relating to the incident.

“I’m sad that we lost such a historic landmark in our town,” said junior Shiraz Johnson.

The Baxter House had been a historical institution on Long Island for centuries.  Built in 1693, the house was purchased by its namesake, Oliver Baxter, in the 1740s.  The Baxter family would go on to own the house for over 150 years before selling it in the 1890s.

During the Revolutionary War, Hessian troops who were fighting for the British were quartered in the home, and in 1895, the parlor of the Baxter House held the first library of Port Washington.  Over 10 years ago, shortly after it was purchased by current owner Sabrina Wu, the Baxter House was given landmark status.

Since 2014, the house had been empty, and fell into disrepair.  Holes in the roof, a chimney in “dangerous disrepair,” and dead trees on the front lawn caused growing concerns from community members as to its structural stability and safety.

In late 2015, community members started a Facebook group called “Save the Baxter House,” in order to bring awareness to its dilapidated state and to encourage necessary renovations to be made.

After the fire, a 6-foot chain-link fence was put up around the property.  Joseph Saladino, Building Inspector of the Village, and Dean Koutsoubis, an independent structural engineer, inspected the building Wednesday in order to assess the damage.  Their evaluation led to the determination that the building should be demolished.

“Roof components were burned away as well as wall supports, those that remained and visible in my opinion were too severely compromised by the fire to be used,” said Saladino in the structure report.

A letter to the residents from the Village after the fire informed them that Wu plans to submit a demolition permit for the house, although an application for its demolition has not yet been received.  Village records have shown that Wu had plans to demolish the building and build a replica even before the fire, and later filed plans for a second house to be built in the backyard of the Baxter House.

“If there is any interest in restoring the structure for historic reasons, a more cost-effective approach would be to construct a replica of the building that would take advantage of the latest construction technology and be in full conformance to the current building code,” said Koutsoubis in the report.