The article below was written by Sally Spanburgh who an author and preservation advocate. It was originally posted on her now defunct Blog about architecture and preservation efforts in Southampton on Thursday, June 24, 2010. In her article she talks about the history of the building and muses on what must have gone on inside of it in the past. Personally I have driven by it dozens and dozens of times and wondered the same thing. Her article is below.
I've always been curious about this building. It's definitely suffering from a lack of attention, but still retains a lot of lovely detail. like the louvered bell tower, the tudor arched doors and windows with their diamond divided light pattern, the shingled skirt up to a common window sill that runs consistently around the building's perimeter, the brackets, the exposed rafter tails at the eaves, etc. Boy would I love to see the interior.
Exterior shots of the building from June 11, 2020
Prior to 1892 this property was owned by Ullman Rose Havens. Ullman was born in Southampton in 1854 and married Ida Willard Albertson in 1874 who was born in Riverhead in 1854. They had four children: Grace, Daniel, Martha and LeRoy. In 1892 the property was purchased by David Shepard Havens, Ullman's son, and the mortgage was carried by his uncle Walter Franklin Havens. David and Ullman Havens were real estate brokers and owned many properties throughout the Village of Southampton.
Before the building became the gathering place for the Sons of Gideon, it was known as the Bethel Presbyterian Church were whites, African Americans, and Indians gathered under the guidance of Reverened Thomas C. Ogburn. Rev. Ogburn was an African American from North Carolina. "He was born in slavery and had begin his ministerial work in the Deep South.....[He] was a graduate from Lincoln University and from the School of Theology of the same University located in the State of Pennsylvania.....The Minister was not a powerful speaker. He had none of the noisy showmanship which in those days so clearly marked the Negro preacher. This man was quiet, dignified and thoroughly a Presbyterian at heart as well as in his manner. Neither did he have the eloquence so common to the platform orator of that era. His sermons were in his daily tasks and the common everyday contacts with his parishioners." (The Shinnecock Indians, Lois Marie Hunter) Originally, Reverend Ogburn preached the three o'clock service at the First Presbyterian Church for many years. But later, as the African American community grew, there was pressure for their own place of worship. "The oldest Negro family was the very highly respected Bailey family. This Family had worshiped with Indians for many, many years and was well loved by both Indians and Whites. This family and their friends put their problems before Rev. Thomas C. Ogburn and under his leadership the nucleus of what in a few years was to become Bethel Presbyterian Church was founded.......In the year 1917 Bethel Church was erected on its present site in Southampton Village, an unacknowledged monument to the late Thomas Clay Ogburn and [his wife]."
The present owner of the structure is listed as "Goldie Smith/Sons of Gideon Lodge No. 47 A.P. & A.M." but it is likely that she died at least sixty years ago. Goldie was born in New York in 1868 and was the wife of a clothing merchant. Her husband, his parents, and her parents were all born in Germany. Perhaps the building is now owned by some of her relatives; she and her husband Max had three children: Philip, Ruby, and Harold. Sometime during her ownership of the building it became associated with the Sons of Gideon, which was a derivative of the Masonic Lodge, which derives from the Freemasons, a secretive fraternal organization which arose from obscure origins during the 16th and 17th century. "Freemasonry uses the metaphors of operative stonemasons' tools and implements, against the allegorical backdrop of the building of King Soloman's Temple, to convey what has been described by both Masons and critics as "a system of morality veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols." Wikipedia
The lovely structure looks like it hasn't been used in quite some time. I daydream about it becoming a general use community structure for book clubs, and poker groups and playgrounds or as an annex to the forthcoming African American Museum of the East End.
In doing some research into the buildings history our Research Center Manager Mary Cummings sent me the below document. It's a notice sent to everyone who was part of the Bethel Church's congregation alerting them about the impending closure of the church.
Like Sally talked about in her article, I too have driven by the building many times and always wondered what was inside. Partly interested from a historical standpoint of wanting to understand what this place was used for in our community, but also just from a general curiosity standpoint of wanting to see what this old, somewhat creepy, building's interior must be like.
Thankfully on June 11th I was given a chance to step inside. There has been some recent interest in the restoration of the building by its current owner, the Bridgehampton Child Care Center. The interior is as expected, a bit of a mess. Signs of water damage and mold growth all over as well as a few families of birds making their home in the building. But an architect who was with us on this investigation said that while the interior looks to be in pretty bad shape, the bones of the building and its foundation are sound.
There are no firm plans right now as to what may come of this building, but hopefully we can see it put back into use by those within our community who need it.