Updated: Oct 4, 2022
The house at 264 South Main Street, which local history traces to 1695, was part of the vast property holdings acquired by the Foster family in the years following the arrival in Southampton of their ancestor Christopher Foster in 1651.
By 1862 various members of the Foster family reportedly owned almost 1,500 acres in and around Southampton. Prominent landowners, members of the Foster family also took leading roles in civic affairs. None more than Edward Herrick Foster (1844-1931) who rose to prominence in the town as a leader in church, political and banking circles, including tenure as Southampton Town Clerk from 1870 to 1886.
An eighth-generation Foster, Edward H. was born to Isaac Post Foster and his wife Mary, nee Herrick. He was brought up on the homestead farm on South Main Street, and educated at the Southampton Academy, after which he continued his studies in Massachusetts. Except for that absence, he was a lifelong resident of Southampton.
In the 1870s, recorded land transactions in Southampton indicate that property in and around the town was bought, sold and valued for its utility—by families as home lots, by farmers for cultivating crops, and by a few merchants for shops. The year 1880 marks the start of a new era. That is when a rush for property prized for its exchange value rather than its utility began in earnest, propelled by newcomers from New York who were struck by the area’s beauty, its potential as a seasonal escape from the city, and—not incidentally—as a profitable investment.
As a member of one of Southampton’s venerable old, land-rich families, Edward Foster was well positioned to benefit from the land boom fueled by Southampton’s rising status as a summer resort. He built rental cottages on his property and, not surprisingly, took up residence in the handsome Foster Homestead (now # 264) with his wife, Adelaide Sayre Foster and their two daughters.
The Fosters’ strong Herrick connection has given rise to a much repeated story linking #264 with two other old Main Street dwellings: the house just south of the Presbyterian Church (#20 S. Main) and what is now the 1708 House at 126 Main Street, each of which boasts the same architectural oddity. A second-story porch juts from the façade of each house. With windows on three sides—the better to look up and down Main Street—it is said to be a feature insisted upon by each of three Herrick sisters, one of whom married into the Huntting family, former owners of #126; a second house with the feature is identified on a 1902 map as part of the estate of Esther Herrick (#20 South Main); and the third house, #264 was for many years where Edward Foster’s mother, Mary Herrick Foster, raised her children. (Local Lore has it that from their respective porches, the sisters could signal (or shout!) to get the attention of their siblings. Shouting seems a stretch.
Edward Foster hung on to his family’s house and extensive home lot until the early 1920s when the property was purchased by Pauline Sabin. After the death of her husband Charles Sabin, with whom she had presided over the magnificent Shinnecock estate, Bayberry Land, Pauline married Dwight Davis, best known as the donor of the Davis Cup. A power in Democratic politics, Pauline was given much of the credit for the successful campaign to end Prohibition, for which she was put on the cover of Time Magazine. Locally, she was known as a generous supporter of village endeavors, a reputation she enhanced by donating the Edward Foster Homestead to the fledgling Southampton Colony DAR Chapter to use as its Chapter House.
The property remained in the DAR’s hands until the late 1990s when dwindling membership could no longer keep up with rising taxes and maintenance costs.
Enter a preservation-minded buyer who happened to be a renovator by avocation. He bought the property from the DAR and undertook a complete renovation, which, predictably, turned out to be far more complicated than he had anticipated. His determination was immediately put to the test. Even before work could begin, he faced a significant problem. Because Pauline Sabin had stipulated that the property would revert to her heirs if the Southampton DAR chapter should ever cease to be active, scattered descendants had to be located and persuaded to agree to the sale.
The next delay was caused by the difficulty in finding an architect willing to tackle a house in such terrible shape. Unfortunately, the first architect to accept the challenge came up with a plan that the new owner could not accept. Among other things, the plan eliminated the Herrick sisters’ second floor balcony, which was one of the owner's favorite features and proved a deal-breaker.
Finally a likeminded collaborator was found in his South Main Street neighbor, architect Siamak Samii. He also found a compatible builder in the late Steven Dunham, who had many credits for his work on historic buildings. After that, renovations went full throttle for a year and a half, a virtual rebuilding of the original structure, along with substantial additions—all with an eye to preserving the landmark while bringing Edward Foster’s homestead up to date. And now the lovely landmark is about to enter a new chapter.