Restoration Of Tupper Boathouse Underway in North Sea

The Tupper Boathouse in North Sea Harbor is being restored this week after the structure was flooded during Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

The first phase of the restoration, which involves stabilizing and raising the boathouse above the floodplain to avoid future damage, is a $1.29 million project teeming with historical and sentimental value in the Town of Southampton.

The Tupper Boathouse was originally constructed by father and son Frank and Edwin “Ned” Tupper between 1929 and 1931. Frank Tupper migrated to New York from Nova Scotia in about 1900, and later funded the business ventures of his two eldest sons, who purchased real estate in Shinnecock Hills and North Sea.

The story of Frank Tupper’s immigration, and his family’s entrepreneurial perseverance during the Great Depression, renders an even larger picture of 19th century America and the American Dream.

Frank and Edwin Tupper’s involvement in automotive mechanics and boat construction technologies established their family as an innovative force that left a lasting mark on Southampton’s maritime history.

The Boathouse was eventually sold by Edwin in 1959 and transformed by various owners into a unique social destination with dining and entertainment.

Since 2003, however, the boathouse has been owned by the Town of Southampton. According to Ann Reisman, the president of the North Sea Maritime Center, the boathouse will reopen as a maritime center, commemorating its former owners, and providing interactive experiences for visitors of all ages.

After the Tupper family sold the boathouse to the Don-Lou-Rube Corporation, it became an active nightclub called L’Oursin, until 1970. The boathouse then enjoyed multiple different owners. However, as Ms. Reisman explained, the boathouse’s use as a nightclub predated current zoning regulations and was nonconforming to the residential neighborhood in which it’s located.

The use of the boathouse as a club until 2002 wreaked havoc on the residents of North Sea. The tale of the discordant high-intensity club met its end with the scandal of Lizzie Grubman. Ms. Grubman, then a 31-year-old New York City publicist, backed into a crowd of 16 people outside the boathouse, then known as Conscience Point Inn, with her SUV. Ms. Reisman said her community convinced the Town of Southampton to buy the property, put an end to the madness, and turn the boathouse and marina property into a community asset.

In an interview, Ms. Reisman shed light on the historical significance of the boathouse, as well as the community of neighbors and friends that has risen out of the reconstruction project. She illustrated her community’s plight with the loud club, and the disruption it created in everyday life: “It’s hard to think of a neighboring business that means you cannot live in your own house in peace.”

It was a great relief when the town bought the land, including the marina, she said, because the property could be transformed from a nuisance into something wonderful — a town marina and eventually a maritime center honoring the maritime history and activities of North Sea Harbor.

Ms. Reisman outlined the North Sea Maritime Center’s intentions: “Our focus as a charitable nonprofit, the NSMC aims to provide to citizens, residents, and children of the community educational and recreational programming on the environment and the history of this unique and largely pristine spot.”

According to Ms. Reisman, “The history of North Sea Harbor is very unique to Southampton and New York at large and largely unknown.”

North Sea Harbor was the summer home of the Shinnecock people, and water provided abundant food. The harbor was the landing place of the first English settlers in New York, who went south to build houses, but maintained North Sea Harbor as their access to the sea.

Until the 1750s, the harbor, then known as “Feversham,” was one of the three largest ports on the East Coast with Philadelphia and Boston. From 1683 to the 1750s, Feversham was a major trading center exporting whale oil to Boston and London, cordwood to New York City and barrels of dried pork to Virginia. Imports included sugar, rum and horses from Barbados. After the 1750s, Feversham became North Hampton, and was supplanted by the port in Sag Harbor.

North Sea Harbor today, as through history, is both actively used by the residents and relatively pristine, filled with fish, shellfish, birds and other wildlife. Partnering with the Southampton History Museum, the maritime center’s central features will include boat building, sailing lessons, and aquaculture tours for children.

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Historic Photographs are from the Collection of the Southampton Historical Museum

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