SMITHTOWN, N.Y. — Rosemary Culhane remembers the splendor of the old house.
She and her late husband, Bill Culhane, first moved into rooms they rented on the second floor of the Ebo Hill mansion in Smithtown, on Long Island, in 1955.
“All the fixtures in the mansion were just beautiful,” said Culhane, 88, who works in real estate. “They’re the kind of things that today we’re trying to replicate, and that it costs a million dollars to put into a house.”
Culhane recalled an expansive living room with built-in bookcases and an eat-in kitchen, the only modernized part of the house at that time.
“It’s terrible to think that all of that history just went up in flames,” she said of the March blaze that stunned neighbors — and the home’s new owner.
“We were all excited that the gentleman who bought it was going to restore it.”
The gentleman is Richard Albano, who purchased the house earlier this year for $600,000, according to Suffolk County records. He called the mansion “amazingly intact.”
“No one had ever changed a bath knob or a sink, everything was original,” he said. “Every single bathroom still had its original tub, sink, faucet.” There were even brass and porcelain doorknobs. Aside from peeling paint, the home was in “excellent and original” condition, Albano said.
It was “a true treasure,” he said.
The March 26 fire reduced the mansion to a pile of charred wood and bricks dotted with the remains of shattered planters. The blaze took with it two centuries of stories.
“The house was built before the Statue of Liberty came to the Manhattan islands,” said Richard Longobardi, the previous owner. “It had a lot of historic memories to a lot of people in the community, especially the older folks.”
Obediah Smith, a descendant of Smithtown founder Richard Smith, built the house in 1845 and gave it to his daughter, Nancy, when she married Josiah Bowers in 1861, according to Brad Harris, the town historian. Sixteen years later, Bowers sold it to Ethelbert Smith. When Ethelbert Smith died in 1901, ownership was transferred to his son, Richard Lawrence Smith, who owned it into the 1940s.
Claudia and Paul Lasurdo watched the fire from their home behind the mansion.
“It was amazing to me how fast the whole thing went up,” Paul Lasurdo said. Watching from an upstairs window in his own home, he could feel the heat, he said.
Lasurdo and his family retreated to a neighbor’s property as firefighters hosed down the roof of his house.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” he said. “The flames were like 60, 70 feet tall coming off the top of the building.”
The cause of the fire has not been determined and is the subject of an active investigation, according to a spokeswoman for the Suffolk County Police Department.
A fire had been burning in the fireplace earlier that day. “When I left, there were no more flames and just embers glowing in the fireplace and the screen was shut,” Albano said.
Around 8 p.m., Albano said, a worker heard a “pop,” found the fireplace mantle burning and tried to put out the flames.
“He could’ve lost his life,” Albano said.
Albano was five doors away when he got the call. At the mansion, flames were “pouring” out of every window.
Albano said he hopes to replace as many of the home’s original features as possible, including a walk-in refrigerator. The mansion had what Albano said was the first refrigerated walk-in box on Long Island.
“There was no evidence of it inside the home, but after removing the walls where I knew that room was, it exposed that refrigerator walk-in box,” he said. The room had been covered by drywall, he said, and “probably hadn’t been seen in 80 years.”
Albano plans to make no changes to the original floor plan. “I want to make it identical,” he said, emphasizing that the operative word for him is “replicate.”
Longobardi, the former owner, came to the house the night of the fire after neighbors called him.
“We both cried,” Albano said.
Longobardi had purchased the home in 2002 with the same restoration intentions as Albano. “I am devastated, and the whole community is devastated,” Longobardi said.
A market downturn forced him to look for a buyer, he said, and he found in Albano an owner with the “same passion” for preserving the house. “It was just so costly to reconstruct that house the way it was supposed to be,” Longobardi said.
Albano said he has received a great deal of support from the community throughout his restoration efforts.
“I feel like I let them down,” he said.
“But I’m now back and I’m more determined than ever to replicate the home and bring it back to its grandeur.”
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