William Havens built his farmhouse in 1743 on 1,000 acres. It originally had four first-floor rooms with two above, a central chimney and cooking hearth, and two doors at either end of the hall facing North and South. This allowed the summer breeze to blow through the home.
In 1761, William’s son, Captain James Havens and his wife, Elizabeth, took over the homestead and named it “Heartsease.” Here, they raised their 11 children. As the family grew and prospered, two rooms were added to the second floor. The home was also a store, a tavern, a school, the post office and the town meeting hall which served a community of 27 households. Captain Havens was a privateer during the war for independence and a Representative of Suffolk County in the New York Provincial Congress of 1776.
Henry Havens took over ownership of Heartsease upon his father’s death on March 15, 1810. He established himself as a Commercial Merchant in New York and enjoyed the respect of the business community. Henry was one of the men who founded the East River Savings Bank in 1848.
When Henry passed away in 1856, his son, Asher, took over the business. Asher used the house as a summer residence and made some changes to the structure of the home. Asher died in 1884 and his son, Henry P. Havens II and his family inherited the house. The youngest of his four daughters, Mildred, was the last Havens to be born in the house. In 1911, Henry’s daughter found the house and farm becoming a burden.
In 1913 they sold the property to “William P. Richardson and others.” The property passed in rapid succession to Payson Thompson, George A. Washington, Charles A. Knight, and in 1923, Mary Hillman. Before Hillman, one of these owners had two first floor rooms converted into one large room and had done some modernizing which destroyed the period charm.
In 1925, Heartsease was purchased by an Island family, Mr. & Mrs. Frank B. Sherman. They ran the place as a lodging house and then, their home. The Shermans lived peacefully in Heartsease for about the next thirty years. In 1966, Mrs. Alice Sherman, by then widowed, was still living in the Havens House. Upon learning of the formation of the Shelter Island Historical Society, she asked if they would be interested in purchasing the house to prevent it from future neglect. The Society was able to purchase the house with the help of generous friends.
Upon Mrs. Sherman’s passing in April 1971, the Society took possession of the house and grounds. The Society’s first priority was to provide basic structural repairs immediately.
In 1986, the Havens House was placed on both the New York State Register of Historic Places and the National Register of Historic Places.
Photo by Michael Moran. moranstudio.com
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