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Orient residents seek help to preserve historic Village Lane church, which is up for sale

The Orient United Methodist Church on Village Lane. Photo: Katharine Schroeder

Orient residents want the Orient Methodist Church to be preserved and they’re willing to support the effort with their volunteer labor and monetary donations, according to an email survey conducted by the Oysterponds Historical Society.

The historical society is working to find the resources to buy the historic church before the North Fork United Methodist Church puts it up for sale, according to OHS vice president Ed Caufield. The Methodist churches in Cutchogue, Southold, Orient and Greenport have consolidated into one North Fork congregation and they are looking to sell their buildings and construct a new church on Route 48 in Southold. The Southold Methodist Church has been sold and renovated for use as an opera house. There is a proposal to convert the Greenport Methodist Church into housing.

The United Methodist Church is asking $950,000 for the Orient site.

The church, a landmark, was built on Village Lane in 1835 and is a centerpiece of the village, Hanlon said.

“If it’s sold privately the discussion is over,” Hanlon said.

OHS is looking to the county and the town for help, Caufield and Orient Association president Bob Hanlon told the Southold Town Board yesterday during a work session meeting.

“Community support alone can’t buy it,” Hanlon told board members.

County Legislator Al Krupski has been very supportive, Hanlon said. “He thinks the county can raise a significant portion to fund the purchase.” Peconic Land Trust has expressed an interest in helping, he said.

“We don’t want town to be unduly burdened,” Caufield said, “but we want the town to be a stakeholder.”

Town officials were reluctant to commit.

“I’ve gotta tell you going into this, I’m a very hard sell at this point,” Supervisor Scott Russell said. “I’ll sit in a meeting, but I’m a hard sell.”

Caufield inquired about the possibility of the town using Community Preservation Fund money to support the purchase. But the town has not been willing to use the limited CPF monies for historic preservation, citing the unprotected farmland and environmentally sensitive properties that require preservation.

Russell said yesterday he’d be concerned about setting a precedent, too. The town is full of historic buildings, he noted.

If Southold chose to go down that path, it should have a plan, the way it has a plan for land acquisitions, Russell said.

“We need to have a plan establishing a hierarchy,” he said. “The building shouldn’t dictate the plan. The plan should dictate the building.”

Hanlon suggested the town might “buy an easement.”

Justice Louisa Evans asked what the Oysterponds Historical Society would do with the building.

That hasn’t been fully worked out yet, Caufield said. “It’s important to keep it as a public resource.”

“It’s a fascinating building,” said Hanlon. “The interior is beautiful. It has circular pews. It’s not too overtly religious.”

Survey respondents — which numbered about 300 — don’t want the future use of the church to compete with Poquatuck Hall, according to the historical society. Caufield said the church, which is home to “a very famous organ,” could be used in ways that complement the larger venue, not compete with it.

Both Caufield and Hanlon said they believe the community, which is “very committed to the idea of preserving the church,” would be able to muster the resources to maintain the building once it’s purchased.

OHS and the Orient Association are going to coordinate a stakeholders meeting. Town officials agreed to attend.

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Denise Civiletti
Denise is a veteran local reporter and editor, an attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including a “writer of the year” award from the N.Y. Press Association in 2015. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.