Built in 1842 for one of Bridgehampton’s most prominent citizens, Topping Rose House stands at a crossroads that has been integral to the community it calls home since the earliest days of American history. Following is a brief, selective history of the site, the surrounding area and its people.
THE HAMLET OF BRIDGEHAMPTON
It started with a gristmill. In 1644, Edward Howell - the wealthiest of the original Southampton town founders - was awarded a contract to grind the town’s grain. The mill, considered by all essential to the community’s survival and growth, was built in the town’s uninhabited east end. Per town by-laws, local able-bodied men were periodically required to trek out to the mill to dig trenches and perform other necessary labor. Howell’s gristmill stood alone in the vast eastern reach of the township until 1656, when Josiah Stanborough, another of the town founders, built a home in Sagaponack. Others soon followed, building homes and established farms nearby. By the dawn of the new century (1700), the area around Howell’s mill had become its own distinct community - still bound by law and governance to the town of Southampton, but otherwise separate.
THE TAVERN AT BULLS HEAD
In Colonial times, the site of Topping Rose House was at the center of a community known as Bulls Head, one of several within today’s Bridgehampton. Others included Mecox, Scuttle Hole, Hay Ground and Sagaponack. The name was taken from a well-known local tavern, The Bulls Head, opened by John Wick sometime around 1695. The tavern was located across the street from where Topping Rose House now stands. By the beginning of the 18th century, the crossroads at the center of Bulls Head - today better known as the intersection of Montauk Highway and Sag Harbor Turnpike - had become the economic and social hub of the area. The commons were located at the northwest corner of the intersection, and soon more homes, taverns and businesses were built on or near the crossroads.
THE HOUSE AND BARN
The mansion at One Bridgehampton - Sag Harbor Turnpike is one of the few remaining examples of its kind in the area. Erected around 1842 for Judge Abraham Topping Rose and his family, the house was built with braced-frame construction using vertical saws, a method of construction that first came into use in the second quarter of the 19th century. The home, with its flat roof, cupola, pilasters and frieze band, was designed in a local version of the Greek Revival style, which was immensely popular throughout the country at the time. Behind the house and to the east is its barn, a two-story wood structure with a peaked-gable roof with a cupola in the center. Also made using braced-frame construction, it was likely erected some time after the main house, given that the Italianate flourishes on the windows and cupola did not become popular until later in the century. Across Montauk Highway sits the Nathaniel Rogers House (now managed by the Bridgehampton Historical Society), which was once owned by Judge Rose and was also built in the Greek Revival style. Together, the homes offer a rare glimpse at the look and feel of the community more than 150 years ago.
OUR NAMESAKE: THE HONORABLE JUDGE ROSE
Abraham Topping Rose was an accomplished, wealthy and well-known man in the community. The son of a local doctor and Revolutionary War surgeon, he was born in Bridgehampton in 1792, attending local schools before earning a law degree from Yale in 1814. Rose went to work for the New York City District Attorney’s office after graduation. In 1823 he met and married Eliza Van Gelder, the daughter of the former city mayor. The couple decided to move to Bridgehampton shortly thereafter to raise a family. They had six children. An accomplished musician and avid hunter, Rose worked as a local attorney until becoming a County Judge in 1847. He resigned a month before his death in 1857. The family moved out of the house not long after. In 1870, the Sag Harbor branch of the Long Island Railroad was completed, transforming the sleepy farming community into a summer destination for city dwellers. By the turn of the century, the Rose mansion had become the summer residence of Henry Corwith, a wealthy Manhattan businessman in the knit goods trade. Corwith and his family continued to live at the house into the 1930s. Thereafter, it became the site of a series of popular restaurants and inns. Its current owners bought the property in 2005. Construction of Topping Rose House began in earnest in 2011, adding a new and unique chapter to the long history of the crossroads at Bulls Head, Bridgehampton.