I’m going to go out on a limb and say that the majority of us East Enders have read, seen or at least heard of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. An international bestseller and recent box office bonanza, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo catapults readers into the intriguing Swedish world of Hedeby Island – a place so cut off from the rest of the country that time seems to stand as frozen as the terrain. On its surface – minus, of course the horrendous breaches of law that occur throughout the story – Hedeby Island mimics a sort of quintessential small-town American community.
To compare Shelter Island to Hedeby Island is a bit of a rough analysis – but on a surface level it can work. The everyone-knows-everyone mentality. The quaint Main Street. The community parades and get-togethers. And nowhere in our East End haven is it easier to make this comparison than at historic Sylvester Manor.
Located in the heart of Shelter Island, Sylvester Manor is a 243-acre plantation that was set up in 1652 and originally encompassed the entire island. One of the few places in America that has remained in the same family since its founding, the manor has been remarkably preserved throughout its rich history. Driving up the narrow dirt road, the bright yellow manor evokes images of a quaint, pre-colonial estate, and the transportation back in time is complete when you catch glimpses of the original paint still on parts of the interior walls.
Used in a variety of capacities throughout its history – from slaveholding provisioning plantation to full-functioning farm to summer vacation home of Eben Norton Horsford, who invented baking powder – Sylvester Manor has recently come under the direction of the Sylvester Manor Educational Farm, Inc., a nonprofit which was established in 2010. Eben Ostby, who has worked with Pixar to create the character of Buzz Lightyear, is the owner of the property and chairman of the board. He is committed to bringing his family manor and its contributions into the public eye.
Charged with preserving the dichotomy between the old and the new, the foundation has made great strides in the past year to present Sylvester Manor as an important part of both the East End’s history and future.
Today, Sylvester Manor is a full-functioning Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm in its fourth year of operation. Managed in part by Bennett Konesni, the 15th generation of his family to live on the property, the organic farm employs farmers from around the world who live and work on the property. Those on the manor hope that the locally grown food will help to ignite conversation about the importance and culture of Sylvester Manor.