Our readers responded so enthusiastically to the first Mystery Buildings article in 2019 and to More Mystery Houses in 2022 that Main Street plans to return every October to check up on the status of previous mysteries and identify new ones, including commercial buildings. We appreciate the help of real-estate agents, town officials, local residents with long memories, and owners who have shared their perspective. Our definition of “mystery” building remains the same: a building that anyone can walk or drive by and wonder what will happen next. Will it be torn down, or renovated and given a new identity? It’s a building that has the potential to become something else, to have a fresh start. Unlike F. Scott Fitzgerald’s claim that “There are no second acts in American lives,” these building all have potential. Mystery structures are usually vacant and in transition. They are not necessarily in disrepair – just waiting. Unraveling the history behind many mystery houses leads to new stories and a deeper understanding of the pulse of our region.
PINE PLAINS, NY 7702-7714 South Main Street
The former farmhouse on South Main Street in Pine Plains is ready for what comes next. Dale Mitchell, the owner of almost 34 acres on Route 83 surrounding the Stewart’s gas station, has owned the property for over 40 years. Mitchell, an entrepreneur who is responsible for renovating The Pines and Stissing House, used the farmhouse in the past as an office. As part of upgrading the entire property, the farmhouse roof has been stabilized, the windows boarded up and the interior gutted and made ready for restoration. Mitchell says that the building will definitely not be torn down.
SALISBURY, CT 343 Main Street
The former Chinese restaurant in the center of Lakeville, which was listed for sale at $425,000 when it was featured as a mystery house in 2019, was finally sold for $500,000 in 2022. The new buyer has been meeting with Salisbury’s Planning and Zoning Commission to discuss plans to “restore the façade of the main building with a look and feel consistent with the architecture of Lakeville … while retaining the existing whimsical look and feel of the structure.” The owner plans to attract a high turn-over dessert restaurant on the ground floor and has applied to add three one-bedroom apartments and one larger apartment. Demolition of the barns in back has been completed and the interior restaurant space is being renovated, although the large photo of a Chinese pavilion still remains in place.
7 Ethan Allen Place
The long vacant former radio station and CNE railroad building built in 1871 at has been owned by the Town of Salisbury since 1971 according to town records. The Lakeville Train Station is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as “a contributing building of the Lakeville Historic District. The building has both architectural and historical significance, as a regional transportation hub and network.” It has retained its original form, materials, and detailing. Recently the town received a grant to protect the station and is repairing the soffit trim, windows, and foundation. After the work is completed, the town will consider possible uses for it. In March 2023, a full condition assessment on the 3,000 square-foot structure including the basement and surrounding canopy was completed by Crosskey Architects, which found the building in “good condition.” A copy of the report is available from the town clerk.
NORTH EAST, NY 5546 Route 22
This overgrown one-story building by the side of Route 22 has been empty for years. Newcomers to the area wonder what the building with its distinctive Plexiglas semi-spherical window was? Longtime residents remember when it was high-quality Chinese restaurant. In 2021, a buyer appeared and paid the listing price of $50,000.
Built in 1967, it definitely has a 60s vibe. The 2,684 square-foot building sits on two acres: 1.6 acres of the property is classified as wetland. Arleen Shipley of Elyse Harney Real Estate says that the new owner intends to renovate the building and rent it to a restaurant. When the new owner tested the water, it still worked after all these years.
5833 South Elm Street
The Millerton Elementary School on Route 22 was at one time the center where village families gathered. Built in 1937, the massive masonry building sits atop the ridge overlooking the village on 5.7 acres. After area elementary schools were consolidated at the Webutuck campus, the school district continued to maintain and heat the building. For several years, the North East Community Center held after-school classes in the building paying nominal rent to the school district. The decision was reached to let the building go, and the district offered it for $1 to both the Town of North East and the Village of Millerton for municipal use. Both entities decided it would entail too much renovation and passed.
Next, the school board held an auction and when bidding did not reach the reserve price, it was put up for sale. In 2017, it eventually found a buyer, who paid $275,000 and made major improvements, including installing a massive septic system, insulation, and LED lighting. It is up for sale for $995,000. Zoning restrictions remain an issue as the school is in a residential area; however, the Village Planning Board has indicated flexibility under the “adaptive use” law for commercial use. Hopefully its soaring ceilings, working elevator, and view of the village will attract someone to give it a second life as artists’ studios, loft apartments, a boutique hotel, or maybe a business incubator. At $65.54 per square foot, it’s a huge bargain. All those interested should contact Liza Reiss at Elyse Harney Real Estate.
6180 Route 22
This vacant 4,000 square-foot office building next to a propane tank field was sold by Suburban Propane with two adjoining acres to Rob Cooper, owner of Associated Lightning Rod Company. Cooper cleared the land on both sides, cleaned the interior of the building, and found an end user. In a private transaction, he is reselling it to a local business, which will use the building and land as its Millerton office. Watch this location for big improvements as you enter the Village of Millerton from the north.
SHARON, CT 1 Low Road
Sharon’s Bargain Barn sits behind this unpainted, neglected house. Last year Sharon Hospital sold the 2.52-acre parcel containing both buildings to Low Road Sharon Inc. for $400,000. Formed in 2022, the purchasing entity lists its principal as Jasper Johns. As reported in the Lakeville Journal in 2017, Johns intends to turn his estate into a retreat for artists, similar to Yaddo in Saratoga Springs, NY, and the MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, NH. Visual artists, writers, musicians, and dancers would be warded short-term stays. The actual retreat will not open until the death of the 93-year-old painter, who is regarded as one of America’s greatest living artists.
In order to put in place his estate plans, Johns requested advance permission to create the retreat from the Sharon Planning and Zoning Commission, which unanimously approved the project. Now the parcel has been added to the 171-acre Johns estate. It’s not clear what will happen to the buildings, but in the meantime the Bargain Barn has a new landlord.
Update to Mystery Houses 2019 and 2022
The future of only two of the seven mystery buildings identified in 2019 remains unclear. 5953 North Elm Avenue in Millerton, NY, across Route 22 from Four Brothers is literally shrouded in vegetation, with youths breaking in and creating videos. The “Ice House” at 12 State Line Road in the Town of North East, remains vacant and falling into further disrepair. According to Dutchess Parcel Access, its owner is still living in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, but someone must be paying the taxes. The other five mysteries, the Thorne Building, the Landowski house in Lakeville, Millerton’s gas station, and the expanded house at North Maple and Highland Drive have all gone on to glorious futures. (See November 2022 issue.)
Eight of the nine mystery buildings identified in 2022 remain in limbo. A developer of the shopping plaza on Route 44 in the Town of North East, which formerly housed a Grand Union, is reportedly waiting to purchase the property once a town sewer system is in place (but in all fairness, we’ve heard many other rumors and speculations). Nothing interesting has happened yet to the vacant multi-family building next to the refurbished Landowska house on Millerton Road in Lakeville, CT. The boarded-up house at 22 Bielke Road in North East on 0.22 acres next to the Rail Trail is now listed for sale at $169,000, a reduction from $185,000 last year. The Milk Factory at 31 North Center Street in the Village of Millerton remains vacant. The unpainted, disintegrating house at 3565 Route 22 in Amenia continues to decline. Work seems to be advancing on the former union church in Pulver’s Corners, but there is no indication of what the building will become. The Village of Millerton trustees have slowly moved ahead with seeking a buyer for the Village Hall, but nothing has been finalized, and the board continues to respond to inquiries about the property.
The poetic farm house at 460 Indian Lake Road in North East, which is surrounded by 421 acres of farm land, continues to await its promised renovation. Solving a mystery takes time, and there are sad endings. The ten-room Victorian home at the intersection of Route 199 and Route 22 is no longer a mystery – it has disappeared. Part of the historic Kaplan farm, it was quickly demolished earlier this year by its new owner. •
Christine Bates is a registered real-estate agent in New York and Connecticut with William Pitt Sotheby’s. She has written about real estate and business since Main Street Magazine’s first issue in 2013.