George Burke: Saving Historic Homes
George Burke got a phone call in 1981 from his old friend Elizabeth “Bess” Seguine Aug that changed his life. He used to ride horses with Bess and her sister Belle, who attended Tottenville High School with him in the 1940s. George used to joke that one day he would live in their grand antebellum mansion on Prince’s Bay. Many decades later, he does.
After serving overseas in the Air Force and studying interior design at the University of London, George had returned to Staten Island with a budding art collection. He had been working as an interior decorator as well as a restaurateur at the Tidewater Inn and at the Civil War-themed Burke’s Landing (the former Old Bermuda Inn). In the 1970s, George was living in a century-old, Second Empire home on Arthur Kill Road that he had restored with his own hands.
Clearly, George loved old buildings. So when Bess Seguine, who was in her 90s, offered to sell George her family home for $150,000 if he promised to save it, he did just that.
The Annadale native spent five years stabilizing the property and making it presentable. Since then, he has devoted countless hours to taking care of the house and grounds entirely by himself: cleaning, painting, planting, decorating, redecorating. Repairing the gilt work on mirrors and lamps takes a skilled hand. Dusting the crystal chandeliers, bead by bead, requires patience. Polishing the silver occupies a full day.
George is a consummate entertainer who throws renowned white parties, barbecues and holiday sing-alongs each year. In addition to friends and family, he enjoys the company of Rusty the Doberman,Tiger the cat, and a brood of peacocks that patrols the plantation.
To ensure the mansion’s stewardship, George also founded the non-profit Friends of Seguine Mansion to help raise funds and maintain the property.