Jesse Halsey | c1934
The East Riding of Yorkshire in the olden days, it still retains a flavor not found on the west end of the Island where Dutch influence predominated then, and where the Big City reaches out now. The atmosphere changes when one nears the Shinnecock canal. It is, for one thing, always cooler out there; and for another, here one comes to the New England part of Long Island.
Although the modern cottager has come in numbers and with affluence, these “Yorkers,” as the native used to call them, have not changed the scene essentially as many of the summer homes follow the old lines of the colonial or farm house type though there are notable exceptions in [Mr. Atterbury’s] shingled houses that hug the dunes and in an occasional Italian villa or other importation.
Cement has been used on the main highways, but one misses the real beauty of the countryside if he follows these, after he reaches “The East End.” In the last twenty years the local road-masters have developed a road of loam, sand, and oil, which, smoothly honed after each rain, make a perfect highway much more resilient and easy riding than cement or macadam.
Southampton and East Hampton towns are threaded with such roads, almost unknown to the motorist, who goes flying through on the numbered state highway, and misses the innumerable ponds and bays, almost forgetting the ocean itself, until he reaches Nappeague, that long narrow Cape-Cod-like-sand-dune-stretch leading to Montauk. Aside from this one piece of concrete, it is pleasanter to keep to the dirt roads and to spend a little time seeking the natural beauty of the Island’s southeastern fluke.
For like a great leviathan, Long Island throws itself out into the ocean, paralleling the Connecticut shore; with its head safely anchored to Manhattan by the bridges, bathed by the Sound on the starboard, and the Atlantic on the port side, its caudal-fins stick out to sea. One is called Orient, the other Montauk Point.
Historically, this is interesting country. Southampton was founded in June of 1640 and is the oldest English settlement in New York state. Half a dozen “undertakers,” as they were called, organized in Lynn and sailed for western Long Island where they were driven off by the Dutch and so, finally, landed in an estuary of Peconic Bay that they named the North Sea. Four miles further south on the ocean they made their permanent settlement. Several old houses remain from that general period and are worthy of a visit.
The summer colony that has become famous is, naturally, off the main road. First Neck, Cooper’s Neck, or Halsey’s Neck; each has its “lane”; Great Plains and Ox Pasture have theirs also. It will pay one to follow them, driving slowly.
East Hampton is the most perfect New England village outside New England and more perfect than many in New England. Its wide village street with a Common and duck pond, its cemetery, dividing the main street, and the gorgeous elms, make it a perfect setting for “Home Sweet Home,” the boyhood home of John Howard Payne, which faces The Green. “Maidstone” was the old name brought from England. It seems a pity that it was ever changed. This is possibly true of Southampton also, as the old communion cups of the Southampton Church (now loaned to the Metropolitan Museum) spell the name “Sought Hampton”—the Hampton within the sound, or “soughing,” of the sea.
Both Bridge Hampton and Sag Harbor have striking examples of colonial churches with white spires. The Sag Harbor church tower dominates the landscape (or seascape) for miles, and was built in the palmy days of the whaling industry when “The Harbor” rivaled New Bedford and Nantucket. The wharves are deserted now, where once the old whalers lay awaiting their turn to discharge their smelly cargoes of oil. Numerous house in this village have lovely doorways, and there are gardens with box-wood hedges.
Use “Further Lane” or “Hither Lane,” by all means, as you go on from East Hampton. Pass south of Amagansett and take the beach road toward Montauk, then (for once) use the concrete across the Neappeague Beach—all else is white sand. When on Montauk, roam by the side roads and cross roads from bay to ocean. There are several hills where ocean and sound can be seen at once, and in clear weather, the Connecticut shore and Block Island are visible. Visit the fishing dock at Fort Pond (near the station) and plan to spend the late afternoon at the Point driving back into the sunset along the ridge road, with the surf and ocean stretching away on your left.
Another time take the “back road” to Springs from East Hampton and come out at “Fireplace,” opposite Gardiner’s Island where Captain Kidd buried his treasure and where the heirs of old Lyon Gardiner still hold the island in entailed succession.
Six or eight old windmills of Dutch design still stand in this territory. Two of them occasionally can be seen revolving, under sail though no longer actually grinding grist.
Before the days of speed, each hamlet had its name, and though the sign boards no longer indicate anything except the larger villages it will pay to slow down and with a local map visit such a spot as Canoe Place where the Indians portaged their canoes from the South to the North Bay. You will see Quogue on the road map, but not Quiogue; Hampton Bays but neither Good Ground, nor Ram Pasture. You will, likely, brave one sand road and visit the Shinnecock Indian Reservation and there pick up a scrub or a basket. Ponquoque Bridge will take you across Shinnecock Bay to the ocean road, which you can follow—with several short breaks (as indicated on the map) all the way to Montauk.
The cement “slab” is all right for speed. The back lanes, dustless and smooth, are much more interesting and less frequented. This is a leisurely country; explore a bit. No roads are long—they can’t be: sooner or later they lead to water; this bay or that pond—Tiana, Mecox, Georgica, Peconic, or whatnot. And they seem indiscriminately mixed; fresh water lakes within a stone’s throw of the ocean, alternating with tidal estuaries.
Cold Spring, Seabonac, Towd, Wickapogue, Littleworth, Hay Ground, Scuttle Hole are as interesting as the villages, if you can find a guide who knows the local lore and the hidden spots of beauty in the woods. An inquiry addressed to the Colonial Society in Southampton or the Historical Society in East Hampton, should bring a response that would put the antiquarian motorist in touch with a local historian who can lead to genealogical data, or local legends, or authentic history. James Truslow Adams, then a Wall Street broker, began his career as a historian, in a cemetery near Wainscott, studying epitaphs!
British soldiers were stationed in these parts during the Revolution. The fireplace where their General’s mess was prepared still stands in the Herrick House in the North End of Southampton. Near Pudding Hill, British raiders were driven off by a steaming teakettle in the hands of a patriot housewife. A local doctor routed the red coats from Hay Ground with a small pox scare. Old Pomp, a salve, dispatched horses of the enemy, with ground glass placed in their feed.
The oldest house was built by Thomas Halsey in 1688, in the South End of Southampton. The present owner, over zealously, has placed 1628 over the door. (He is a “Yorker” not a native).
In Littleworth, Foster’s Museum deserves a visit—an old barn filled with whaling and other relics. The library at East Hampton contains the priceless Pennypacker collection of books and papers relating to all Long Island subjects. In Southampton and East Hampton there are worthy art museums. Nature’s best contribution is found on the “wood roads” and back lanes.
Good hotels abound, but unfortunately, few farmhouses cater to the tourists. Parks, however, at Montauk provide camping accommodations and cooking places. What could be more fitting than to visit the Montauk docks, buying some live lobsters from the fishermen and then taking them to one of the parks on the Atlantic, and boiling them in sea water? This requires only a good sized kettle. To the more ambitious camp-cook, there is always fish available—“blues” from the surf or weakfish from the bays. (Likely the quickest way to get them is to visit Captain Tithill’s at Fort Pond.)
For the twin eight or the old four, alike, the East End offers its back roads and hidden beauties. The four-ply cement to Jericho or the Merrick Road certainly (25 or 27), but dirt roads after crossing Shinnecock Canal! They will lead through Millstone Brook where the trees have never been cut off; out to the Scallop Pond or around Big Fresh, called Nippaug by the Indians. Minnesunk Lake, or Little Fresh, Conscience Point, where the first settlers landed, Tuckahoe, Squaw Hill, Towd Point, and Holmes Hill—these and dozens of other places are found along the dirt roads.