When I was a boy the North Main Street in the Spring was either a rushing torrent or a muddy slough. The melting snow all the way from Long Springs sought its hurried way to the town pond or rather the swamp that then extended as far north as Capt. George White’s lot (Jagger Lane). I have gone from our back gate in a row-boat all the way to the pond and could of course gone on to the beach. My playmate, Lewis Hildreth, as we were sailing shingle boats from a footbridge, fell off and was swept away. I “hollered” with all my lungs and Mr. Charles Seldon (Halsey) ran down and pulled him out. (We were about five years old.)
When the water had gone the frost came out and with the churching of darn wagon wheels the clay became a veritable “slough of despond” through which the horses wallowed, the wheels cutting ever deeper. The sod was cut from tree line to tree line through some put out rails to save the sod and keep the traffic in the roadbed.
Once, coming home from Camp’s Pond with a load of pine wood as we passed “Uncle Sam” Bishop’s he called out, “Pick a good rut, Charlie, you’ll be in it till you get home.”
There was quite a hill coming up toward our place, from what is now Powell Avenue (as the contour of the lawns on the east side of Main St. will reveal) and it was hard pulling for the horses. Main St. is none too straight following an old cow path likely which eased these (small) hills by circumventing them (circumnavigate would be a better word under the two conditions I have mentioned). When the mud had gone and Mr. Dan Phillips had guided the road scraper through the village with two teams tandem pulling the machine, with the oncoming of summer dust took the place of mud and only after the “Yorkers” came was any attempt made to sprinkle the streets.
The first watering carts were low box affairs made locally by George Culver or Andy Jagger that with a trap bottom backed into the town pond (Lake Agawam) and when they were full the horses drew them out and the bottom closed. When they reached the proper place on the street the driver opened the gate and the water ran out through some perforations in a pipe, leaving a trail about six feet wide. A limited area was patrolled, Main St. from the beach to Seely’s Store (no Catina’s) and First Neck Lane—not much more. Later came the windmills installed by the Southampton Village Improvement Association and big Studebaker cars that carried a thousand gallons (I estimate) were circulated over a wider area. One of the big windmills was located back of our barn with an immense tank that furnished a bountiful supply not only for the [railroad] watering cars, but piped into our barn and cow-yard, watered our stock. Before that time it was my daily duty after school to man the old log pump that stood by the back door and pump water that ran through wooden troughs to the barn-yard. Ultimately, the water also piped into our house.
These and other windmills disappeared gradually after the Water Works were built. The pumping station was (and is) north end of the Village. At first it was a pneumatic system, there was no standpipe as at present. In case of fire, the air pump was started and pressure pushed up. Everyone was very proud of the quality of the water—“it never saw the air till it reached your faucet.” Some of the city people had it bottled and sent to their New York homes. One enthusiast took a supply on a shipboard to Europe with him! The trenches were all labouringly dug by hand. Often they caved in before the mains could be laid. With a succession of rains, a stretch on Windmill Lane caved in six times before the pipes finally were in. The man (Johnson) who took that assignment at so much a foot said that “he was gipped, by Jimminy.”
In the haunts of my boyhood on the Millstone Brook Road is a spring. It was in a setting of great oaks on a knoll sloping down to the bay, the deep shadows made a setting for ferns, a place of rare beauty. As I came along one day I found an artist painting the scene.
Some months later, coming to the same spot I found men taking samples of the water for chemical analysis and biological tests. A great house was rising across the road and the engineers were looking for an uncontaminated abundant water supply.
The next summer on a hot August afternoon I came along and there was a scout troop, weary with the hike and hot and thirsty. They were drinking greedily from the spring of the abundant bubbling water.