Swamp Road goes straight as an arrow from Route 114 in Sag Harbor to Widow Gavits Road one mile away up near Cedar Point. It seems to have been intended to go straight, anyway. But about halfway up, this road turns suddenly to the right, swings around to the left and returns to continue on. It appears that when built it had to go around something that was in the way. The detour is only a hundred yards. What is it? What was in there? Nobody knows.
STRANGE PLACE TO EAT
Possibly the strangest restaurant in the Hamptons is up Cranberry Hole Road in Napeague to Lazy Point where there are picnic tables on the bay behind a chain-link fence, a kitchen that cooks up chicken, fries, lobster and shrimp it sells from a little booth, a staff that is largely French and Bonacker, and packs of geese, cats, chickens, huge Ridgeback dogs in cages, lots of fish in enormous fish tanks being hatched and raised, a store with French baked goods and fish specialties, and several old, abandoned, decrepit factory buildings. There’s also a boat launch ramp. This place is not for everybody, but it sure is unique. It’s called the Fish Farm at Multi Aquaculture
DIVISION STREET, SAG HARBOR
The yellow lines down the center of Division Street in Sag Harbor is the border separating the Town of East Hampton with the Town of Southampton. However, nearly all of Division Street is in Sag Harbor Village. For an explanation, ask any local politician.
In the first half of the 19th century, hundreds of whaling ships docked at or near Long Wharf between voyages to all corners of the globe to harpoon whales. Crews on these whaling ships came ashore here speaking dozens languages. There were brothels, bars, warehouses, horses, smokehouses, coopers, ropemakers and rooming houses. A power generator provided electricity for Main Street, one of the few places in the country that had such a newfangled machine.
Hedges Lane in Bridgehampton was named for the Hedges family, one of the first families who settled Southampton and Bridgehampton. Their names are in the town records. Until about 1990, from Hedges Lane you could see across potato fields in every direction, including all the way down to the ocean. Today, hedges enclose private homes almost all along the way. You can’t see anything. A
One of the main roads that runs parallel to the beach in the Southampton estate section, Gin Lane was named for the Old English word meaning “common grazing area,” not from its history during Prohibition.
This is the man in Bridgehampton who phones in all the weather readings for this community. He has the gauges and devices out by his chicken coops, where he makes the readings every day and phones them in. Richard Hendrickson has had this job longer than anybody has had a job in the Hamptons, or perhaps in the whole world. He’s been the weatherman for 82 years, joining the weather service when he was an 18-year-old back in 1930. Do the math. He turned 101 years old on August 28, and shows no signs of easing up. Happy Birthday!
After divorcing Joe DiMaggio, Marilyn Monroe spent a vacation in a summer house on Stony Hill Farm in Amagansett with her next husband, playwright Arthur Miller.
The year was 1957.
In the summer of 1942, on June 13, Nazi submarines came at night to drop off four Nazi saboteurs bent on blowing up factories in America. The landing took place near Atlantic Beach in Amagansett, just a few hundred yards from where Marilyn Monroe would one day sleep.
Bernie had many friends who had trusted him with their money out here. He had a house on the ocean in Montauk’s Hither Hills, along with homes in Palm Beach and Manhattan. When his Ponzi scheme blew up, all three homes were sold to the highest bidder. The ones in Manhattan and Palm Beach sold for less than their appraised value. The one in Montauk sold for more. Go figure.
A beautiful parkway runs through the woods from east of downtown Montauk out to the lighthouse. A parkway with the same name runs through the woods from Napeague to the west of downtown. Few people know this, but this was originally supposed to have been a continuous parkway from Napeague to the Lighthouse.
There is a right-of-way through downtown Montauk, and from certain locations you can see it. (Look east through a clearing at Second House Road just to the south of Fort Pond Motel. Nothing is allowed to be built on it.
It crosses directly over Fort Pond in the center of downtown on what was meant to have been a low causeway, which would have
divided the pond in two.
All of this was from the genius mind of Robert Moses.)
THE WINDMILL AT WATER MILL
This sacred windmill, one of 11 in the Hamptons, sits now on a triangle of property in the center of downtown Water Mill. It was originally part of the front lawn of the giant mansion just to the west owned by John Benedict, a fuller, dryer and dresser of cloth. But in the 1920s, that mansion was owned by a religious order. Nuns from the Order of St. Dominic were in residence. The religious order was approached by spirited public citizens of Water Mill, who wanted to buy the front lawn so the windmill would be open to the public. In 1934, the nuns went along with it, donating it for $1, but they didn’t want that to mean there would be a lot of noise there. The sale included a caveat that said if there were any obstreperous or loud and obnoxious behavior on that triangle, they’d have the right to buy the land back for $1.
RAILROAD RIGHT OF WAY
There is a railroad right of way that goes through the woods from the Bridgehampton railroad station to Long Wharf in Sag Harbor. Trains used to run back and forth on that line. At the beginning of the Second World War however, the government tore up the tracks for the steel for the war effort. Today it is a great six-mile walk through the woods, past some of the most isolated ponds in this community.
People coming out to the Hamptons by helicopter might notice that along Scuttle Hole Road there is a particular barn that has on its roof an enormous sign made out of shingles of a different color than the rest of the roof that reads BREEZE HILL. It was roofed that way as part of national effort in the 1920s to provide guidance to fliers puttering about through the skies who, without navigational aids, could use these giant signs to find their way. Thousands of such signs were on roofs everywhere in those years. But after guidance systems came in and they became redundant, roofers when re-roofing, covered them over. Except this one.
THE BRIDGEHAMPTON MONUMENT
The Bridgehampton Founder’s Monument sits in the middle of Main Street at the east end of that town, a 12-foot tall granite obelisk overarched by a bronze American eagle with its wings spread. It was originally unveiled on July 4, 1910 to commemorate the 250th anniversary of the founding of Bridgehampton. The United States had risen to become a great nation on the world stage, propelled in part by its success in the Spanish-American War. At its base, plaques marked all the wars where Americans had died defending our freedom. They included The Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Civil War and the Spanish-American War.
Over the years, plaques marking subsequent wars have been installed on the triangular base upon which this monument sits. They include World War I, World War II, the Korean Conflict, the Vietnam War, the Gulf War and the Iraq War. The war in Afghanistan is not yet over, but when it is, a plaque for that will be there too. There is still plenty of room.
The base of this monument, raised up as it is about a foot, successfully defended the monument itself, which sits upon it from errant traffic without a problem until 2007. In that year, a man driving a Saturn bounced up and over the base and crashed into the monument. It was the middle of the night. The car was totaled. The monument slid six inches, and the slide was not apparent to motorists driving by. It was soon repaired by men from the State Highway.
There is no aircraft runway on Main Street Sagaponack, but there is a grassy air strip where small planes sometimes land. It is on private property and is unregulated, but prosperous potato farmers who owned land nearby would sometimes haul over small biplanes they built from kits, or later, from airplane magazine catalogues, and take off in them and fly around overhead for a while. Sometimes, they’d fly to strips owned by other farmers nearby, or across the Sound to Connecticut.
BATTLE AT LONG WHARF
During the War of 1812, the British Navy roamed the eastern seaboard and often came to American port towns to bombard their Main Streets with cannon balls from their Men ‘o War, sink the smaller American ships—fishing boats, sailboats, barges etc.—tied up there and, if possible, come ashore and burn the town down. Such an attempt was made on Sag Harbor. When the cannon balls flew up Main Street from just offshore, the locals were evacuated by militiamen. The militia remained to try to stop the burning of the boats.
The British coming ashore, and trying to burn the town was another matter. A group of Redcoats came in aboard five British ships in all, and they took three vessels and set fire to a fourth. They set up a defensive position as they proceeded to unload supplies for their upcoming action.
The militiamen, however, had one large cannon in town, and they wheeled it up onto Turkey Hill and fired down on the Redcoats until the Redcoats were forced to withdraw. It is unclear where that cannon was set up, but if you come into Sag Harbor on Route 114, and turn right at High Street just before town, you will go inland and up a little hill one block and see a monument to a fort that was once there. This is on High Street, just after Mulford Lane but before Franklin Avenue.
NORMAN MAILER’S MOVIE
Norman Mailer’s rarely seen movie “Maidstone” was made in Sag Harbor, on Gardiner’s Island and in Three Mile Harbor aboard a yacht. It was made in the wild 1960s, and there is a lot of sex going on amongst the actors, much of it in broad daylight, some of it on a yacht in the harbor. Starring in it were Rip Torn, several beauty queens and Norman Mailer himself, who plays the lead role—a man who is deciding whether or not to run for President. New York Times movie critic Judith Crist called it perhaps the worst movie she had ever seen.
This long, flat, sandy stretch of sand dunes extends for six miles from the hills of eastern Amagansett to the hills of western Hither Hills in Montauk. The winds howl through this slot between the two sets of hills on most days, and Napeague has become a favorite of windsurfers. To see them in action, go up Cranberry Hole Road in Napeague as far as you can, and when you find that you have to turn to go to the main harbor beaches there, look to your right. You’ll see the windsurfers dancing along and sometimes flying high in the sky.
PETER’S POND LANE
This one block-long lane extends from Daniel Hole’s Road to the ocean beach in Sagaponack. It’s rutted and unpaved, and there is no beach pavilion at the end, just a road end. Some cars can park along the sides of it though.
The Dan’s Papers Kite Fly, this year held on August 4, was for many years held at where this road ends at the beach. One year, the last third of the road had turned into a pond. Participants had to wade through with the kites over their heads to get to the kite fly.
After the kite fly ended, the pond remained for a number of months, but then dried up. Apparently, when the road was built, it dead ended at the pond, which was before the beach. I went to Town Hall once to look up the situation. Town records show a pond here. It’s here some years, but gone others.
Oh! That’s why they call it Peter’s Pond Road. And that’s why the road is unpaved. Title to where the pond is is a sort of mess. All sorts of people lay claim to it. Public or private, who knows? The following year we held the Kite Fly at Sagg Main Beach to the west. It’s at Sagg Main today.
If you go through Montauk and head out toward Montauk Point, you’ll see a place to park on the right just after the churches called Shadmoor Park there and walk down the trail.
In that vast parkland, you will see one very unusual structure. It’s a lookout tower and machine gun nest built to be the first line of defense if there was a Nazi invasion. It’s two stories tall, rectangular in shape, with walls four feet thick, and both at the ceiling of the first floor and the second floor, horizontal slit windows suitable for machine guns on. This building looked like a house when it was built. Atop that second floor sat a wooden peaked roof, its eaves extending out two feet from the walls, so that the machine guns were in shadow. An enemy scout might mistake this building for a home.
SAG HARBOR CINEMA
The giant SAG HARBOR sign over the movie theater is made of neon, lights up at night, would be totally illegal, but precedes zoning. It’s been there since 1950.
The town considers it a treasure. Indeed much of downtown Sag Harbor is restored, not so much to its heyday in the 1840s when it was a whaling town, but to the Depression and World War II era that occurred a hundred years later. Why this is, nobody knows, but old is old and worth saving.
Around 2005, the owner of the theater, learning that the supports for the neon were rusting through, decided to take the neon down and replace it with smaller plastic signs. The town went wild. They stole the neon before the workmen could drive away with it, held a fundraiser, fought until the Mayor blocked the putting up of the plastic, and raised enough money to have it rebuilt as you see it now.
The biggest bird on eastern Long Island is the Osprey. It glides and swoops along with its wingspan extended as much as six feet. It’s quite a sight. Years ago, locals began helping the Osprey nest on eastern Long Island by placing wooden platforms on top of telephone poles and hoping the Osprey find them and nest on them. The Osprey raise children in them, feed them smaller birds, animals and insects, and otherwise are an entertaining sight to see.
When this famous literary tavern was in its heyday, it wasn’t where it is now. It was across the street in what is now World Pie. After the original bar became famous for those who hung out at it (Irwin Shaw, Willem de Kooning, Truman Capote, George Plimpton, James Jones, Willie Morris), the owner, Mr. Van, the pianist, decided to built a bigger establishment across the street. It too was a success and is Bobby Van’s today. But the old place is still just as it was. Just walk into World Pie and you will recognize the ambiance immediately.
Got a secret? Tell us your favorite hidden Hamptons spot or fact in the comments below.