Day Trip: Riding the Backroads to The End

The Montauk Lighthouse on Turtle Hill, photo by S. Dermont
The Montauk Lighthouse on Turtle Hill, photo by S. Dermont

I have always marked the gateway to the East End by the prominent Big Duck in Flanders. With the use of a local map, I could play connect-the-dots with the windmills throughout the Hamptons. And what trip to the East End would be complete without seeing the famous Montauk lighthouse? But, as I learned long ago, bits of history and intriguing back-stories that reveal the local lore are sometimes found scattered across back roads and secluded shorelines.

When I was a kid we made countless trips east, weekend after weekend from upisland until school let out. Often, to avoid traffic, my dad would bore us by venturing off the beaten path and singling out the same points of interest time after time. The Bouvier Estate, Lasata in East Hampton, Indian Wells in Amagansett, and nearly invisible views of Gardiners Island from Springs were just a few of the highlights.

Now when I travel to Montauk I remember my summers there as a girl, the walks we took to town by way of what is now called Shadmoor State Park. Back then the rough path began at the town beach in Ditch Plains and continued on up Sandpiper Hill, where one of the lesser-known windmill homes stood. After passing that private drive that led to the windmill, we would hike up the dirt road we called the “Dummy House Road.” This road got its name from the two World War II bunkers that poked up from the nearly 100 acres of oceanfront rolling hills of brush and wildflowers. [expand]

Today, what’s left of them still stand but the windmill house is long gone. It was bought and miraculously moved in the early 1970s by the famous nature photographer Peter Beard, who saved it from sinking into the sea by relocating it up onto the Montauk Moorlands. The structure, destined for ruin, was taken by fire some years later. Where that home once stood is one of the highest elevations in Montauk and one of the most magnificent views on the East End.

From this location you can also spot six of the original “ Seven Sisters”, the seven shingle style cottages built in the 1800s as a summer compound for a group of wealthy business tycoons and their guests. One of those summer homes is now Dick Cavett’s Tick Hall.

When I drive the backroads of Amagansett, I think of the Native Americans who used the route that runs along the ocean and drew fresh water from the springs along the way. At Indian Wells there was a natural spring, where they stopped to quench their thirst as they traveled on foot, to and from Montauk. A large rock and plaque still marks the spot.

The nearby hamlet of Springs was aptly named for the fresh waters that feed into the joining Accabonac Creek. The area has always had a less pretentious reputation than its southern neighbors and is distinguished by its simplicity and serenity. It is still very much like it might have existed in the years when Jackson Pollock and his wife Lee Krasner lived and painted there. With a single look out over the meadows from what was once the artist’s lawn, one understands that statement. The cottage sits on less than two acres, but the surrounding area still has significant open space surrounding it that spreads out to stunning views of the Accabonac. Traces of the artist’s presence still persist in the old brushes and jars there, and in the paint-splattered floors of the shed-studio where Pollock once created works. The property, now known as The Pollock-Krasner Museum, is located on Springs-Fireplace Road.

The Springs General Store, another landmark, stands just around the corner and is still in operation. It is said that Pollock paid some of his bills at this little market with  pieces of his artwork. It is like a step back in time, where homemade food and the smell of baked goods still fills the air. You can rent a kayak here and paddle around the unspoiled salt marshes that surround the area. The vintage gas pumps still stand. It is easy to envision the ease of summertimes gone by.

Landmarks such as these are spread out off the highway, hidden behind hedgerows. They all have interesting tales to tell. So the next time you venture east to sightsee for a day, look a little closer. You will find an endless trail of people and places that all connect and tell the story of the authentic East End. [/expand]

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