Dan Rattiner's Stories

Trying to Hampton: Various Attempts by Villages to Change Their Names

Over the years, certain communities on the East End that do not have the word “Hampton” in their name have tried to become a Hampton. “Hampton” is such a chic name. Town officials and merchants know that being a Hampton means $$$. Some efforts have succeeded. Others have failed.

One that succeeded is Hampton Bays. It joined the club in 1922. Before that it had the good and graceful name of “Good Ground,” a term given to it by farmers in the early years who thought the quality of the loam in the fields there was most excellent for growing produce.

I think the name Good Ground should never have been changed. It’s a wonderful name. But in 1869, when the railroad built their spur out through the Hamptons and the rich and fashionable of Manhattan began to come out here for the summer, Good Ground stood out like a sore thumb as something to be passed through as you went by Westhampton Beach and headed for Southampton and the other Hamptons farther on. [expand]

As many locals know, the name GOOD GROUND, carved in concrete high up on the big building in downtown Hampton Bays now occupied by Good Ground Antiques, was put there because the town was named Good Ground. They wanted to honor the town. Well, that didn’t last long.

Some years ago, within my lifetime, an attempt was made by the hamlet of Mastic to change its name to Hampton Harbor. It was proposed to the town of Brookhaven. The proposal got put into the circular file.

Also within my lifetime was an attempt by a developer to create a hamlet in a vast tract of farmland to be called North Hampton. It was located along the eastern border of the Riverhead-Moriches Road. That never happened either, although a golf course he built and named that remains.

By the way, it is worth noting that when you carve something in stone on the side of a building pretty high up, it tends to stay there. It’s a pretty grand statement is what it is. And it is hard to remove. It is expensive to grind off. It also leaves the building scarred because the stone when ground down is almost always a brighter color than the rest of the building and there’s just about nothing you can do about it. Thus the OSBORNE TRUST COMPANY in East Hampton remains up there, regardless of whether inside they now sell jewelry or real estate and everybody just accepts the fact that you should ignore what is carved in the stone. It’s just one of those things. But it is more than that with GOOD GROUND. It is a reminder of a good thing gone bad for money, in my opinion.

I do think, however, that there is at least one community out here that should consider changing its name to something with the word Hampton in it. And that is North Haven. North Haven is such a wimpy name. It lacks oomph. It doesn’t really have much of a meaning and I dare say there are people today, even people who have been here for a long time, who just don’t know where North Haven is or even that there is a place with such a name.

It’s North of what? And it’s a Haven?

It’s not like Barcelona Point, which is a place about four miles to the west of North Haven. It’s not like Amagansett or Sagaponack or Mecox or Quogue, which have these grandly screwy Indian names. It’s just, uh, whatever its name is. I don’t get it. Barcelona Point, by the way, was named after a four-masted schooner called the Barcelona, which shipwrecked at that point years ago. Wonderful name.

I did do research at one time about the name Hampton. Where does it come from? Does it have a meaning? It comes from, of course, the name Hampton which is prominent in England. There are lots of Hamptons there. And when the settlers from there arrived in the New World, as you know, they often named places here after places back there, so they could keep the warm memories of the homeland prominently in their memories. New York is a perfect example of that. Bet that never occurred to you.

Anyway, Hampton turns out to be just the name of a prominent well-to-do family in England going back to the earliest times. It’s up there with Lancaster, Devon and York and all the others. Just a family name, however they happen.

Other clusters of Hamptons exist here in America in New Hampshire and, inexplicably, out in Iowa. In New Hampshire, the towns huddle together by the Atlantic along that place between Massachusetts and Maine. They are summer resorts, but closer in tone to the Jersey Shore than to the, uh, Hamptons. The ones in Iowa are completely bereft of any reasonable connection to England or the Hamptons. These Hamptons are just a group of Butler buildings, factories, offices and warehouses along an eight-lane superhighway in the middle of nowhere between Des Moines and Minneapolis.

Perhaps the most unusual attempt to change the name of a community to a Hampton occurred around 1895 in what is now Shinnecock Hills. At the time, Shinnecock Hills consisted of grand summer mansions in otherwise uninhabited rolling hills. The wealthy residents played tennis and golf, went boating and fishing and otherwise enjoyed the benefits of the salt sea air overlooking the ocean. (This was at a time when just getting fresh country air was often a doctor’s prescription for improving poor health.) But why not give it a fancier name than Shinnecock Hills? What about Hampton Hills? The wealthy summer residents discussed this over drinks at the Club one day.

They appointed someone to look into the legal aspects of this and what they soon learned was that there needed to be a majority vote by the year-round residents of any community in New York State for a name change to be made.

For the summer residents, this was a depressing thought. As far as they knew, there weren’t any year-round residents in Shinnecock Hills. Then somebody thought of something. There was Mr. Terwilliger. He was their postmaster. Sorted the mail and handed it out in the summertime, forwarded it in the winter. He lived year-round in the apartment on the second floor of the Shinnecock railroad station where during the day he’d come down and be the stationmaster too. Why don’t we ask him?

A group of the men went up there and talked to Terwilliger about what they wanted to do. He listened. They explained the benefits of changing the name to Hampton Hills, about how it would now join the likes of Southampton and Bridgehampton and be a much snootier and more prominent stop than what it currently was. They told him about the state rules. We need you to vote. You’re the only year-around resident here. What do you say?

Terwilliger folded his arms.

“No,” he said.

And that was that.

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