Wharf Ideas: Invigorating Sag Harbor’s Long Wharf

December has been a banner month for Sag Harbor. The restoration of the town windmill at the foot of Long Wharf has been completed, thanks to citizens who ran fundraisers, bake sales, village-wide mailings, even a cruise; and to the Save Sag Harbor group which ran the campaign online; to the merchant community and Sag Harbor Chamber of Commerce for their donations; and to the physical nail and hammer work of Tom O’Donoghue, who did the whole restoration for the cost of materials.

The mill, a replica of an old English windmill, the Beebe Mill, which once stood on Suffolk Street, was re-presented by the mayor to the public, named officially after a beloved mayor the “John A Ward Memorial Windmill,” and with a holiday “Light Up” now is fully festooned with colorful Christmas lights to light the way into town for Santa Claus.

During that same week our local County Legislator Jay Schneiderman presented a bill to the legislature which would have the county return ownership of Long Wharf, the town centerpiece, to the Village for $1. The county has owned this Sag Harbor treasure for more than half a century. This week, on December 18, it was returned to the Village.

These two developments, together with the gifting by the county of the little artificial sand beach adjacent to Long Wharf on August 2 (a modest ceremony was held), means that Sag Harbor will, without consultation with others, be able to present a beautiful scene to the visitors who come to town next summer and stop down there at the end of Main Street, to walk out to the end of the wharf, to sunbathe on the beach and take a dip in the water, to visit the newly redone windmill, to shop on the wharf, attend fairs on the wharf and in the evening go to the performances at Bay Street.

Given all of the above, this writer would like to propose further developments for Long Wharf.

I think there should be a visual centerpiece at the end of the wharf so that when you walk its full 1,000-foot length, you don’t just come to an undramatic ending of it. And I think that centerpiece should be a cannon.

It should be a replica of a very historic cannon. During the War of 1812, the British navy tried to burn coastal towns in the United States by landing armed Redcoats and having them race through town setting fire to all buildings and ships. They were quite successful with this tactic. (The town of Essex, Connecticut has an accurately but weirdly named “Burning the Ships Parade” every summer.) And we all know about the burning of the White House during that war.

Here in Sag Harbor, a landing was attempted on July 11, 1813 and for an hour or two, Redcoats held the end of Long Wharf, only to be driven back to their ships by musket fire and the earsplitting sound of gunfire from a single cannon, a 19-pounder, set up on a nearby hill. This was the only cannon Sag Harbor had.

That cannon no longer exists. But other cannons of that era do. One could be bought, put on a platform there at the end of Long Wharf pointing out to sea, with below it an explanation on a sign of how it saved the town.

I think two white flagpoles should flank the cannon. We could fly an American flag on one of them, with a flag of Sag Harbor bearing its official seal just below. On the other, we could fly a 13 star colonial American flag (or a flag bearing the number of stars our flag had in 1812) and, just below, an official whale flag. Last spring, Sag Harbor decided upon an official whale silhouette emblem for the town, celebrating the many years it was a vibrant whaling port. (More than 100 ocean-going whaling ships called Sag Harbor home in those years.)

As you probably know, although Sag Harbor is an official village, it is also overlayed inside two townships, which meet up in the village. Running south to north parallel to Main Street is Division Street. The eastern side pays taxes to East Hampton Town. The western side pays taxes to Southampton Town. There’s a yellow dotted line down the middle of the street.

After Division Street ends, the dividing line officially continues on across Long Wharf and into the bay, but it does not go down the center of the wharf. Oddly, it crosses it at an angle, so that the base of Long Wharf is in Southampton while the end of it is in East Hampton Town.

I suggest that money be spent with surveyors to have the dividing line officially changed so that it goes right up the center of Long Wharf. It’s a wonderful story about how the Village got divided in two. Tell it with a dotted white line going down the center of Long Wharf, and in the windmill have information about how the line was modified so it is now so.

Finally, there is the little beach that spreads out for 50 yards in an arc along the bay to the west of Long Wharf. It’s an artificial beach carpeted in sand. At the back of the sand in the grass are park benches from which visitors can look out at this lovely scene. But, in the summer, there is no shade there because there are no tall trees at the back of the beach.

Tall trees would, of course, block the view coming down Main Street and out to the bay. But if we put a few of them for the summer only—I’m thinking tall potted palm trees—we could take them away the rest of the year. I’m thinking four of them in a row. They’d offer the needed shade. And then, in the winter, they’d be gone. Perhaps, on the back of four trucks, to Palm Beach.

Also, this sandy beach, created just 20 years ago, should have its own name.

Call it Whistle Beach.


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