Fondly Remembering Richard G. Hendrickson

Richard G. Hendrickson in his office at his Bridgehampton home
Richard G. Hendrickson in his office at his Bridgehampton home, Photo: Brendan J. O'Reilly

The East End lost a great man with the recent passing of Bridgehampton’s Richard G. Hendrickson, age 103.

To a remarkable number of locals Hendrickson was known as “Uncle Dick.” He was an author, a collector, a farmer, a father, a fisherman, a historian, a hunter, an amateur meteorologist, a poet and a sailor. Hendrickson was a pillar of the community that his family (the Dutch Hendricksons and the English Halseys and Rogerses) has called home since its earliest colonization.

Best known as Bridgehampton’s longtime “weather man,” Hendrickson served in the National Weather Service’s Cooperative Observer Program for more than eight decades, taking readings twice daily using the weather station in his backyard beginning in 1930, at the age of 18. He was an expert witness to the Hurricane of 1938 and its after effects. It was his observation that federal funding that poured into our area to repair the massive damage from the hurricane, called “The Long Island Express,” helped lift the local economy out of the Great Depression.

In 2014, the National Weather Service named its 80-year service award for Hendrickson, and he became the first recipient. At that time Hendrickson had tallied 84 years of service. Did he believe in global warming? He would tell you in no uncertain terms that he had lived it.

Hendrickson ran the family farm, Hill View Farm, with his father Howard, later taking over and expanding its chicken operations. Hendrickson and his brother Edwin and sister Edith were all born in the big white farmhouse there. It was no secret that, after supporting his brother’s study toward a law degree, Hendrickson was hurt that the favor was not returned so that he too could achieve a higher education. But Hendrickson was never bitter, just saddened at this turn of events and he determined to make the most of himself. He studied a wide range of subjects, traveled and took short-term agricultural courses at Cornell’s College of Agriculture. His sister trained as a nurse. Hendrickson’s first wife, Dorothea Haelig, was a teacher and the mother of his only child, Richard H. Hendrickson, who died in 2014.

In its heyday Hill View Farm had a herd of Guernsey cattle, over 5,000 white Leghorn laying hens, heirloom apple and pear orchards, a wood lot, fields of alfalfa, clover, corn, hay, oats, wheat and a Ford Ranch Wagon and a large barn roof that read “Hill View Farm Bridge Hampton L.I.” for all to see.

What made Hendrickson a noted oral historian was not merely his advanced age. In fact he was an avid student of local history from his earliest years. When he was six years old, Hendrickson and his brother were sent to live with their grandparents on Gardiners Island where they were caretakers and farmers, in an effort to shield the youngsters from the influenza epidemic of 1918. On the Isle of Wight, as Gardiners Island was originally called, Hendrickson paid close attention to the ways of the native wildlife and to the stories his grandfather told him of the past.

Hendrickson relished recalling stories of runaway horses. He’d close his eyes, throw his head back and dive into rich tales as told to him, or as witnessed by him in another century. In his lifetime he knew and interviewed many family members and friends who had lived through the Civil War. He came from a long line of raconteurs, farmers and dreamers.

A selection of pieces from Hendrickson’s extensive collections of family relics, Native American artifacts, decoys, early smoking pipes and firearms will soon travel the short but significant distance to the restored Nathaniel Rogers Mansion, the future home of the Bridgehampton Museum and its proposed Richard G. Hendrickson Room.

Hendrickson is survived by three granddaughters, Sara Hendrickson of Bridgehampton, Leah Hendrickson of Jamesport and Rachel Green of Jamesport; a daughter-in-law, Janet Hendrickson of Bridgehampton; a sister, Edith Williams of Raleigh, NC and several nieces and nephews.

Visitation is being held at the Brockett Funeral Home, 203 Hampton Road, in Southampton on Friday, January 22, from 2 to 4 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. Richard G. Hendrickson’s funeral will be held Saturday, January 23, at 11 a.m. at Bridgehampton Presbyterian Church, followed by burial at Edgewood Cemetery in Bridgehampton. 
In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made in Hendrickson’s name to the Bridgehampton Museum, P.O. Box 977, Bridgehampton, NY 11932.

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