Poopaponac? Sagagansett? True Stories of How Hamptons Places Were Named

Dan Rattiner holding a rose cartoon by Mickey Paraskevas
Cartoon by Mickey Paraskevas

The East End has such interesting names. Ever wonder how they got them? Here’s the truth about them. Maybe.

In 1783, after the smoke cleared ending the American Revolution, the residents of this village were asked to be part of New York. There were 104 of them and all of them, without exception, voted “No.” They had formed themselves as a group called “I’m Against It,” and so they were. In the end, they were forcibly annexed.

A local Indian named Peague often stopped in this particular place to take naps. When people started calling him “Nap” Peague, he took offense and changed his name to Stephen Talkhouse. Soon thereafter he started a band. Meanwhile, the residents of Slobovia, as Napeague had been called until then, decided they wouldn’t put up with the name Slobovia anymore and so named their little community Napeague to remind themselves of that Indian’s heritage.

The community that bears this name on the western shore of Three Mile Harbor in East Hampton was originally called Van Scoy’s Landing, after the settler who had built a landing there. The community thrived for a while, but then became impoverished. In 1804, two explorers named Lewis and Clark went off out of St. Louis on what became known as the Lewis and Clark Expedition, in the hopes of discovering the Northwest outlet to the sea. Early on, they went the wrong way and cut through the woods of the old Van Scoy Landing property, where they encountered a fisherman who, when asked if this was Northwest, said “No.” So the explorers left. The next day, the few fishing families still up there learned of what happened and insisted on changing the name from Van Scoy Landing to Northwest to get Lewis and Clark to come back, but they never did.

When the wealthy New York City tycoons and plutocrats built their mansions in Southampton in the 1870s and 1880s down near the ocean in that town, they named the narrow roads they cut through the dunes after their favorite breakfast drinks—Scotch Lane, Rum Road, Gin Lane and Bourbon Street. When Prohibition became law in the early 20th Century, however, the wealthy scrapped these names and found new names for them—except for Gin Lane. They told people this was the place where there had been a cotton gin. It was a lie.

A group of settlers from a religious sect in Belgium were banished from that country and so came to this area, bringing with them the roosters that they worshipped and once a year shined up with shoe polish in some sort of religious ceremony. As the sect was strongly opposed to sexual intercourse, it was only here for one generation and then died out.

In the 18th century a real estate developer got permission from the local government to build a cute reproduction of a little whaling village on wetlands near a harbor. When the roofs of these newly completed homes began to sag in the middle as they began to sink into the wetlands, the developer fled to Napeague. (See above.) He was never apprehended and the roofs were never fixed, but the name of the community got changed from Happy Harbor to Sag Harbor.

The area we now call Noyac was originally the home of a giant factory built by a Mr. Noys during the First World War that produced Gatling guns and, later, Ack Ack guns. It’s been said that the massive numbers of these guns tipped the balance of World War I so that Germany got beaten, for the first time. The Ack Ack gun was replaced by the machine gun during the Second World War (when the Germans got beaten for the second time), and so the old factory was closed, abandoned, and soon began to fall into ruin. The town, which had before this called this area Noytown, named after Mr. Noy, decided to memorialize the place as Noyac to fuse his name with the gun that made him famous. After all, many who died firing this gun had carved the name Noyac on the wooden stock of the gun handle.

Early settlers initially believed that this island, in between the North and South Forks of the East End, would be sheltered from rain, sleet and snow by the two land masses. When they realized that wasn’t happening, they had the island’s name changed to Squished Hampton. Later, when the Rolling Stones held recording sessions in a former fish house on the island and produced their famous song “Gimme Shelter,” local officials changed the name back. But it didn’t help change the weather.

When the famous four-star New York City chef known as “Monsieur Fork” opened two restaurants on the East End in 1948, he called them both East Fork. The one on the northern fork was East Fork 1 and the other was East Fork 2. This became very confusing when diners making reservations at one found they were supposed to go to the other. And so, Le Monsieur decided to call one North Fork and the other South Fork. “Fork,” as Monsieur Fork’s Manhattan restaurant had been called, became “West Fork.” Unfortunately, that confused people even further and it drove M. Fork out of business. He spent his later life washing dishes in restaurants that would have him. Sad.

This community had no name until the first group of motels were built in the late 1940s. Before that, it was referred to as “out there” by the residents of East Hampton, who administered that property and still do today. Some New York hipsters who were among the first tourists staying at the motels noted that the area had been the home of the Montaukett Indians, who were forced to move off the property by a Brooklyn millionaire named Arthur Benson. Nearly all went upstate. These tourists thought a name should be assigned to the motel community and proposed “Montaukett.” Others, more hip, suggested “Tauk” or just “Talk,” and in the end, after much arguing, it was decided to name it something in the middle: Montauk.

This North Fork community originally consisted of a clothing factory and dormitory rooms for the young women who “cut” the cloth into pants and blouses and shirts and coats. Local fishermen soon called the place Cutchogue. The plant moved to North Carolina in the 1970s and then to the Philippines in the 1990s. Currently it is in Hong Kong. It keeps moving around. You may know the label as “Dollar a Day.”

Riverhead was settled in 1722 by a man named Crotch, who was looking for a place he could name after himself. His search brought him to this place where, like two giant legs, the two forks came together. After Crotch died, childless, the residents of this place felt the name ought to be changed. A long gash in the earth headed west from the town and, when it rained, it filled with water and emptied itself at “Crotch.” And so, the residents, using picks and shovels, widened the inland gash into a full flowing river that they named the Carmen River, after Mr. Crotch’s widow Carmen, hoping she wouldn’t be offended to learn that her husband’s name was being discarded, and so from that day to this, the town was known as Riverhead.

Two factories served the bedding business out here, and both influenced the name of the community in which they were built. Springs was home to a springs factory. Mattituck was home to a mattress and blanket-tuck factory.

A wealthy Englishman named Lord Herbert Windsor Hampton was given title to all the land east of Brookhaven in 1638. He never set foot in this place, but his four children did. Each built a different community with the name Hampton in it to honor their father. The three sons were named East, West and South, and there was also a daughter named Bridgette.

More from Our Sister Sites