Michael Heller is known for his award-winning photojournalism. You’ve most-certainly seen his powerful images of fires—through his work as official photographer for East Hampton Fire Department—published in outlets across the East End for decades.
He has recently published the book A Short History of Sag Harbor’s Long Wharf. It’s the history of the Long Wharf that chronicles the landmark throughout the past few centuries, dating back to 1761.
“By all accounts, the very first wharf to be built in Sag Harbor wasn’t what we know today as Long Wharf. There were two separate, but unsuccessful, attempts to build a wharf along the water just to the west of where Long Wharf stands now,” the book begins.
The book captures history through images and newspaper clippings. Did you know that Thomas Edison worked on Long Wharf? Or that it’s mentioned in Moby Dick? There’s much to learn about one of Sag Harbor’s most well known attractions. And with the recent unveiling of the brand new Long Wharf, the book couldn’t have come at a better time.
It can be found in Sag Harbor at the Wharf Shop, Sag Harbor Books, Canio’s and the Windmill at the foot of Long Wharf—which is currently open on weekends. You can also buy the printed copy and Kindle/PDF versions by searching the title at Blurb.com.
We caught up with Heller to learn more.
What inspired you to create A Short History of Sag Harbor’s Long Wharf?
I’ve had an interest in photographically documenting local renovation projects for years—the Watchcase Factory, not long ago, and the Sag Harbor Cinema and Sag Harbor Methodist Church projects, currently—so when I learned the wharf was going to be renovated, I immediately wanted to be part of that as well. During the renovation process, in February, sections of old LIRR railroad track were uncovered, dating back to the turn of the 20th century. I found that fascinating, and from there it became a rabbit hole: the more I looked into it, the more and more interesting things I found. Putting a book together of all the cool and interesting things I came across was simply the logical next step.
What are a few of the most interesting facts you came across while writing this book?
Aside from some of the most well-known facts—such as that in 1850 it was the fourth-largest whaling port in the entire world with 63 whaling ships registered here, and went on to become a major steamship port, the place where the very first torpedoes were built and tested during the first world war, and the place where parts of the first Apollo lunar lander were built—I found a ton of other little tidbits that were fun, interesting and sometimes downright funny: Thomas Edison worked on Long Wharf for a brief period of time; Long Wharf is mentioned in Moby Dick; the very first U.S. Navy submarine made Long Wharf its very first port-of-call, and that for many years it was owned by the Long Island Railroad, who actually competed with other steamship companies for business. First-person accounts of what it was like in whaling days, deaths there, accidents, and numerous fierce storms. What was particularly surprising was the number of times the wharf was bought and sold back and forth between the village, the county, and other parties and, as well, the number of times it’s been renovated over the years!
Thoughts on the new Long Wharf:
Simply beautiful. I can personally attest—having seen it with my own eyes—that a great deal of time and care was taken to make sure everything was done as well as it possibly could be. I remember being especially impressed with how the workers from Chesterfield & Associates—the contractors—kept measurement tolerances to within an inch across the entire pier, especially when they were installing each 2,000-lb. steel bulkhead. To me it’s truly a work of art.