A Guide to 8 East End Roadside Attractions & Curiosities
Peppered throughout the blue highways and quiet byways across this great country, America’s roadside attractions have become the stuff of legend: the world’s biggest ball of twine, the largest frying pan, Wisconsin’s National Mustard Museum, Wild Blueberry Land in Maine — the list goes on and on. Every state in the union has its own unique wonders, but touring even just the highlights could take an entire summer, not to mention thousands of dollars in gas at the current price!
Thankfully, the East End has plenty of roadside attractions and oddities worth investigating, and one could feasibly see them all in one long day (and yes, quite a few gallons of gas). So, please, allow us be your guide for a trip into the weirdest roadside treasures in the Hamptons and North Fork.
EAST END ROADSIDE ATTRACTIONS
Ronjo (mo’ai) Tiki
Montauk – South Edgemere Street
Among the most photographed and beloved landmarks on The End, this 22-foot-tall, plaster mo’ai tiki statue has had several paint jobs over the years, but it’s always been eye-catching and easy to recognize, whether it was all gold or showing off a panoply of colors. Named for the hotel where it was built in 1961, The Ronjo, the statue was created by owners Irv and Flo Stewart. Today, Ronjo is part of the Montauk Beach House hotel (55 South Elmwood Avenue), and its latest embellishments come from world-renowned street and mural artist Greg Mike, who painted the monolith with blue, orange and purple (among other colors), and a heart between his hands, in 2021.
Before Mike’s take, local artist William Quigly had a go, and before that, Ronjo was painted entirely in gold. Mike’s contribution brings Ronjo closer to the statue’s roots — it originally had a more colorful motif, painted with red and white dominating the design. In “another couple years,” Montauk Beach House Creative Director Walt Linveld says they’ll ask another artist to give Ronjo a new look. This local idol to the surf gods is a must-see for anyone interested in “old Montauk” and classic, roadside quirkiness.
Westhampton – 59 Montauk Highway
This unforgettable property in Westhampton is home to much more than a great Italian restaurant (Casa Basso) — no one driving along Old Montauk Highway can miss the thrilling century-old castle or the towering musketeer statues flanking either side of the driveway. Created by skilled sculptor, architect, painter and potter Theophilus Brouwer as a pottery studio in 1904, the castle’s striking design was inspired by a similar structure he saw during his travels in Seville, Spain. Brouwer also built the 12-foot musketeers, as well as the golden lion outside the castle, and the large nude female figure in front of the restaurant, among others on the grounds.
Other public examples of the artist’s work can be found just a little west of Casa Basso, including a WWI monument featuring a giant eagle with a 20-foot wingspan at the former Moriches School site (516 Montauk Highway) in East Moriches, and a second WWI monument featuring a soldier standing atop a globe in front of Eastport Elementary School (390 Montauk Highway, Eastport). Still others have been lost to time.
The Big Duck
Flanders – 1012 NY-24
Perhaps the most famous of all roadside attractions on the East End, the 20-foot tall, 30-foot wide Big Duck in Flanders was originally built in 1931 by duck farmer Martin Maurer, who opened it as a bizarre shop to sell eggs and duck poultry in Riverhead. It moved around a bit before eventually nesting in Flanders where the odd building — made from wood frame, wire mesh and concrete — operates as the Big Duck Ranch gift shop. Now owned by Suffolk County, the Big Duck is preserved as an important landmark on the National Register of Historic Places.
Some fun facts about this world-famous building: The phrase “duck architecture,” meaning roadside buildings designed to look like and promote what is sold inside, is based on The Big Duck. And the Big Duck’s glowing red eyes are taillights from Model T Ford, the world’s first affordable automobile.
Riverhead Raceway “Indian”
Riverhead – 1797 Old Country Road
Brought to Riverhead Raceway in 1980 to help draw spectators, this giant statue of a Native American chief was purchased from its former home, the Danbury Fair in Connecticut, in 1980 and has stood at the Raceway gates ever since — though the fiberglass structure almost met its end in October of 2012 when the winds of Superstorm Sandy ripped him in half. According to the Riverhead News-Review, Riverhead Raceway owners Jim and Barbara Cromarty vowed after the storm that the famous waving statue “would be back on his feet by Christmas,” and they kept to their word. Another fun fact, the Riverhead Raceway, and this statue, appeared on an episode of HBO’s The Sopranos.
Manorville – Route 111
Late artist Linda Scott’s red, 50-foot sculpture of a deer head with a branch in its mouth has been welcoming visitors to the Hamptons as motorists travel along Route 111 from 495 to Route 27 since it was erected in 1991. “Stargazer” has seen quite a bit of damage over the years but is continually maintained by Scott’s partner, David Morris, who finally secured funding to fully restore the structure and get it in shape to survive another decade or more. Passersby will see it’s not quite there yet, but “Stargazer” is on the mend, and East Enders are glad about it.
Aquebogue – 347 Main Road (Route 25)
Just outside of Riverhead heading east on Route 25, aka Main Road, in Aquebogue sits one of the most unique buildings on the Twin Forks. Appearing exactly as its name suggests, the witch hat-shaped roadside stand was built in 1927 by a 70-year-old retired machinist, Harry Flemming, to sell candy and other goods to passing motorists. Later, it was used to sell plants as part of a nursery, and as a farmstand after that, but the Witch’s Hat ceased commercial operations in the 1960s and has spent the last six-plus decades as a cherished local landmark, beloved among the North Fork’s roadside attractions.
It underwent major restorations which were completed in 1987 (when it was dedicated as a Riverhead Town landmark) and 2014, and it continues to fascinate drivers who often stop to take pictures. The current owner, Dr. Richard Hanusch of Aquebogue Veterinary Hospital, has been an enthusiastic steward of the Witch’s Hat since he bought the property where it stands in 1990. Dr. Hanusch even put in $5,000 of his own money to support the most recent restoration effort, which was made possible by community donations, including gifts of funds, materials and work.
Greenport – Mitchell Park
One of only five in the country and 50 worldwide, this camera obscura in Mitchell Park allows visitors to enjoy an old-timey trick of light and mirrors dating back to the 16th century and reaching the height of its popularity in the 18th and 19th centuries. A precursor to the cameras we use today, these dark rooms allow light to enter through a tiny opening and project, using mirrors, a live image from outside onto a screen inside.
As the Village of Greenport’s website describes it, “The vibrant image promotes a feeling of serene detachment, reveals details otherwise overlooked, and enhances one’s appreciation of the scenic beauty. Many viewers find the experience deeply moving, and almost all are fascinated by this magical new way of seeing.” Greenport’s camera obscura is only open by appointment, and weather permitting, so call ahead: 631-477-2200. And check out the antique carousel right next door while you’re visiting this rare roadside attraction. Admission is just $1.
Atlantic Seafood Shark Mouth
Center Moriches – 117 Montauk Highway
It’s a bit farther afield, but if you’re looking for a place to eat during your roadside attractions tour, why not visit Atlantic Seafood, which is a restaurant and a roadside attraction! Famous for its giant, concrete shark mouth around the door, this spot would be hard for any fan of the odd not to visit. Fun for the kids and adults alike, the place has good seafood, and décor befitting a restaurant with a shark mouth around the door!
Inside, diners will find nets on the ceilings and all sorts of nautically themed goodies on the walls and pretty much every other available surface. Find stuffed game fish, life-preserver throw rings, anchors, a propeller, ship’s helm, carved wooden whale — you name it. After all, the family business began as a swap shop in 1948 before moving on to selling lobster pots and then seafood, and finally it became a restaurant with prepared food.
What are your favorite local roadside attractions?