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Historic Facts from the East Hampton Town Crier
Though the tabloids may proclaim that East Hampton was put on the map by potato field-chateaux-building-yuppies from New York City, the real face of East Hampton is fortunately more substantial. In fact, it’s as much the cradle of American civilization as Virginia. East Hampton may not have a grand historic centerpiece like Monticello, but there’s a rich history and so much more to offer…there’s the Common Whipper, our Lord of the Manor, a felonious Christmas, a witch, possibly Captain Kidd’s treasure, the very first American woman on the scene of the Gold Rush and the first cattle ranch in the United States.
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Punishments could be rather harsh in the early history of East Hampton. In 1725, Dick Syme was elected Common Whipper for East Hampton, and was paid 3 shillings for each person whipped. In 1651 Anne Edwards was ordered to pay a fine of 3 pounds for the contempt of a warrant, and have her tongue in a cleft stick. In the same year it was ordered that Samuel Turner “shall, within the space of a fortnight either join a family, become a servant to a man or leave the town.”
Ebenezer Dayton, a peddler from Connecticut came to East Hampton in 1798. He was ordered to stay at The Ordinary, an inn, for several days, but instead went to church the next day and sat in the first pew. Guess what? He had the measles, a highly contagious disease in 1798. He was ordered to leave town immediately, but was overtaken by four young men, brought back to town ridden on a rail, had his hair cut off, and finally was dunked in Town Pond. 100 people in the town contracted the measles. What did Mr. Dayton do? In keeping with East Hampton tradition, he sued and was awarded damages of $1000. His lawyer was Aaron Burr who in 1800 was elected Vice-President to Thomas Jefferson; and who; a few years later killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel.
In the latter part of the 19th century, there was much wrangling and confusion among the various Boards of the East Hampton Town Trustees. Measures adopted by one Board of Trustees were sometimes rescinded by a subsequent Board. The 1884 Board began to investigate and prosecute all illegal and improper proceedings of the Board of Trustees of the years 1882 and 1883. On April 11, 1853 the newly elected East Hampton Town Trustees were to meet at the Town House, but the building was locked and the key had not been turned over to them by the previous Trustees. The meeting was then held at the home of Thomas T. Parsons.
The first three houses built in Montauk were appropriately named First House, Second House, and Third House. These houses were used by the men who tended the cattle, sheep, and horses while they were pasturing in Montauk. First House was located at the foot of Hither Hill and burned down in 1909. Second House, still standing is located at the entrance to the present Montauk Village. This is where the sheep were kept. Third House is located on the outskirts of the present Montauk State Park. The cattle and horses were kept here and it was the site of the annual roundup before the cattle, sheep and horses returned to East Hampton in the Fall.
The depression which followed the stock market crash of October 1929 apparently took a while to sink into the heads of some Sag Harbor and East Hampton businessmen. In March of 1931 they proposed a $45 million dollar bond issue be floated to build bridges from North Haven to Shelter Island and from Shelter Island to East Marion (on the North Fork) to “help the unemployment situation.” The East Hampton Town Board favored the proposal by a vote of 4-2. And we’re still waiting for the bridges.
Dr. Abel Huntington, a doctor in East Hampton for over 60 years until his death in 1858 was a successful surgeon and also introduced a new smallpox vaccine in 1800. Dr. Huntington served as a coroner of Suffolk County, a Presidential Elector, a member of Congress, a member of the State Senate and was the East Hampton Town Supervisor for five years.
For many years since its founding, East Hampton’s Main Street (also called Town Street) has been as wide as it is today due to the annual cattle and sheep drives to Montauk. The animals from East Hampton and surrounding areas were driven to Montauk in the early Spring to pasture and returned in late Fall. At one time, Main Street was all grass with wagon ruts on either side. These drives continued until the early part of the 20th century. At the time of the Civil War there were said to be more animals than people on Main Street. (N.B. Some would argue the same is true today.)
The Old Dominy House, built in 1716, stood across from the present IGA store on North Main Street in East Hampton. The Dominys were East Hampton’s talented clockmakers, furniture makers and millwrights. Their home contained the clock shop and the furniture shop. Oscar Brill bought the house and offered it to the Village for $6000 if the Village would fix the building and use it as a museum for the people of East Hampton. The mayor of East Hampton wrote a letter to the East Hampton Star asking for donations. The letter was sent in December 1941. When the Second World War broke out, everyone forgot about the Dominy House and it was torn down in 1946. Many of the Dominy’s tools and their reconstructed clockmaking and furniture making shops are now located at the Winterthur Museum in Delaware. The Dominy family’s Windmills are among the finest in the area.
Daniel Fairfield was probably East Hampton’s first juvenile delinquent (what a quaint term today!) First, he and three others were arrested for exposing themselves in public and performing other immoral acts. Young Mr. Fairfield received a public whipping for this offense (N.B. Probably netting the Whipper 3 Shillings!) Later, he entered the schoolhouse of teacher Charles Barnes and announced that he could beat up all the children. When subsequently thrown out of the school by the teacher, he returned to the door and shouted profanities. Finally, Mr. Fairfield was brought to court by The Reverend Dr. Thomas James because he had attempted to seduce his daughter and his maid.
In 1911 Frederic and Almy Galatin agreed to sell the town of East Hampton 22 ½ acres of land at Three Mile Harbor for $1 dollar on the following conditions: 1. The land would be used as a public park for the town people for ever 2. The name of the park would be Maidstone Park 3. If the park ceased to exist or the land used for any other purpose then a public park, the land would revert back to the Gallatin family or their heirs. The proposition passed at a special election, 242 for and 8 against.
It could be that victory for the Mosquitos is maybe an overstatement, a reprieve is more like it. The town election of November 7, 1923 found the voters in a bad mood. The proposition to appropriate $8,000 for mosquito exterminators was lost, sidewalk improvement for Amagansett was defeated by 20 votes, a proposition to buy Northwest for a forest reservation at the cost of not more than $20 an acre failed by 313 votes. The land was later sold for more than 50 times the initial cost. Even the popular Maidstone Park failed to get a $1,000 appropriation for extra boathouses and other improvements.
On September 20, 1970 the Free Life, a balloon using both helium and hot air took off from George Sid Miller’s pasture on Fireplace Road in Springs. The three passengers, Rod Anderson, Pam Brown and Malcolm Brighton were attempting to become the first people to cross the Atlantic Ocean in a hot air balloon. The three balloonists were helped mightily in their efforts by the people of Springs and East Hampton. About 500 miles Southwest of Newfoundland, the Free Life went down in heavy seas caused by a sea squall. The craft and crew vanished without a trace.
In 1659, the Massachusetts General Court declared the celebration of Christmas to be a criminal offense. The Puritans were attempting to suppress the excesses of the season which included rowdy public displays of eating and drinking, mockery of established authority, aggressive begging, and boisterous invasions.
In August 1922 the Amagansett Fire Department was formed with 43 members. The Department was divided into 3 companies; chemical company #1, Hook & Ladder Company #2 and Bucket Brigade Company #3. E. Vivian Parsons was appointed First Assistant Chief. In October of 1922, the Reverend Clarence Scoville, pastor of the Amagansett Presbyterian Church was admitted to membership in the Department. He was assigned to the bucket brigade.
There was a small frame building on the west side of 3 Mile Harbor Road built in 1852 in the settlement known as Freetown. The building was called St. Mathews Chapel and was used by the White African American and Indian communities in the Freetown area. The chapel was later used by the members of St. Luke’s Parish and become the first building for the people who eventually formed Calvary Baptist Church. The building had wooden floors, a bell in the steeple, a pot bellied stove in the back and a stained glass window behind the altar. The building was moved in 1976 to be used as chapel for mariners at Maidstone Boatyard (now East Hampton Point). It is still there today.
In 1870 the LIRR tracks stopped at Bridgehampton on the South Shore. However, there were five miles of tracks between Bridgehampton and Sag Harbor on which rode a small steam locomotive and two wooden cars. It took the train about 12 minutes to travel the five miles. In 1927, a gasoline powered rail car was substituted for the steam locomotive. Later, a motor car was built to accommodate 40 passengers and run by a motorman and conductor was added to the line. It was called the Toonerville Trolley. When the Montauk Extension was opened in 1895, the line to Sag Harbor was relegated to secondary status. The line closed down on May 3 1939.
An early visitor to Japan through Sag Harbor whaling design was Ronald McDonald, seaman of the ship Plymouth, owned by Cook and Green of Sag Harbor. In June of 1848 he received his discharge and was given a whale boat furnished with books and provisions and left his ship off the coast of Japan to visit the forbidden islands. He was captured and imprisoned. He taught some of the Japanese the English language however they were anxious to get rid of him and he was taken away by the US Warship Preble in 1849.
The first newspaper press on Long Island was supposedly established at Sag Harbor in 1791 by David Frothingham. It was called the Long Island Herald. Among the early imprints were a sermon on lying and rules and regulations by Lyman Beecher, East Hampton’s 4th minister, a sermon on a remedy for dueling by Lyman Beecher and a sermon on the occasion of the death of Miss Mary Hill who died of consumption at the age of 26. The Long Island Herald went out of business in 1798.
A turnpike road was built in the 1840’s to connect East Hampton and Sag Harbor. After 60 years of charging tolls at the Toll House that stood opposite the Jewish Cemetery the road became so bad that people refused to pay to use it. On September 23, 1905 the franchise was released. The Toll House on the East Hampton – Sag Harbor Turnpike burned to the ground on June 20, 1905. Sag Harbor’s toll gates were the last two to be removed in the State of New York.
Prentice Mulford was described as the strangest of men. He envisioned the airplane and radio and prophesized mental telepathy and practiced it. He was born in Sag Harbor in 1834 but at 22 Prentice Mulford headed for California and made his fortune not from gold but by his interesting and imaginative articles and books. In 1865 he converted to spiritualism and lived in an old whaleboat cruising San Francisco Bay. After returning from a trip abroad, Prentice Mulford lived for the next 17 years as a hermit in the swamps of Passaic, New Jersey. It was there he wrote some of his finest works on spiritualism including his The White Cross Library dealing in the topic Thought Currents and How to Use Them. At age 57, Mulford decided to return to Sag Harbor and write about Long Island after the Gold Rush but he died in his boat en route. After 30 years in an unmarked grave, Mulford’s body was taken to Oakland Cemetery in Sag Harbor where a large stone was placed on his grave with these words, “Thoughts are Things.”
The Ramblers, a woman’s organization, developed out of a small reading group that began at the home of Mrs. Florence Osborne in East Hampton on January 22 1901. The club was to study literature, in particular readings which treated travel in our own and foreign countries. As they would be “rambling” through various countries of the globe in search of knowledge and amusement the group decide to name itself The Ramblers. This group of women continues to meet today.
Polly Sweet was born in Sag Harbor in 1815 and immediately upon getting married in 1835 convinced her husband that fame and fortune awaited them in California. Starting out by wagon they traveled to Albany, across New York State to Buffalo and by packet-ship to Chicago. she eventually crossed the Rocky Mountains through Colorado, Utah, Nevada and reached Sutters Fort in California in 1845. Polly Sweet was the first woman from New York State to cross the Great Plains to the Pacific coast by prairie wagon. When gold was discovered in 1848 in Central California Polly Sweet became the first American woman at the scene of discovery.
Sineus Edwards lived in Springs on Fireplace Road. He owned a coasting ship called The Florian and made numerous trips to New England, upstate New York and western Long Island. Sineus Edwards carried stones, lumber, shingles, and brick to David Dimon Parsons in 1844 to build the store which has become the Springs General Store. Mr. Edwards also sailed all the way from Albany with the bell for the new Springs Chapel. Capt. Edwards left this note upon his death: “I hereby give Baldwin C. Talmage $150 when I am done with it. I want you to pay back doctor’s bills and funeral expenses and what remains take for yourself. Don’t get anything expensive to lay this old body away.”
Early in the 1930’s, Cleaon Dodge, who was a swimming instructor at Fireplace Lodge Camp in Springs, swam from Fireplace Point to Gardiner’s island in two hours. He was accompanied by Richard Newcomb and Jack McGreevy in a small boat. The first person of the Fireplace Lodge staff to accomplish this feat was another swimming instructor named Ozzie Nelson who later became a radio star and orchestra leader and who appeared on the hit 1950’s television show Ozzie & Harriet. Cleon Dodge beat Ozzie Nelson’s record by 30 minutes.