The town includes the village of East Hampton, as well as the hamlets of Montauk, Amagansett, Wainscott, and Springs. It also includes part of the incorporated village of Sag Harbor.
East Hampton is located on a peninsula, bordered on the south by the Atlantic Ocean, to the east by Block Island Sound and to the north by Gardiners Bay, Napeague Bay and Fort Pond Bay. To the west is western Long Island, reaching to the East River and New York City. The Town has eight state parks, most located at the water's edge.
The town consists of 70 square miles (180 km2) and stretches nearly 25 miles (40 km), from Wainscott in the west to Montauk Point in the east. It is about six miles (10 km) wide at its widest point and less than a mile at its narrowest point. The town has jurisdiction over Gardiners Island, which is one of the largest privately owned islands in the United States. The town has 70 miles (110 km) of shoreline.
This area had been inhabited for thousands of years by varying cultures of indigenous peoples. At the time of European contact, East Hampton was home to the Pequot people, part of the culture that also occupied territory on the northern side of Long Island Sound, in what is now Connecticut of southern New England. They belong to the large Algonquian-speaking language family. Bands on Long Island were identified by their geographic locations. The historical people known to the colonists as the Montaukett controlled most of the territory at the east end of Long Island.
Native Americans inhabiting the western part of Long Island were part of the Lenape nation, whose language is also in the Algonquian family. Their territory extended to lower New York, western Connecticut and the mid-Atlantic coastal areas into New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Their bands were also known by the names of their geographic locations but did not constitute distinct peoples.
In the late-17th century Chief Wyandanch of the Montaukett negotiated with English colonists for the sale of land in the East Hampton area. The differing concepts held by the Montaukett and English about land and its use contributed to the Montaukett losing most of their lands over the ensuing centuries. Wyandanch sold an island to English colonist Lion Gardiner for "a large black dog, some powder and shot, and a few Dutch blankets." The next trade involved the land extending from present-day Southampton to the foot of the bluffs, at what is now Hither Hills State Park, for 24 hatchets, 24 coats, 20 looking glasses and 100 muxes.
In 1660 Chief Wyandanch's widow signed away the rest of the land from present-day Hither Hills to the tip of Montauk Point for 100 pounds, to be paid in 10 equal installments of "Indian corn or good wampum at six to a penny". The sales provided that the Montaukett were permitted to stay on the land, to hunt and fish at will, and to harvest the tails and fins of whales that beached on the East Hampton shores. Town officials who bought the land filed for reimbursement from the colony for the rum with which they had plied the tribe during negotiations. Gradually, however, colonists pushed the Montaukett off the land and prevented them from hunting and fishing, saying they were interfering with their farms.
Many of the Montaukett died during the 17th and 18th centuries from epidemics of smallpox, a Eurasian disease carried by English and Dutch colonists and endemic in their communities, to which the Indians had no immunity. After the American Revolution, some Montaukett relocated with Shinnecock to Oneida County in western upstate New York, led by the Mohegan missionary Samson Occom, to try to escape settlers' encroachment. They formed the Brothertown Indians with other refugee Indian people from New England, and gave up some of their traditions. In 1831-1836, the Brothertown Indians migrated to Wisconsin, where they founded the settlement of Brothertown.
Some Montaukett continued to live on Long Island. In the mid to late nineteenth century, their most well-known member was Stephen Talkhouse. Their area on Lake Montauk was called Indian Fields until 1879. With their population reduced, over the years the Montaukett intermarried with other peoples of the area, but brought up many of their descendants as Montaukett in their culture. When Arthur W. Benson forced a government auction of Montauk, New York, in which he bought nearly the entire east end of the town, he evicted the Montaukett. They relocated to Freetown, a community established by free people of color on the northern edge of East Hampton Village. The tribe made several attempts to get the courts to declare the evictions illegal, but failed. Since the 1990s, the Montaukett have pressed for formal recognition as a tribe. The Shinnecock Indian Tribe, many of whom had continued to occupy a portion of land on the South Shore, have received federal recognition as a tribe. Historically both groups were part of the larger Pequot people.
Montaukett artifacts and sweat lodges are visible from trails at Theodore Roosevelt County Park. The park was formerly called Montauk County Park.
East Hampton was the first English settlement in the state of New York. Lion Gardiner in 1639 purchased land, what became known as Gardiner's Island, from the Montaukett people. In 1648 a royal British charter recognized the island as a wholly contained colony, independent of both New York and Connecticut; a status it was to keep until after the American Revolution, when it came under New York State and East Hampton authority.
On June 12, 1640, nine Puritan families from Lynn, Massachusetts landed at what is now known as Conscience Point, in Southampton; some later migrated to present day East Hampton. Among the first English settlers in East Hampton were John Hand, Thomas Talmage, Daniel Howe, Thomas Thomson, John Mulford, William Hedges, Ralph Dayton, Thomas Chatfield and Thomas Osborn.
The Mulford Farmhouse, on James Lane, is the best-preserved 17th-century English colonial house in East Hampton. The barn dates to 1721, and the complex is operated as a living museum. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It was built in 1680 for Josiah Hobart, a prominent early settler, named in the first formal deed of conveyance of East Hampton. This was known as the East-Hampton Pattent or Dongan Patent. The 1686 instrument granting East Hampton to its new proprietors was signed by Thomas Dongan, then Governor of New York. The patent named Capt. Hobart one of "Trustees of the freeholders and commonalty of the town of East-Hampton". A son of Rev. Peter Hobart, founding minister of Old Ship Church in Hingham, Massachusetts, Josiah Hobart and his brother Joshua both came to Long Island with their families. Josiah Hobart settled in East Hampton, where he served as High Sheriff of Suffolk County; and his brother Joshua, a minister, went to Southold, where he served the town for 45 years.
East Hampton was the third Connecticut settlement on the East end of Long Island. East Hampton formally united with Connecticut in 1657. Long Island was formally declared to be part of New York (and also subject to English law) by Charles II of England after four British frigates captured what is today New York City, releasing East Hampton from its Connecticut governance.
East Hampton was first called Maidstone, after Maidstone, Kent, England. The name was later changed to "Easthampton", reflecting the geographic names of its neighbors, Southampton and Westhampton. In 1885 the name was split into two words, after the local newspaper the East Hampton Star began using the two-word name. "Maidstone" is frequently used in place names throughout the town, including the Maidstone Golf Club.
Deep Hollow Ranch, established in 1658 in Montauk, is the oldest continuously operating cattle ranch in the United States.
While East Hampton was originally primarily agricultural, the settlers soon discovered that whales frequently beached themselves along the South shore of the town and that the whales could then be carved up for food and oil. The proper handling of this phenomenon was to be written into town laws. As the demand for whale products grew, residents became more aggressive in their harvesting techniques. No longer content to settle for harvesting beached whales, they began harvesting live whales that were coming near shore.
Northwest Harbor, located at Northwest Landing, was the town's first harbor. The harbor turned out to be too shallow for large ships, so it was moved two miles (3 km) West, to Sag Harbor, which derived its name from the fact that it was just north of the settlement of Sagaponack, New York in Southampton.
At its peak, in 1847, 60 whale ships were based in the village, employing 800 men in related businesses. It was to be written about by Herman Melville in Moby-Dick. The port rivaled that of New York. After 1847 the whaling industry dropped off dramatically.
Among the sea captains of Sag Harbor were ancestors of Howard Dean who was born in East Hampton.
The most famous voyages out of Sag Harbor were those by Mercator Cooper, who in 1845 picked up shipwrecked Japanese sailors in the Bonin Islands and returned them to Tokyo. In 1853 Cooper broke through the ice shelf to become the first person to land on East Antarctica.
East Hampton continues to have a large maritime presence, as Montauk is New York state's largest fishing port. The Town is famed for its commercial sports fishing, made particularly famous by Frank Mundus. One of the largest buildings in the town is Promised Land fish meal factory at Napeague.
Two major natural disasters that affected East Hampton include the Hurricane of 1938 and Hurricane Carol, in 1954, both of which found the Atlantic Ocean splitting the town in two at Napeague. The 1938 storm also washed up so much sand that the Cedar Point Lighthouse, which had been on an island, became connected to the mainland. The 1954 storm also toppled the MacKay Radio towers at Napeague.
East Hampton does not have the barrier beaches that run almost the entire length of the south shore of Long Island from Coney Island to Southampton. East Hampton's ocean beaches are connected to the mainland, which prevents them from being washed over in storms.
Due to storms on Fort Pond Bay, the hamlet of Montauk was actually moved by the Navy at the end of World War II. The hamlet was originally located at the train station, but was constantly being flooded.
East Hampton is regularly hit by hurricanes and Nor'easters. Given the town's generally flat topography, water often accumulates on town roads stranding motorists in heavy rains.
The town's most serious environmental problem is beach erosion. The town has severely restricted development on ocean front property, thus limiting impact. The Montauk Lighthouse, which used to be almost 300 feet (91 m) from the cliffs is now 56 feet (17 m) from the cliffs. The most threatened areas now are in the hamlet of Montauk, which is the only community in the town with its business district next to the ocean, as are the oceanfront estates of East Hampton. At Georgica Pond the United States Corps of Engineers built Groynes to protect the mansions. The construction is a source of friction with Southampton, which says the jetties interrupt the longshore drift, greatly increasing beach erosion there.
The lack of beach front development, including the fact there are no boardwalk promenades, which are features of many developed beach communities, has contributed to East Hampton beaches being listed among the best beaches in the country.
While East Hampton is considered almost exclusively a residential community, it has been the home of United States Navy, United States Army, and United States Air Force bases, the last of which closed in the 1980s. It currently has a United States Coast Guard headquarters.
Skirmishes and military incidents took place in the town from the 17th century through World War II.
The biggest recorded loss of life in the various skirmishes and conflicts in East Hampton was "Massacre Valley" in 1653 in Montauk when 30 members of the Montaukett tribe were killed by members of the Narragansett tribe at the foot of what is now Montauk Manor.
The Montauketts had a thriving wampum (made from whelk shells on the East Hampton beaches) trade Connecticut tribes. The arrangements were disrupted in 1637 by the Pequot War which was to solidify English domination of New England and change the balance of power among Native American tribes.
The Pequot War was to contribute to the Montauketts selling Gardiners Island, East Hampton and Southampton to the English with the understanding the English would protect the Montauketts from attacks from Connecticut. However a war broke out between the Montauketts and the Narragansett, the nominal Native American victors in Pequot War.
In 1653 the Narragansetts under Ninigret attacked and burned the Montaukett village, killed 30 and captured one of Wyandanch's daughters. The daughter was ransomed with the aid of Lion Gardiner (who in turn was to get large portion of Smithtown, New York in appreciation). The Montauketts temporarily moved closer to East Hampton village and the English ordered ships in Long Island Sound to sink Narragansett canoes. The skirmishes were to end in 1657.
East Hampton had pirates on its waterways in the 17th century and early 18th century, the most notable of which was Captain Kidd who was hanged after his booty on Gardiners Island was introduced at his trial.
Kidd is said to have buried treasure all over Long Island. Money Ponds at the Montauk Lighthouse are named because of treasure reported to have been left there.
In June 1699 Kidd was stopped on the island while sailing to Boston to try to clear his name. With the permission of the proprietor, Mrs. Gardiner, he buried $30,000 in treasure in a ravine between Bostwick's Point and the Manor House. For her troubles he gave her a piece of gold cloth (a piece of which is now at the East Hampton library) that was captured from a Moorish ship off Madagascar, as well as a bag of sugar. Kidd warned that if it was not there when he returned he would kill Gardiner. Kidd was tried in Boston and Gardiner was ordered to deliver the treasure as evidence. The booty included gold dust, bars of silver, Spanish dollars, rubies, diamonds, candlesticks and porringers. Gardiner kept one of the diamonds, which he gave his daughter. A plaque on the island marks the spot, but it's on private property.
In 1775 the British first ventured toward Long Island at Fort Pond Bay at Montauk during the Siege of Boston. John Dayton, who had limited troops at his disposal, feigned that he had more by walking them back and forth across a hill turning their coats inside out to make it look like there more of them (a tactic referred to as Dayton's Ruse). The British would not formally attack Long Island until 1776.
After the fall of Long Island during the Battle of Long Island, the East Hampton ports of Northwest and Sag Harbor were blockaded by the British and the British used Gardiner's Island for a hunting preserve.
The first American victory in New York after the Battle of Long Island was Meigs Raid on Sag Harbor (sometimes called the Battle of Sag Harbor) when continentals from Connecticut raided the British earth works in the village and burned the ships and wharfs on the East Hampton side of the village. The Americans killed six and transported 90 British prisoners back to Connecticut without losing a single soldier.
A story often circulated is the story of Isaac Van Scoy who had a farm in Northwest. According to the tales the British raided his farmhouse and he killed one soldier with a pitchfork. Van Scoy was reported to have eventually been captured and taken to a prison ship in Sag Harbor where he escaped. The earthen remains of Van Scoy's house are still visible in the Northwest Preserve where he is buried (American flags mark his grave on holidays). His name is applied to various placenames in the area including Van Scoy Pond.
The manor house on Gardiners Island had just been built in 1774 and members of the British forces were to use it throughout the war – with or without permission. Among the British guests were Henry Clinton and John André. At one point Major Andre and Gardiner son Nathaniel Gardiner, who was a surgeon for the New Hampshire Continental Infantry, exchanged toasts on the island. Gardiner would later be the American surgeon who attended to Andre when he was executed after being caught spying with Benedict Arnold.
The British fleet used East Hampton waters for blockading Connecticut and planning for a new offense to retake New England (that never took place). One of the ships, the HMS Culloden (1776) ran aground at what is now called Culloden Point in Montauk during a winter storm on January 24, 1781. The ship was scuttled and burned. In the 1970s remains of the ship were discovered and is now Long Island's only underwater park. Remains of the ship can be seen at the East Hampton Marine Museum in Amagansett.
After the war, Gardiners Island which had been considered an independent colony was officially added to New York and East Hampton.
George Washington was to authorize construction of the Montauk Point Lighthouse.
War of 1812
During the War of 1812 British frigates once again controlled the northern bays of East Hampton with frigates headquartered in Gardiners Bay particularly harassing ships going into Sag Harbor.
Sag Harbor had a fort manned by 3,000 troops on Turkey Hill. July 11, 1813 One hundred British Marines raided the wharf but were driven back after setting fire to one sloop by Americans led by Capt. David Hand.
During the War of 1812 a British fleet of seven ships of the line and several smaller frigates anchored in Cherry Harbor and conducted raids on American shipping Long Island Sound. Crews would come ashore for provisions which were purchased at market prices. During one of the British excursions, Americans captured some of the crew. The British came to arrest then Lord of the Manor John Lyon Gardiner. Gardiner, who was a delicate man, adopted the "green room defense" where he stayed in a bed with green curtains surrounded by medicine to make him look feeble. The British, not wanting a sick man on board, let him be.
The British were to bury several personnel on the island. Some of the British fleet that burned Washington assembled in the harbor in 1814.Gardiner's supply boats were manned by slaves during the war and this made it easier for them to pass through British lines. Many of the Gardiner slaves were to live in the Freetown (East Hampton), just north of East Hampton (village), New York.
American Civil War
During the American Civil War, some of the Sag Harbor whaling ships were scuttled in Charleston, South Carolina harbor to blockade the city.
The USS Montauk, a monitor which was constructed at the Continental Iron Works in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, saw considerable action throughout the war. In 1865 the ship, docked at the Washington Navy Yard, was used as the prison for accused Abraham Lincoln assassination conspirators and the autopsy and identification of the body of assassin John Wilkes Booth.
Spanish American War
During the Spanish–American War, the Army built Fort Tyler on Gardiners Point Island in an attempt to protect Long Island.
A more important fort was the massive Camp Wickoff (also called Wyckoff) which stretched from the current Montauk Long Island Railroad station to the Montauk Point Lighthouse.
The area was used to quarantine soldiers coming from the conflict. The most prominent group among the 20,000 soldiers who passed through the base were Theodore Roosevelt and his Rough Riders. The tented camp became a national scandal over the poor treatment of troops (256 died there) and President William McKinley visited to emphasize improvements. Exhibits and artifacts from the camp are at Theodore Roosevelt County Park.
World War I
During World War I, the E.W. Bliss Company of Brooklyn, New York tested torpedoes in the harbor, a half mile north of Sag Harbor. As part of the process, Long Wharf in Sag Harbor was reinforced with concrete and rail spurs built along the wharf as the torpedoes were loaded onto ships for testing. They were shipped via the Long Island Road, along the Sag Harbor to the wharf which was owned by the railroad at the time. Among those observing the tests was Thomas Alva Edison. Most of the today's buildings on the wharf, including the Bay Street Theatre, were built during this time. The torpedoes, which did not have exploding warheads, are occasionally found by divers on the bay floor.
World War II
During World War II, coastal fortifications were set up along the eastern tip of Long Island at Montauk. A concrete observation tower as built next to the Montauk Lighthouse. 16 inch naval guns were placed in adjacent bunkers at Camp Hero. The observation tower is still next to the lighthouse and the additional bunkers are visible at Camp Hero State Park as well as Shadmoor State Park.
On June 13, 1942, as part of Operation Pastorius four German agents led by George John Dasch were landed by U202 at what is now Atlantic Avenue Beach (sometimes called Coast Guard Beach) in Amagansett. Confronted by Coast Guardsman John C. Cullen, they said they were Southampton fishermen. When one of the four said something in a foreign tongue, they offered him $300 to keep quiet. The agents disappeared into the night after he sought out his supervisor. When reinforcements arrived they discovered German cigarettes on the beach along with four heavy, waterproof oaken boxes buried in the sand filled with brick-sized blocks of high explosives, bombs disguised as lumps of coal, bomb-timing mechanisms of German make, and innocent-looking “pen-and-pencil sets” that were actually incendiary weapons.
The agents rode the Long Island Railroad into New York City and were ultimately captured along with four others who had come ashore at Jacksonville, Florida. Six of the agents were to be executed.
In May 2007 the original Coast Guard station was moved to the property at the Town Marine Museum in Amagansett across the dunes from its original Atlantic Avenue beach location. The station was moved in 1966 to private property to save it from demolition by Joel Carmichael The Marine Museum itself was the former barracks for the Coast Guard.
The Navy appropriated almost all of Montauk during the war for facilities including Montauk Manor which was used as a dormitory. Torpedoes were tested in Lake Montauk. Ships and dirigibles docked on Navy Road on Fort Pond Bay. The Navy was to find Fort Pond inhospitable since it was shallow. Dredging was to contribute to problems with flooding. After the war the Navy moved the residential section of Montauk which had been on the bay by the Long Island Rail station a mile to the south to get away from the flooding. One of the biggest legacies of the Navy presence was to be the dredging of Lake Montauk so that it replaced Fort Pond as Montauk's dock. The Coast Guard is now headquartered there on Star Island.
After the war, most of the military property was disposed of as surplus, except for gun emplacements at Camp Hero next to the Montauk Point Lighthouse. The camp was designated as an Air Force Base supporting a 135-foot (41 m)-wide radar (AN/FPS-35) in the early 1960s to detect potential bombers headed for New York City. The massive radar and supporting state-of-the-art computers quickly became obsolete. While the other radars in this category were torn down, the one on Montauk, was saved largely because it served as a better landmark than did the lighthouse for sailors and ships on Long Island Sound. The base was officially decommissioned in the 1980s. The support buildings now form a ghost town. The radar structure has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
In 1992, Long Island residents Preston B. Nichols and Peter Moon published a science fiction book, The Montauk Project: Experiments in Time. They suggested that the radar was used by the government to conduct time travel experiments. Some readers believe their sci-fi account is true. The base has become of cult interest among conspiracy buffs. It was featured in a segment of The X-Files.
The town has two governments, which sometimes are in conflict. The most visible town government is the elected Town Board, which consists of five people, including its head, the Town Supervisor. They are responsible for managing the taxes, roads, police, parks, zoning and general governance of the town. The Town Board was established by the State of New York in 1788. The government operates from a 13-acre (53,000 m2) campus on Pantigo Road.
The historic, original Town government is known as the Trustees of the Freeholders and Commonalty of the Town of East Hampton. Today it is formally responsible for day-to-day decisions related to common property in the town. The Trustees derive their power from the Dongan Patent of December 9, 1686, which set up self-governance for the town. The patent (a land grant) establishing the trustees was an act by Thomas Dongan, the Royal Governor of New York. Among the common properties which the trustees operate is Georgica Pond; they decide when the tidal pond is to be drained and filled. These actions often make headlines gas they sometimes cause the flooding of basements of neighboring properties owned by celebrities. In 1998, the pond was drained a few days before President Bill Clinton was to spend his summer vacation at the home of Steven Spielberg.
Since the late 20th century, the Town has often approved progressive social initiatives, including domestic partnership registration. In 1999, it imposed a 2 percent tax on residential real estate sales in excess of $250,000 for the purpose of buying open space for preservation. The money has been used in part to the Town's establishing more than 200 miles (320 km) of trails, including the Paumanok Path. Between 2002 and 2005, the tax raised $71 million. In 2006, the Town adopted a dark skies ordinance, which is now being considered as a model for wider use in New York State to cut down on light pollution at night.
Despite East Hampton's great wealth, its fire department and ambulance are both volunteer services, dependent on local full-time residents. In August 1998, President Bill Clinton was to give his weekend radio address from the Amagansett Volunteer Fire Station during his vacation.
The East Hampton town government campus with its house trailers on the left and the 19th and 18th century houses moved to the 10 acre campus for a "new" town hall in April 2007.
Although residences in the town are often featured in architectural magazines, the town offices have been housed for years in several double wide trailers on a lot, hidden from the street by a nondescript flat-roofed building. In 2006, the Town announced plans to convert its campus by adapting a collection of historic East Hampton buildings that had been moved over the course of 30 years to the 40-acre (160,000 m2) Further Lane home of Adelaide de Menil, heiress to the Schlumberger oil fortune. In 2006 it was announced that the new Town complex was to be designed by internationally known architect Robert A.M. Stern (who designed the East Hampton Library in 1997).
The transfer of the historic houses to the Town government site was part of the sale of the de Menil to financier Ron Baron for $103 million; in 2007 this was reported as the highest price ever paid for a single residence in United States history.
The township has aggressively pursued zoning ordinances to protect its residential and rural character. It has no chain fast food restaurants and or big box stores (unlike Southampton, which has numerous fast food chains and stores such as K-Mart). The village of East Hampton formerly also exercised a "no chain" rule. Since the mid-1990s, a Starbucks franchise site has opened (currently there is only one in the whole town) and a branch of Tiffany & Co.. Tiffany & Co. closed its store in 2014.
Communities and Locations
|Sag Harbor, shared with the Town of Southampton|
Census Designated Places
|East Hampton North|
|Amsterdam Beach State Park|
|Camp Hero State Park|
|Hither Hills State Park|
|Montauk Downs State Park|
|Napeague State Park|
|Sag Harbor State Golf Course|
|Shadmoor State Park|
|New York State Route 27|
|New York State Route 114|
|County Route 38 (Suffolk County, New York)|
|County Route 113 (Suffolk County, New York)|
|County Route 79 (Suffolk County, New York)|