Hampton Bays Photo Book Takes Readers Through History Of Hamlet

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When Merle Mason thinks about Hampton Bays, there are many vivid images of the hamlet that pass through her mind. A native, Ms. Mason has always been interested in the history of what used to be Good Ground.

Now, Ms. Mason, who is also the vice president of the Hampton Bays Historical and Preservation Society, can point to photos that evoke warm childhood memories when she flips through “Images of America: Hampton Bays,” a collection of photos, captions and introductory essays compiled by Geoffrey Fleming, who lived in Hampton Bays for about four years between 1999 and 2003.

“There’s my church, and the old schoolhouse, and I think there are a few good ones of the lighthouse,” Ms. Mason said, pointing to black and white photos throughout the 125-page collection.

Mr. Fleming, a historian who now lives and works in Southold, has written and compiled 23 books about the history of Long Island, with Hampton Bays being the most recent topic of interest.

The book, he said, is an overview of the history of Good Ground and Hampton Bays, the hamlet that somehow remained “a place where the regular guy could have a taste of the sweet life without bankrupting himself,” as he wrote in the introduction.

“And that is perhaps the village’s most charming aspect. It is not like Quogue or Westhampton or Southampton, Bridgehampton or even East Hampton. It is Hampton Bays, an outpost of colonial settlement that has become, much to the shock of its neighbors, one of the favorite Hampton beach spots—without all the expense, contrivances or brouhaha.”

The book, made up of photos from the historical society, private collections and even from the Southold Historical Society, is broken down into 10 chapters to highlight aspects of the community and life, physical structures, businesses and organizations that have made an impact on Hampton Bays.

For Mr. Fleming, the section that focuses on hunters was the most interesting and fun to research and compile. Though he is not a hunter, Mr. Fleming said photos of hunters like those in the book are fairly rare because hunters in the early 1900s did not photograph many excursions.

“You don’t find them that often,” he said last week, “even though there was extensive hunting across the island for market and self-sufficiency. Seeing photos of guys doing that is fun.”

Other well-known landmarks include the Old District No. 5 Schoolhouse, a one-room schoolhouse that used to be on the south side of Montauk Highway, and the Red Creek Schoolhouse, which dates back to 1874, was eventually absorbed into the Flanders School District and is now owned by the Southampton Historical Museum.

A series of photos depicts the history of the Canoe Place Inn. Mr. Fleming notes this building as the “most famous of all Hampton Bays hostelries,” a statement that still holds true today. In 1921, the original structure was destroyed in a fire that also claimed two lives. Photos of the rubble and what became the second Canoe Place Inn, which was built in 1923, are also found inside the book. The second structure was expanded and included 34 bedrooms, a lounge, 20 bathrooms and a handful of cottages that were built on the property.

The book also details the history of the Ponquogue Lighthouse, which was finished in 1858 and stood 170 feet tall. “Also known as the Great West Bay Lighthouse, it was perhaps the most distinctive monument ever erected in Hampton Bays. It was the only beacon located between Montauk Point and the Fire Island Lighthouse, making it an important addition for the protection of south shore shipping lanes,” Mr. Fleming wrote.

The structure was taken out of service in 1931 and ultimately was demolished in 1948.

Though Mr. Fleming admits his book is not the most comprehensive history of the hamlet, “Images of America: Hampton Bays” adds color to other histories of this unique hamlet.

Members of the Hampton Bays Historical and Preservation Society will be selling copies at their annual open house on Saturday, December 6, from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m. at their headquarters on West Montauk Highway. Copies can also be purchased for $21.99 at Quogue Sinclair Fuel on West Montauk Highway.

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