The Southampton Press published a series of articles titled “Southampton Sixty Years Ago,” beginning in December of 1927 and written by Benjamin C. Palmer. Here is an excerpt of the first in the series.
“…..one must judge from their own viewpoint as to whether the old town has [evolved] into better or worse conditions……the world at large knew very little about the place way out here in the woolly wild extreme of Long Island and very little was cared by the outside world until Dr. T. Gaillard Thomas [photo at top], a celebrated New York physician, and the Hon. Salem H. Wales one of the Park Commissioners of New York discovered it and put it on the map….
There were several ways to get here if one happened to be in New York and wanted to come here, one could walk, drive a horse, or swim, but the practical way was to either take that wonderful innovation, the train from Hunters Point to Riverhead, hire a rig and drive over, or better continue on by rail to Greenport, take the little ferry boat, Water Lilly, to Sag Harbor and thence by the “Safety, Speed and Comfort” stage owned and run by Al Robinson, one of the jolliest [drivers] that ever held the lines over a spanking team, that could get over the road at four miles an hour if the going was good……..Once on Main Street one soon found there were three stores, the post office and store of Charles Parsons who left most of its management to this genial and gentlemanly clerk, the late Henry F. Herrick, who later became his successor, said store standing where Herrick’s hardware store now stands [photo below].A few yards further North a low wooden building covered the general merchandise of Lewis Hildreth [photo above] the nucleus of the present fine department store known as E.A. & H. Hildreth. Mr. Hildreth, the father, was quiet, thoughtful, even serious, and a most worthy citizen of the isolated town whose honesty of purpose and whose religiously fair dealings formed a standard foundation for the business he was to bequeath to his sons who became, after his demise, his successors. [His widow went on to build 75 South Main Street.]
Almost directly opposite stood the third of these three leading stores, Josiah Foster & Co., all of whom catered to the wants of urban and suburban residents of many miles around..…… Mr. Foster built a very a ttractive residence [photo above] just North of the store which in common with most of the homes on Main Street was built very close to the sidewalk [now at 383 First Neck Lane]. On the North corner of Job’s Lane stood the Academy where the younger generation who had graduated from the district schools took on the finish of their education before they entered into the more serious occupation of going out to compete in the world about them.
Diagonally across the street from there, Southeast corner of Main Street stood as it does today, the stately wooden edifice of the Presbyterian Society [photo above], the Pastor in charge being the Rev. Dr. Hugh Wilson……
When Capt. Rogers built his home the cost seemed to be the height of extravagance to his more frugal townsmen, but that didn’t phase the Captain, who was more than pleased when the Methodists became settled North of him and expressed himself in language dramatic and forceful, “that now he couldn’t help but be good with a church on either side of him.” The last two houses in South Main Street were directly opposite each other and are now there “Hollyhocks” on the West side [known today at the Thomas Halsey house, photo above], and the home of Mr. Isaac Foster, on the east side, father of our present Edward H. Foster, Esq. of Post Crossing [photo below].
“Hollyhocks” was owned by quite a character named Nichol White, who had a small farm, but had little taste for farming; he was noted for tramping the beach with his gun watching out for ducks, “Bunkers” and incidentally whales and if you saw a man on the top of a tall Dune, wildly swinging his coat, you could safely bet that that was “Nick” and he had seen something……..
When some of our relatives from away visited, we used to hook up the old mare and drive them around town to see the sights. One was the palatial residence of Wm. R. Post, Esq. [photo below] which is now standing on the East side of Main Street in good repair. Some years after Mr. Post died, Mr. L.E. Terry bought the property and has since resided there.
Dr. Hallock, who for many years, until the coming of Dr. John Nugent, was the only doctor available for many miles around, bought the property just South of the home of Edward Cook Reeves and his brother, Albert; the house thereon was of antiquated style, he had it built over into Gothic form when it became one of the residential sights. While out on this drive we would go clear around the lake to see the last or only house of Mr. Charles White [photo below] on First Neck Lane, corner of Ox Pasture Road, which is still there on the same foundations…….
There were no hard sidewalks or oiled roads and traveling in muddy weather would have been impossible for automobiles. In the evenings “the gang” held forth at the Post office and it was not beneath the dignity of many of the younger and some of the older men to go barefooted. The natives were a thrifty, hard working manly set of men, putting twelve to fifteen hours a day in their fields or fishing, honor reigned supreme among them, and every man’s word was his bond – unless he was spinning a fish or a whale yarn – then watch him. Every third man was a Captain, and rejoiced in the cognomen, Captain of a whaler, or perhaps a Bunker crew but a Captain nevertheless from the feet up.
More than ninety percent were religious. They worked hard six days, but found the church door on Sunday. No wonder Southampton has prospered…….”
Photos of the Foster House and Herrick's courtesy the Southampton Historical Museum.
Stay tuned for Part II.