Sunday, March 25, 2012

Memory Lane, circa 1888

I'm going to take a brief pause from building histories and current events to share another old newspaper article. I stumbled upon this one doing research a few weeks ago and found it interesting for several reasons: for its enchanting description of Southampton village, for its description of Dr. T. G. Thomas' house as ugly, for its mentioning of there being only three Fair Lea cottages then, and others. Here it is, practically in its entirety, sprinkled throughout with some related photos. Enjoy.

“How breathable the atmosphere!” Tired, hot and dusty, after a long ride through flat and uninteresting scenery, how delightful to stand on the little station at Southampton and inhale a good long breath of the delightful air. Right from Old Ocean himself it comes laden with the fragrance of the new mown hay – leaving a taste of salt upon the lips, sweet to the nostrils, grateful to the lungs. Again with Christopher North, I exclaim: -- “How breathable the atmosphere” – “Dies Borealis.”

            One of the numerous conveyances in waiting drive one through the pretty, drowsy little village, with the stores either side of the irregular sreet and the dwellings straggling off in every direction, and one would think from the number of roads and by-ways that every house has its highway and each highway its own names for. At each corner hangs a gibbeted sign with a legend, as “North Sea Road, opened 1712;” “Job’s Lane, opened 1663;” “Windmill Lane, opened 1659;” “Shinnecock Road, opened 1650,” all bearing testimony to the antiquity of the town and conservativeness of the inhabitants who cling fondly to the old names.

            Southampton boasts two liberty poles and a charming old windmill (above), which stands at the junction of the street bearing its name and the old Shinnecock road, with sails spread and flapping its ancient arms disdainfully and amazedly at the strange houses and strange doings all around about it, wondering what has become of the familiar faces and the hands that built it, unmindful that they are resting peacefully in the old cemetery on the North Sea road, with moss-grown tombstones from which Time’s slow but cruel finger has erased all record and inscription.

            Passing through the village proper, beyond the Presbyterian church, adorned this summer with a new town clock, we come to the summer colony, clustered thickly around a pretty little sheet of water, once humbly designated the “Town Pond” but now bearing, with the dignity of a bantam, the high sounding title of Lake Agawam (below).

            Here we find a tiny city – a toy Newport – beautifully situated on either bank of the little lake, with the beach within easy walking distance, the ocean is full view, the sound of the breakers distinctly to be heard, not only by the people living right on the sand, but by those even at the remoter end of the pond.

            The whole gamut is run, from hideousness and bareness and glare to beauty and restfulness and shade, this last exemplified by Mrs. Frederick Betts’ gabeled vine-embowered house, Mr. Barney’s granite cottage, Salem H. Wales’ large and straggling but thoroughly picturesque home, J. Hampden Robb’s expensive dwelling, the Schieffelin cottages, the McKeevers, the Schermerhorns, the Kilbreths, the Moerans, the Murdocks, the Bacons and others too numerous to mention.

            Dr. T. Gaillard Thomas’ square, ugly, but very comfortable house (above), is most delightfully situated on an elevation immediately on the beach, and overlooks on one side the ocean and on the other the pretty lake, dotted all over with tiny sails, where the youth with aquatic tastes can indulge them to his heart’s content, his pleasures unalloyed by the terrors of squalls and sea-sickness, and at no greater risk than perhaps a sudden duckling in the tepid water.

            Dr. Thomas’ house marks the centre of what are called the beach cottages which stretch away on either side, and are delightful residences for those devoted enough to the sea to stand its roarings so very near. To the east are the three cottages called Fair Lea, one occupied by Professor Boyesen, of Columbus College, and still prettier is Mr. William Douglass’ large house and stables, just finished and now occupied by the family.

            Westward is the Episcopal church, St. Andrews-by-the-Sea, (above) formerly the life saving station, and now enlarged and altered and improved by the addition of some memorial windows, a musical bell and an eloquent preacher, for Southampton this year has the Rev. Dr. Rainsford to minister to her spiritual needs. Indeed both spiritually and physically we are well tended, for the D. D.s are represented by Mr. Wilson and Dr. Rainsford and the M. D.s by Drs. Thomas, Markoe, Delafield and Porter.

            Indeed it is a childrens’ paradise. To see the myriads of rosy-cheeked, bright eyed babies frolicking on the beach, playing in the sand, tucking up their little petticoats and toying barefooted with the chilly waves, running shrilly screaming and laughing back to their nurses, rocking in the great life boat always in readiness in case of need, making tunnels and burying each other in the clean, dry sand, makes one wish more regretfully than ever that Time is so relentless and will not turn backward to let us once again enjoy the blissful, simple pleasures of a child.

            But in my enthusiasm for the dainty mites of humanity I wander from a far more important subject, the far-famed Meadow Club (above). To tell the truth the old sight on Dr. Thomas’ grounds was far more convenient and accessible. They are now in larger and doubtless better quarters, but are so fenced in by barbed wire and red tape that, except to the initiated, they are not of much account. Even as a picturesque feature of the landscape they have lost most of their charm, for to see the players is next to impossible from the roadway, a fact that is thoroughly agreeable to the members, who pride themselves on their exclusiveness. Most of the “Pond” people are enthusiastic players, and the annual championship games are just over.

            The drives are … innumerable and branch out in every direction along the well built turnpike to Bridgehampton and Sag Harbor, through the woods by many and devious paths to North Sea and Rose’s Grove, over the hills to the Shinnecock Inn, a quaint little hostelry, delightfully situated on a bluff directly over the water.

            During the afternoon one meets enough swell equipages to remind one of Newport. Mrs. Willie Douglass with her well matched team of calico ponies, driving a spider-phaeton; Mrs. Louis Murdock, in a towering dog cart; young de Garmendia, driving tandem; Miss May Brady, pretty as a picture in her natty habit, accompanied now by her white-haired father, but oftener by her “cavalier servante,” young Stevens, a representative of the Hoboken family, whose devotion is tireless, and who is said to have secured – but, avant! This is what the dickie birds say, and too trivial to get noted.

            Southampton is essentially a place for open air sports. Except on very rainy days it is delightful to be out of doors, for the sandy soil precludes mud, and the atmosphere has always that saltiness that robs even dampness of its terrors, and it is rarely uncomfortable warm. In the morning pretty women galore adorn the beach, though the “Pond” people never appear before noon, just about the time the boarders are being packed into stages and driven back to a hustling match, more politely termed dinner.

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