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History: It Lives All Around Us

John K. Berntson talks about the importance of preserving history.

Once upon a time, you could stand right about where the King Kullen now is in Hampton Bays and see clear to the ocean. Some of today's local neighborhoods and street names were once separate hamlets: Ponquogue, Squiretown, Red Creek, Canoe Place, and West Tiana, to name a few. Shinnecock Bay was fairly stagnant and there was no ocean fishing fleet here.

Change is always present, yet we tend not to make too much of it. An old store is knocked down, gets replaced with condominiums, a road gets diverted to accommodate them, and we just take it in stride. It is just one more fact to deal with. But we might not know that the old store replaced an even older store and that store was once somebody's barn, where the owners kept two horses, a carriage, a milk cow, and some chickens.

Much of this knowledge is now lost.

Sure, we know that Good Ground became Hampton Bays in 1922. We can name the fire chiefs back to 1930, the town council members back farther than that and we can find old surveys and tax records that give us some idea of where there were buildings and roads and who owned them. But some people from the old families may not even realize that the house you live in is on land that was first cleared by your very own ancestor and  newer people may not realize that the reason nobody else ever put a house where you did is because it floods every twenty years or so.

This is what the Hampton Bays Historical Society exists for: to preserve the history of the local area and to make it meaningful to those who live here now. History is not boring, despite what you may have learned in school, and local history can be a lot of fun, even if you have only lived here a short time.

For instance, during the American Revolution, the British Army had a detachment down at Canoe Place. That location was, and is, a strategic choke point, as anyone who works east of the canal can attest to. The British detachment was, for a time, commanded by John Andre'. This would be the same John Andre' who was later hung as a spy after being caught attempting to negotiate the surrender of West Point with Benedict Arnold.

Wakemen Road was once "Wakemen's Road." It was cut by a farmer of that name who lived on the south end of town and wanted a direct way to get his goods to market.

A farmer? In Hampton Bays? Um, I mean, "Good Ground"?

Yes, there was once a lot of farming here. Just like nearly everywhere else in the world, there was a time when most people here would have made their living by farming or fishing. That was why – now that I get around to it – you could see from the village to the ocean. There were very few trees. Trees tend to get in the way of plows and growing things.

Why did we have so many separate hamlets? Was Good Ground not enough village for everyone? Not really. Not when most travel was done by horse or foot. A trip to market in Good Ground from Red Creek might have taken up most of a day. Instead, each hamlet would likely have their own general store, post office, schoolhouse, and, maybe, a church.

There was never much ocean fishing here. There was no direct access to the barrier beach, except by boat, and there was no way from the bay to the ocean. The 1938 hurricane changed all that, giving us an inlet, and clean water that revitalized Shinnecock Bay. Since then, the notion of driving to Southampton via Dune Road has long since faded from the memories of our older residents, and is totally inconceivable for the rest of us.

History lives all around us, even if most of us don't see it.  In the future, we hope to bring some of it to your attention.

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