A Virtual Tour of the Old North End, Part 2

On Thursday, April 29th at 11am author and historian Anne Halsey will be giving a lecture live on Zoom detailing the interesting history of Southampton's Main Street through the stories left behind by those who lived there. Including some of Anne's own relatives. To RSVP for her talk please click here!

The blog entry below comes directly from Anne as an early look at some of the info she will talk about in her virtual talk in April.

Also if you're interested, you can buy your very own copy of "In Old Southampton" from our online store if you click here!


by Anne Halsey

“Times have changed, but the savor of the old time lingers. Many will be heading toward the ancestral home in the East Riding this summer,” wrote my great-grandfather more than 75 years ago, referring to Southampton as it was called “in the early days.” And he was right. Times change, and yet many still head east every summer to gather here. For more than ten years, I have been researching and writing the story of my many generations of Southampton family as it intertwines with my own life and story. My great grandfather, the Reverend Jesse Halsey rises for me out of our family’s annals—in soul and almost in body—with descriptions of this sacred place that both grounded and inspired him, and that in their strange way speak as much to our times as they spoke of his own specific day.

“We lived on the Main Street, which with several curves wound thru the struggling business section and then straight away to the Beach ocean. When the wind was south the surf was always in our ears. We lived in the North End, everything south of the Church and Job’s Lane was the South End—one village; two communities, more or less, each with its own two room ‘deestrict’ school. To the south of the house was an orchard—Baldwins, pippins, russets with a few peach trees that seldom matured their fruit, and pear trees that always bore prodigiously—little sickle pears for pickling, Bartletts for eating, and Clapps’ Favorite for canning. A well-kept garden in the back supplied berries in variety and summer vegetables. Strawberries, which were raised in quantity, and asparagus a half-acre were on the farm half a mile distant. The back break of cutting asparagus in the sandy soil, April and May days, after school, is still with me after fifty years. These two crops furnished the only ready money until the fall crop of potatoes.” So writes my great-grandfather about growing up in Southampton in the 1880s.

Drawing of 49 N Main

I grew up coming out to Long Island for a couple of weeks every summer to see my grandparents. These trips always included visits to my Aunt Abbie and Uncle Jim’s house at 49 North Main, the house in which Jesse was born and raised, and which was filled with family stories and a deep sense of the history of the place. I remember keenly my grandfather showing the old home movies taken at 49 and at the family Camps on Peconic in the late 20s, 30s, and 40s. I listened intently to him and my great aunts reminiscence, telling the stories of their Southampton childhoods, of 4th of July picnics at Shinnecock, of the ancestors buried in the North End Graveyard whose spirits still live in Bowden Square.

Cap’n Henry Halsey, who built the ancestral home at 49 North Main, was the oldest of five. His father, Charles Fithian Halsey, owned a farm and was the miller in the windmill, and died in a freak accident when Henry was nine. When the children were old enough, Henry’s mother, Phebe Rogers Halsey, moved him, his two brothers, and his two sisters, from Water Mill to New York, where she kept a boarding house and put the children in school. In 1830, Cap’n Henry with his young wife, Eliza, and first child, Charles, left his masonry business in New York and came back and bought a farm in Southampton from the estate of a deceased uncle, as the mill had earlier been sold to pay for his sisters’ schooling. Rebuilding the old farmhouse and introducing some of the refinements that he had built into city developments, he settled down to work the farm and carry on his mason’s trade. By 1870, he had succeeded Cap’n Bill White as the town’s Wrecking Master.

Vintage postcard of the Old North End

Until about 30 years or so ago, Main Street Southampton was shaded in a canopy of great elm trees, which had been planted in the early 1800s. But in front of Cap’n Henry’s home at 49 N Main, were two giant “Trees of Heaven,” trees native to China. These were planted by Cap’n Henry, in 1874, following the wreck of the French steamer Lavalley off the coast of Southampton. So tells Jesse Halsey: “When the Levalley wrecked, Cap’n Harry ordered his men to board and cast offboard the cargo, or part of it, in order to save the crew. Overboard went the cargo. Great bundles of fruit and shade trees were first jettisoned. These drifted up on shore and were being appropriated by the townsfolk when Cap’n Henry, knowing it was his business, as Wrecking Master to save as much as possible for the ships’ owners, went ashore and forbade his neighbors to take the trees away . . . he sent for a local squire, who was always the auctioneer, and on the beach the trees were sold. Many orchards in Southampton were planted or replenished from this stock and on either side of his front gate, Cap’n Harry planted a co