Playing in Mud Puddles on John Street
I grew up in the Southampton Village in the 1960’s. It was a wonderful place to grow up. It has changed so much over the years and I feel very sad about that. The following are just a few of my childhood memories of Southampton. I hope they will inspire you young and old to write about your memories.
When I was growing up the village consisted of the estate section and many middle class neighborhoods with lots of kids. The locals could actually afford to shop in most of the stores in the village. There was a variety of stores and you could find just about anything you needed. There were two five and dimes, Schulman’s and Gould’s. We knew the store owners and the people who worked for them. They were our neighbors. The stores were not open on Sundays. Sundays were for church and family gatherings. A large part of the village was still large tracts of farm land. It was so open that the village workers had to put up snow fence every year before the winter set in to keep the snow from blowing across the fields and drifting onto the roads.
In 1648 the majority of the population lived on the main streets in the village and some were spread out on surrounding farms. Long before that the Native Americans roamed this area seasonally. Not understanding that the white settlers intended to “divide” the land for themselves they welcomed them. In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s as the population increased and the heart of the village became more for retail space the surrounding farmland started to slowly be divided into buildable lots. The southwest corner became the Summer Colony where the wealthy people from NYC built their summer cottages. Over the years that followed, development worked its way out in all directions. The fields of potatoes disappeared and with them the famous Bridgehampton loam. A large percentage of the kids living in the outlying areas in the 1960’s were living on ancestral family farmland. Most of the ancestral homes on the main street were either torn down or moved to new outlying lots. Recently the last piece of remaining farmland on the corner of Wickapogue and Old Town Roads in the village was sold and developed. That piece of land happened to be Olde Towne, the sight where the first white settlers in Southampton built temporary shelters in 1640 when they first came to Southampton.
I grew up in my grandparent’s house on John Street. (It was built by my uncles and was one of the first houses to be built there in the mid 1920’s.)There were kids everywhere. We had so much freedom and we felt very secure. Our dogs ran loose. We entertained ourselves. All the parents looked out for all the kids in the neighborhood. On Halloween the kids went out trick or treating unaccompanied by adults until well after dark. Nights in the summer after dark the neighborhood kids would play flashlight tag or catch lightening bugs. Ten kids grew up in the house across the street from mine. They had an in ground trampoline and shared it generously with neighbors. In the summer their mom would load some of her Kids and some neighbor kids into her VW bus and take us to Healey’s Drive In for ice cream or to Flying Point Beach. I had just turned 5 years old when I started kindergarten. I walked two blocks to school and home sometimes with my friend Patricia and sometimes alone. Harry Beck, current board member Bob Beck's father, was the crossing guard at the end of Elm Street. He helped all of the neighborhood kids cross Hampton Road to the school. There were no traffic lights. I went to junior high school where the town hall is now. When I learned to ride a bicycle my mother would send me with a list and money to Catenas’. I would hand the list and money to Mr. Finalborgo who was my neighbor. I never left that store without buying Bazooka Bubble Gum, one cent a piece. Several kids would take a wagon in the same direction to Dick Johnson’s, current Research Center Manager Mary Cummings' father, appliance store. What was the attraction there? Large cardboard boxes! We’d head for home balancing one of those large boxes on the wagon. Oh the fun you can have with just a box. When it snowed in the winter all the kids would head for John Duck’s hill with sleds in tow. You had your choice of sledding down the smooth driveway or the terraced lawn. Fran Westerhoff who lived behind the restaurant and had three kids of her own would often bring the cold wet kids into her home and dry their clothes in her dryer. If it was below freezing long enough to freeze Olde Towne Pond many from the community headed there to skate. I had aunts and uncles on Wooley Street, Van Brunt Street and Elm Street. My grandmother lived with us. She didn’t drive. I remember walking into the village with her. A special treat was to pick out a little porcelain animal from the display in the front window of Anthony’s Florist. I collected them. She would tell me that when she was a kid she could see all the way into the village as she walked to school from where she lived on Captains Neck Lane. The school was on Windmill Lane. No hedges to block the view!
Moving to North Sea in 1980 was a big change for me. It was an affordable option. My kids grew up there. They were often lonely and I often traveled 24 miles, two round trips, to bring my kids to play dates. Their friends in turn were always welcome at our house. Putting my kids on a bus for school was a new experience for me. My kids were lucky though because they were able to visit their grandparents in the village and caught the tail end of the way it used to be. They made many friends in that neighborhood.
Today the village has many assets. The best is the ocean beach that has always been there. But to me the village has lost some of its charm. Gone is the slow paced life, replaced by honking horns. It’s no longer the small town where everyone knew everyone. A large percentage of homes are second homes. The middle class is disappearing. You don’t hear the sound of kids playing in the neighborhoods anymore. Kids and dogs aren’t allowed to run free. No walking to school. We have become part of the glitzy Hamptons. The village is usually gridlocked in the summer and most neighborhoods are eerily quiet and dark in the winter. They can tear down our ancestral homes and replace them with McMansions, but they can’t take away our memories.
Unknown Cousin, Norah Rothray, me (Laurie Collins), Wendy Boyd, Ann Vinski, Sally Rothray, Steve Vinski, Lee Dunwell (left to right)