As long as I can remember, Bridgehampton has had the potential of being one of the stunningly beautiful hamlets in the Hamptons. Now, quite suddenly, it is coming alive with construction at its crossroads by the monument in the center of town. And by this time next year, this community will have taken its rightful place as one of the major towns here.
Before I tell you about what has happened and what is now happening on three of the four corners that face out onto the crossroads, I’d like to write a little bit about what took place during the past century that deprived the town of its birthright.
I arrived here in 1956 as a teenager, brought here from a suburb to New York because my dad bought a pharmacy in the community. The glamorous and beautiful towns were Westhampton Beach, Southampton and East Hampton. Bridgehampton was a farm town, and frankly, I liked that it was a farm town. It was thriving with farmers and workers, potato-packing plants, farm equipment stores and even an Agway, devoted almost entirely to farming. Potato farms surrounded the community. When, after I started this newspaper, the time came for me to buy an office and a home to start a family, my dad said, “That’s great. You can enjoy all the chic stuff in the other towns, then come home, and relax and get away from all the bull—t.”
I bought a home on Lumber Lane at that time. I bought the building on Route 27 where Dan’s Papers is today. I hung out at Bobby Van’s and the Candy Kitchen. And I became fond of the town.
The only thing that really bothered me about Bridgehampton was something architectural. The crossroads in the center of town were graced, in the middle of the street, by a beautiful war memorial monument with an eagle in flight at the top. But surrounding it, on each of the four corners, was either a mess or what had, at a prior time, become a mess.
Here were the specifics. The southwest corner in the center of town had been the mustering grounds for the famous Bridgehampton Militia that fought for the rebels in the Revolutionary War. At some point, probably in the 1920s, someone had bought the property and built a row of white stucco stores along the street there. No more mustering grounds.
The northwest corner had been the site of Wick’s Tavern, a meeting place that had also played a role in the American Revolution. There was a metal historic marker sign out on the street announcing that fact. But now the site was a gas station. Wick’s Tavern had been cleared away. The gas station had been built in the 1930s on that corner.
On the southeast corner was another gas station. This was, of the four corners facing the monument, the worst of all. There was a beautiful white mansion on this corner with Greek columns holding up a portico facing out to the monument. But this was falling into disrepair and the owner of the property, who lived in it had leased out his front lawn to an oil company that had built ANOTHER gas station there.
Then there was the northeast corner. On this corner was the Bull’s Head Inn, another revival building from the 1840s that had originally been a three-story private home.
Although it was in good shape when I arrived here, being run as an inn and restaurant, it soon became vacant after the cook at the establishment was caught selling drugs out the back door. The place shut down and also began to fall into ruin.
Having studied architecture in grad school at Harvard for three years, I had a keen eye for the city planning aspect of all this, although you really didn’t need a keen eye. In my mind, I imagined the gas station on the lawn gone and the Greek revival mansion fixed up. I imagined the Bull’s Head Inn purchased and saved. And that was as far as I got. It seemed to me Wick’s Tavern was simply gone. And surely the row of stores, all rented, wasn’t going anywhere. If only we could save two of the four corners.
Before the changes that I am about to describe, things got worse before they got better. In the 1970s, the Sun Oil Company came in and made a proposal to the town to tear down the Bull’s Head Inn and replace it with STILL ANOTHER gas station, a Sunoco Station. Now we would have THREE gas stations facing out to the monument. This was absurd, and in the year it was proposed, which was 1974, I went to war in the newspaper, creating the “Save the Bull’s Head Inn” committee and urging readers to cut their Sunoco credit cards in half and send them to the President of that oil company in Pennsylvania.
Incredibly, this shortly resulted in a meeting being held between myself and two Vice Presidents at Sun Oil, held at a friend’s apartment in Manhattan, in which it was proposed that in exchange for the newspaper and the “Save the Bull’s Head Inn” committee supporting their proposal, they would agree to move the Bull’s Head Inn BACK on its property and turn it 90 degrees so it faced out onto the Sag Harbor Turnpike. THEN, in front, facing the highway, they would put their “colonial style” gas station.
To this day, I recall the next thing that I said.
“So you would have TWO great mansions facing one another with gas stations on their lawns?”
They squirmed. “Well, yes,” one of them said. I said no and they went away, and so did their proposal.
Well, all that is background to all the construction that is going on now, today, on THREE of the four corners of the center of town facing the monument, by three different developers. This is going to be GORGEOUS! The result will be three beautiful historic 19th-century restorations (one a revival) on three of the four corners!
On the northwest corner, next to Starbucks, the old gas station there, most recently a beverage barn, is being readied to be torn down. The workmen and their machines arrived last week. When the tear-down is completed, developer Lenny Ackerman is going to build a brand new three-story white clapboard office building (top floor an attic) in the exact same style as the Bull’s Head on the northeast corner. It will have 9,000 square feet of space and will be finished and be ready for occupancy one year from today. It’s not Wick’s Tavern. But historians will be proud.
On the northeast corner, where the Bull’s Head Inn survived the attack of the Sun Oil Company, bulldozers arrived last week and began clearing the lot surrounding the historic building and its barn behind it. On this site, developer Bill Campbell, formerly a C.E.O. of a Fortune 500 company and now retired and living in Water Mill, is building a hotel, restaurant and spa which will have as its centerpiece—the complexly restored Bull’s Head Inn. Five other smaller structures will be on this property, one of them attached to the back of the Bull’s Head as an extension. And here there will be suites for rent by the day or week, a conference center, health spa and lap pool. There will also be a small restaurant on the ground floor in the Inn itself. All will be painted white.
These are not proposals being mulled around by the Town. These are approved projects, in the works for two to three years with every angle considered and every objection noted and the decision made! They are now, this week, underway.
Also this past week, on the third corner, the southeast corner where the historic mansion with the Greek columns (and gas station out front) stood for all those years, the workmen have moved in in force. The gas station is gone. The columns are gone and the portico braced with temporary bridging as the columns undergo restoration. And at the present time, workmen on ladders are out there painting it white. Eight years ago, in a project largely spearheaded by then Town Councilman Dennis Suskind, that building was sold by the owner to the Bridgehampton Historical Society and then conveyed to the Town to be made into a museum. Moneys from the Bridgehampton community had to be raised. And they were. And now comes the final push. This building, with a staff of museum workers, should also be open next year.
The dirt is flying in the center of downtown Bridgehampton! You won’t have to wait long to see the result! So who said the eastern end of Long Island is in a recession?
Bridgehampton is no longer a farm town. It now boasts cafes, a French restaurant, antique shops and office buildings and even a Citarella—next door to Dan’s Papers—in what had originally been a tractor showroom.
You can’t bring back the past. But you can show it and honor it. And all that remains now is to get the telephone wires and telephone poles underground all up and down Main Street. Won’t that be something.
And here’s a plug for a book. In the first of the two memoirs I wrote (entitled In the Hamptons), you can read all about the encounter that the President of the powerful Bull’s Head Inn committee (no members) had with two Vice Presidents of the Sun Oil Company. The paperback version of this book is at Bookhampton and most other bookstores.