The drive from Napeague across Nominiks past Shawango and Konkhunganik, with its view north to Quantuntowunk then on to Choppauhshapaugausuck (perhaps to check the surf) before heading east past the waters of Wyandanee to Meuntacut, takes only about ten minutes these days.
Using familiar place names, the journey — from Napeague past Hither Hills State Park, past the beach in front of the Montauk I.G.A. and the 7-Eleven with its view north across Fort Pond to the Long Island Power Authority generators and the train tracks, then on to Ditch Plain (to check the surf) before heading east past Lake Montauk to Montauk Point — probably took a whole day when the Montaukets named their world.
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the publication of one of William Wallace Tooker’s books, “The Indian Place Names of Long Island,” and Kevin McCann, a Montauk native, is working on a way to celebrate it. Mr. McCann has lived in California for many years, but he grew up in Montauk and admits it has never left him.
Mr. Tooker, a founder of the American Anthropological Association, lived in Sag Harbor in the late 19th century. Captivated by the new photographic process, he took his camera all over the island, creating a window on life as it once existed. His interest in the local Algonquian people and their language opened a second, much older window, which he realized was about to close forever.
In the introduction to the book, Mr. Tooker said he drew much of his information from “two brief vocabularies of Algonkian language in the Long Island dialects.” The first, containing 162 words, was obtained by Thomas Jefferson “in the presence of James Madison and General Floyd” while visiting “Pusspatuck,” Brookhaven, in 1791. A second vocabulary was gathered by the founding fathers during the same Long Island visit.
In the early 1970s, Mr. McCann was inspired by and worked with the photographer Peter Beard. At the same time, he became fascinated by Mr. Tooker’s photographs. “As my interest in photography evolved so did my interest in Montauk history. I wanted to tell the story.” In 1976, he was able to buy a collection of Mr. Tooker’s glass-place negatives.
To celebrate the centennial year of Mr. Tooker’s book, Mr. McCann has embarked on a project to adapt Tooker’s prints to resurrect what the places Tooker named looked like in the Montaukets’ time.
“Could you imagine being a Montauket walking along the beach and approaching a beached whale? It must have been exciting, as the whale was like gold as it brought prosperity and goodness to the people,” Mr. McCann said, referring to one of Mr. Tooker’s images. Using a computer, Mr. McCann altered the Tooker photo by removing the townspeople gathered around the whale to give the lone Montauket’s perspective. In the same way, Mr. McCann has stripped the present from aerial photos and supplied the Indian place names from Mr. Tooker’s 1911 book. Eventually he would like to create an interactive Google map, which could be used by those hiking local trails.
Mr. Tooker wrote his book on place names using source materials including questionable land transfers from Montaukets to East Hampton’s English settlers in the 1600s. The deeds used Indian names as transliterated by the settlers. Munchogue was the name for what is now Star Island. (The causeway that connects the island to West Lake Drive was created in the 1920s.) Munchogue was mentioned in a 1709 document giving a settler liberty to mow grass for hay there.
Gunnunks was named for an Indian woman, Luce Gunnunks, who lived in what Mr. Tooker described as a swamp in the north neck part of Montauk between Fort Pond and Culloden Point, where Industrial Road and the train tracks are now. Gunnunks was a tall woman, and her name was derived from the Algonkian word for tall tree, Mr. Tooker wrote.
Quadams was a hill overlooking Oyster Pond named for an Montauket who lived there. What is now called Osborne Island at the south end of Lake Montauk was called Wattuquasset, meaning “at or near the poles of a haystack.” Shawango was a neck of land between Lake Montauk and Fort Pond along the ocean.
Quantuntowunk is a place name Mr. Tooker found in a deed transferring land to East Hampton residents in 1661: “All the piece or neck of land belonging to Muntaukut land westward to a fresh pond in a beach (Fort Pond), on this side westward to the place where the old Indian fort stood, on the other side eastward to the new fort that is yet standing, the name of the pond being Quantuntowunk on the north and Konhunqanik on the south.”
Back in the day, Montaukets built a fort at Nominicks (high dry land) that rises from Napeague (water land). Later they built a fort at what is now called Fort Hill, where the Montauk Manor and town cemetery is today.
The word Napeague was first entered into the town records in 1658 when Wyandanch, the Montauket sachem, “gives to Rev. Thomas James half of all the whales or other great fish that shall be cast on the beach from Napeake eastward to the end of the island.”
Ditch Plain, which is Montauk’s most popular ocean beach, was referred to as Choppauhshapaugausuck in the 1670 deed for the transfer known as the nine-score-acre purchase: “. . . and so along to the seaside to a place called Choppauhshapaugausuck” meaning the place of separation where the brook opens out.
This was centuries before Montauk Harbor was created by cutting through dunes on Lake Montauk’s north end. When the lake level rose in pre-harbor days flood water flowed southward to the ocean.
Mr. McCann has been talking to representatives of the East Hampton and Montauk Libraries, with the idea of creating programs that would help underscore William Wallace Tooker’s contributions to local history.
Mr. McCann has conjured the scene using Mr. Tooker’s famous 1882 photograph of Montauk Point with the Lighthouse, which was completed in 1796, Photoshopped out. Noting that Meuntacut means turtle hill in Algonkian, He said, “Could you imagine being the first person after endless days of walking the beach or fields in search of food and habitat and see the final point of land? He or she may have said it looks like a turtle.”