GUESTWORDS: Lots on Maidstone Lane!

By Steve Rideout

    Actually, the Star ad read “Fine Building Lots for Sale” with “On Maidstone Lane” as the next line in smaller print. It was October 1915, and two weeks earlier a brief article in the local-news section had given the background for the proposed road. It would go through the D.H. Huntting farm on Main Street, starting just east of the Presbyterian Church’s Session House, continue to Egypt Lane, and be four rods wide. The paper imagined a large number of very desirable building lots becoming available, with the prospect that the street, to be known as Maidstone Lane, would equal the popularity of Huntting Lane, opened 20 years earlier.
    I first spotted the proposed street on the East Hampton Library’s 1916 Suffolk County map of “Part of East Hampton and Freetown.” At the time, I was hoping to locate the house where I believed my mother-in-law, Beryle Huntting, was born in 1904. My wife, Carol, and I knew she was born in the S. Hedges Miller house on Cedar Street, so the area between Cedar Street and North Main Street was our focus. We also knew that Beryle’s grandfather David H. Huntting had moved to a house on Main Street belonging to his late uncle, Deacon David Huntting, around 1901, stimulating our interest in that part of town as well.
    The proposed Maidstone Lane was clearly marked, essentially parallel to Huntting Lane, starting just east of the Presbyterian Church and continuing across the D.H. Huntting estate to Egypt Lane. A close inspection of a 1902 map of the same area shows that the street had been penciled in, probably in 1915, around the time The Star reported the news. The marks on the map in the library’s Long Island Collection were erased, but the street’s outline is obvious to the careful observer.
    By the spring of 1917, the Huntting estate had proposed to give the road to the town. Hiram Sherrill, a board member, and John Y. Strong, the town clerk, were appointed to investigate the offer and report their results at the next board meeting. “Town Board Accepts New Highway,” The Star said after the board’s June meeting. Many of the town’s largest taxpayers had submitted a petition to the board supporting acceptance of the lane as a public way. Many viewed this new Maidstone Lane as a valuable and highly desirable street for development.
    There was just one problem, and it took only the next week’s Star for it to land squarely back in the town’s lap. Samuel T. Skidmore, secretary of the Maidstone Club, wrote the editor stating that he wished “to make this public protest against the creation of a second Maidstone Lane” (emphasis added). Skidmore having failed in his initial effort on behalf of the club to register a protest against the name the previous fall, the club went public. Skidmore provided ample rationale that the club’s Maidstone Lane, leading to both the clubhouse and the Maidstone Inn, had longstanding precedence in town and was so noted on Belcher Hyde’s Atlas of Suffolk County and in many deeds and legal documents. Exasperated, he asked, “. . . are not the brains of this town equal to thinking up any name besides Maidstone for anything in or near this village?”
    Subsequent letters to the editor advocated a number of ideas, including Deacon’s Lane, but as Jeannette Edwards Rattray wrote in her 1968 book, “Up and Down Main Street — An Informal History of East Hampton and Its Old Houses,” David or David’s Lane (at one time a sign at one end said David and the other David’s) was the final resolution. She said the lane opened in 1923, but as we have seen, it was planned and accepted by the town by 1917. Town minutes show the board appropriated $1,500 to construct a bridge over the creek leading into Hook Pond at the south end of the lane in 1920, finally awarding Stephen J. Lynch the bridge contract for $1,660 the following year.
    World War I may have slowed the early development of David’s Lane, but returning veterans proposed an interesting use for the new street through the open farmland. The mid-July 1919 issue of The Star proclaimed “Aeroplane Here Sunday” on the front page. “Everyone Will Have Opportunity to Fly — Will Land on David’s Lane” touted the subtitles. The Sperry Corporation was intent on demonstrating that flying was both safe and sane! Experienced pilots would take passengers up in a two-seat Curtiss biplane similar to those used by the U.S. government for training pilots. 

    The two pilots arriving with the plane had already flown more than 200 passengers during a stay in Southampton. The article closed by reminding folks that the pilots would be landing on David’s Lane and would make it their headquarters while in East Hampton. They ran a large ad in the same edition exhorting villagers to “See East Hampton From The Air.” Flights would begin Sunday, July 20. Foul weather forced cancellation for several days, but once it improved, people went up, including The Star’s editor. The pilots ultimately used Huntting estate property at nearby Further Lane, but found a willing audience and over several days took passengers up, some of them several times.
    David’s Lane went on to be developed much as the board and petitioning wealthy residents had hoped. But before it was conceived, the David H. Huntting farmland it would cross was part of several tracts of land that went into his estate following his death in the fall of 1912. Beryle Huntting, his first grandchild, had played on that farmland and carried fond memories long into adulthood.
    As Jeannette Rattray described, the Huntting property went down to the “dreen” and Egypt Lane. She continued, “Where the Nature Trail entrance is now, at the foot of David Lane — where the children go to feed the ducks — there was a rustic bridge at the foot of the last David Huntting’s back lot, a generation or two ago; and other little children used to go there and dangle their feet over the black muddy stream and watch the turtles and frogs and dragonflies.”
    Beryle Huntting Stanley, reading those words written more than half a century after she had lived near and played on that farmland, made a one-word margin note embracing those cherished memories. “Me!”

Steve Rideout comes to East Hampton a couple of times every year to research family history. He lives in Shutesbury, Mass.