Maidstone Memories

December 19, 1996

Sunday school picnics at Maidstone Park, evening trips to the general store for beer or ice cream sodas, and dancing to the jukebox were among the memories rekindled by those who attended a recent Springs Historical Society session designed to recapture the old days at Maidstone in Springs.

There were mostly fond memories, and each person's offering helped fill in the picture of bygone days at East Hampton's first official park and the neighborhood surrounding it.

For some, visions of the most delicious potato salad or three-flavor ice cream sliced in bricks stood out from those days when boys and girls from Sunday school classes would converge on the bathhouses, pavilion, and picnic areas at Maidstone Park.

"I Remember It Well"

"The boys would get wild there," said Norma Edwards of the outings.

"You weren't supposed to leave the church picnic, but we used to head off on the 'Indian Trail,'" chuckled Trevor Kelsall.

There were several bathhouses on the bluff near the ballfield with cabanas for changing into swimming costumes, two shade arbors covered with branches and leaves, with seats to rest on, four outhouses, and, to traverse the rocky beach, either a boardwalk or sandbag steppingstones, depending on who was recollecting and what year was being recalled.

Everyone at the meeting agreed about the big rocks in the water, rocks that are no longer there, though it's unclear what happened to them. A dock extended out from the shore so swimmers could jump into a clear spot, though some swimmers still got hurt - "I broke my ankle there," one person recalled - and some remembered the day around 1916 when a boy, Mike Meyers, dived in and drowned.

Shorefront Playground

The East Hampton Neighborhood Association sponsored weekly swimming classes there, with East Hampton children transported to the park in the back of a town truck.

There was a pavilion with a screened-in porch overlooking the bay, and fireplaces there and down on the sand. Lemonade was served up from big ceramic containers "tall as the couple who tended it." There were recollections of Gilbert Lester, a custodian at the park who also kept the youngsters' behavior in check.

Heather Anderson, the Springs Historical Society president, read an excerpt from a 1912 issue of The East Hampton Star, in which the park was called "East Hampton's new shorefront playground."

Park Cost $1

Indeed, Maidstone Park was the first park taken over by the Town of East Hampton, according to Hugh King, a local historian. Land for the park was donated by Frederic Gallatin, a wealthy East Hampton resident who reportedly was a descendant of Albert Gallatin, Secretary of the Treasury in Thomas Jefferson's Cabinet.

Mr. Gallatin and his wife, Almy, kept their horses at Maidstone until they acquired an automobile, then deeded the land to the town, for $1, in 1911. Conditions of the deed require that the premises be "held as a public park forever," that it should "bear the name of 'Maidstone Park,' " and that ownership would revert to the grantors or their heirs if the premises should "at any time in the future cease to be used as a public park or to be used for any other purpose than as a public park."

The 26.6-acre park was immediately popular. John Field, the area's caretaker, reported an attendance in July, August, and September of 1923 of 11,540 people, with a climb to a total of 14,999 in the summer of 1924.

"Each year about $500 is expended by the town in maintenance and hiring a keeper at the grounds . . . which amount is never begrudged by anyone, we will venture to add," said a 1923 report in The Star.

Weekly Bath

An old barn on the property was converted into more bathhouses, making 28 in all, in the early '20s. "Often there was a waiting list [with people] ready to use the houses when the bathers came out of the water," said an article in a 1924 edition of The Star, calling the new park a "wonderful play spot on the bay."

The town continued to make improvements at the park over the years, even proposing, in 1937, that some of the work be done as a Works Progress Administration project.

Mary Louise Dodge of Fireplace Road recalled, "When I was a child, we'd go to Maidstone Beach on Saturdays, and that was your bath for the week. You didn't wash off that salt. If you were really bad, you'd bring a cake of soap."

On Thursdays and Sundays, said Mrs. Dodge, chauffeurs of well-to-do families in the village would bring the servants to use the park.

Baseball And Burgers

John Tilley, who now lives on Woodbine Drive, recalled the dirt roads and quiet winters of his childhood. His parents owned the Maidstone general store, in the building that now houses Michael's restaurant.

Herb Fields had a farm with a cornfield and a couple of cows down there, Mr. Tilley said, but the area consisted mostly of summer houses in the woods. He recalled the lonely wait for the school bus, being the only student from the neighborhood heading to the Springs School.

In the summertime, parents and kids would play ball every night and then go to his parents' store for hot dogs and hamburgers, "a beer or two, or ice cream sodas, or whatever," he said. The store was open from Memorial Day until the week after Labor Day.

It was sometimes a hangout for young boys "out on the town." Mr. Tilley recalled with a laugh that "some of the guys would be raising hell and Harry Steele [then Chief of Police] would come down the store to look for them - my mother would put them in the beer cooler till he was gone."

Many of the participants recalled stocking up with 10 cents worth of bait for fishing at the Maidstone breakwater. On Three Mile Harbor Road lived Skimer Adams, who sold bait.

Mr. Adams had misspelled the word "skimmers" on his bait sign, and so was forever called Skimer. The group erupted in laughter over a reminiscence of Skimer Adams resting in bed clothed in a hat and overcoat, with chickens roosting on the bedpost.

Tapes Made

Audiotapes were made of the meeting, which brought to life, at least for this relative newcomer, sweet days of yesteryear.

The society intends to hold more meetings focusing on memories of different areas of Springs such as Accabonac Harbor, Fireplace, and Gerard and Louse Points, as well as the school. It would like to hear from people with long memories or mementos, especially photos, who can help to bring to life the days of old. The society is considering compiling the material it gathers into a brochure.