GUESTWORDS: The (Original) Laundry

By Steve Rideout

It really was a steam laundry. Of course you already knew that if you were a Laundry restaurant patron during its 25-year run on Race Lane dating from 1980. The large industrial washing machine on the patio was a good clue.
    I had written to the Laundry’s owner, Stuart Kreisler, and its executive chef, Andrew Engle, that fateful October of 2005 just before the restaurant moved from Race Lane in East Hampton Village to Pantigo Road, where it closed a few years later. My wife, Carol, and I had dined there in April during our spring visit and planned a fall visit to show some historical steam laundry photos. Carol’s great-uncle, Jud Banister, later village mayor for 18 years, built the brick laundry on Race Lane in 1913. Patrons and visitors to the Laundry Web site were familiar with the masthead photo showing Jud and two young men and a boy standing by the laundry wagon in front of the prominently displayed “East Hampton Steam Laundry” sign.
    Others familiar with East Hampton history may recall the old Star photo, reprinted in “From Sea to Sea: 350 years of East Hampton History” by Averill Dayton Geus, of the original East Hampton Steam Laundry on Cedar Street in 1904. Opened by Jud and his brother-in-law, Jeremiah Miller Huntting, a k a Jere or Jerry Huntting, the Cedar Street laundry later burned, to be replaced by the Race Lane establishment. You might get the impression that they were the owners when it burned, but they weren’t.
    Jere married Jud’s older sister, Edith (Ede), in October 1903, arriving home from their wedding in Malone, N.Y., to a band’s “customary serenade.” Ede had convinced Jud to move to East Hampton from Malone earlier that year, bringing his considerable mechanical skills to the bustling summer resort on Long Island’s South Fork. He did, met her beau, Jere, and they decided to join together in building East Hampton’s first steam laundry on land owned by Jere’s parents, D.H. and Harriet Miller Huntting, and next to their house near “the Hook.”
    By March 1904, they were advertising on The Star’s front page as the firm of Huntting and Banister and expected to open for business April 1. Although many thought the name would be Banister and Huntting, by the opening the names had been reversed. And why not? The business was on Huntting land and the name carried a long and distinguished local history with it.
    Always eager to keep its readers up to date on the latest business activity, The Star within a year reported that the young men had installed a “new rotary washing machine and a big collar and cuff ironer of the latest design,” declaring the machine capable of ironing “collars and cuffs in a perfect manner [to] give them what is called the ‘dead finish.’ ” East Hampton’s business community and ladies were going to be as stylishly and freshly dressed and pressed as anywhere!
    Jud and Jere started running a small ad on the Business Directory page touting their capabilities. A smiling young lady with a full head of hair fashionably parted in the middle looked out at you, her neck surrounded by a high white collar, her right hand proudly pointing to the exquisite work of the collar’s finish. The ad proclaimed “Something to Be Proud of” and surely she was. The laundrymen said that “not even ‘the beautiful snow that caps Mount Blanc’ is whiter or finer in finish in its glacial smoothness than is the linen that we are doing up every day.” How could that not be good!
    But the good news reports, including the assisting of Tong Lee when his laundry was damaged by a nearby fire, could not cover up the growing problems in the partnership. Soon Jere sold his business interest to Jud, then Jud sold out to him. Each sued the other. The court threw Jere’s case out, and a jury found no cause to support Jud’s, with the judge splitting court costs between them. So much for the partnership.
    Jere didn’t follow in his father’s footsteps as a farmer, nor, it seems, was he much of a laundryman. He had to install new equipment to get “everything in good working order” again, apparently the result of customer complaints. And with Jud out of the picture, he hired a Mr. T.B. Whitney to be his laundryman.
    The big 1907 fire changed everything at the Cedar Street laundry. Fred Dayton, a “wide-awake business man,” according to The Star, but now without a clothing business, immediately purchased the laundry from Jere. Who do you think Fred hired to run it? If you guessed Jud, you’d be right. Soon his ads were pronouncing the “Laundry operating under new management. Satisfaction Guaranteed.”
    But Jud, involved in other business adventures, left the laundry sometime in 1908, and Fred sold it to T.B. Whitney, now married and with ties to East Hampton. Mr. Whitney owned the laundry for less than five months.
    “Steam Laundry Burned,” The Star reported on Jan. 29, 1909. “Started by an accidental explosion of gasoline, Mr. Whitney was lucky to escape with his life. Though the fire department was called and responded as quickly as they could, by the time they laid 1,000 feet of hose, the building was totally engulfed with no hope of saving it. Turning their attention to Mrs. Huntting’s nearby house, they were successful protecting it.” (The S. Hedges Miller house — Mrs. Huntting’s — still stands across from the fire station on Cedar Street.)
    The estimated loss was $3,000, and insurance covered about half. Mr. Whitney said he hoped to rebuild, but perhaps in a more central location. He never did.
    The first Race Lane laundry was built in 1911, but it, too, burned, in 1913, to be replaced by the brick building in the restaurant’s masthead picture. But that’s another story.


 

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