The Mast-Head: Drawing a Bay Line

The house I grew up in and where I now live is on its southern shore

    In the coming weeks I hope to finally correct what I and a number of other local people see as the misidentification of a portion of Gardiner’s Bay, something I have been pursuing for nearly six years.

    It is not coincidence that I am interested in this; the house I grew up in and where I now live is on its southern shore, and as my father, who was descended from one of the town’s first colonists, always said, it was Gardiner’s Bay. Napeague Bay, as online maps and other Johnny-come-lately sources erroneously have it, was never even heard of when I was a child.

    Early in 2008, I wrote to the United States Committee on Geographic Names stating my case. Since then I have taken an on-again, off-again approach, spurred along by questions and documents from Steve Boerner, an archivist at the East Hampton Library, who was asked by the federal committee to look into the matter. In the process, I have learned a lot about my small corner of the world, and the way in which things change.

    The error appears on maps after about 1956, when a United States Geographical Survey field investigator crossed out Gardiner’s Bay on a work sheet and wrote in Napeague Bay on the advice of an unnamed local postmaster. Of course, no one told the surveyors this, and Gardiner’s Bay continued in use until at least the mid-1980s.

    Working our way backward, old maps nearly without fail either do not name the bowl-shaped water body between Hicks Island and Goff Point on the east and Cartwright Island on the west as anything at all or have it correctly as Gardiner’s Bay. Napeague Bay, when the name appears at all, is the crescent east of Goff Point, bounded more or less on the east by the Rocky Point bluffs and Fort Pond Bay. Truth is, though, as a boy out sailing with my father, I understood that Gardiner’s Bay ran into Block Island Sound at both its northern and southern reaches.

    Deeds support my view. One notable conveyance dates from 1795, when Nathaniel Dominy bought 1,200 acres of beach at Napeague “bounded on north by Gardiner’s Bay.” I am sure there are plenty more, if Steve or I can find them.

    As we circle toward resolution, the issue remains of pinpointing the boundary between the two bays. For a time, I thought that it should be at Cherry Point, just to the north of Promised Land, but this would have excluded Hicks Island, which trustee records place on Gardiner’s Bay. Maps can be deceiving, though, and with that in mind I took a ride in my truck out to Goff Point a few weeks ago for a look.

    Rounding the bend near where Napeague Harbor’s eastern inlet once was, the scene simply seemed to open up at Goff Point. Waterfence, as the beach there is called, fell away to the east, toward the high ground at Hither Hills. If it were up to me, I’d place the marker there, the point where one bay ended and another began.