The Mast-Head: History Matters

Browsing the old Stars turns up some surprises and peculiar coincidences

One of the things that sets East Hampton apart from so many other American communities is respect for its own history. Up here around our office, Main Street looks much the same as it did 100 years ago. Some of the houses here date much further back still, as much as a century before the Declaration of Independence. My own office window view is of the Mulford farmhouse on James Lane, built shortly after Capt. Josiah Hobart aquired the land in 1676. By that measure, the Star building at 153 Main Street is just a baby, built around 1900 for my great-grandfather as a pharmacy with an upstairs apartment. My office on the second floor overlooking the East Hampton Library was until not that long ago a bathroom. 

As far as getting in touch with the past goes, one could do far worse than this end of the street, though actually being here is no longer necessary. An online collection at the library provides access from anywhere to, among other things, editions of The Star from 1918 to 1968. The plan is to soon have the years since the paper’s establishment in 1885 available as well.

Searching the East Hampton Star archive in the Digital Long Island feature at easthamptonlibrary.org gives a picture of how much distance we have traveled metaphorically from a page-one call for substituting wood for coal to aid the World War I effort in Europe to a story about the soon-to-open Montauk Downs golf course clubhouse in 1968 — written by our current sports editor, Jack Graves, no less. 

Browsing the old Stars turns up some surprises and peculiar coincidences. A November 1919 edition reported that a 61-pound striped bass had been netted in the ocean near Mecox and referred to a 101-pounder that Capt. Nathaniel Dominy seined up off East Hampton some time earlier, which was said to be the largest of its species ever. In the modern era, the official record bass weighed 81 pounds. The Dominys were the subject of Helen S. Rattray’s “Connections” column last week and will be discussed next Thursday by Hugh King during an outing organized by the East Hampton Trails Preservation Society.

 That the past was of interest is clear from a 1923 Star I happened on in the library collection. A front-page account by Harry D. Sleight gave great detail about an armed sloop, the Hampton, built in East Hampton or Southampton for the purpose of trading with the slave plantations in Jamaica and elsewhere. A 1757 manifest lists pork, barrel staves, Indian corn, onions, horses, and sheep among its outbound cargo. And so it goes. I recommend the archive to anyone curious about East Hampton in earlier times, or those just looking to spend a bit of time forgetting today’s troubles. After the latest news from Washington about the president’s firing of the F.B.I. director, this seems even more necessary.