Connections: The New Bonackers

I see more and more fresh faces taking an interest in our common East Hampton history

I’ve been known to complain that those who bought second homes here in the last few years are not like those who arrived earlier, in, say, the 20th century — who, I liked to insist, made an effort to learn East Hampton history, meet remarkable locals, and discover native flora and sometimes even fauna. Lately, however, I’m beginning to think I’ve been wrong. Perhaps it has something to do with the resurgence in the idea of locavore food, and the millennials’ celebration of old artisan crafts, but I see more and more fresh faces taking an interest in our common East Hampton history.

It was standing room only, for example, at a recent East Hampton Historical Society event at Clinton Academy. To be sure, year-rounders were in strong evidence, but so were others, ranging from young to upper-middle age, who seemed new to the room but were obviously delighted to take in indigenous stories told with knowledge and humor by Hugh King and Ken Collum about two of the 20th century’s prominent physicians here, Doris Zenger and Dave Edwards. 

Socially, as well, I’ve  met newly arrived residents who have disproved my earlier opinion about newcomers. For example, at a dinner party just before the scallop season opened this year, I got talking with a woman who not only knew that a day would be set aside so residents could dig a few for personal consumption before professional Bonackers got to work commercially, but planned to take advantage of it. She sent me a photo afterward. It showed her in full regalia and waders, holding a handmade wooden box with a see-through bottom, which she had a carpenter make for her just for shellfishing. I never got around to asking her about the New York City law practice from which she had recently retired.

And then there are two men who came “from away,” as locals used to always put it, to become the most extraordinary experts on the work of East Hampton’s Dominy family, who made furniture for a century or more (some of the finest examples of which can be seen at Winterthur in Delaware). No one could be more devoted to preservation than they are.

I once was a newcomer here, too, many moons ago. For the first few years I got a pass as far as boning up on local history and  lore went, because I married into a family who wrote books dealing with local history, both fiction and nonfiction, and could reflexively defer to them. As the years have swept by, however, and given the intense attention to community that has gone into making The East Hampton Star the paper it is today, I can claim to have amassed a fairly reliable store of knowledge about what made East Hampton such a fine place in centuries past. You can ask me what the old spelling of Sammy’s Beach was, and I will be able to answer.

In the introduction to his 1979 book, “The South Fork,” Everett T. Rattray, my late husband, wrote: “The South Fork is native now to a relative handful; it could be native to thousands more if they would undertake the necessary naturalization exercises, which include some long looks beneath the surface of things.” 

He would be pleased to know that many are now doing so.