Farewell to a Giant Steel Gas Ball

It may be obsolete, but East Hampton’s Hortonsphere is not without admirers
National Grid workers are disassembling a decommissioned gas ball on Railroad Avenue in East Hampton Village. Morgan McGivern

       Anyone living in East Hampton for any length of time probably drives right past the big blue gas ball on Railroad Avenue and Fresno Place in East Hampton Village without batting an eye.

       Until now. Recent passers-by have no doubt noticed the huge National Grid crane at the site and the fact that the sky blue steel ball, which is also known as a Hortonsphere, is missing its top half and more accurately resembles a hemisphere.

       According to Wendy Ladd, a spokeswoman for National Grid, the gas ball, which was used to help maintain pressure in natural gas lines, was decommissioned about six weeks ago and will be just a memory by the end of the year.

       “As far as we know, it’s the last one on Long Island,” she said.

       Although not much of a fuss has been made about the gas ball’s demise, at least one resident, David Collins, is sad to see it go.

       Mr. Collins said when he heard the gas ball was going to be removed, he asked the village board to consider preserving it as a historic landmark, but to no avail.

       “To me, it’s industrial architecture,” he said. “So is the Hook Mill. The Hook Mill was not built to be a historic monument. What time period does the village want to preserve? If it’s not made out of wood, they aren’t interested.”

       Mr. Collins said the gas ball was hand-riveted by teams of workers in the days before welding was a common construction practice and built to last.

       “It kind of breaks my heart to see it go,” he said.

       A larger gas ball on the Sag Harbor waterfront was disassembled in 2006, much to the consternation of many residents who had come to view the structure as a fixture on the village skyline.

       The East Hampton gas ball, which was built in 1928, became obsolete with the expansion of natural gas lines on the East End and the construction of updated regulating equipment.

       During periods of low demand, natural gas was pumped into the ball and held under pressure until it was released during periods of high demand.

       The tank was constructed of threequarter-inch-thick steel panels that were riveted together. Workers are using acetylene torches to cut the panels, which will be removed from the site and recycled.

       The name Hortonsphere is a trademark held by the Chicago Bridge & Iron Company, which manufactures all sorts of energy-production infrastructure and is named after one of the company’s founders, Horace Ebenezer Horton.