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Montauk History

Montauk is a peninsula jutting out towards the continental shelf located on the easternmost tip of Long Island. With its countless miles of beaches, second to none fishing, tourist attractions and interesting history, Montauk has more to offer than one could imagine. Surfing, whale and seal watching, hiking, biking, kayaking, camping, fishing, and golfing are all popular Montauk activities. If you like to shop then you will love exploring all the shops in downtown Montauk.

Turn of the century village of Montauk bares little resemblance to today’s village. Other than a few larger Houses built around the lighthouse the village was concentrated around Fort Pond Bay near the railroad.


History of Montauk 

 -European Settlers first came to Long Island in 1648 when a group of English settlers from Massachusetts purchased land from the Montauk Indians and settled in East Hampton.

-1665 The settlers are granted the right to pasture their livestock by the Montauk Indians

-In 1686 the Montauk Indians sold Montauk to the settlers (also know as proprietors) from East Hampton. The Settlers owned the land jointly with the Montauk Indians for almost 200 years.

-Montauk became a summer pasture for cattle, sheep, and horses. Annual cattle drives on May 1 (going on) with a return on November 1 (going off) became a big event all over Eastern Long Island drawing people to watch the riders herd their livestock.

-In 1699 Legend of Captain Kidd tells a tale of buried treasure in Money Pond

-In 1775 during the Siege of Boston in the American Revolutionary War a British ship visited Fort Pond Bay in search of provisions -- notably cattle. John Dayton who had limited troops at his disposal on a hill above the bay feigned that he had more by walking them back and forth across a hill turning their coats inside out to make it look like there more of them (a tactic referred to as Dayton's Ruse).

-In 1781 the British HMS Culloden while pursuing a French frigate ran aground near what today is called Culloden Point. The ship was scuttled. Remains of the ship were discovered in the 1970s. It is now on the National Register of Historic Places and is the only underwater park in the state of New York.

-The Montauk Lighthouse was built in 1792-1796 and commissioned by George Washington in 1797. Acting as a Coast Guard Station for many years, the light and horn warned ships to stay clear of the treacherous rocks populated in the waters around the point. Now operated as a museum, the Lighthouse is a landmark and tourist attraction.

-The first 3 houses to be built in Montauk were appropriately named First House, Second House (built1797) and Third House (dates back to 1806). These houses were used by the men who tended the cattle, sheep and horses while they were pasturing in Montauk. First House was located at the foot of Hither Hill and burned down in 1909. Second House, still standing is located at the entrance to the present Montauk Village. This is where the sheep were kept. Third House is located on the outskirts of the present Montauk State Park. The cattle and horses were kept here and it was the site of theannual roundup before the cattle, sheep and horses returned to East Hampton in the fall.

-1879 Arthur Benson buys Montauk from the Settlers for $151,000.

Benson brings elite friends and builds a few houses at the point, including a hunting lodge, for the enjoyment of the upper class (They were called The Montauk Association)

-1895 One of Bensons friends, Austin Corbin Jr., a railroad tycoon who turned around the LIRR, extended the LIRR from East Hampton to now end in Montauk. The first train arrived in Montauk station December 18, 1895. Corbin planned to build a deep water port for transatlantic ships in Montauk to replace NY Harbor as the first landing spot on the East Coast (Corbin called it "Montauk Freeport"). Corbins' railroad would then replace the extra sea travel between Montauk and NYC. Unfortunately for Corbin, the deep water port never panned out. However, the extension of the railroad to Montauk did help the fishing industry flourish. Unlike before, there was now an easy way of transporting fish to NYC.

-In 1898 after the Benson/Corbin plan did not work out, the United States Army bought the Benson property to establish an army base called Camp Wikoff to quarantine Army personnel returning from the Spanish American War. The most prominent of the returning quarantined soldiers were Theodore Roosevelt and his Rough Riders. Several soldiers died during the quarantine prompting a visit from President William McKinley

1901 William Morgan lands largest striped bass ever landed by rod & reel at 76lbs and made headlines everywhere giving Montauk a reputation as a premier place for sports fishing. Commercial fishermean begin to realize they can make good money in private charters for sports fishing.

-During Prohibition (1920 to 1933), Ships outside the legal limits would wait and summon small boats to bring the bootleg to shore. Once on shore the bootleg would be buried in the dunes to be transported later to New York City.

-1920's & 1930's were marked by recreational fishing booms. Fort Pond Fishing Village grows into a permanent year round commmunity with a flow of city slickers looking for a day on the water. The growth of the Fort Pond Bay community seemed unstopable - until Carl Fisher hit town in the late 20's.

-In 1924 Robert Moses began condemning Benson land to establish state parks on either end of Montauk (Hither Hills State Park) in the West and the Montauk Point State Park in the East. The two parks were to be connected via the Montauk Parkway.

-In 1926, Carl Fisher (automotive & real estate pioneer,inventor, builder, & visionary) bought Montauk from the heirs of Benson, every acre from the Hither Hill State Park to the Montauk Lighthouse. Fisher fell in love with Montauk in the 1920’s with its rolling hills and vegetation that reminded him of Moorland in England. His projects included blasting a hole through the fresh water Lake Montauk to access Block Island Sound to replace the shallow Fort Pond Bay as the hamlet's port, establishing the Montauk Yacht Club on Star Island in Lake Montauk, building the Montauk Manor, Montauk Playhouse and the six-story Montauk Improvement Building (which today remains East Hampton's tallest occupied building as zoning ordinances restrict heights of buildings), and established the Montauk Downs Golf Course.. In need for a protected place for his club (Fort Pond Bay was prone to storms), In 1929 Fisher blasted a new channel through the bluffs separating Fort Pond Bay from what was then called the Great Lake. Renamed Lake Montauk, this accomplishment changed the face of Montauk forever. Fisher now had what he needed: a protected deep water harbor in which to base his yacht club. Dredging 12' deep around the current Star Island allowed boats of over 100' to visit the fledgling Montauk Yacht Club and Restaurant. He quickly attracted the finest sport fishermen from around the world, and many of the local boats that had started on Fort Pond Bay soon followed. Over the years the majority of recreational boats moved to the new harbor, leaving Fort Pond Bay to the commercial boats and party fleet. Fisher envisioned Montauk as the Miami Beach of the Nnorth. His dream of Montauk becoming an elite playground ended with the Stock Market crash of 1929. However, Montauk began to grow as a tourist attraction with quaint shops, a variety of restaurants, and popular parks and beaches..

- It wasn't man as much as nature that finally drove most of the fishing fleet from theunstable shores of Fort Pond Bay. The great Hurricane of 1938 exploded there, with devastating results. Water flooded across Napeague turning Montauk into an island. Flood waters from the hurricane inundated the main downtown and it was moved three miles to the south immediately next to the Atlantic Ocean. Boats, homes, stores, docks, everything in it's way was pulverized, pummeled, driven inland or sunk. The exodus away from Fort Pond Bay to the current downtown and harbor area was completed when the Navy condemned the entire shoreline of Fort Pond Bay in 1942 for use as a testing facility area for naval torpedoes. Huge concrete hangers and shops replaced the quaint little homes and shops of the old fishing village, which would exist only in the memories of those old enough to remember a Montauk almost completely different from today.

- During World War II (1939 - 1945) the United States Navy bought most of the east end including Montauk Manor to turn it into a Navy Base. Fort Pond Bay became a seaplane base. The United States Army established Camp Hero with 16 inch guns to protect New York shipping lanes. Several concrete bunker observation posts were built along the coast including one immediately to the Eeast of the Montauk Lighthouse. Base buildings were disguised so they would appear from above as a New England fishing village.

-Circa 1945 Once the war ended, a weary populace looked for ways to enjoy the peace and prosperity they had so justly earned. Needless to say Montauk was ready. Fisher's dream of a playground only for the rich had passed away with him, and was replaced with a more democratic Montauk, in which literally every man could enjoy himself. Inexpensive hotels and motels sprung up, catering primarily to fishermen.

-One of the earliest, and certainly most successful enterprises was started by John and Mary Gosman just after the war. Hard to believe today, but that sprawling complex began as a simple fishing station at the head of the inlet. The 50's and 60's were the glory days of sport fishing in Montauk. Interest in the sport exploded.

-In 1951 sport fisherman Frank Mundus began to lead charter fishing trips out of Lake Montauk initially looking for bluefish but soon found fishing for sharks more lucrative. The sport of "monster fishing" became Montauk's signature draw.

- On September 1, 1951, the Pelican captained by Eddie Carroll, capsized in the shoals off Montauk Point resulting in the deaths of 45 passengers and crew. The 42 foot Pelican was carrying 64 souls, most of whom had taken the Fisherman's Special trains to Montauk LIRR station from New York City. The boat left the Fishangrila Dock at Fort Pond Bay at 7:30 AM severely overloaded. After fishing in the Atlantic Ocean on the south side of Montauk for several hours, it returned home, encountering engine trouble on the way. The weather turned stormy and a northeast wind developed against an outgoing tide, resulting in standing waves of several feet at Endeavor Shoals, just off the Point. The vessel, wallowing in the heavy seas, became unstable in its overloaded state, capsized and then foundered at 2:10 PM. Nearby vessels were only able to rescue 19 passengers. The wreck was secured by fabled sport fisherman Frank Mundus and towed into Lake Montauk by the Coast Guard. As a result of the disaster, strict new regulations regarding overloaded of fishing vessels were adopted nationwide.

-In 1957 the Army closed Camp Hero and it was taken over by United States Air Force which in 1958, builds a 100-foot wide AN/FPS-35 Radar to detect incoming Soviet Bombers. A massive building is built to house its computers. The radar quickly became obsolete.

-In 1967 the United States Coast Guard announced plans to tear down the Montauk Lighthouse and replace it with a taller steel tower. Erosion had reduced its buffer from the edge of a cliff from 300 feet when it was built to less than 100 feet. The Coast Guard backs down after protests.

-1970's Camp Hero rumored to be site of time travel/mind control experiments

-In 1982 the Air Force Base formally closes and the military begins selling its surplus property.

- In 1992 Long Island residents Preston B. Nichols and Peter Moon wrote a science fiction The Montauk Project: Experiments in Time (ISBN 0-9631889-0-9) in which it was claimed the radar was used by the government to conduct time travel experiments. Among the claims is that the radar drove the residents of Montauk mad and that their children were kidnapped. The book and its follow up books were to expand on many Montauk tales and other East End stories. The book has been perceived by some to be true and the base has assumed something of a cult status among conspiracy buffs. It was also featured in a segment of X-Files.

-In October 2007 a fishing boat dragged up a large 19th century anchor, which was speculated to have been lost by the Great Eastern in 1862.

- In 2007, Newsday listed 47 businesses in the category of "Hotel" in Montauk. They represented 2,030 rooms. None of the hotels are operated by a chain as East Hampton town zoning regulations forbid chains (likewise there are no fast food or other restaurant chains in Montauk).

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