History has left its mark on Sag Harbor, and since the days of it being a bustling whaling port, visitors have been enchanted with the village’s gracious accommodations, it’s pristine beaches, centuries-old streets lines with ancient trees and inviting homes, and restaurants and shops that offer food and fare from around the corner or around the world.
Many of the homes and shops have changed little in their appearance in the past three centuries, and Sag Harbor’s rich history is evident through the village. A stroll through the streets lined with these early Colonial Capes, Greek Revivals and Victorians, coupled with a tour of Main Street and the surrounding village business district, gives visitors a keen sense of how this village, and an infant America, grew.
With its attractive harbor spread out at the foot of Main Street, Sag Harbor is one of the East End’s loveliest villages, and the only village with its own port as part of its main shopping area. Nestled on a bay in the heart of the Hamptons, Sag Harbor has for centuries welcomed the vacationer and the business traveler alike. The village offers all manner of dining and refreshment and a five minute bike rid or car ride can bring the weary sojourner a glorious sunset over Noyac Bay, or a cooling plunge into the Atlantic Ocean.
The forest of masts rising from the harbor and the profiles of motor yachts that ply the coast create a skyline that recalls the village’s maritime history. And while whale oil and lumber no longer move in and out of Sag Harbor, you can almost imagine the tall ships sidling p to the Long Wharf as halyards slap against masts and water laps against proud bows.
The harbor here continues to beckon, and its people are still here waiting to offer greetings that will long be remembered . Whether it’s a sunset sail, a late leisurely dinner, a jog on the beach or a step back in time, let Sag Harbor be your port away from home.
A good place to begin your visit to Sag Harbor is at the Chamber of Commerce Windmill, located at the foot of Main Street near the Long Wharf. Here the visitor can find some friendly help, gifts and additional information about events and ways to enjoy the village and surrounding areas. The windmill is a called-down replica of the Beebe windmill, which once stood on a hill on Suffolk Street, and is roughly on the same spot that the first windmill in Sag Harbor stood.
A stroll up Main Street, or a turn down a side street brings you past shops and restaurants rubbing shoulder to shoulder with each other, or nestled in cozy nooks. Here you can see how the village, birthed by the whaling industry and shaped by a series of tumultuous fires, grew up from the harbor.
Today in these stores it is still possible to find scrimshaw and antiques, possibly made by the hands of the same whalers who brought ashore whale oil, along with quality crafted pottery, jewelry, clothes and other items wrought by the hands of today’s artisans. From modern art, classic books and the latest technology, to fresh flowers, fine wines and fishing tackle, shopkeepers in both Sag Harbor and Noyac, the sister community across the cover, take pride in providing for visitors, the way their ancestors set up provisions for men sailing off to sea.
There are many ways to view Sag Harbor and the surrounding countryside, both from within and without. A walking tour through the winding streets of the village’s historic neighborhoods takes you past the homes of whaling captains and captains of industry, farmers and inn-keepers, early settlers who built simple cottages, and wealthy businessmen who built simple cottages, and wealthy businessmen who built grand and elaborate homes. A bicycle ride can take you out over the wooded moraine, down long country roads, and out into fields and farms that stretch across the sea.
And, of course, as men from Sag Harbor have done for hundreds of years, you can go down to the sea in ships. Some more modest than the barques and clippers that sailed from the port in its early history, boats of all size and purpose are available. Of course you may want to arrive aboard your own vessel, and there are marinas—both public and private—that can accommodate you. You can venture out into the bays aboard a ship to view a sunset, or just let the wind set a course.
Life in the country is relaxed. Sag Harbor finds itself nestled in a pastoral world where nature abounds, and where forests give way to farms that roll down to the sea.
Minutes from the village lies the Atlantic Ocean where white sandy beaches welcome sunbathers and swimmers to play in the waves. Bridging Noyac and Sag Harbor is Long Beach, the ribbon of sand where Noyac Bay comes to rest. From here, the bright colored sails of wind surfers cut streaks across the water from April well into October, and the long stretch of beach looking Northwest is a favorite spot to watch the evening sun settle over Jessup’s Neck.
Also nearby are the dark wooded trails and sunny glens of the Morton Wildlife Refuge in Noyac and the Barcelona Neck Preserve, just outside the village. Both of these spots are rich in wildlife. A hiker winding his way along the paths can expect to see a deer crashing through the underbrush, feed a chickadee with seed from his hand, watch an osprey fishing off the shore and spy lupine, or see lady slippers and Indian pipe growing from the forest floor.
And in the village itself are two special pieces of land where the soft grass is just right for a picnic or a pick-up game of touch football. Marine Park overlooks the harbor where sailboats line up along the bulkhead. Music lovers of all ages can enjoy concerts on Tuesday evenings all summer long by the Sag Harbor Community Band, who play on the front lawn of the American Legion hall, just across from the park. Other the other side of the village is Mashashimuet Park, where barbecues grills are set up alongside ball fields, and tennis courts resound to the rhythms of match play.
EARLY TIMES IN SAG HARBOR & NORTH HAVEN
The settlement of North Haven dates back to 1665, and was settled partly by men from Shelter Island and partly by men from Southampton. Encompassing most of the “great meadows, “ Sagg Harbour—as it was originally called—could lay claim to an excellent deep-water harbor. While Southampton used North Sea Harbor and Easthampton used Northwest Harbor, the people of Sagaponack (Sagg) had no harbor of their own. Roads were cut through the woods from Sagg to the great meadows, and Sag Harbor started its spectacular climb to fame as a whaling port. The year was approximately 1707, but some of the older homes in Sag Harbor date prior to this.
By 1770 trade with the West Indies had been established, and Sag Harbor ships plied the oceans of the world. During the Revolutionary War, Sag Harbor was occupied by the British, and while no great military operation took place, there was much havoc and misery in the area. The people suffered greatly.
In 1777, British domination of the area was over and peace returned, after Lt. Col. Return Jonathan Meigs landed on present day Long Beach, and marched over to Sag Harbor and captured the British fort. In 1789, Sag Harbor was named the official port of entry for the State of New York, and within a few months, Henry Packer Dering was named Collector of the Port, with his home at the Custom House.
During the War of 1812, a British fleet anchored in Gardiner’s Bay, their aim to invade Sag Harbor and capture arms and ammunition stored in the arsenal. When the attack was made, however, the British were completely routed by General Rose, who commanded the Sag Harbor garrison.
While the British never again invaded Sag Harbor, their naval fleet preyed on Sag Harbor shipping, finally leaving the area only after they had completely destroyed the Sag Harbor feet. With the end of the whaling era came hard times. However, economic growth was provided by the Fahys Watch factory, and when the Long Island Railroad extended its service to Sag Harbor in 1870. Families moved to industrial Sag Harbor from western Long Island, New York, New Jersey and Connecticut with other business firms looking here as time went by. The “town with the million dollar harbor” was once more on its way.
EARLY TIMES, NOYAC
The hamlet of Noyac nestles on the northeastern hills of Little Peconic Bay, and on the blue-green waters of Noyack Bay. Its boundaries, still uncertain, are North Sea to the west, and north of Ligonee Brook in Sag Harbor. The name ‘Noyack’—meaning ‘a point of land’—is derived from an area of land granted to John Jessup in 1679, called Jessup’s Point or Jessup’s Neck.
The early residents of Noyack (mostly Native Americans, including a segment of the Shinnecock Indians called the Wickatuck) farmed and fished. Their main encampment was at the Trout Pond, formerly called the Mill Pond when a grist mill operated there. The early settlers were mostly of British decent who followed in the footsteps of the Native Americans, farming and fishing for a living, and selling their produce in nearby Sag Harbor. In the early 1920’s one area, Pine Neck, developed very rapidly and is today the most densely populated place in Noyac. Nearby are excellent beaches, boat stations, shops and markets—cottages are always available for summer rental.
The colorful period in Sag Harbor’s history began early in the 17th century. Whale fishing, just off the Long Island coast was begun, actually by Native Americans, who in frail canoes chased the Leviathan of the deep and killed them with primitive spears and harpoons. Knowing the tides and currents, the Native Americans soon had the dead whale on the beach.
Unfortunately, the white man took a rather dim view of the whale carcasses, in various stages of decomposition, littering the beaches and in 1648 regulations were made up and enforced with regard to the disposition of whales “cast up on the beach.” Soon thereafter, the early settlers formed whaling companies and proceeded farther out to sea—no longer were drift whales plentiful. In 1667 was the first recorded date of an actual whaling ship setting out ‘for the term of six months certain and eight months uncertain.’
In the early 1800’s Sag Harbor became the prime port (with New Bedford, Connecticut and Salem, Massachusetts) for the whaling industry, which progressed at a rapid rate to its peak in 1847. During the ten year period of 1837-1847 over six million dollars worth of cargo was brought into the ports of Sag Harbor and Greenport. Fifty ships called Sag Harbor their home port—our North Fork neighbor had a fleet of 11.
Many mementos of the era survive in Sag Harbor—many are in the Whaling Museum, the Custom House and in private homes. A tribute to those men “who searched out and killed the Leviathan of the deep” in the form of the ‘Broken Mast’ monument in Oakland Cemetery is well worth seeing. The last home with a “Widow’s Walk” exists atop the former Napier house on Main Street. When a vessel was due in port, the Captain’s wife would pace this area waiting for the cry “Flag on the mill – Ship in the bay!” When an entering ship was sighted, a flag was flown atop the Beebe mill on Suffolk Street, this being the signal that another whale ship had returned home. The overjoyed villagers would rush down to Long Wharf to greet their relatives and friends.