At the center of the Hamptons lies East Hampton, an Old Money stronghold now better known for its famed artists and writers, actors and directors, and publishers and media moguls. East Hampton has been a mecca for successful “creative types” since the 1870s, when artists William Merritt Chase, Childe Hassam, and others summered here.
In the late 1970s, the now-defunct Saturday Evening Post ran a contest asking readers to vote for the most beautiful town in America. East Hampton won, and it’s not hard to see why. Even more than Southampton, East Hampton is an idyllic New England village that seems to have stepped out of time. Everywhere are perfect Colonial homes, emerald-green lawns, and white picket fences. Nothing seems quite real, but who cares? What could possibly go wrong in a world such as this?
A pond, a village green, and the Old Burying Ground split Main Street at the western end, while at the eastern end, in isolated splendor on a plush lawn, stands the weathered Hook Windmill. Between these two landmarks lie most of the town’s shops, restaurants, and historic sites, all of which can be explored on foot. To catch a glimpse of the area’s many posh summer homes, take a drive along Ocean Avenue or Lily Pond Lane.
The East Hampton Chamber of Commerce (42 Gingerbread Ln., 631/324-0362, www.easthamptonchamber.com, 10 a.m.–4 p.m. Mon.–Sat. June–Sept., call for off-season hours) is well stocked with brochures and maps. The East Hampton Historical Society (101 Main St., 631/324-6850, www.easthamptonhistory.org) sponsors walking tours of downtown and the cemetery in summer and fall. Many are led by guides dressed in Colonial garb.
In summer, the gorgeous Main Beach (at the end of Ocean Avenue off Montauk Highway, East Hampton, 631/324-0074) comes equipped with bathhouses, lifeguards, concession stands, and a large crowd.
Two Mile Hollow Beach (Two Mile Hollow Rd., East Farmingdale, weekdays only, parking $20/day) is in the middle of a nature sanctuary and has no facilities.
All the other beaches in East Hampton are usually less crowded, but require a resident parking permit.
Historic James Lane
At the western end of the village are the Town Pond—once a watering hole for East Hampton’s cattle—and the snug Home Sweet Home (14 James Ln., 631/324-0713, 10 a.m.–4 p.m. Mon.–Sat. and 2–4 p.m. Sun. May–Sept., adults $4, children $2), a nicely restored 1650 saltbox that was the boyhood home of John Howard Payne, composer of the song “Home Sweet Home.” Inside the house is a good collection of English ceramics and early American furniture, while out back are a windmill and garden.
Next door to Payne’s old residence is a complex of restored weathered buildings known as the Mulford Farm (10 James Ln., 631/324-6850, Memorial Day weekend–Columbus Day weekend, Sat. 10 a.m.–5 p.m., Sun. noon–5 p.m., or by appointment, $4 adults, $3 seniors, $2 students ). Owned by the same family from 1712 to 1944, the four-acre homestead includes a farmhouse, barn, garden, and various outbuildings. In summer, costumed guides lead tours.
Historic Main Street
Just east of James Lane stands Clinton Academy (151 Main St., 631/324-6850, 11 a.m.–3 p.m. Sat.–Sun. June–Oct., free admission), a large wood-and-brick building dating back to the late 1700s. Once housing the first prep school in the state and one of the first coed schools in the country, the academy is now a historical museum. Out back is a wildflower garden.
Next to the Clinton Academy is the Town House (same phone and hours), an elfin, one-room schoolhouse with a potbellied stove. The building also once served as the town hall.
At the other end of Main Street reigns the 1806 Hook Windmill (631/324-0713, 10 a.m.–4 p.m. Mon.–Sat. and 2–4 p.m. Sun. July–Aug., adults $2, children under 12 $1), the best surviving example of the many windmills that once dotted the South Fork (11 still stand, but most are not open to the public). It was built by Nathaniel Dominy V, an innovative designer who included several then-unheard-of labor-saving devices—including a grain elevator—in his remarkably efficient mill.
Across the street from Clinton Academy is Guild Hall (158 Main St., 631/324-0806, www.guildhall.org, 11 a.m.–5 p.m. Mon.–Sat. and noon–5 p.m. Sun. June–Aug., 11 a.m.–5 p.m. Thurs.–Sat. and noon–5 p.m. Sun. Sept.–May, adults $5, seniors $4, students $3.50), one of the premier art institutions on Long Island. Inside its three large galleries are temporary exhibits featuring top contemporary artists such as Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, and Larry Rivers.
Also part of Guild Hall is John Drew Theater, which presents dance, theater, music events, and literary readings by some of the famed authors who summer in the Hamptons. Every August, the Clothesline Art Sale presents work by both established and emerging artists.
© Avalon Travel and Sascha Zuger from Moon New York State, 5th Edition