By Robert J. Hefner
The design of the Village of East Hampton today is directly related to the way the settlement was laid out in 1648.
The settlers laid out their plantations in typical Puritan New England fashion with a nucleus of houses and barns concentrated on either side of a wide common and outlying lands divided into lots for growing crops, pasturing livestock, and harvesting salt hay and timber.
East Hampton's broad common, which is now Main Street, was laid out on the plain north of Hook Pond. The common was flanked on either side by home lots of eight to twelve acres each. The home lots extended from the common east to Hook Pond and west to what is now Highway Behind the Lots.
The adjacent fertile plains were divided into lots for crops and pasture. The Eastern Plain extending from Egypt Lane east to Cross Highway was divided into large lots defined and accessed by Further, Middle, and Hither Lanes. Great Plain ran from Hook Pond to Lily Pond and Little Plain from Lily Pond to Georgica Pond.
Each of the proprietors lived at the farmhouse on his Main Street home lot and traveled to a number of scattered outlying lots to tend to his crops and livestock. This pattern continued in East Hampton into the twentieth century and even today farmers utilize some of the same scattered outlying fields. East Hampton is one of the few places where the original design of a seventeenth-century New England agricultural plantation is still so evident.
The discovery by artists of East Hampton's picturesque agrarian landscape in the last quarter of the nineteenth century led to establishment of the summer colony. The intact design of the original settlement provided ample open land adjacent to the Main Street core for new development. The heart of the summer colony extended from the south end of Main Street into the open fields of the Great Plain along Ocean Avenue and Lily Pond Lane.
Main Street home lots were also divided and new roads built through them for new summer cottages on Huntting Lane and Dunemere Lane. During the twentieth century the continued division of the original home lots has resulted in the following residential streets: Fithian Lane, The Circle, David's Lane, Pondview Lane, Dayton Lane, Meadow Way, and Mill Hill Lane.
The Eastern Plain began to be developed early in the twentieth century. Here the large agricultural lots were suited to sizable estates in comparison to the more modest scale of the earlier summer colony on the Great Plains.
Today many landscapes, open spaces, and neighborhoods give the Village its historic character. The Main Street core and many outlying properties are reminders of East Hampton's first 250 years as an agrarian community. Certain landscapes recall the picturesque beauty of nineteenth century East Hampton which inspired the visiting artists who promoted the Village as a summer retreat. The summer colony of unpretentious shingled cottages which grew along Ocean Avenue into the Great Plain developed its own open and informal neighborhood character. The scale and openness of the larger summer estates on the Eastern Plain compliment the few remaining open agricultural parcels.
Although greatly simplified, this summary of the evolution of the Village demonstrates that many remaining open spaces and landscapes have a vital historic and cultural value.
About Robert J. Hefner
Robert J. Hefner is the Village's Historic District Consultant. He directed the meticulous, historically accurate restoration of Hook Mill, Gardiner Windmill, and Home Sweet Home, among the finest of the Village's and early America's historic structures. He edited "East Hampton's Heritage: An Illustrated Architectural Record" in association with the East Hampton Ladies Village Improvement Society (LVIS). The book is available through the LVIS website.