The Changing Face of Montauk…And Other Musings (Part Two)

In “Part One” I outlined some of the more obvious changes happening in this tourist-fishing town, knowing full well I’d get a mixed response. And I did. But what I didn’t do a particularly good job at was explaining (in my opinion) how this very recent round of changes was nothing compared to the more dramatic changes that have been observed over a much longer period of time.

So here goes:

I guess all this complaining about “change” should rightfully start with the Montaukets, right? These were the only real “locals,” after all.

Today’s locals cry about having to deal with bankers and trust fund citiots (Urban Dictionary: More commonly from New York City, citiots venture out to their summer homes in the Hamptons from Memorial Day to Labor Day. They usually have fancy cars and are usually wealthy. They drive like they own the place, and they walk around town and in stores like they own them too. Citiots are very snobbish. See also snob)

But the Montaukets certainly had it much worse. Try as they might to live a peaceful life in the land of wampum and plenty, those Pequots from up in southern New England (no doubt future Red Sox fans) seemed hell bent on making life miserable for the Montaukets. What do you think those Montaukets thought, seeing those bass rolling on the south side in 1500? All the seafood, deer and turkey, only an arrow shot away?

White settlers eventually invaded the place, these strange looking white men (that’s you and me, Bub) would eventually would change the place forever. Anyway, somewhere along the way these settlers managed to buy almost 9,000 acres of what we now recognize as most of Montauk.

By  the 1700s, Montauk was used for livestock (watch your step). It was finally “rediscovered” by Arthur Benson of Brooklyn, who bought all of Montauk for $151,000 in 1879. He didn’t buy the property from Barbara Corcoran or Sotheby’s,  no, he bought it during an auction, from the steps of the Brooklyn Federal Courthouse.


But at least Benson was a sportsman at heart, his only intention was to use the place for hunting and fishing, for his sons and friends. Not a bad guy to have been friendly with at the time. So there, the Brooklyn-Montauk fishing connection actually goes way back. I always got along great with the Brooklyn crowd anyway.


Next turn at trying to screw the place up came from Carl Fisher, who reportedly acquired most of the land from Benson’s heirs  (so that’s a $151,000 purchase flipped for $2,500,000 in 1925). Most of you know how this story ended – probably the only good thing to come from the stock market crash of 1929 and the Great Depression, which clearly prevented Fisher from realizing his dream of an exclusive resort here.

Since then, Montauk has seen vast amounts of development, but has resisted just enough wholesale change to keep the place special. We all piss and moan at the changes, but thankfully, there are/were enough people in the right places  (some no longer with us) with the means and talent for making important things happen, often behind the scenes.

Quite striking when you really think about it. How many acres are still undeveloped? How many acres survived the threat of a mass housing development, or even a golf course? How many times was a big sale threatening to go through, or a development being contemplated, until one or more tenacious people stepped in and convinced the town/county/state to buy the land instead? All that state and county land? Shadmoor? Amsterdam?

These could have been gated communities, or an amusement park, or a private club? Instead, there is land. You can practically live out of your truck for a few days, and fish non-stop. You probably won’t get bothered as long as you don’t screw it up for yourself: you know, get drunk, pee in front of others, leave a mess, or complain too much about your “rights” while you blast all the other people who want use the land and beach for what they enjoy too. You can still drive on the beach too, and if on East Hampton or County property, stop to build yourself a fire. Maybe even spike a rod and cook something you just killed (or bought at the IGA)…you know, live out your true inner caveman.

Try that in New Jersey.

More to write on this…maybe an “Occasional Series?”

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10 comments on “The Changing Face of Montauk…And Other Musings (Part Two)

  1. Kevin in RI

    Montauk, is one of the best places I’ve ever had the pleasure of living in!

    Great read(s).

  2. JRusso

    Wow! I thought I did own the place!!

    Seriously, for folks (like me) that aren’t history buffs, this was a very nice contribution to the blog.

    Why did I move to New Jersey. Ugh!

  3. Jerry

    I assume part three will sew up the connection between Bill Wetzel’s UFO encounter, those poor monsters in need of swimming lessons and all the mind control/space alien/time travel stuff that invariably comes up when you google “Montauk” ? just joking, some very good writing, thank you.

  4. Dennis

    Is that a picture of the Pelican? What a tragedy. I love the place and get out a few times a year. I sometimes get the looks on shore like I don’t belong. I ignore them all. My grandfather owned the restaurant dock that got wiped out in the big hurricane in the 30s. My uncle was a Lobster fisherman that was killed out there. I’ve even heard there was a town drunk that proudly bore my last name lol. I would have to hit the lottery to become a local myself but I never feel like I don’t belong, no matter how many dirty looks I get. Hope Z is healing up well.

  5. Richard aka Woodwker99

    I have friends that have a place right on the beach. With all the crowds there during the spring, summer, and especially the fall. I don’t care if it is Mecca. I’ll fish everywhere everyone ain’t thank you. I already had one hook in the back from a googan, don’t need another. I hope I live long enough to see the day you can fish out there without getting your line crossed over, cursed at over being “on someones rock”, your gear stolen the moment you put it down. and everything else the place has become. Great read though. Love hearing the history of Long Island.

  6. Frank

    Thanks for the good read. As a nearby resident of Montauk, Springs, I get to see and enjoy the East End in all its splendor regularly and I am thankful for the forces that have acted to keep much of what we love about Montauk rather than letting the forces of development take over.

    But change is coming and collectively we must all participate in the movement to keep what we cherish about Montauk from disappearing.

  7. Andy Lapteff

    Great info Zeno! We just fished Montauk all this week; it was our first time up here, but will
    not be our last. We drove up from Philly, stayed at a hotel next door to Pauly’s, I met Paul
    melnyk and we even caught some striper under the light:) What a great town!


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