June 28, 2006

Neptune's On Historic Site

Rowdy summer revelers downing cocktails on the beach might soon be toasting to days gone by. That is, if rumors swirling around predicting the sale of Neptune's Beach Club on Dune Road to the Town of Southampton prove to be more fact than fiction.

And, if the town does decide to purchase the parcel, it will be preserving a piece of invaluable African-American history in the process.

According to information garnered from the United States Coast Guard website, the Station #73 Tiana lifesaving station, built in 1871 at a position "two miles south of the Shinnecock Light" was rendered inactive on June 9, 1937 and later reactivated for service during World War II. During that time, the station was manned by an African-American crew and commanded by an African-American Chief Petty Officer, CBM Cecil R. Foster.

That would mean that the area is rich in African-American history; only one other lifesaving station, located on Pea Island in North Carolina, was under an all African-American command.

At the Pea Island Coast Guard Station, #177, Captain Richard Etheridge was the first African-American to command a lifesaving station when the service appointed him as the keeper of the Pea Island Life-Saving Station in North Carolina in 1880, according to Coast Guard history.

But Southampton Town Supervisor Skip Heaney said he had no knowledge of the area's rich past.

And although the town did purchase the site of the former Summer's Beach Club, located next door on Dune Road, two years ago with historic preservation in mind, Heaney said no such deal has been authorized for the Neptune's property.

"There has been an interest expressed" in the area "for historic preservation," said the supervisor, who added that it is "too early" to predict whether such a purchase will be considered.

Heaney said there are individuals in town hall involved in historic preservation who "see the value" in the property.

Although Neptune's owner Joseph Hentington was not available for comment, a source who asked to remain anonymous at the beach club said, as of this time, stories on the street regarding a potential sale were "false," adding that "No offer has been made, but rumors have been flying all summer long."

If the town were to buy Neptune's, it would be the end of an era for scores of Hamptons party seekers who flocked to establishments such as Summers, Cat Ballou, and the Hamptons Beach Club for days of surf, sun and spirits. Today, only Neptune's remains standing.

The beach clubs have transformed over the years said the source, who confirmed that Neptune's was once a Coast Guard lifesaving station. The original structure once sported a lookout tower, which was torn off after a violent storm.

Most recently, a 1991 storm destroyed both Summer's and Neptune's. When the structures were rebuilt, they were positioned far back in what had been the clubs' parking lots.

Heaney pointed out that while he was not aware of the rich African-American history at the Tiana life-saving station, Southampton Town has long been vibrant with African-American culture and residents, including the seafaring Enos family.

In Southampton Town, said Heaney, African- Americans were "free people, not slaves." If an African American landed on Southampton Town shores, he was not indentured and was considered a free person, "entitled to a piece of land," said Heaney.

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