The National Historic Landmarks of Amagansett and Montauk
When calling to mind Montauk and Amagansett, one likely envisions their natural assets: the lush woods, the vibrant wetlands, the rolling dunes, the miles of coastline. Yet the two towns also have their share of structures significant enough to have been named National Historic Landmarks, including those listed below.
Amagansett U.S. Life-Saving and Coast Guard Station
160 Atlantic Avenue, Amagansett
The Amagansett Coast Guard Station is now a museum. Image: Amagansett U.S. Life-Saving & Coast Guard Station/Facebook Page
From the outside this station, built in 1902, resembles a two-story shingle-style home with a wraparound porch—save for its lookout tower. In fact, from 1966 to 2007 it was a family home, the Coast Guard having decommissioned the building in 1944. Although it was abandoned before the end of World War II, the station did play a role in the war. On June 13, 1942, a Coast Guardsman on patrol came across four men on the beach past curfew who claimed to be fishermen but were actually German saboteurs who had crossed the Atlantic in a U-boat with bomb-making gear. Today the building, which has been restored to its original design, is a museum open on weekends throughout the summer and early autumn.
AN-FPS 35 Radar Tower
Camp Hero State Park, 1898 Montauk Highway, Montauk
The 415-acre plot of land now known as Camp Hero State Park boasts oceanfront cliffs, freshwater wetlands, and hiking, biking, and bridle trails. Situated on the tip of the South Fork peninsula, it also includes what was the Montauk Air Force Station. Established in 1942 as Fort Hero (named after Major General Andrew Hero Jr.), the base housed coastal artillery, a torpedo-testing facility, seaplane hangars, barracks, and its own power plant, all designed to resemble a typical New England fishing village; the bunkers, for instance, had windows painted on them. After World War II ended, the base was shuttered until 1948, when in response to the Cold War, the Air Force established a radar station here. Towers of increasing strength were added to the site throughout the 1950s, and in 1960 the most powerful yet, the AN-FPS 35, whose range extended 200 miles, was set up. Only a dozen such towers were built, and the Montauk tower is the only one whose antenna has not been dismantled, though it was taken out of service in 1981.
Caleb Bragg Estate
Star Island, Montauk
Given that Caleb Bragg was a champion speedboat racer as well as race car driver and record-breaking aviator, it is not surprising that he became enamored of Montauk in the 1920s, when it was expected to become a high-profile resort town on a par with Miami Beach. He purchased a 4.2-acre waterfront plot on Star Island, which sits in Lake Montauk and is now connected via road to the lake’s western banks. He had the prestigious architectural firm Walker & Gillette, who designed many of the most notable homes in exclusive Tuxedo Park, create the main residence, guesthouse, and outbuildings on his property, which were completed in 1929. Unlike the fanciful Tudor-style buildings constructed in Montauk at this time, these structures are relatively modest, though they do boast high gable roofs and the occasional turret. Bragg later sold the estate to Flo Ziegfeld, of Ziegfeld Follies renown, but that is not Bragg’s only connection to show business; in the 1920s his personal secretary was Ethel Zimmermann, later to become known as Ethel Merman.
HMS Culloden Shipwreck Site
Fort Pond Bay off Culloden Point, Montauk
To see this landmark, you need to don scuba gear: It is the wreck of the HMS Culloden, which ran aground at the peninsula off Fort Pond Bay that now bears the gunship’s name. In 1781 the British occupied Long Island and blockaded the bay; when a French frigate tried to break through, the Culloden chased after it, only to hit a rock and crash into the beach. The crew escaped and were able to retrieve many of its guns, but ultimately they were forced to sink its largest cannons and burn the ship to keep it from being taken by the French and Colonial forces. There the wreck remained, until 1971, when the keel and several beams rose to the surface of the waters. To prevent divers from making off with the rest of the ship, it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979 and is now Long Island’s first underwater park.
Miss Amelia’s Cottage
129 Main Street, Amagansett
Built in 1725, this clapboard cottage remained in the same family until 1929. The titular Amelia was Mary Amelia Schellinger, the last of the Schellingers to live here. Meticulously maintained, down to the furnishings by local craftsmen, it is now also known as Amelia Cottage Museum, operated by the Amagansett Historical Association.
Montauk Association Historic District
Deforest Road and Oceanside Drive
In 1881, seven wealthy New Yorkers—including Arthur W. Benson, the financier who created Bensonhurst as a suburb of Manhattan, and Alexander E. Orr, who helped finance the construction of the New York subway system—formed the Montauk Association to create an exclusive resort community. They hired landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, who had co-designed Central and Prospect Parks, to make the most of the site’s assets and renowned architectural firm McKim, Mead & White to design a clubhouse as well as their personal “cottages,” which were actually sprawling gable-roofed homes perched atop the cliffs overlooking the Atlantic. A fire destroyed the clubhouse in 1933, but the homes, sometimes called the Seven Sisters and considered exemplars of 19th-century shingle-style architecture, remain.
236 Edgemere Street, Montauk
Completed in 1927, Montauk Manor was designed to be the centerpiece of developer Carl Fisher’s vision of the town as a northern counterpart to Miami Beach, which he had helped transform into a world-famous resort for the rich and famous. He hired architectural firm Schultze & Weaver, who had previously designed Palm Beach’s Breakers Hotel and would later design Manhattan’s Waldorf-Astoria, to create an expansive 200-room, 120,000-square-foot Tudor Revival hotel. Perched atop Signal Hill, it offered views of not only the Atlantic Ocean but Gardiner’s Bay and Block Island Sound as well. Unfortunately for Fisher, the 1929 stock market crash abruptly ended his dream of Montauk as a playground of the wealthy, and by 1933 Montauk Manor was in receivership. For decades subsequent owners fared little better with the property, and it stood vacant throughout the 1970s. In the ‘80s it was restored to its former splendor and reopened as condominiums and resort, which it remains today.
2000 Montauk Highway, Montauk
New York State’s first lighthouse and the fourth oldest active lighthouse in the country, Montauk Point Light—to use its official name—was completed in 1796. More than 110 feet high, it stands on the very tip of the peninsula; constructed 300 feet from the cliff’s edge, it is now a mere 100 feet away, due to erosion. The lighthouse is open to visitors, weather permitting, and the former keeper’s house, built in 1860, is now a museum.
Montauk Tennis Auditorium
240 Edgemere Street, Montauk
Now known as Montauk Playhouse, the Montauk Tennis Auditorium serves as a community center. Image: Dan’s Papers
Another of the Tudor Revival buildings commissioned by Carl Fisher in the 1920s, Montauk Tennis Auditorium opened in 1929 and housed indoor courts as well as lounges. Like Montauk Manor, it fell into receivership a few years into the Depression. By the 1950s it had become known as Montauk Playhouse and served as a theater for community productions; in the ‘60s it became a movie theater, but by the end of the ‘70s it was vacant. The town subsequently took it over and converted it into a community center that includes a gymnasium and child-care and senior-care facilities.
Saint Thomas Episcopal Chapel
102 Montauk Highway, Amagansett
Saint Thomas Episcopal Chapel has served as an Episcopal house of worship since its founding in 1907. Because it was designed for use only in the summer, it was constructed without heating or plumbing, and even today it holds services only during the high season. Clad in shingles, it is most notable for its exceptionally steep gabled roof.