1950: Hamptons' population had doubled in 50 years, and the beaches ruled. Postcards from The Lost Hamptons © Steven Petrow 2004, used with permission of Arcadia Publishing.
1950: Hamptons' population had doubled in 50 years, and the beaches ruled. Postcards from The Lost Hamptons © Steven Petrow 2004, used with permission of Arcadia Publishing.

Greetings from Long Island

Vintage Postcards from the Hamptons
Writer: 
August 1, 2005

I have read any number of books about the East End of Long Island--some good, some bad, most plain dreadful--but I thought there was something left still unsaid. I found myself looking for that story, a Californian, arriving at the doorstep of the august East Hampton Library with a laptop, cell phone, and decaf latte in hand. Ducking into the Pennypacker Long Island Collection, the library's "fireproof" rare book room, I spiraled out of the twenty-first century, greeted by an antiquated card catalog (with its own ... unique take on the Dewey decimal system), a "no pen" dictum, and a bevy of other rules and regulations said to protect the books but meant, perhaps, to intimidate newcomers.

My family has owned property in Southampton for nearly a half-century, but the Petrow house stands "north of the highway" in a district known as North Sea and, humorously, [until] ... the last century as the "Dead Sea."

Still, the venerable librarian Dorothy King, whose family first came to the East End in the late 1600s, seemed at first impervious to my comparatively shallow roots. For weeks, I was lost, searching for my muse in musty boxes and dusty books. On my best behavior, I complied in calling her Miss King, while she firmly, albeit kindly, kept me mindful of the rules: no cell phones, no water, and, of course, no pens!

The Lost Hamptons

Then one day, Miss King asked me to call her "Dorothy" and inquired, "Would you like to see the picture postcards that were donated to the library last year?" "Have you shown them to a lot of other people?" the journalist in me replied. "Not really," she answered. Not only was I thrilled to have Miss King lower her guard, but the postcards delivered a riveting visual narrative of this quaint and picturesque town. Even better, most of the hand-tinted postcards had been secreted away for decades, as were those to be discovered later at the Southampton Historical Museum and in the even vaster collection of Edward Woodward.

These postcards portray the quiet villages, historic homes, and privet-lined lanes of the East End. They depict life in the Hamptons as we have never seen it before. Filled with the high drama of celebrity, the glorious architecture of the time, and the quiet splendor of the East End's landscapes and seascapes, these photographs allow us to experience a world all but swallowed by time.