When one thinks of the Hamptons, the last thing they probably think about is barns on farms. Yet, sprinkled all over the East End are many historic barns and still-operating farms. They define another time in Hamptons history. They stand out proudly as a reminder of the huge agrarian history of the region. Many days of hard, backbreaking labor cleared that farmland, built those barns, and established the East End.
This past week, I was driving past East Hampton High School on Long Lane when I stopped to take photos of the cornfields across from EH High School. The first thing that came to my mind as I stood in front of the cornfield was, “I bet this land is really valuable.” Then I thought, obviously, this has been farmland for a very long time. Many take for granted the beautiful open farm fields that still exist all over the Hamptons. Every season, these farms sit poised off the back roads, looking majestic and so classically American.
I know of folks like John v.H. Halsey, who have devoted lots of time, effort, and money to ensure they stay fields and farms. Between the Peconic Land Trust, which John V.H. Halsey founded, and the Community Preservation Fund, over $1 billion has been spent to buy many acres of land outright or, in the case of farmlands, their development rights. The end result is many large tracts of Hamptons land that will exist for many decades into the future.
Astonishingly, on these lands, there are many barns and farms that are still very active. The barns are filled with either horses or other livestock. In others are the various types of vehicles and equipment needed to tend to the fields. Locals as well as visitors, on occasion, end up behind big tractors or other farm vehicles while driving the back roads. I have been behind a few.
Doing an assignment years back, I visited the barns of the family that owns the Milk Pail. I was on their historic spread off Mecox Road in Water Mill. It was there that I saw the largest John Deere vehicle I have ever seen in my life, parked right there in one of their barns. It was impressive, very green with the John Deere paint job. That was in one huge new barn; some of their older, historic ones were used to sell produce.
Years ago, news was made about a trend that had certain wealthy folks buying old barns and then having them “moved” to their estates. I covered and reported on the controversial moving of the “historic buildings” and “barns” of Adelaide de Menil. Although she paid for them to be moved from her Further Lane property to where they now stand as East Hampton Town Hall on Pantego Road, not everyone was thrilled as it became a huge local political issue. It was quite a sight watching the houses moving on the road to where they now stand, renovated and in use. I, for one, really enjoy the results of the vision of Supervisor William McGintee, who fought hard to make those “historic houses” and barns into EH Town Hall.
Believe it or not, I lived in a converted barn in East Hampton Village for one year. It was strange but fun. It had a balcony with a nice small outside deck with a cool view of the village. The barn was knocked down and now is a house that was listed just under $5 million when it sold during the COVID market. I still go visit the property where I wrote my first articles about the East End. It was pre-internet, as we now know it.
I would suppose most folks who drive about the Hamptons have their favorite old historic or family farm and barn. I have several. Most are in Water Mill, and others are on the Scuttle Hole Road section of Bridgehampton. Then there are the White family barns off Wainscott-Main. Winter, Spring, Summer, and Fall, these barns on the farms are picturesque. Sometimes you see magnificent horses around them. In the evening, driving along the ocean shoreline, you might see a herd of many deer on a field near a barn, right off the ocean. It is a sight many know and love. Hopefully, it will stay a sight for many future generations.