One of the sadder aspects of being a historical society is the continuing loss of your supporters. Vibrant individuals, with a wealth of knowledge, age and are lost to our community. Our hopes are that, through oral histories and other programs, these voices can be kept alive for generations.
This week our community again had a vital voice silenced: Jack D. Capone. A resident of Hampton Bays for 94 years, son of Mary and Daniel Capone, predeceased by his brothers Tony, Andrew and Daniel, survived by his sisters Josephine and Teresa and his son John. He was an Ex-Chief of the Hampton Bays Fire Department, as well as a Fire Commissioner, a proud World War II Veteran, a Lion and a member of the HB School Board…to name just a few. He was a prolific builder who added to our landscape and left his mark on our hamlet.
He also left a mark on our Historical Society. Whether offering his expertise on construction at the Prosper King House, answering questions, participating in our various Veterans programs or an Oral History, when asked, Jack was always happy to humor me and say yes. He also narrated a walk down Main Street. How? Always an avid letter writer, many of Jack’s letters were printed during the war by Editor John Sutter. Later in life, after the loss of his wife Rose, Jack once again took out his pen and, sitting at his favorite spot along the canal, relegated his memories of growing up in Hampton Bays to paper. He took us from one end of Main Street to the other, then back again on the other side. These letters to the editor were always popular.
How about we let Jack tell how it began…
A Walk Down Main Street
By Jack Capone
How about a little History about the Hamlet of Hampton Bays. This came to mind when I received an email from Brenda seeking information on John Betty’s gas station. To you who remember, John had a gas station at the northwest corner of Montauk and Route 24. With the property becoming a shopping center, the station was torn down, and Dan Capone & Son built him a new station across from the trailer park. That station has been torn down.
Let us go east from Riverhead Building Supply. At one time Hampton Bays Supply Co. had moved to that location because it originally was located in the direct path of the Sunrise Highway, on Route 24. Bill, and his son used to tear down old buildings, and sell the material as used lumber. In them days with lumber scarce after the war, used lumber was in demand. Lach Auto Repair, also in the path of the Sunrise, had to move to its’ present location.
Going East from Riverhead Building supply, Quogue-Sinclair was at one time the home of the Pat Mason family. Pat owned a gas station, I think Sunoco, at the Northeast corner of Montauk and Route 24, now the location of the Hamlet flag pole. The Building now occupied by Rapid Recovery, was once the home of Leo Ash, a prominent Building Contractor. As young men in High School, Gordon Jackson, and myself worked a few days for Leon, pulling up silver maple trees from the front lawn of a house Leo was remodeling, located on Lighthouse Road.
Where the current Hampton Bays Diner now stands there used to be cottages for summer rental, Harry’s Run In Rest. Going East was the home of the Stanley Penny family. Stanley was a painting contractor. If my memory is correct, his two sons, Raymond and Rodney were both School teachers and both served in the Navy in World War Two. East of the Penny house, where Friendly’s now stands, was the Elmer Jackson family. Elmer was a prominent Builder in Hampton Bays. Upon his retirement, he called me to his home and asked me if I would take on his old customers. To have someone as respected as Elmer make that offer, I was overwhelmed.
As an aside, I would like to praise the residents of the Hamlet. In my years in the Hamlet I have never seen so many exceptional outdoor Christmas decorations. Whether it be Main, Good Ground, Ponquogue, Springville, Bittersweet, etc. it is well worth taking a ride at night to enjoy the displays.
Going East on the South Side of the Highway is the former Howard and Annie Meschutt residence, now South Fork Realty. Howard was a Gentleman, and I enjoyed talking to him. He was an insurance agent and his home was his office. Back in 1940 the Family suffered a tragedy that no one should have to go through. Twin Daughters, Barbara and Florence, age 21, drowned in a boating accident in Peconic Bay.
Continuing East, where the present Buckley’s In Between is now located, I believe possibly in the same building, Charlie Thumm, and his wife ran a bar. This was back in 1945-46 when most of us were returning home from the War. At night Thumms would be jammed with locals. Pat and Charlie were friends of my Parents, and Charlie convinced me to tend bar at night. In them days, the favorite drinks were beer, and Harwoods and ginger ale. So the first night I go to work, Pat says, Jack, do not give Charlie any drinks. The evening gets under way, and you guess it, Charlie wanted a drink so I give him ginger ale. What the H is this, I want a drink!” Pat says no drinks tonight Charlie” “who the H is paying you, me or Pat?” So Charlie proceeds to get happy, and for the rest of the night, all the drinks are on the house. Needless to say I quit after about three days. The Bar was really a hobby for Charlie, as it was for Joe Shifter who bought the Bar from Charlie, and like Charlie gave most of the drinks on the house. You could go home any night feeling pretty good, at little or no expense.
Keep traveling East, where Matsulin Restaurant is now located, was a two story home, when I was young, occupied by the Dodd Family. Reverend Dodd, at the time was Pastor of the Methodist Church. The only one in the Family that I remember from School, was a boy named Phillip. That may have also been his Father’s first name. Our next stop going east, will be Marotta’s Italian Restaurant.
That was just a sample of the writings of Jack Capone, evoking memories of places and people who inhabited this particular patch of land before we did. Perhaps we will make excerpts of his letters a regular feature going forward. Always a character, legend has it that our mild-mannered Jack once stapled a rambunctious child to a roof – for his own safety. But neither child nor roof were damaged during the incident.
If you don’t know Jack, you missed a good one!