Celebrating the past and looking to the future

Hampton Bays Civic Association Turns 100

The Voices of Hampton Bays Panel, Fran Oldeack, Sylvia Catena Smith, and Chet Sinclair. Independent/Justin Meinken

Incorporated in 1918, the Hampton Bays Civic Association celebrated its 100th birthday on November 26, bringing the past, present, and future together with presentations from some residents who have lived in the community for more than 90 years.

“The Hampton Bays Civic Association has always had a string of outstanding leaders who have never hesitated to roll up their sleeves and work to improve their town,” said Suffolk County Legislator Bridget Fleming during her presentation of a proclamation to the HBCA. “The service and dedication of the Hampton Bays Civic Association makes this a remarkable community and a model for all of us throughout Suffolk County. Their tenacity is reflected in Hampton Bays’ economic vitality,” she said.

Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman also presented HBCA with a proclamation, stating, “This is a group who knows how to organize and speak with one voice to get the message to its elected officials. It is an organization that has been incredibly effective and critical to Hampton Bays’ prosperity. This proclamation is in recognition of their 100-year legacy and the outstanding work and activism they so consistently exhibit in their community.”

The centennial celebration included a documentary compiled and narrated by Anthony Capone, a lifelong resident of Hampton Bays who recently passed away at the age of 96. His film, Olde Hampton Bays from the Memory of Tony Capone begins in 1925. The film is filled with village nostalgia, walking the viewer through the buildings on Main Street. It also includes footage from the Shinnecock Canal, the Ponquogue Bridge, the Hurricane of 1954, and more. HBCA director John Capone provided the introductory remarks and 11 letters from his father, Jack Capone, which provided a historical reflection of Hampton Bays over a 90-year span.

Brenda Berntson, president of the Hampton Bays Historical and Preservation Society, chaired a panel discussion which included lifelong Hampton Bays residents Frances Oldeack, Sylvia Catena Smith, and Chet Sinclair. Each member of the panel was given an opportunity to recount their family history and favorite memories.

According to Frances Oldeack, her grandparents were married in Hampton Bays in 1905. “My grandfather had a paper store and a barbershop and eventually opened up a restaurant called the Good Ground Restaurant. During World War II, it was used for USO dances for the soldiers stationed at Camp Hero,” she said. “Eventually my grandfather closed the restaurant and moved his paper business and barbershop into the building. It was a big hangout for all the local men. They would sit around the potbelly stove and share their stories. I used to go and listen,” she told the audience.

Sylvia Catena Smith spoke about her father who emigrated to the U. S. from Italy as a teenager. “He came on a ship and was a cabin boy and he had to light the captain’s pipe every day. It used to make him so sick, he could never smoke. He got a job building roads in the Bronx and met my mother. After they were married, he opened a fish market in the Bronx. When a diphtheria epidemic broke out, he sent my mother and the children to live with her mother in Hampton Bays,” she said.

They eventually built a house and opened a fish market in the building behind their home. “But everyone would ask how to cook the fish and he would say, ‘Wait, I’ll get my wife. She’ll show you.’ My father was very generous and soon it became, ‘Oh, I’ll get my wife, she’ll cook it for you,’ and that’s how our family restaurant started,” recalled the 94-year-old Hampton Bays resident. Although she admits to being a little slow moving now and not as active, she has no intentions of leaving her home and moving elsewhere. “I love living in Hampton Bays,” she stated. “I couldn’t bear to leave it.”

Chet Sinclair, owner of Quogue Sinclair Fuels, who at 94 still runs his family business, has lived in Hampton Bays all his life. “My father was born in Hampton Bays in 1883. My mother was from Ireland and came here by herself when she was 13. She was working in a boarding house in Hampton Bays and my father had a team of horses and a wagon that he would use to pick up people from the railroad station. That’s how they met,” he said.

“I was born in 1924. When my father passed away, I had to quit school and go to work to help my mother but then Uncle Sam came along and I was drafted. I spent two years in the service and spent time on the frontlines. After I got out of the army, I went to work and wanted to finish school. I was hired as a bus driver for the Hampton Bays School. I would drive the kids to school and then I would go to class and that’s how I finished my schooling. Then in 1954, I went into the oil business. I still go to work every day,” he added.

Sinclair reminisced about when he was young, “We used to go down to the canal. It wasn’t all bulkheaded then and we would jump in and go swimming and fishing. I don’t think any of the kids in Hampton Bays went to the beach like they do today. We would just jump into the canal.”

Looking to the future, Schneiderman swore-in the association’s board of directors for the upcoming year. Janice Landis, HBCA’s president for three years, has stepped down, passing the baton to vice president Maria Hults, who will serve as the organization’s new president.

In conjunction with HBCA’s centennial, Hults announced the organization’s plan to bury a time capsule in Good Ground Park in the spring. The capsule, not to be opened for 100 years, will contain old photographs and maps and the community has been invited to help determine the balance of its contents. “A more fitting burial site couldn’t have been chosen,” Hults said. “The park is a proud example of the town and community working together to achieve a common goal — the objective of the Hampton Bays Civic Association.” For more information, visit the HBCA website at www.hbcivic.org.

valerie@indyeastend.com