Sag Harbor, New York

This article is about a village in New York. For the James Herne play, see Sag Harbor (play). For the novel by Colson Whitehead, see Sag Harbor (novel). For the similar-sounding location in Canada, see Shag Harbour, Nova Scotia.
Sag Harbor, New York
Village of Sag Harbor

Sag Harbor street scene
Sag Harbor
Coordinates: 41°0′N 72°18′W / 41.000°N 72.300°W / 41.000; -72.300Coordinates: 41°0′N 72°18′W / 41.000°N 72.300°W / 41.000; -72.300
Country United States
State New York
County Suffolk
Incorporated March 26, 1846[1]
  Total 2.3 sq mi (6.0 km2)
  Land 1.8 sq mi (4.7 km2)
  Water 0.5 sq mi (1.4 km2)
Elevation 26 ft (8 m)
Population (2010)
  Total 2,169
  Density 940/sq mi (360/km2)
Time zone Eastern (EST) (UTC-5)
  Summer (DST) EDT (UTC-4)
ZIP code 11963
Area code(s) 631
FIPS code 36-64485
GNIS feature ID 0963216

Sag Harbor is an incorporated village in Suffolk County, New York, United States, in the towns of East Hampton and Southampton. The population was 2,169 at the 2010 census.[2]

The entire business district of the whaling port and writer's colony is listed as Sag Harbor Village District on the National Register of Historic Places.

Sag Harbor is about three fifths in Southampton and two fifths in East Hampton. The dividing line is Division Street which becomes Town Line Road just south of the village. Most of the defining landmarks of the village — including its Main Street, the Whalers Church, Jermain Library, Whaling Museum, the Old Burying Ground, Oakland Cemetery, Mashashimuet Park, and Otter Pond are in Southampton. However, almost all the Bay Street marina complex, including Sag Harbor Yacht Club and Breakwater Yacht Club, at the foot of Main Street, is in East Hampton, as are the village's high school, the Sag Harbor State Golf Course, and the freed slave community of Eastville.


Umbrella House, oldest house in Sag Harbor. It housed British troops in the American Revolution and was hit by cannon fire during the War of 1812 (where light colored bricks are in lower left corner).
Old Whaler's Church and Old Burial Ground. The church steeple toppled in the Great Hurricane of 1938.
Old Whaler's Church with Egyptian revival steeple intact (before 1938). The burial ground is the site of a British fort that was attacked in Meigs Raid during the Revolutionary War.
The Broken Mast Monument which commemorates all the whalers who were lost at sea

Sag Harbor was settled sometime between 1707 and 1730. The first bill of lading using the name Sag Harbor was recorded in 1730.[3] While some accounts say it was named for neighboring Sagaponack, which at the time was called "Sagg", Sagaponack and Sag Harbor both got their name from a tuber the Metoac Algonquins raised. One of the first crops that was sent back to England, the tuber-producing vine is now called the Apios americana. The Metoac called it sagabon. That is how the harbor and neighboring village got its name. Such namings were not unusual. Tuckahoe in Westchester County, about 80 miles (130 km) from Sag Harbor, got its name from the aboriginal term for the Peltandra virginica, the Arrow Arum.[4]

The port supplanted the East Hampton community of Northwest which is about 5 miles (8 km) east of Sag Harbor. International ships and the whaling industry had started in Northwest, but its port was too shallow. The most valuable whale product was whale oil which was used in lamps; thus it could be said that Sag Harbor was a major oil port.

By 1789 Sag Harbor had "had more tons of square-rigged vessels engaged in commerce than even New York City."[5] It had become an international port. After the Second Session of Congress on July 31, 1789 Sag Harbor was declared the first official port on entering the United States. This turned Sag Harbor into a melting pot of different cultures. With Sag Harbor being the first stop on entering United States territory, this is where ships would stop before sailing to New York City to finish their trip. With all the ships coming in and out of Sag Harbor the United States government decided that they should place a customs house in the town. Long Island did not have a customs house before the one in Sag Harbor.[6][7]

During the American Revolutionary War, American raiders under Return Jonathan Meigs attacked a British garrison on May 23, 1777, on a hill at what today is the Old Burying Ground next to the Whaler's Church, killing six and capturing 90 British soldiers in what was called Meigs Raid.

During the War of 1812, it was claimed that the British attacked the village on July 11, 1813, but were driven back. In reality, several open boats from the British squadron that dominated the Sound during the war entered the harbor at night without any advance planning because the young midshipman in command of these small boats was curious. That officer, C. Claxton R.N., later described his youthful misadventures years later as editor of The Naval Monitor. Upon landing on the wharf and planning some mischief they heard an alarm gun fired before they could set fire to the coasting vessel docked there and beat a hasty retreat. There were no injuries, and Claxton and his men made it safely back to HMS Ramillies (1785) anchored off Gardiners Island.[8]

The whaling industry in Sag Harbor peaked in the 1840s. Sag Harbor is mentioned in Chapters 12, 13, 57 and 83 of Moby-Dick,[9] including this passage:

Arrived at last in old Sag Harbor; and seeing what the sailors did there; and then going on to Nantucket, and seeing how they spent their wages in that place also, poor Queequeg gave it up for lost. Thought he, it's a wicked world in all meridians; I'll die a pagan.[10]

Among the sea captains who died whaling from Sag Harbor was Charles Watson Payne, the great-great-great grandfather of Howard Dean.[11]

Relics of this period include the Old Whaler's Church, a Presbyterian church that sported a 168-foot-high (51 m) steeple which was claimed to be the tallest structure on Long Island when it opened in 1843.[12] The steeple collapsed during the Great Hurricane of 1938.

The Sag Harbor Whaling & Historical Museum owns and occupies the handsome, 1845 Greek Revival home designed by Minard Lafever for whaling merchant Benjamin Huntting II. The Masonic Lodge (Wamponamon 437) occupies the second floor and celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2008. The museum is open to the public, and the staircase alone is worth a visit.

The design of the Whaler's Church and the Masonic Temple are attributed to prominent 19th century American architect Minard Lafever. The broken mast monument in Oakland Cemetery is the most visible of several memorials to those who died at sea.

The whaling business collapsed after 1847, initially with the discovery of other methods to create kerosene, with the first being coal oil. The discovery of petroleum in Titusville, Pennsylvania, in 1859 sealed the end. Many of the ships based in Sag Harbor were sailed to San Francisco where they were simply abandoned during the California Gold Rush. The last whaleship — the Myra — sailed from Sag Harbor in 1871.[13]

One sailor who continued on other endeavors was Mercator Cooper who sailed out of Sag Harbor on November 9, 1843, on the Manhattan on a voyage that would make him the first American to visit Tokyo Bay. Aboard the ship was Pyrrhus Concer, a former slave who was the first black man the Japanese had seen. Cooper's adventures were to continue on another voyage out of Sag Harbor when on January 26, 1853, sailing the Levant, he became the first person to set foot on East Antarctica.

The Long Island Rail Road's Sag Harbor Branch arrived in the village in 1870, and the former station is now a gardening store.

During World War I the E. W. Bliss Company tested torpedoes in the harbor a half mile north of the village. As part of the process, Long Wharf in Sag Harbor was reinforced with concrete, and rail spurs were built along the wharf as the torpedoes were loaded onto ships for testing. The torpedoes were shipped via the Long Island Rail Road along Sag Harbor to the wharf which was owned by the railroad at the time. Among those observing the tests was Thomas Alva Edison. Most of today's buildings on the wharf, including the Bay Street Theatre, were built during this time. The torpedoes which did not have live warheads are occasionally found by divers on the bay floor.

Various industries have operated locally, the last of which was the Bulova Watchcase Factory, which closed in 1981.

Sag Harbor was author John Steinbeck's residence from 1955 until his death in 1968. Steinbeck did some of his writings in a little house on the edge of his property in Sag Harbor.[14] His view from the writing house overlooked the Upper Sag Harbor Cove. In his travelogue Travels with Charley, Steinbeck starts an 11-week trip from Sag Harbor with his dog, Charley.[15][16]

Image of John Steinbeck’s writing house.


The Sag Harbor-North Haven Bridge, renamed The LCpl Jordan Haerter Veterans' Memorial Bridge in November 2008, is notable as the site of Pop artist Ray Johnson's presumed suicide in 1995 as well as two abortive suicide attempts by monologist Spalding Gray, in September 2002 and October 2003.

Sag Harbor is the birthplace of the noted American poet George Sterling.

Writer William Demby lived in Sag Harbor his last years till his death on May 24, 2013.

African-American history

After the Second World War the neighborhoods of Sag Harbor Hills, Ninevah and Azurest, Eastville and Chatfield’s Hill were available to African-Americans. Lots were cheap, although loans were not available at that time. Thus lots and houses are small. Later a few African-American celebrities and prominent New York businessmen made their summer homes there. The communities are friendly and neighborly. However, as of the 2010s, there is pressure from investors who, consolidating lots and planning to build larger houses than is customary, pose a threat to the character of the neighborhoods.[18]


Sag Harbor is located at 40°59′48″N 72°17′32″W / 40.99667°N 72.29222°W / 40.99667; -72.29222 (40.996603, -72.292190).[19]

According to the United States Census Bureau, the village has a total area of 2.3 square miles (6.0 km2), of which 1.8 square miles (4.7 km2) is land and 0.54 square miles (1.4 km2), or 22.44%, is water.[2]

In the village of Sag Harbor, fresh drinking water was obtained from digging wells to support the town's population. “The original source of water supply was secured from four dug wells located in the southern part of the village of Sag Harbor”.[20] As Sag Harbor has gotten more populated the village has had to start bringing in fresh water from pipe lines.

Dumping sewage in to the bays of Sag Harbor was a major problem. As of today, sewage from the village of Sag Harbor is not just dumped into the bays anymore. The Department of Public Works, Wastewater Treatment Plant attempts to clean the water before it gets into the bays. They have been able to reach this goal by “using chlorine to kill bacteria before entering the bay”. As of today the village is using an ultra-violet system which will kill the bacteria.[21]


Historical population
Census Pop.
Est. 20152,282[22]5.2%
U.S. Decennial Census[23]

As of the census of 2000, there were 2,313 people, 1,120 households, and 583 families residing in the village. The population density was 1,345.1 people per square mile (519.2/km²). There were 1,942 housing units at an average density of 1,129.4 per square mile (435.9/km²). The racial makeup of the village was 85.78% White, 7.44% African American, 0.52% Native American, 0.95% Asian, 2.72% from other races, and 2.59% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 7.31% of the population. As of the most recent Census in 2010 there are now 2,169 village residents.

There were 1,120 households out of which 18.8% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 39.6% were married couples living together, 9.4% had a female householder with no husband present, and 47.9% were non-families. 40.7% of all households were made up of individuals and 18.4% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.06 and the average family size was 2.81.

In the village the population was spread out with 16.5% under the age of 18, 5.4% from 18 to 24, 25.4% from 25 to 44, 28.6% from 45 to 64, and 24.2% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 46 years. For every 100 females there were 91.6 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 89.8 males.

The median income for a household in the village was $52,275, and the median income for a family was $70,536. Males had a median income of $41,181 versus $34,750 for females. The per capita income for the village was $40,566. About 1.8% of families and 4.2% of the population were below the poverty line, including 1.9% of those under age 18 and 3.8% of those age 65 or over.


"Sag Harbor's earliest newspapers published little in the way of local news. Concentrating instead on a story, sermon, and both national and international events. It is likely that folks learned all the local gossip and goings on at the general store barber shop, or on the street corner," wrote local historian Dorothy Zaykowski in her book Sag Harbor – The Story of an American Beauty.

Sag Harbor Cinema

The community newspaper The Corrector was first published in 1822. According to Zaykowski, Henry Wentworth Hunt arrived in the village from Boston with his three sons, two of whom went on to helm Sag Harbor papers. The Corrector was published weekly until 1837, when it became a semi-weekly until Hunt died in 1859. After Hunt's death, his son Alexander and Brinley Sleight took over, publishing the newspaper daily, though this business model proved unsuccessful and the paper reverted to a weekly publication. The Corrector went on to become the Sag Harbor Corrector.

The Sag Harbor Corrector was eventually purchased by Burton Corwin, owner of the Sag Harbor News, in 1919 and became the Sag Harbor News and Corrector. This amalgamated newspaper was subsequently purchased by the Gardner family, owners of the The Sag Harbor Express, in the late 1920s to become the only Sag Harbor newspaper.[24]

The Sag Harbor Express is the newspaper for Sag Harbor Village, the Village of North Haven, the Sag Harbor School District and the Bridgehampton School District.


The majority of Sag Harbor lies on a flat coastal plain which makes up much of Long Island and extends down to the coast. Small hills rise up from the shore at about 0.3 miles (0.48 km) inland. Knolls and hills are dominated mostly by Red and Scarlet oak trees which are interspersed with pitch and white pines. On many of the protected bay shores, wetlands and dune ecosystems dominate the land.


Sag Harbor Union Free School District includes both the Sag Harbor Elementary School and Pierson Middle-High School.

Stella Maris Regional School was located in Sag Harbor but closed in 2011.

Nature and protected areas

Thanks to its surrounding nature preserves, Sag Harbor has very rich fauna for its region. Many endangered species call Sag Harbor home such as the eastern tiger salamander which inhabits wetlands surrounding the village. The "Long Pond Greenbelt", which straddles Sag Harbor's southern boundary, is a well known chain of ponds formed by a retreating glacier. Other natural sites around the village include Barcelona Neck Preserve, Millers Ground Preserve, Sag Harbor Woods Preserve and the recently acquired Cilli Farm which lies in the center of the village. Mammals which call these places home include the white-tailed deer, red fox, eastern coyote, long-tailed weasel, mink, muskrat, woodchuck, several bat species, bottlenose dolphins, harbour porpoises and possibly river otters which are close to local extinction in Long Island with only an estimated 8 individuals thought to have recently migrated from Connecticut. A large array of amphibian and reptilian species also live in the area, including the marbled salamander, tiger salamander, spotted salamander, box turtle, spotted turtle, gray tree frog, eastern newt, black racer snake, hognose snake and rough green snake, to name a few.

The Cilli Farm

The Cilli Farm was a dairy farm owned and operated by Vitali and Antonia Cilli and their family in the early 1900s. This preserve is a refuge for wildlife in the area. It serves as an ecological island giving large animals like white-tailed deer a home base. Although protected, dumping and littering are major threats to this invaluable preserve. Various habitats, including marshes, grasslands, birch forests, cedar groves, sand flats, and coastal watersheds provide key habitat for wildlife and support great botanic diversity. The wet lands have experienced the effects of Brown Tide in the past. The Brown Tide has affected the bay scallops and mussels in the surrounding bays.[25] As a result, when the brown tide is active the amount of scallops and mussels population decline. When the brown tide comes in, the bays color turn from the normal look to a brown.[26]


  2. 1 2 "Geographic Identifiers: 2010 Demographic Profile Data (G001): Sag Harbor village, New York". U.S. Census Bureau, American Factfinder. Retrieved 2012-12-21.
  3. Keene, Robert (2008-02-07). "History of Sag Harbor". Corner Bar 1 Main Street Sag Harbor New York 11963. Archived from the original on May 11, 2008. Retrieved 2008-07-04.
  4. "Long Island History Room". John Jermain Memorial Library, Sag Harbor, NY. 2007-03-27. Archived from the original on November 11, 2007. Retrieved 2008-07-04. Please see image labeled Sagg Harbor 1840.
  5. Wick, Steve (2008-02-23). "Sag Harbor's Heyday --". Newsday. Archived from the original on October 1, 2007. Retrieved 2008-07-04.
  6. Flotteron, Nicole. "A Trip Down Memory Lane In Sag Harbor". Retrieved 23 February 2014.
  7. "The Sag Harbor History Room". John Jermain Memorial Library. Retrieved 23 February 2014.
  8. The naval monitor: containing many useful hints for both the public and private conduct of the young gentlemen in, or entering, the profession, in all its branches; in the course of which, and under the remarks on gunnery, are some observations on the naval actions with America: also, a plan for improving the naval system, as far as it regards the most useful set of petty officers, the midshipmen, C. Claxton, G.B. Whittaker; Simpkin and Marshall, 1828
  9. "Result for query "Harbor"". The Princeton Text Archive. The Educational Technologies Center, Princeton University. Retrieved 2008-07-04.
  10. Melville, Herman (1851). "Chapter xii — BIOGRAPHICAL". Moby Dick. Retrieved 2008-07-04.
  11. Reitwiesner, William Addams (2007-07-01). "Ancestry of Howard Dean". Retrieved 2008-07-04. born 6 Oct. 1808, killed 4 Jan. 1838 by a whale and buried at sea, m. Sag Harbor, Long Island, N.Y., 12 May 1833
  12. "Push is on to rebuild church steeple" — East Hampton Press by Oliver Peterson — June 13, 2007
  13. Bleyer, Bill (2008-02-23). "Sag Harbor — A Port Bigger Than New York". Archived from the original on May 11, 2008. Retrieved 2008-07-04. The business then declined rapidly as ships and crews were lured by the 1849 California gold rush and oil was discovered in Pennsylvania. The last Sag Harbor whaler was the Myra, which sailed in 1871 and wrecked three years later.
  14. Horst, Frenz. "John Steinbeck - Biographical". Retrieved 26 February 2014.
  15. Kilgannon, Corey (2010-09-24). "At Steinbeck's Getaway As Heirs' Feud Revives.". New York Times. Retrieved 26 February 2014.
  16. McGrath, Charles (2011-04-04). "A Reality Check for Steinbeck and Charley.". The New York Times. Retrieved 26 February 2014.
  17. Tepper, Mark. "John Steinbeck writing house". photo. Retrieved 26 February 2014.
  18. John Leland (August 25, 2016). "Investors Move Next Door, Unsettling a Black Beachside Enclave". The New York Times. Retrieved August 26, 2016. As house prices in the Hamptons soar, Sag Harbor Hills and its neighbors are now luring investors looking for bargains.
  19. "US Gazetteer files: 2010, 2000, and 1990". United States Census Bureau. 2011-02-12. Retrieved 2011-04-23.
  20. "Sag Harbor, New York—Survival and Retirement Experience With Water Works Facilities: As of December 31, 1940". American Water Works Association. 12. New York, NY: American Water Works Association. 37: 1355–1360. 1945. ISSN 0003-150X. OCLC 5547582630. Retrieved 22 February 2014.
  21. "Wastewater Treatment Plant". Village of Sag Harbor. Retrieved 23 February 2014.
  22. "Annual Estimates of the Resident Population for Incorporated Places: April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2015". Retrieved July 2, 2016.
  23. "Census of Population and Housing". Retrieved June 4, 2015.
  24. Maier, Marissa (9 July 2009). "History of Sag Harbor's Newspapers". The Sag harbor Express. Sag Harbor, Suffolk County, Long Island, N.Y.: Bryan Boyhan. Retrieved 2016-04-15. As the Sag Harbor Express celebrates its 150th anniversary this week,...
  25. Bricelj, Monica; Kuenstner. "EFFECTS OF THE "BROWN TIDE" ON THE FEEDING PHYSIOLOGY AND GROWTH OF BAY SCALLOPS AND MUSSELS." (PDF). Coastal and Estuarine Studies. 35: 491–509. Retrieved 22 February 2014.
  26. Sprung, Matthew. "Algal Tides Threaten Local Waters". Hamptons Visitor Guide. Retrieved 24 February 2014.


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