Thanks to Montauk’s location at the easternmost part of Long Island and New York state, resident often refer to it as “The End.” Others tend to refer to it as “The Hamptons Without Crowds.” Still, others have never heard of the quaint town located on the eastern end of Long Island. The small town is just 120 miles from New York City, yet it is an entirely different world with fishing, beautiful beaches, and a peace and quiet that simply can’t be found anywhere else in the area.
As a result of Montauk’s rich history, which is explored below, and its seaside location, there are actually plenty of interesting things to learn about the area. Here are 20 things you didn’t know about Montauk, whether you are familiar with the area or have never heard of it.
Settlers first arrived in 1648, but weren’t able to purchase the area of land now known as Montauk until 1686.
Before English settlers first arrived in the Montauk area in 1648, the area was inhabited by the Montaukett tribe, an Algonquian-speaking tribe. The group, who had relocated from Massachusetts, were able to purchase an area of land that extended from the eastern boundary of Southampton to Napeague Beach. However, the tribe still owned the area that is Montauk. In 1686, the tribe agreed to sell it to a group of East Hampton settlers, referred to as the proprietors, who owned the land for next 200 years in a joint trust.
Montauk was named for the tribe who first called the area home.
This should not come as a big surprise. The town’s name honors the Native Americans who first called the area home. Montauk is simply a shortened form of Montaukett, the tribe that originally lived off the land. As you might imagine, there are no immediate plans to change the name back to Montaukett just as there are 1000s of other locations with shortened names taken from Native American derivation.
Montauk is home to the oldest lighthouse in New York.
Authorized by George Washington and the Second Congress in 1792, construction began on the Montauk Point Lighthouse on June 7, 1796. By November 5, 1796, the lighthouse was complete and stood over 100 ft. tall. The lighthouse was first lit in April 1797, but was switched to electricity in 1940. Today, the lighthouse still emits a flashing light every five seconds that helps boats within 19 nautical miles navigate the Atlantic Ocean. In 2012, the Montauk Point Lighthouse was designated as a National Historic Landmark. It is one of only twelve lighthouses to receive this distinction.
On a clear, sunny day, you can see three states at one time.
If you climb the 137 iron steps to the top of the Montauk Point Lighthouse’s tower, you will definitely get to see amazing views of the Atlantic Ocean regardless of what the weather is like. However, anyone who opts to visit on a clear day will be able to get a glimpse at three states. They include Block Island, which is part of Rhode Island, as well as New York and Connecticut when you look past North Fork.
In 1954, Montauk was an island for a short period of time.
In August 1954, Hurricane Carol became the most powerful storm to hit New England since 1938’s Great New England Hurricane. Winds gusted at 120-mph and waves reached heights of 14 ft., while as much as 5 inches of rain fell in the area. On August 31, 1954, the Montauk Highway, which linked Montauk with eastern Long Island was completely covered in water, cutting Montauk off from the rest of the United States.
The oldest structure in Montauk has been standing for more over two centuries.
Referred to as Second House, the structure was first built in 1746 to provide shelter for a shepherd responsible for watching over the sheep, horses, and cattle that lived on the pasture below. Unfortunately, the home burned down, but was completely rebuilt in 1797. Today, the building still stands and functions as a museum. Recently, the Montauk Historical Society started a huge restoration project designed to restore the structure to its former glory.
For fishermen, Montauk is a dream spot.
According to the town itself, Montauk is the “surf fishing capital of the world.” In fact, residents say that the area has “a major fishing problem,” particularly in the fall when the fish, such as striped bass, are especially active. An abundance of nice sized fish who seem to want to be caught is why hardcore anglers have no problem battling the brisk winds and temperatures that can feel downright frigid while you are out on the water.
Shark sightings are on the rise in Montauk.
Due to a steady increase in shark sightings, Montauk has caught the attention of OCEARCH, a nonprofit committed to shark research, especially great whites, and a research team is actually in the area to determine the reason for the increase. According to experts, the area around Montauk, Long Island, and the Hamptons is an ideal breeding ground for sharks because it extends out into the Atlantic and down through the Gulf Stream . (This area is rich with the food and nutrients sharks need to thrive.) Another reason sharks are drawn to the area is related to huge gray seal population, which are a primary food source for great white sharks. Despite the increase, there has never been a shark attack in Montauk or Long Island.
Montauk is home to the oldest cattle ranch in the United States.
Who would have thought the oldest working ranch would be less than 125 miles from NYC? However, that is exactly where you will find Deep Hollow Ranch, a 22.3-acre ranch that first opened in 1658. The property includes plenty of space for grazing, as well as 5,000 sq. ft. antique farmhouse framed in timber and several working barns. While there have been periods of time when no cattle were housed on the ranch, they always find their way back.
Of New York state’s 30 biggest fish records, more were caught in Montauk than any other town or city in the state.
In addition, all of them have been held for at least 15 years. They include:
- Caught in 1998, the largest bluefish weighed 25.00 pounds.
- Caught in 1984, the largest cold weighed 85.0 pounds.
- Caught in 1986, the largest white shark weighed 3,450 pounds.
- Caught in 1999, the largest triggerfish weighed 7.63 pounds.
- Caught in 1977, the largest Bluefin tuna weighed 1,071 pounds.
Montauk is home to the largest fishing fleet in the state.
Despite having a year-round population of less than 4,000, Montauk has both the largest commercial and recreational fishing fleet in New York. Most fishermen use the “box method” that allows them to actually box fish at sea and then transport them back to a dock. Interesting, the town has said to be experiencing a dramatic change in fisherman. Over the last decade, the children of fisherman are being encouraged to do something else and more immigrant fisherman are coming to the area. In fact, almost all of the dockhands are from Central and South America, meaning the fisherman are now having to learn Spanish.
Every year, Montauk holds a Blessing of the Fleets.
The Blessing of the Fleets is an annual event held in June. Each year all the boats from the area line up in the water to be blessed by clergy from the Catholic, Jewish, Protestant, and Orthodox faiths. After each has been blessed, all the motors sound to remember any fisherman who has been lost at sea.
Montauk has been voted one of the 10 best places in the United States to surf.
According to Surfer.com, Montauk is the 8th best place to surf in the U.S.. Apparently, the waves come from the south, east, and west, meaning it’s one of the few places on the East Coast that consistently has waves. As an added bonus, there are a variety of different waves and swells, which are important when surfing. Finally, the coastline is gorgeous and the water is not crowded with people learning to surf. All in all, it is a great place to surf.
A number of celebrities own homes in Montauk.
It should come as no surprise that several celebrities appreciate the solitude and beautiful scenery Montauk has to offer. For example, Robert De Niro owns a home here, although it has been some time since he was last spotted in the area. Other celebs include designer Ralph Lauren, who owns a smaller home directly on the ocean, along with several musicians, including Paul Simon, Jimmy Buffet, and Chad Smith, the drummer for the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Mickey Drexler, the CEO of J. Crew, owns a $27 million home in Montauk as well.
Montauk is also a favorite spot of eccentric artists.
Andy Warhol, considered by many in the art world to be the most famous artist of his time, purchased a Montauk compound in 1972 that was located up on a cliff overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. This was after his real estate agent had driven through the posh Hamptons. He was drawn to the eccentric architecture of the Ronjo Motels and Memory Motel. Before long, he was joined by fashion and nature photographer, Peter Beard, as well as Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones. Reportedly, the three men threw plenty of great parties that attracted everyone from Jacki Onassis Kennedy, who brought along Caroline and John Jr., to the author Bob Colacello and other members of society’s elite.
The Rolling Stones’ hit, “Memory Motel” was written in honor of the Montauk motel of the same name.
The band opted to spend the spring and summer of 1975 in Montauk planning an upcoming American tour. While there, Peter Beard took Mick Jagger to the Memory Motel, which was owned by an older couple who weren’t particularly fond of the Rolling Stones. While it has been said that Mick didn’t really care for them either, he did like the motel (or at least the name) and ended up writing the song.
Montauk’s worst fishing disaster in the history, known as The Pelican Disaster, resulted in the strict federal guidelines regarding a boat’s design, operation, and outfitting.
The Pelican was a 42 ft. boat that functioned almost like today’s party boats. On September 1, 1951, 62 passengers, a captain, and his mate climbed aboard and set sail. They greatly exceeded the safe carrying capacity, yet they spent the entire day at sea. While on their way back to shore, the Pelican capsized and partially sunk. In the end 45 people, including the captain, were dead and the U.S. Coast Guard was brought in to investigate. In 1957, the Coast Guard put the “T-Boat” regulations in effect. These regulations resulted in rigorous federal oversight for boats carrying 7 or more paying passengers.
There is only one dentist in Montauk.
Dr. Daniel Vasti is the only dentist to call Montauk home. Born and raised in Montauk, Dr. Vasti’s grandfather first brought the family to the town in 1939 after finishing up his dental residency. Dr. Vasti, a Villanova University graduate, opened his Montauk practice in 1975 after a short stint in Connecticut. In an interview, Dr. Vasti said that as the only dentist, he’d dealt with all types of dental emergencies, including surfers hit in the mouth by their board and even a few people involved in barroom brawls.
Montauk is believed to have once been site of secret government projects and bizarre military experiments.
Montauk Air Force Base, which was decommissioned in 1981 and renamed Camp Hero, is considered the site of the Montauk Project. Although it has never been confirmed that the Montauk Project actually existed, historians, who have written quite a few books on the subject, say it involved everything from developing psychological warfare techniques to time travel, mind control, and teleportation. In 2015, Montauk Chronicles, a documentary featuring Preston Nichols, who claims to have worked on the Montauk Project was released and explores all that supposedly happened on the military base.
Today, the former AFB is one of 4 state parks in Montauk.
Known as Camp Hero State Park, the park encompasses 415 acres that include wooded areas, natural freshwater wetlands, and a long beach area. The former military base still stands in the park and is registered as a National Historic Site. There are tons of trails for hiking, as well as hidden coves to explore and amazing views of the scenery to take in, but visitors should be careful. According to Montauk legend, the park is haunted.