Clifford Foster, a Sagaponack farmer, a President of the Sag Harbor Savings Bank and last private owner of Long Beach, had a clear vision for his 13-acre property which connected Noyac to North Haven. Seven years after his death in 1943, Foster’s sons Charles and Everett deeded the stretch of shoreline to Southampton Town. As per their father’s wish, the gift came with four explicit demands, which would ultimately shape the future use of this popular Sag Harbor swimming spot.
Firstly, the beach would be known as the Clifford J. Foster Memorial Park. Secondly, no dwellings or campsites would be built upon it. Camping was prohibited along with any private use of the land. Thirdly, liquor and alcohol sales were banned. Lastly, and most importantly, “no regulation shall be enacted which may exclude any resident of the incorporated village of Sag Harbor from the privileges granted to the town of Southampton.”
Above: Clifford Foster’s grandson with Councilwoman Nancy Graboski, Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst, and Councilman Chris Nuzzi.
Sag Harbor Historical Society member Jean Held, who curated a show with Dorothy Zaykowski on the multifaceted history of Long Beach, theorized that Foster’s first three provisions weren’t born out of prudishness or curmudgeonly inclinations. Instead, Held believes, Foster wished to preserve the waterfront as a family friendly spot, which children and adults alike could enjoy in a safe and wholesome environment.
Today, in an age when legacies are often dissolved to suit contemporary agendas, Foster’s intentions for Long Beach have been preserved.
During humid summer evenings the parking lot is overrun with preteens and teenagers playing volleyball, noshing on popcorn, and listening to live music during the YARD program’s “Safe Summer Beach” nights. By day, the sandy shores are dotted with multi-colored umbrellas shading sleeping toddlers and octogenarians looking out at the placid bay. Families wade into the salt water, careful to sidestep any jellyfish. And joggers, cyclists or people simply walking their dog travel up and down the length of the Long Beach. Even Foster’s mandate to provide access to all Sag Harbor Village residents is upheld, allowing residents of the East Hampton Town side of the village to purchase beach privileges at the town resident’s rate, Held added.
Although Foster’s wishes endure, many are unfamiliar with his generous donation. Passersby at the parking lot may remark on a large boulder with a greenish metal plaque commemorating January 19, 1950, the day the Foster sons gifted the land, and announcing the beach’s official name of Clifford J. Foster Memorial Park.
Due to the cold weather, or other reasons unknown, at the time of the endowment, the town never held an official dedication ceremony to formally thank the Foster family. Over 60 years later, on Saturday, August 21, Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst, Councilwoman Nancy Graboski and Councilman Chris Nuzzi held an official re-dedication ceremony to coincide with the Long Beach show currently on view at the Sag Harbor Historical Society.
Southampton Town officials presented Foster’s grandson Clifford, his wife Lee and other family members with a proclamation noting highlights from the property’s storied history and explaining how Foster came into possession of the land. In 1777, Lieutenant Colonel Return Jonathan Meigs landed on the shores with 234 men in 13 whale boats to attack British troops in Sag Harbor. Throughout the 19th and 20th century, Long Beach served as an access point to North Haven for many villagers unwilling to pay bridge tolls. Starting at the end of the 19th century, the E.W. Bliss Company held torpedo tests near the Short Beach area for roughly 25 years. Throughout the years, the waterfront remained a popular recreation spot, due in no small part to the rotating number of businesses located on a separate parcel at the western end of Long Beach. Beginning with Lenny’s “casino,” the spot later became home to the Salty Dog, the Waterside, and McNally’s; and nearby was the Shack and the Oasis.
By 1925, Foster, the son of a prominent captain and landowner, paid Suffolk County $16.24 in unpaid taxes on behalf of the heirs of the Charles Lamont Estate, thus taking possession of the beach land. A year later, Foster bought an additional 13-acre, triangular piece of property, which borders Payne’s Creek and Noyac Road, from Lamont’s son Gerald for $100.
“As a Noyac resident, I have the privilege and pleasure of seeing Long Beach everyday, but I was unaware of its rich history,” Throne-Holst said at the ceremony. “I cannot think of a greater gift a family could give to its community, and I thank the Historical Society for creating a wonderful exhibit so that we can all share in the history of this beloved place.”
“There are millions of stories about Long Beach,” curator Held said of the research she and Zaykowski compiled over the last two years in anticipation of the exhibit. “I feel like I have talked to thousands of people and they all love Long Beach.”
The exhibit will remain open for viewing through the month of September from 1 to 4 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, and by appointment. For further information, or to arrange a visit, please contact 725-5092.