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The Road Most Traveled: Bulls Head Turnpike Exhibit Brings History Into Focus

Originally Posted: February 05, 2009

Nicole B. Brewer

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A Bruce Crane oil on canvas painting hangs near the guestbook as part of the "Bridgehamtpon's Historic Turnpike" exhibit at the Bridgehampton Historical Society's Corwith House.

Bridgehampton - A new exhibit at the Bridgehampton Historical Society, "Bridgehampton's Historic Turnpike," explores the usefulness of toll roads and tells the stories of the people who lived in a time when the pace was a bit slower. Connecting many of the auxiliary roads that criss-cross the East End in the early 1800s were three turnpikes or toll roads, carved by farmers driving their carts and horses to herd animals to grazing meadows or by the brick makers to carry their wares to waiting ships in the Sag Harbor port. The turnpikes, after all, are simply about local people moving forward and the lives they live around it.

Upon entering the Society's historic Corwith House in Bridgehampton a large, two-
sided painted wood toll sign is placed in the front hall with the rates of the day.

Upon entering the Society's historic Corwith House in Bridgehampton a large, two-sided painted wood toll sign is placed in the front hall with the rates of the day - eight cents to be exact for a cart drawn by either two horses, oxen, or mules. The local toll house, built as both a toll house and residence in 1834, was on the west side of the turnpike (now the Bridgehampton-Sag Harbor Turnpike), about two miles north of the Bridgehampton War Monument on Main Street.

The toll road ran from Sag Harbor to Bridgehampton, then known as Bulls Head, and the collection of tolls began in 1837. On display are stylized depictions of the toll house - a sunlit oil by Bruce Crane depicting the Bridgehampton Toll House in a gilt frame and a collection of delicate miniature plates and paintings by Annie Cooper Boyd that are simply charming.

Two other toll roads funded by private companies were also created at this time for the purpose of maintaining trade to the deep water port in Sag Harbor. The first was the East Hampton Turnpike, now known as Route 114, that operated from 1844 to 1905. The second was the "Penny Bridge" from Hog Neck (North Haven) to Sag Harbor built in 1834 which collected tolls until 1868.

This exhibit is packed with dates and figures, trinkets and postcards, and even an early E-Z Pass, but the more interesting facts are the connection between this road and the people who lived on or near it. Starting with the lady of the toll house, explained program coordinator Stacy Dermont, who collected the tolls during the day on the porch of the toll house in her apron. Long before the feminist movement, these ladies were there day in and day out managing their household as well as the work of collecting tolls while their husbands were most likely working in the fields.

Ordinaries, public houses, taverns, and bars like Wick's Tavern sprang up along the toll roads as convenient in-between spots where tired travelers could rest a bit and hear the town news. Built in the 1680s, Wick's Tavern, or Bulls Head Tavern, was located on the northwest corner of "Path to East Hampton" (Montauk Highway) and the "Cart Path to Great Meadows" (Turnpike). The structure, which stood until 1941, housed both colonial and British soldiers in the American Revolution.

John Wick, originally from Huntington and married to Temperance, was known to own a great deal of land and had a bad reputation. Many rumors circulated about him, most notably that he buried a slave alive, stole money, and that his soul was carried out to sea by the Devil after his death.

This exhibit is packed with dates and figures, trinkets and postcards, and even an early E-Z Pass (shown here), but the more interesting facts are the connection between this road and the people who lived on or near it.

The turnpike was an "away" or a "remove" between the villages where the laborers lived. In the early 1800s, immigrants from England, Germany, Poland, and Ireland settled the area and worked the soil. At the end of the Civil War a wave of former slaves headed north from Southern states to work the land and build homes.

In the 1870s the railroad steamed into town connecting Bridgehampton and Sag Harbor and farmers and Griffing brickmakers began to use the rail lines and the tolls dramatically slumped. Eventually abandoned in 1939, there were spurs to the wharf and the brickyard from this main rail line. A glass cabinet shows the influence of the rail with iron spikes and coal cinders. While the railroad moved people away from the turnpike it moved coal into the homes and families began using more coal to heat their homes as opposed to depending on the family wood lot.

A tiny painting by Annie Cooper Boyd (shown here) depicts the toll house.

Bike paths, something found everywhere today, started in the 1890s when bike riders known as the "Wheelmen," who raced the island on the weekends demanded a path or their own. To mark this in the exhibit, a specimen from the WWI era with wooden wheels is on display near photos by Ernest C. Clowes, a writer known for his "Wayfairings" column in the Bridgehampton News.

With all that historians have discovered there are still many unanswered questions stresses Dermont. For example, how much business was there? Did they collect tolls at night or was the road closed? Was it as busy on the weekends as the road is now, relatively speaking?

This exhibition commemorates the time the Bridgehampton Toll House burned in 1909, it also coincides with the 35th anniversary of "The Other Hampton," a book that recorded the history of black life along the turnpike in the Bridgehampton area. An extended version of this exhibition is planned when the Society moves to its new home at the Nathaniel Rogers House on Ocean Road, currently under renovation, in 2011.

A turn of the century postcard used soft colors and is a testament to the fact that even 100 years ago a toll house was a roadside attraction.

 • "Bridgehampton's Historic Turnpike" will be on display Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. until March 6 at the Corwith House, 2369 Montauk Highway, Bridgehampton.

Nicole, an award-winning journalist, is Executive Editor & Publisher of Hamptons.com where she focuses on celebrity interviews, fine living and design, social events, fashion and beauty. She lives on the North Fork with her husband, their two daughters, and Bernese Mountain dog, Cooper. www.hamptons.com HamptonsOnline NicoleBBrewer NicoleBBrewer NicoleBBrewer

Guest (Harold wicks) from Sidney ny says::
Is bull head inn owner John wicks related to John Augustus wicks and his wife annie
Oct 31, 2018 10:06 am

Guest (Harold Wicks) from Sidney ny says::
My great grandfather was john agustus wicks is this the same person
Mar 9, 2017 2:26 pm

Guest (Joanne Spencer) from Jamestown, NY says::
Just found out my husband is a descendant of John Wicks, would like to know how to find more information. Contact me at Gatwickjo@aol.com. Thanks
Jan 19, 2017 4:14 pm


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