The Mysterious Cottages on Dune Road
By Carla Zarse
If you have ever have taken a drive down Dune Road in Westhampton Beach, you are sure to notice the various assortment of beautiful summer homes and cottages lined evenly along the each side of the road. From the old style wooden shingled houses to the modern designed summer homes, it appears that no two structures are alike. Well, that is until you pass by six little cottages located on the bay side at 496 Dune Road.
You really cannot miss them, as they tend to lend their unique matching square shape pointy grey roofs to an era of Westhampton Beach that has long since passed. The six little cottages, two by two, three in a row, are divided by a single board walk that leads directly to the bay.
It was the fall of 1943 my grandfather purchased a 950 square foot lot at 496 Dune Road. On one side stood the six little cottages, and on the empty lot, nothing but a few brush pines, beach roses, and poison ivy. He paid a whopping $10,000, give or take a few hundred dollars for everything.
At that time of my grandfather’s purchase, Dune Road looked nothing like it does today. It was scattered with shingled cottages and empty lots, barren of the modern beach homes that stand today. The hurricane of 1938 had stripped the area to an almost desolate plain, with only a few houses standing nature’s wrath. But in the span of five short years, houses were being either rebuilt or replaced and my grandfather’s new purchase was one of them.
For my grandfather, becoming a beach house owner was a bit of a change of pace from his lifelong career of dairy farming. He was in his 60’s and wanted to enjoy a life a little bit as the life of farming took had taken its toll. The idea of retirement of summers at the beach was his grand plan. His new purchase was not an easy road to retirement as the property always seemed to have something that needed to be fixed but my grandfather loved to tinker around and fix things. He had found his new project and dove in, head first.
The cottages, at the time of purchase, were known as ‘The West Bay Cabanas’ and were as basic as basic could be. Each cottage came with the absolute minimum, which included a two burner hot plate, furniture, a bathroom, kitchen sink and an old fashioned icebox. No hot water was available and ice was delivered upon request. But they provided beds, a few deck chairs and the ability to stay a night or more at the beach. But most importantly, they provided free access to both the bay for fishing and clamming and the beautiful ocean across the road for swimming and sunbathing. The best of both words were at your feet for a few dollars a night.
Renters, at that time, used to joke that if you planned to have a boiled lobster dinner you had to start the pot of water first thing in the morning in order for it to be hot enough to reach a boil by sunset. But despite the small pitfalls, the most beautiful sunsets were always abundant.
The exact history of where these half dozen cottages came from is not 100% certain but it has been said that they were originally World War I barracks for soldiers in training from Camp Upton in Yaphank, Long Island. The Military base “closed in 1921 and all buildings were auctioned and removed.”(1). It is not known exactly when these cottages first were moved to, but it was said that they appeared on Dune Road sometime after the 1938 hurricane.
While they were still at Camp Upton, the bungalows did not have their classic pointed four sided roofs but instead, were covered in canvas with just the wooden frame. When my grandfather purchased the property in 1943, they each had a new tar shingled roof in their now unique pointed shape.
Over the following years, more structures were added to the property. The first to be added was a work shed from my grandfather’s dairy farm in Huntington, Long Island. My grandfather had it moved and hauled all the way from Huntington to Dune Road. Until the day the property was finally sold, this cottage was reserved for the family. It was never rented out and was left for all of his children, grandchildren, and many grandchildren to enjoy.