“Here They Come!”
“Here They Come!”
A Memoir by Ryan Ball
It was the mid 1960s. Growing up on Long Island, my father would always take us out to Sag Harbor every weekend to the old A&P for a few sandwiches. We would relax out on the long wharf, checking out the larger fishing boats docked in the area. Sometimes, we would take a stroll through downtown or go for drives around the harbor to explore the area. One day, my father drove us down this long road that never seemed to end; it was called Swamp Road. It winded down through the woods until it came to a clearing on Northwest Landing road. Finally, we were staring at the Northwest Creek.
We drove down the wharf until we spotted a small shack. My father got out of the car and approached the shack. It was John Overton’s fishing station, and my father loved it. John Overton was a colorful character; he was a bayman who worked from the old fishing station. He spent his days gillnetting blue fish, clamming and scalloping (when in season) in the Northwest Harbor off camp St. Regis. The upkeep and maintenance of the fishing station, along with its fourteen rental skiffs, were becoming a burden to Mr. Overton. In the winter of 1969, my father purchased Overton’s fishing station on two conditions: Mr. Overton was allowed to come and go as he pleased, and he could dock his boat there.
Spring of 1969 came very quickly. My father, my siblings and I were working at Overton’s fishing station for the season. My brother and I were in charge of preparing the bait and fishing skiffs for rentals. One morning, the sun had barely risen over the Northwest Harbor when I heard him call out, “Here they come!” We looked south to see the old bus rumbling up Swamp Road, then onto Northwest Landing Road. We knew that our quiet fishing station would soon be greeted by all types of people from up island and beyond.
Barely reaching a full stop, the overloaded bus of weekenders, ready to grab their piece of fishing glory, jumped off and ran full speed towards the boats. They were eager to seize their opportunity at some of the best fishing on Long Island. The renters would each get a skiff and head into the Northwest Harbor, between Barcelona point and Cedar Point lighthouse. The skiff renters were given mussels and clam bellies for bait, and we even dyed the clam bellies pink or yellow to help attract the flounder. Then, they would head out to fish from sun up to sundown.
The excitement these people wore on their faces, just to be out fishing for the day, always made me crack a smile. We were “The closest station to the best flounder fishing,” (that was our slogan for those few years at Overton’s.) My father always told the patrons, “If you lineup Cedar Point lighthouse and Barcelona Point, just east of Sag Harbor Bay, you would end up in just the right spot for the catch of the day.” The fishing there never disappointed.
Some renters would cruise on past the Cedar Point lighthouse, right out into Gardiners Bay. Some of the more experienced fisherman would leave Overton’s and try their luck near Tobaccolot Shoals off of Gardiners Island. When they began heading out that way, we knew flounder fishing was coming to a close. We always told our customers to return at dusk. One time, a fisherman did not. We waited and waited for him to return. Finally, my mother received a phone call late in the evening from a government official. The missing renter seemed to have lost his way and landed on Plum Island! I’ll never forget that day because we had to wait well into the night for his safe return.
The weekends at Overton’s Fishing Station were always bustling with people buying bait, tackle, soda pop and whatever else was needed for a day out on the harbor. During our downtime, my siblings and I would sail our sunfish up and down Northwest Creek. My dad would never let us past the Cedar Point Lighthouse. We had a paddle boat too, and we would paddle up and down the nearby mosquito ditches along the creek. If we were in the mood, we would do some digging for surf clams around Overton’s. At times, we even had some fishing competition now and then amongst the customers at Overton’s. A man once put ten sinkers in a flounder’s mouth to try and win a wager. My mother caught him red handed and he was disqualified from the competition!
We spent a few years there at Overton’s fishing station, and I haven’t spoken much about it until now. Around 1971, my father purchased property near the fishing station from another gentleman named Dewey Hand, in the hopes of one day building a home there. My father wanted to settle down on the Northwest Harbor and reside there for good. At the time, we were traveling out from Sayville every weekend. Later on, Suffolk County purchased all of the property just south of the old fishing station from the Grace Steamship Line, and it became Northwest Harbor County Park. My father decided that instead of building a home overlooking the Northwest Harbor, he would purchase a home in East Hampton village. He purchased the Lyman Beecher house, which was the home of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s father. It is now known as East Hampton Village Hall.
We lived in this home for a few years, and worked at Overton’s fishing station during the spring and summer months. As childhood ended and adulthood began, things started to change for us. My father sold off each boat one by one to locals for clamming and scalloping. The completion of Sunrise Highway in the early to mid 1970’s also brought change to the area; there was more traffic, more people…more everything! The Hampton Jitney started around this time as well with a small fleet of vans. It was a turning point in the east end’s history.
Although the east end is a much different place now than it once was, its charm and authenticity remain. Sag Harbor still has that quaint village feel, despite all the changes and growth of the area. Whenever I have the chance, I like to take a drive up Swamp Road and onto Northwest Landing road all the way to the end. The area is still virtually untouched and exactly how it was hundreds of years ago. I will always have the memories of the Old Northwest Harbor and the many faces we came across over those years. The old fishing station still stands today, and visiting it reminds me of quieter days on the east end; a place where time seemed to slow down. My family and I didn’t know it at the time, but we were living and working in one of the most beautiful places on earth.