How I Found Sag Harbor

Written By: Claire Halbardier

Claire Halbardier July 31, 13 How I Found Sag Harbor I found Sag Harbor quite by accident in June 1991, while staying in Bridgehampton for a week at the second home my son Eric and wife Karen had recently built. My first day out, I turned right onto the Bridgehampton Sag Harbor Turnpike, in a northerly direction. It took me into the whaling village of Sag Harbor, ten minutes away. In a large pond to the right, I saw egrets, ducks, swans, geese and a blue heron. On the bridge, I could see water flowing swiftly from Otter Pond to Upper Sag Harbor Cove (names learned later), as the tide ran out. Later in the day, it went in the opposite direction. Soon, Canio’s Books was at my left, and the Cove Deli was on my right. I then saw homes in various architectural styles from different periods. There was a New York style brick two-story, Victorian, Greek Revival, Federal, Italianate, Colonial examples, some with additions, a bungalow, a stucco house next to the Sag Harbor Historical and Whaling Museum and Masonic Lodge, sitting proudly across from the John Jermain Memorial Library. There were signs of aging and disrepair in both homes and their fences along Main Street. It was a small village of historic stature and they called it the “UnHampton.” The residential area spilled into the shopping district. A few shops in old residences gradually blended into shops with apartments upstairs. I continued on Main Street, onto the long wharf, reaching far into the water. I parked on the wharf and made my way to the shops, restaurants, movie theatre, and a branch of Canio’s Books. There were wooden benches along Main Street and Long Wharf calling out to my weary soul. I sat on the East side of Main Street, basking in the sun. In 1996, Jeff was looking for a summer rental, and he invited me to join him, staying at Eric and Karen’s place. I asked him to drop me off in Sag Harbor for the afternoon. He could pick me up later at The Corner Bar, where I planned to have a bowl of New England clam chowder. I inhaled the invigorating smell of salt water, as I headed for The Corner Bar, with the Sag Harbor Express to check the classifieds. To my surprise, there were several apartments in Sag Harbor listed in the $650 to $750 a month range. When I told my waitress, she was certain they were already taken. “You mean one must act fast?” “Yes.” Jeff arrived with the good news that he had rented a studio cottage in Water Mill, a short distance from Sag Harbor. It had a comfy-looking front porch and looked homey. He offered it to me any time his work required travelling. We went to the Ocean Road Beach to inhale the salt air and relax. We were sitting on a log, bracing against the wind and cold (it was April, felt like February), the sound of the waves comforting us, when I suddenly jumped up. “I know what I’m going to do. I’ll move to Sag Harbor!” In shock, Jeff replied “Now? You are not going to quit your job, are you?” “Not now. When I retire in 1999.” Every evening, I had a glass of wine and nibbles on the porch of Jeff’s Water Mill cottage. Later, I listened to local news and music on Jeff’s stereo (there was no TV), as I casually ate my takeout dinner from the Dock House on Sag Harbor’s Long Wharf. I enjoyed my peaceful evenings alone, until the night I was listening to the broadcast of a local firefighters carnival. There were frequent friendly, cheerful shouts, “Come on down and join us!” Slowly, the voices of joy changed, as reports of a plane crash off the southern coast of Long Island, near Center Moriches, trickled in. Announcers kept saying over and over again that the accident must not have been major, as no firemen were leaving. Suddenly, alarmed voices began reporting the scene was changing, and it became clear the firemen were making a mass exodus. A TWA Flight 800 (Boeing 747) had crashed into Long Island Sound, leaving no survivors. The happy voices that had echoed loudly “join the fun” soon became frightened voices reporting the disaster. It was an evening spent in Water Mill that I would never forget. Eric and Karen sold their second home in Bridgehampton in 1997 and moved to New Canaan, Connecticut when Christopher started school. I did not think I would be going to Sag Harbor again. When fall arrived, I realized Sag Harbor was in my blood. A Chamber of Commerce listing on Sag Harbor’s website showed a guest room off Main Street near Otter Pond, a pleasant walk into town. I called and made a reservation. When I called to confirm, I learned his wife had also taken a reservation for all three rooms for the same weekend. They offered me a room in their former ranch home in the same neighborhood, or a room in their daughter’s home nearby, and I agreed. Gabe and his wife Diane took me to the ranch home, also off Main Street, one block nearer the center of the village, and I accepted it readily. They were leaving for the weekend, but Gabe assured me all the neighbors had been alerted that I would be staying there. “Everyone knows me,” Gabe said warmly. Then they showed me the apartment with the three rooms upstairs in their home, and the charming room I would have the next time, with a bay window with stained glass and a window seat. Diane said it would be “Claire’s room.” There was a warm friendliness in those words, and I planned to return soon. On my next visit, Diane picked me up downstreet, giving me a big hug when she arrived. “You work in a library? I knew there was a reason I liked you.” She was a Friend of the John Jermain Memorial Library and their bookkeeper. I stayed at their home every other weekend for over a year before I decided to start looking for an apartment. In June 1999, six months before I would retire, Jeff asked me to look at a guest room he found in the Sag Harbor Express classifieds. There were also three apartments in the building. The building was on Main Street, around the corner from Gabe and Diane’s place, a convenient location in the Historic District. Two of the apartments were above Canio’s Books, the renowned bookstore, which I would enjoy. The landlady said she had a two-bedroom and a one-bedroom upstairs. I told her I would be in interested in the one bedroom. Unfortunately, the tenant planned to renew his lease in January. But, in the same breath, she asked for my name and telephone number. When a promising loft was advertised and I told the landlady I could come the day after Thanksgiving, she promised she would wait those few days because I was the kind of tenant she wanted. When we met, she approached me with an “I’m sorry. It’s. been rented.” Crushed, I had to trust that something better was out there. What to do? Diane graciously offered to look at any apartment I was interested in and give them a deposit check. When I arrived back in Manhattan that Sunday night, I found a telephone message from the landlady about the one bedroom apartment above Canio’s. The apartment might be available in January. Was I interested? Gabe and Diane would look at it. After an eternity, they called: “You will love it, Claire. It’s just right for you. A check was not necessary.” It was an honor deal. I was impressed. Jeff said he could drive me to Sag Harbor before Christmas. Off we went! I loved the apartment, and Jeff did also. The landlady would not take a check because the lease was not ready, but she would send it soon. Jeff and I went downstreet to admire the Christmas decorations in Sag Harbor. What a picturesque village. I was so happy. Though I had a few nervous moments, the lease arrived a week before my moving date of January 21, 2000. That year, I became a Friend of the John Jermain Library, manager of the Museum Store at the Whaling Museum, and joined the Steeple Committee at the Old Whalers Church. End