local history:
Shinnecock Canal Canoe Place
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“Colonizing Southampton, The Transformation of a Long Island Community  1870 - 1900”  by David Goddard,         excerpted pages 111-114 copied below

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But with the subsequent decline of Shinnecock Bay, resulting from the inability to maintain a regular outlet to the ocean over the narrow barrier of the South Beach, income had fallen to $30,000 a year. The health of the bay, and with it that of the fishery, the scallop, clam, and mussel beds, was essentially a function of the periodic circulation of the waters in and out of the ocean. In addition to the uncertainty of the inlet and the cost of opening and maintaining it—reckoned at three thousand man-hours in the 1880s—Shinnecock Bay had badly silted up on its south side. A series of winter storms in the 1870s had washed great quantities of sand over the beaches and into the bay rendering it shallow and all but unnavigable except by small boats. It was for the most part land-locked and tideless. The lack of circulation had killed the clam beds and severely depleted the fish stocks. It was principally for this reason that a campaign began in the 1870s to persuade the state legislature to approve construction of a canal connecting Peconic and Shinnecock bays at Canoe Place Pond (now part of the Shinnecock Canal).

The science behind this was that the slightly higher elevation of Peconic Bay (almost a foot), coupled with strong tidal action from Gardiner’s Bay and the Atlantic beyond, should combine to force heavy volumes of water into Shinnecock Bay. This in turn should open an inlet on the South Beach and also prevent it from closing. In northeast storms, when water is pushed by wind and tide against the western shore of Peconic Bay and some of that water is released through a canal, the effect of forcing the opening of an inlet was thought to be the likely result. A canal could then maintain a half-tide, keep the inlet running, and over time carry the sand flats out to sea. Moreover, the water in the Peconics was salt water and that was exactly what Shinnecock Bay and its fishery needed. Such was the theory. In practice, after the canal was built, these effects were less reliable than initially anticipated. Efforts were made through the 1920s to maintain tidal action in the bay, but it was not until the great hurricane of 1938 that the problem was finally solved. The hurricane opened a wide inlet from the ocean that was eventually stabilized and made permanent. Riverhead, and Sag Harbor to the Great South Bay, the Rockaways, and the Lower Bay in New York. These were new reasons, new in the 1880s, and reflected increasing concern over high and monopolistic freight rates imposed on merchants and farmers by the LIRR. A further and not insignificant reason for purifying the waters of Shinnecock Bay by improving circulation was to increase the attractiveness of its shores for summer residents and resort construction. In 1884, Austin Corbin and the Long Island Improvement Company, the new owners of the Shinnecock Hills, brought some pressure to bear in Albany for a new appropriations bill for the canal. From their point of view a land-locked Shinnecock Bay could become a stagnant pond. In summer 1881, the inlet had been closed and the heads of the creeks on the bay became unpleasantly malodorous. Several years later conditions had still not improved. In 1887, the shore of the bay was “white with dead fish” and the bay itself stagnant with muddy water. Did the town want to drive summer visitors away, someone asked in the newspaper, for if it did, “New Jersey stands ready to receive all such”?

But from the vantage point of the baymen a tide-less bay was more than just stagnant , it was dead. Its declining productivity threatened to undercut a good part of their livelihood if the canal was not built. Worse, canal or no canal, access to the bay was in doubt now that Henry Maxwell had gained control of the bottom of it and was about to deliver it into the hands of the LIIC. The canal was eventually built but only after an uphill struggle with a parsimonious legislature. It was finally completed in 1892. Besides this, there was opposition in both the town and the county from many who feared that the state would impose the cost of maintaining the canal on local authorities. And there were others besides who cared little for the plight of the baymen. It was a difficult few years. Without the canal, the chances of maintaining an inlet for any length of time were small with predictable consequences for the health of Shinnecock Bay. The committee of the trustees did succeed in opening the beach in March 1888 but it closed within a month. Opened again in April, it ran wide and deep until late October, so much so that a schooner was reported as passing through it. But it was all too unpredictable, dependent on month-to-month and year-to-year more. The hurricane created a permanent inlet that was eventually stabilized, first with wooden pilings in 1939 and then, beginning in 1952, hardened with the construction of stone jetties. Regardless of the fact that the state had not done much of a good job in the 1880s—although its engineers can hardly be faulted in the absence of adequate resources—it eventually became obvious to everyone that controlling and directing tidal forces was far more complicated than had been imagined. But at least the town had its canal. In particular, it raised the hopes of the baymen whose livelihood was at stake and further fueled their demands for a Free Bay. 27