Mattituck’s Love Lane once ‘an old, old foot path’
Sitting at the Starbucks in Mattituck, Nicholas Planamento looks east to the nearest intersection, Bay Avenue and Main Road.
He overlooks the busy road, the commercial development and the tops of large fiberglass boats waiting for spring at the boatyard on the corner.
What Planamento envisions is the way the area looked hundreds of years ago, when Native Americans would bring their canoes ashore at James Creek, which stretches inland from the Peconic Bay to Main Road.
“Then they would pick up their canoes and drag them up Main Road and across Love Lane. They would get in at Mattituck Creek and paddle across the Sound to Connecticut,” said Planamento, president of the Mattituck-Laurel Historical Society. “Love Lane is just an old, old foot path.”
In 1640, the colonial settlers arrived in Southold, one of the earliest areas to be settled on Long Island, said Norman Wamback, curator of the historical society museum and the “unofficial historian” of Mattituck.
Wamback, 76, who was born in Mattituck, said a group of about 10 Englishmen came from Connecticut to settle Southold. Mattituck was first mentioned in land deeds between the Native Americans and the settlers in 1648, and spelled “Mattatuck.”
“By the early 1700s, the population of Mattituck was about 100,” Wamback said. “By 1800, it was probably around 800, and that’s when things started to grow.”
Since it was settled, famous visitors included George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, Wamback said.
Primarily a community that lived off the land and the water, Mattituck began to change in 1844, when the Long Island Rail Road completed its line to Greenport, putting a station in Mattituck. Even the physical landscape of the hamlet shifted, Wamback said.
“The center of town was considered to be in eastern Mattituck,” he said, referring to the area near historical society museums, where there was a general store and first schoolhouse was built.
At the time, farms were used to sustain families more so than they were a business. When the railroad was built, life grew around it. The center of town shifted to where it is today with a main shopping area on Love Lane, across from the train station.
Hotels popped up to accommodate the area’s new visitors, who came out from Brooklyn for the summers. Businesses dotted Love Lane, including a post office and a bank that was robbed three times throughout its history, Wamback said.
Jeffrey Walden, assistant director of the Mattituck-Laurel Library, said at one time there were probably a dozen hotels, inns and boarding houses in Mattituck. Most were within walking distance of the train station.
“They all had regular clientele,” he said “The same people would come out every summer and all these places built up around the hotels so they could walk there.”
From the late 1800s to the early 1900s, Mattituck experienced a “second awakening,” Walden said. Factories - like Hudson Canning and Penney Lumber - moved into the area and Love Lane grew. The first library was built as well as a few playhouses for entertainment.
The railroad also increased business for farmers, who began shipping their produce to New York City.
“This was a great opportunity for farmers,” Walden said. “The railroad built three or four side tracks in Mattituck because of the high volume of shipments that were going out.”
Unfortunately, not many of the historic buildings around one of Long Island’s oldest communities still stand.
“It’s a shame,” Wamback said. “In the 50s, they tore down a lot of buildings. The attitude was if it wasn’t being used just tear it down. We lost a lot then.”
But the historical society continues to preserve what it can, including two of Mattituck’s schoolhouses, built in 1760 and 1846. The historical society also uses its other buildings as museums, including the Jesse Tuthill house, built by one of Mattituck’s early residents in 1799; and the Ira Tuthill house, an extension to the main house built in 1841 by Jesse Tuthill’s oldest son.
Wamback, who lived and worked in New York City for most of his life and came back to Mattituck after retirement, said the area’s rich history and being part of the effort to preserve it is what keeps him there.
“It’s the history . . . It keeps me occupied and there’s quite a bit of it to focus on,” he said.
Photo: Love Lane in Mattituck back in the early 1900s.