When Pat McIntyre wants her mail, she drives to the picture-perfect, stamp-size New Suffolk Post Office to pick it up. That’s because there’s no mail delivery for the 403 residents of the 316 homes in this 0.72-square-mile hamlet tucked into a bend of the Peconic River on the North Fork.
“Everybody likes that: That’s where you meet everybody,” says McIntyre, 75, a retired IBM system integration partner.
In 1986, McIntyre took part in the annual American Youth Hostels bicycle ride from Manhattan to the Mattituck Strawberry Festival, and stayed overnight at a friend’s cottage in New Suffolk. She borrowed the cottage a few more times, falling for the relaxed vibe of people walking, cycling, fishing and simply sitting and having coffee on the porch of the old post office. “It was community, folksy,” McIntyre recalls.
After renting in the hamlet, McIntyre bought her 1970s two-story cedar shingled home in 2000, spent weekends there for five years, and finally moved permanently from Manhattan.
Recently, a new generation of homebuyers has discovered the charms of New Suffolk, and some longtime residents are worried about the changes, with large houses going up and more traffic and demand on services.
“What I’ve seen happen to our community is heartbreaking,” says Joe Polashock, 76, president of the New Suffolk Civic Association, whose parents moved there in 1947. “We’re being overrun. Especially since the pandemic, it’s gotten worse with people coming in and buying up everything there is to buy.”
Lazy beach days, boat races
For many years, New Suffolk was a bustling port and shipbuilding center with factories, including a pickle packing plant, and boardinghouses dotting the shoreline. Oyster and scallop harvesting were thriving industries, as were the lumberyards that processed wood shipped from upstate used to build local farmhouses.
Though the factories and lumberyards have long been shuttered, time seems to stand still in New Suffolk, home of the first U.S. submarine base, where the USS Holland, the Navy’s first modern commissioned submarine, was built, tested and launched between 1899 and 1905.
“When you drive down the two main roads that go into New Suffolk, at various times you’re passing farms, or you’re passing waterways — you actually have vistas,” says Thomas McCloskey, 59, an agent with Douglas Elliman Real Estate. “You can see the horizon.”
Summers in New Suffolk mean lazy days at New Suffolk Beach on Peconic Bay, which has a boardwalk, playground, grills, picnic tables and boat ramp and is open to all Town of Southold residents, and boat races to Robins Island hosted by the Peconic Bay Sailing Association, which also puts on the annual July Fourth boat parade.
The hamlet is also home to the quaint New Suffolk Common School, a circa-1907 red schoolhouse with three classrooms that serves students from pre-K to sixth grade. Eight students currently attend.
From there, students go on to Southold Junior-Senior High School (18 currently attend), with New Suffolk paying Southold tuition, says Tony Dill, 82, school board president for the past two decades.
In one classroom a teacher instructs pre-kindergarteners to second-graders in every subject; in the second, another teaches English, social studies and history to third- to sixth-grade students; and in the third, a teacher gives math and science lessons to the third- to sixth-graders.
Such an intimate academic setting “gives the kids a good basis for setting up their socialization,” says Dill, noting that on the flip side, with low enrollment, you can end up with a sole student in a class.
Protections, new tensions
Over time, there were multiple threats of development of the 2½-acre waterfront property at the corner of First and Main that led to a drive to protect the land and the formation in 2005 of the New Suffolk Waterfront Fund, which acquired the property through the Peconic Land Trust, with further protection via a New York State parks easement.
When the post office on Main burned down in 1989, residents fought to have it replaced so they wouldn't have to go to Cutchogue for their mail and so they could keep their 11956 ZIP code.
“It’s the kind of community that everybody gets engaged, everyone works on things for the community,” says McIntyre, vice chair of the Waterfront Fund.
Despite the pastoral setting, abundant beauty and laid-back atmosphere, tensions have been mounting.
When the Waterfront Fund got underway, some longtime residents weren’t happy with some of the plans, and felt somewhat bulldozed by newcomers advocating for change.
“I see it when I go up and down the steps of the post office and a lot of people don’t say hello to each other when they pass,” says George Cork Maul, who lives next door to the post office and owns both buildings.
A former builder who works full-time composing classical music — he is treasurer of the Long Island Composers Alliance — Maul, 69, would often leave his Patchogue home and cruise around in search of building lots or handyman specials to renovate, when a real estate agent directed him to New Suffolk.
“She showed it to me and I fell in love with the location,” Maul says, noting that in 1990 he paid $135,000 for the 50-by-150-foot property just steps from New Suffolk Beach.
At the time, 375 First Street was a bait shack and the house next door — known as Moldy Manor — was an uninsulated bungalow. Keeping his main residence in Patchogue, Maul renovated the bait shop as a summer cottage.
“By a strange series of events, the United States Postal Service came to me and said, ‘We want to rent your cottage for a post office in New Suffolk,’” recalls Maul. The building has housed the post office since 1993.
He then went to work on the house next door, the former Moldy Manor, which he’s been living in full time for the past 17 years, and is now building a house nearby. “I’m going to move around the corner when it gets busy and then come back over here in the winter when it gets quiet,” Maul says.
Over the past decade, McCloskey has sold about 180 homes throughout the North Fork, but, because of its diminutive size, only did a handful of transactions in New Suffolk.
He has seen prices rise, maybe faster than in neighboring areas, McCloskey says, noting that he listed a house in April on Fourth Street for $699,000 that needed work on its roof, siding, heating and electric, and promptly got 10 offers. It closed for $796,000.
After living in the hamlet 11 years, McCloskey is selling his home on New Suffolk Avenue and moving to Southport, North Carolina, where he’ll be able to go boating year-round. He purchased his New Suffolk home, a 3,300-square-foot, three-bedroom Dutch Colonial on a ½-acre, for $800,000, listed it for $1.795 million, and has an accepted offer.
There are just two houses on the market in the hamlet: a three-bedroom Colonial on George Road listed for $1.175 million with $5,438 in property taxes, and a three-bedroom two-story cedar shake house with a cottage on Orchard Street being sold “as-is” that is asking $695,000 with $2,109 in taxes.
There isn’t much new construction in the area, other than a near-completed spec project on New Suffolk Road across from New Suffolk Shipyard, asking $2.3 million, and Maul’s new house on Fourth and Orchard, says McCloskey.
One reason for the lack of construction is that many people preserve land they own from being developed, McCloskey explains.
“They don’t necessarily want neighbors,” he says.” I can think of three or four building lots that are vacant, but there’s no plans for developing them. Quite honestly, if people were looking to cash out, the last two years would have been the time to do it.”
When she bought Legends restaurant and the house and cottage behind it in New Suffolk’s western end 28 years ago, Diane Harkoff recalls that area was somewhat blighted.
“There were abandoned automobiles and boats on the property across the street from us,” says Harkoff, 70, who lives in Mattituck and is planning to retire as soon as she sells the properties, which are listed for $4.25 million. The building next door was boarded up. Across the street the general store and post office had been destroyed in a fire.
“Our family thought we were nuts for buying in New Suffolk,” Harkoff says. “Over the years it’s gradually improved and new people are coming in.”
Back in the 1940s, New Suffolk was a thriving community with a supermarket — now an artist’s studio — and a few gas stations. “I’ve been told by the elders that everybody who used to live in New Suffolk used to work in New Suffolk way back when,” Harkoff says.
With her restaurant situated across from the New Suffolk Waterfront Fund, Harkoff has a view of yoga on the lawn, evenings of jazz, lectures on the deck, summer soirees, and plein-air painting. Established 50 years ago to conserve the rural atmosphere of New Suffolk, the civic association also hosts events, including concerts on the ballfield, community picnics, yard sales, Earth Day cleanups, and the July Fourth parade.
While all that activity creates community bonding, Polashock notes, it also attracts more and more people, which adds to overbuilding and perennial parking problems.
Polashock resents new buyers tearing down old homes and replacing them with mini-mansions. “We want to preserve," he says. "We just don’t want to see the place overbuilt, overrun and overused.”
Maul sees his community changing as well, and is worried.
“Out here on the North Fork we like to think we’re different from the rest of Long Island,” Maul says. “And I don’t know how much longer that will be true.”