East Hampton’s Main Street might have drowned in 19th century dust without the efforts of its Ladies’ Village Improvement Society, a civic group that currently offers free or inexpensive things to do and see in one of the Hamptons’ most expensive summer enclaves.
The society was founded in 1895 by 21 local women, who raised money to water down dusty Main Street and sweep crosswalks. Nowadays, the society maintains and preserves local trees, village greens, historic properties and the scenic town pond. In 1987 it bought, rehabilitated and relocated its headquarters to the circa 1740 Gardiner “Brown” House, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Eight rooms in the 20-room house are open to the public, as are the grounds and a nearby nature preserve. It’s hard to miss the grand white mansion in the heart of the village.
“There’s something to interest anybody who comes to visit,” says Mary Anna Jun-Morris, general manager.
Here are five ways to enjoy a day with the civic-minded ladies of East Hampton.
1. PICNIC ON A BENCH IN THE SUNKEN GARDEN
The Sunken Garden is believed to have been built for a 1920s wedding. In summer it’s abloom with day lilies, hostas, astilbes, Japanese iris, daffodils, and other annuals and perennials. The garden is set against a backdrop of ferns, stone walls and a stone water fountain.
2. SHOP FOR A BARGAIN
The society’s thrift shop, bookstore and furniture barn are crammed with donations from the town’s affluent residents, yet sold at astonishing nonprofit prices. “Right now, we do have Prada shoes in the store for $20,” Morris says. She adds, “We always have beautiful designer menswear, too.” What’s in stock varies from day to day because the bargain items tend to fly out the door, Morris says.
3. SEE THE OCTAGON DOLLHOUSE
The dollhouse, which is displayed in the foyer, was built by noted West Coast craftsman Noel Thomas, in the Revival architectural style of the 1800s. It was donated by a local woman for “safekeeping and public enjoyment,” according to society member Jean Rickenbach. “It’s a museum-quality dollhouse,” Rickenbach says. Inside the three-story, one-twelfth scale, 5-foot-4-inch dollhouse, chandeliers light up, and rooms are filled with exquisitely detailed miniature furniture. Two vertical stained-glass windows flank the front door. For the Fourth of July, the dollhouse’s wraparound porch will be festooned with red-whiteand-blue banners.
4. STROLL THE NATURE TRAIL
The society’s 24 woodsy acres are near the ocean and Main Street, “right in the heart of some of the most expensive real estate on the planet,” says nature trail chairwoman Dianne Benson. Crisscrossed by trails and 21 footbridges, it’s home to deer, rabbits, red fox, a muskrat, geese, swans, and mallard and wood ducks. Best place to see wildlife: the so-called “duck pond” — actually the widest part of the waterway that runs through the property, Benson says.
5. BUY BEACH PLUM PRESERVES
Homemade jams, jellies and baked goods are an annual treat at an event co-chair Bonnie Pizzorno calls “an old-fashioned country fair.” The 121st such affair is 10 a.m.-5 p.m. July 29. The homemade beach plum preserves are made from fruit plucked in secret spots on the village’s exclusive sandy soil. Also at the fair: a kiddie carousel and flower booths stocked by downtown shops. Ina Garten, host of Food Network’s “Barefoot Contessa,” will be promoting and signing her new cookbook.
East Hampton Ladies’ Village Improvement Society
WHEN | WHERE 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays, 95 Main St., East Hampton
INFO 631-324-1220, lvis.org