Man-made Vineyard Field: A History of the Land
Plans to develop the 74 acres of Vineyard Field and Woods into a 9-hole golf course and 8-lot subdivision had progressed between 1993 and 1997, when the Friends of Black Pond, joined by Southampton Trails Preservation Society, the Group for the South Fork, and the Sabin Conservation Fund, initiated a successful campaign to preserve the land. In 1997, Skip Heaney announced that the Town of Southampton approved the purchase of the 39 acres of former agricultural land, and County Executive Robert Gaffney announced that Suffolk County would buy the 31 acres of woodland.
Following the preservation, the Friends of Black Pond recognized that continued vigilance was needed to protect the Greenbelt, so the group evolved into the Friends of the Long Pond Greenbelt 10 years ago.
10,000 years ago, the glacier was receding, leaving behind a wet outwash plain at Vineyard Field and Woods. Over time the land vegetated into oak woodland and remained unaltered by humans, except for possible disturbance by Indians at Black Pond. Settlers from Southampton probably made the first mark on the land in 1690 when they cut a cart path (now the Bridgehampton-Sag Harbor Turnpike) to what is now Sag Harbor and thus defined the land’s western border. Merchants Path (now Narrow Lane and Haines Path) lay to the south and east.
The next two man-made changes to the land occurred before 1750. Its distance from settlers and its solid woodland made it the perfect setting for a smallpox house in the days when isolation was the only accepted defense against the disease. When Dr. Silas Halsey inoculated his patients, Southampton Town prosecuted him for doing so in 1772. He may have treated Lemuel Howell, a descendent of a Southampton Town Founder, Edward Howell, who died at the Pock House. Lemuel owned the fulling mill at Sag Swamp.
The available wood probably attracted Daniel Moore to build the first farm house on a portion of the land located opposite Norris Lane. Any foundation left would be under the LIRR tracks running to East Hampton, which were laid in 1893.
Sometime about 1850 Lester Bennett built the farm house, now occupied by John the Locksmith. Three generations of Bennetts cleared and farmed a portion of the land until the mid-1930s, when Mike Skonieczny bought the farmhouse. With his sons, he farmed the land and, after World War ll, most significantly, he dug the pond on the east side of the field. Mike’s daughter married Carl Yastrzemski, and during the time they lived in the farmhouse, their son, “Yaz,” was born in 1939. Batting left-handed, he grew up to win the Triple Crown, while playing for the Red Sox.
Other owners and renters followed until 1979, when Lyle Greenfield, in the name of the Bridgehampton Winery, attempted to raise grapes and produce fine wines on the parcel. When cultivating the land, he dug the pond on the west side of the field behind SoFo’s museum. The winery failed, and the South Fork Natural History Society purchased the winery building in 1997 and reconstructed it to create the present museum.
Skonieczny and Greenfield ponds attracted endangered tiger salamanders, and the field soon hosted several species of rare and common plants and declining species of fauna dependent on a grassland habitat.
The Friends of the Long Pond Greenbelt’s grassland restoration project is a continuation of this series of man-made alterations that benefit flora and fauna at Vineyard Field.