Postcards donated to historical society tell story of bygone era

11/03/2019 6:00 AM |

“Have just arrived here in a little sailboat from Sag Harbor with ten other fellows. Having a fine time. Yours, Fred.”

This greeting, written in inky, neat script, appeared on a postcard sent from an Orient boarding house in 1905.

It’s one of nearly 100 postcards from the turn of the century that used to decorate the entryway at Orient by the Sea, depicting everything from the ornate resorts of the time period to bungalows on Rocky Point Road, fishing and sailing to farming and potatoes.

Now with the landmark restaurant under new ownership, the framed relics have been saved by the Oysterponds Historical Society.

Longtime Orient by the Sea owner Bob Haase said he acquired the collection two decades ago from Frank and Janet Clark, who summered on Shelter Island and stopped in often for lunch overlooking Gardiner’s Bay.

“One day he called me over and said ‘Bob, check this out.’ He had an album full of old postcards,” Mr. Haase said. “I wanted to get copies made to make a collage, put it on the wall and hear stories from the old timers,” he said, about the old boarding houses or Mount Pleasant Inn.

The following summer, the Clarks came in for lunch and presented Mr. Haase with two frames: one of East Marion postcards and the other of Orient postcards, matted and ready to be hung. He said he’d loan them to Mr. Haase for as long as he’d like.

The agreement came to mind as the restaurant property sold earlier this year for $3.9 million to businessman Marc Rowan, founder of Apollo Global Management who also owns Duryea’s Lobster Deck in Montauk and Lulu Kitchen & Bar in Sag Harbor.

Unsure about what to do with the postcards, the Clarks agreed with Mr. Haase’s suggestion to donate them to the historical society.

A postcard dated Aug. 12, 1905. (Credit: Tara Smith)

Executive director Sarah Mills Sands said that though some of the postcards may be duplicates of items already in their collection, but they are an important addition. “They’ll be in our archives, so they’ll be preserved forever,” she said.

She’s hoping to find a spot to hang them in their new offices, located in the Vail House on their Village Lane campus.

“It’s a very important record of the community, to have postcards from that period,” said Ann ffolliott , who chairs the society’s collections committee. “We have a lot of photographs too, but [postcards] are how communities were represented to the outside world. So this is how people would have known about East Marion and Orient.”

Ms. ffolliott said the postcards also capture how the two communities distinguished themselves as seasonal destinations. “You could take a steamship from [New York City] to the wharf here and stay in these tiny little rooms. Part of the whole tourist experience is sending postcards to people,” she said.

“It was the early 20th century Instagram,” Ms. Sands joked.

Both agreed that the community would miss Orient by the Sea, and are honored to preserving a piece of its history.

“It was convenient and had a beautiful view that you didn’t have to cross the causeway for,” Ms. Sands said.

Mr. Haase assured the property would be in good hands. “They’ll be doing some renovating. It’s going to be really nice,” he said.

The bittersweet decision to sell came after 41 seasons. Mr. Haase’s parents bought the property in 1979 and he began running the restaurant in his twenties.

“Last year was hard getting help. I said you know what, maybe it’s time. But then at the beginning of the season I said, ‘oh boy, did I do the right thing?’ Because I know nothing else,” Mr. Haase said.

But he won’t be too far away. He’s agreed to manage the 95-slip marina at the property and is known to make guest appearances helping out at Porto Bello restaurant, which is owned by his wife, Diana DiVello. He’s mostly looking forward to spending time with the couple’s eight grandchildren.

Last month, loyal regulars stopped by the restaurant on its last night to say goodbye. “People were giving me a pat on the back and telling me how much they’re going to miss the place,” Mr. Haase said. “It was a good feeling.”

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