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Sag Harbor, a small but fascinating town

Explore its history

As part of Micro Week here at Curbed, HQ requested a guide to the tiniest neighborhood in our area. We decided to settle on the quaint village of Sag Harbor. It's a small place but bursting with history and interest.

micro-week

Today, Sag Harbor is full of interesting shops, art galleries, museums, cutting edge restaurants, Bay Street Theater, and more. But once it was an industrial powerhouse. Sag Harbor was settled sometime between 1707 and 1730. It's named for a tuber the local Native Americans raised called sagabon (as is neighboring Sagaponack). Because it offers a protected deepwater harbor, the town became a very active port. By 1789 Sag Harbor had more tons of square-rigged ships engaged in commerce than even New York; that year, the second Congress declared the town was the first official port upon entering the United States.

The golden age of whaling was between 1818 and 1847—after the end of the War of 1812 and before the discovery of other methods of making kerosene, first being coal oil and later on petroleum. During this period, more than fifty whaleships called Sag Harbor home, and the wealth generated by this activity can still be seen in the elegant homes of Captain's Row.

Whaling was the most important activity associated with Sag Harbor, but as a wealthy industrial town, other commercial activities took place as well. Some far-sighted whaling boat owners and captains built a cotton mill on Washington Street in 1836. As whales became more scarce, whale boats transported cotton instead. Later, Joseph Fahys, who owned a watchcase factory in Queens, built one in Sag Harbor, which was purchased by Bulova in 1936. Today the former factory building houses high-end condominiums.

As a busy, active port, Sag Harbor became a melting pot of different cultures. Native Americans and African Americans, along with Pacific Islanders, West Indians, Creoles, and more, worked on whale ships. At sea, hard work and courage were more important than skin color. One black sailor said, "A colored man is looked upon as a man, and is promoted in rank according to ability to perform the same duties as the white man." Sag Harbor contains some very early African American communities, including Eastville, first noted on maps in 1838. Around 1947, drawing on the diversity of the area, developers Maude Terry and her sister created a community called Azurest aimed at middle class African Americans. Today, Azurest, Eastville, and the other three historically black communities in Sag Harbor—Ninevah Beach, Hillcrest Terrace, and Sag Harbor Hills are facing change with rising real estate values.

Real estate prices have skyrocketed in the village in the past five years and continue to rise. The harbor is now filled with enormous yachts rather than whaleships, and the village struggles with how to best preserve its character.

Places to stay:
American Hotel
45 Main Street, Sag Harbor
Forever Bungalows
765 Rt 114, Sag Harbor
The Sag Harbor Inn
45 W Water St, Sag Harbor

Condos for sale:
Harbor's Edge
21 West Water Street, Sag Harbor

Watchcase
Church Street and Washington Street, Sag Harbor

Sample house listings:
20 Union Street, the summer White House of Chester A. Arthur, for $14.2M.

12 West Henry Street, with an architect-designed modern extension, for $3.5M.

22 Carver Street, a modern designer’s home, for $3.25M.