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Dramatic Structure

A little something we put together for a Canoe Place Inn gathering held over the weekend:

While our publication has always endeavored to provide a view to the past, to the people we used to be and the places we used to live, it is often difficult to for us to achieve this aim.  The reason is simple: the people we interview can only reveal what they, themselves, have seen and they can only be so old.

So it is with that in mind that one of our more enterprising journalists, Newton Montauk, decided to interview someone who was far older than any single person could be, someone who has seen everything that has happened in this area since people first started living here.  We hope you are pleased by the result.
Newton Montauk:  Thank you for taking the time to visit with our readers.  I suppose it makes the most sense to start simply: how did you get your start?

Canoe Place Inn:  Well, to answer just as simply, I started by taking care of weary travellers.

NM:  Were there many?

CPI:  What?  No, not at first.  There wasn’t much here back then, no settlers, a few natives in the distance.  But a couple of – well, we can’t really call them roads, but trails, maybe – met at the bottom of the hill to the west.  If you were headed to Southampton, you had to come right past here.  There was no other way, unless you owned a boat, and if you did own a boat, you might still come here, to get from one bay to the other.  So, we got some weary travellers.

NM:  Isn’t “traveler” spelled with one “L”?

CPI:  Well, it is here in America, today, but we were all very British back then, don’t you know.  Very British.  So I used the British spelling.  How very clever of you to pick that up.  But it was Queen Anne who gave me my charter – and you can’t get much more British than her, not like that Hanoverian lot.  To supply both man and beast, she said, and that’s what I did: beds and stables, food and feed.

NM:  Queen Anne?  When was this?

CPI:  Oh, it was the early 1700’s or so, I think, but I had already been around for fifty or sixty years by then, in one form or another.  It was just the perfect place for an inn.  A crossroads, you might say.

NM:  And you were always the Canoe Place Inn?

CPI:  Or the inn at Canoe Place.  Sometimes I was named after the current owner, but people always thought of me when they thought of Canoe Place.  It wasn’t until fairly recently that people got silly with my name.  Does this look anything like Oak Beach?  Hmm?  I ask you.  And what the hell do peaches have to do with Long Island?  Some even wanted to use just my initials, like I was a favorite president or something, or they named me after Roman architecture.  Why!?  Do I look the slightest bit Roman to you?  Suffice it to say, I have had many names, but I have always been Canoe Place.

NM:  Yes, you have had many names.  No, you don’t look Roman.  But you haven’t always looked like you do now, have you?

CPI:  No, of course not.  Do you?  Does anyone?  I have had my share of facelifts, some of them more profound than others.  The same can be said for many Hollywood stars.  I have also grown larger over the years, like so many of us.  But I have always been me.

NM:  Is it true that you are the oldest hostelry on Long Island?

CPI:  Yes, I think so, but I have never been anywhere but here, so how would I know?  Maybe the oldest in the country, some think, but I’d rather doubt that.  I mean, what would be the odds, hmm?

NM:  Were you always a first-class destination?

CPI:  Oh, I was never a destination at all, not until the Twentieth Century.  Before then, people who stayed here were just stopping on their way through.  The few locals might stop in for a drink now and then, but it was mostly different people every night, some never to return, though I did have some regulars, even in the early days.  But Canoe Place wasn’t a place to stay, it was a gateway to points elsewhere.  Oh, except for one group.  They came and they stayed.

NM:  Who was that?

CPI:  Well, it was the British Army, wasn’t it, during your revolution.

NM:  “My” revolution?

CPI:  Well, mine too, I suppose, but at the time, I was still very British and very much had to stay that way.  They were soldiers, after all.

NM:  And they stayed here at the inn?

CPI:  Yes!  Well, just some of the officers, thank God for small favors.  Could you imagine two hundred dragoons in here, marching around in muddy boots?  I’d still be scrubbing.  But most of them were up in the fort they built on the hill behind me.

NM:  What were they doing here?

CPI:  It was a revolution, wasn’t it?  They were maintaining the citizenry for King and Country, or some such.  And they were securing a strategic location.  As I said, this is and was a crossroads.  Put some men and some canons up on that hill and nobody can go anywhere, east or west, north or south.  Anyhow, they came and they stayed, for quite some time.  As a group, in any case; some of the individuals came and went.  One of them was quite infamous, as it happens.  He got himself hung for espionage, colluding with one Benedict Arnold over the surrender of West Point.  Major John Andre’ he was.  An artistic sort of person, poems and paintings.  But he was a young man and, in war – well, fortunes of war and all that.

NM:  And after the war?

CPI:  After the war, the British were gone, but others came.  Not to the inn – not all of them.  Some of them came to stay, to live here.  They were here for the fishing and the clamming.  Finally, I had neighbors.

NM:  How did you like that?

CPI:  It worked out well, I think.  In addition to lodging weary travellers, I became the neighborhood pub, as it were, with all the plusses and minuses that this entailed.  Young men drink, you know, and not always well.  In the years after the Civil War, we got something of a reputation.  Of course, a lot of things changed and I became much more about food and drink than lodging.

NM:  What caused the change?

CPI:  The railroad, in the 1870’s – that was the big change.  No need to stop for the night if you are on the train.  Then, a decade later, they made the canal, so there was more boat traffic, but little overland portage.  Pretty soon, the only way to get people to stop by was to feed them well and feed them well we did.  Between better roads and boat access, I became a favorite wine and dine for the upper classes in Southampton.  Around the time of the First World War, a new owner brought in orchestras and, helped by his connections, we did start to become that first class destination you spoke of earlier.

NM:  Then, when things were going so well, it all changed again, didn’t it?

CPI:  What?  Oh yes, the fire.  I flared up a bit, you see, and a couple of employees were killed.  That was a bad time.  Still, things had been going so well before that fire that I was rebuilt very quickly, mostly to the same plan, but bigger.  Then, a few years later, they made me bigger still and I got more outbuildings and cottages.  Soon, I had more politicians and celebrities under my roof than you could shake a gavel at.

NM:  Care to drop a few names?

CPI:  Names?  Like Roosevelt?  More than one, by the way, just like Kennedy.  Moses – the New Yorker, not the Israeli – Al Smith, Albert Einstein, Lucy and Ricky, John L Sullivan, The Windsors, Cary Grant, Helen Hayes.  And let’s not forget Hercules.  Well, a statue of him.  He and I had long conversations for many years, till he decided to move up-island.  There were also many musical guests, after the ballroom was added on: Duke Ellington, The Ramones, Billy Joel, just to drop a few.

NM:  Sounds wonderful.  Talk about the ballroom.

CPI:  It became the center of existence, didn’t it?  Many fancy parties for many fancy people.  Dinner and dancing became the norm.  But it wasn’t all for visiting dignitaries, it also became the place for local events.  There were banquets, parties, proms, and weddings held there all the time.  My ballroom became the center of the local universe for some time.

NM:  But no longer.

CPI:  No, not for a while now.  In the 1970’s, the Hamptons became a place for young people to come and drink and party and it was decided that I could better serve as a nightclub, with a mile-long bar.  That first implementation wasn’t all that bad, but then every so many years I would get a new owner and a new name, but not much of a new body.  Somebody painted peaches all over me – would you like peaches tattooed all over your body? – and I think I took that as an insult.  On and on it went for decades, a summer-only nightclub to be wrung out more and more every year.  Finally, somebody said I was too dangerous to be used anymore.  They may be right.  You know, I am pretty sure I have raccoons living in the west attic and they itch something fearful.

NM:  What do you say to those who want to rebuild you, let you be the center of that local universe once again?

CPI:  Oh, I think I’d like that very much, thank you.  I haven’t had a young bride crying her eyes out in my restroom for far too long.  Really didn’t think I would miss that, but there you are.  No, the Hamptons are not as much in need of nightclubs as they once were, now that the group rentals have been cut back.  Now, maybe, it is a good time to go back to something of what I used to be – a little bit of the past, combined with a little bit of the future.  I’m certainly willing to try.  Times have changed – so must I.  I’ll take crying brides over itchy raccoons any day.

NM:  Well, you have changed a lot over the years, over the centuries, haven’t you?  What do you say to those who say that you aren’t really historic, that you are a fairly new structure.

CPI:  Fairly new?  I am over ninety.  Ask any ninety-year-old if they think they are fairly new.  Even so, this is the version of me that hosted Tammany Hallers and defrocked Royals, that pampered the stars, that has provided big bands and rock bands for your pleasure, and that welcomed your grandparent’s wedding reception.  But even though this structure has not been well maintained, I maintain that I am more than this structure.  I have been here since Peter Stuyvesant.  I was the last hope for refuge for weary travellers in the wilderness and I was the favorite refuge for weary golfers from Shinnecock.  I have, at one time or another, been whatever people needed me to be.  I exist.  I do.  And I have existed to serve.  If you let me, I will continue to serve.

NM: What if they can’t rebuild you?  Or won’t?

CPI:  Then something will be lost.  Of course it will.  I am, after all, unique within this local universe and they would never quite see my like again.  But if they do knock me down, well then, I guess I will just have to get back up again.  After all, I survived fire.  They will build something else here, it will become the new Canoe Place Inn, no matter what they call it, and I will be here, continuing to serve in whatever capacity.  I exist.  I will always be here.


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