This barren land of seeping emptiness and spacious sky was claimed by the
Shinnecock Indians until the New York State Legislature forced the tribe to
relinquish its claim in 1859.
Its ownership passed to the Trustees of the Freeholders and Commonalty of the Town of Southampton who sold it to a group of 23 local investors fro the sum of about $6,250.00
These shareholders, called the Proprietors of the Southampton and Sebonac Sedges, constructed fences and allcoated the number of cattle each could pasture in Shinnecock. They earned income from the sale of seaweed and salt hay, which were used for fertilizer and insulation.
By the 1870's the extension of the Long Island Railroad from Eastport to Sag Harbor, passing through the Hills substantially cut down the three-day journey from Shinnecock to Brooklyn, and was the beginning of real development there. The Shinnecock train station build in 1877 was the first real building erected in the Hills.
After passing through several corporate hands, 3,596 acres of the property owned by the Proprietors was sold to the Long Island Improvement Company, which had been created by Austin Corbin, President of the Long Island Railroad, and a group of New York City investors. Villa sites were sold for $3,000 per acre with the restriction that only cottages costing $5,000 or more could be built.
By 1893, the Long island Improvement Company collapsed, having sold off 810 acres. The remaining acreage was purchased by the Shinnecock Land Company which sold fourteen parcels and then sold out to the Shinnecock Hills and Peconic Bay Realty Company in 1906.
By 1906 there were eighteen homes in the Hills - all summer residences used from July to Labor day. hover, the development of Shinnecock Hills into a premier summer colony was deterred by the panic 1907 and the reinstatement of the income tax in 1913. Public auctions in 1925 and 1929 resulted in the further sale of hundreds of plots.
The Unique Vegetation of the Hills
When the Proprietors bought the Hills, there was little vegetation. By the end of the nineteenth century, the heathers, blueberries, huckleberries which we all know from
William Merritt Chase's paintings became profuse. The pine trees which dominate the Hills today only began to grow in the 1940s, perhaps the result of seeds blown in by the Hurricane of 1938.