Orient Historic District
The Orient Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976. [†] Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. Adaptation copyright © 2010, The Gombach Group.
Located at the eastern extremity of Long Island's north fork, the hamlet of Orient is situated on the southwestern side of the fork in a tract extending from Truman's Beach to Orient Point. Orient Historic District encompasses approximately sixty acres which comprise the center of both the historical and present community of Orient. This traditionally agricultural and seafaring district is bounded on its east and west sides by farmlands, on the south by Orient Harbor and Gardiner's Bay, and on the north by New York Route 25, formerly King's Highway, a road established in 1661. Despite the encroachment of suburban development into eastern Suffolk County in recent years, the hamlet of Orient retains the atmosphere of a Long Island community of the nineteenth century.
Orient Historic District encompasses over one hundred dwellings and public buildings constructed between the late eighteenth and the late nineteenth centuries, all of which continue to be used and occupied. The most common of early Orient houses is the so-called Cape Cod type, a frame dwelling of one and one-half stories sheathed in shingles or clapboard, having a central chimney and moderately pitched roof. The simple cornices of the earliest houses are nearly level with the tops of the first story windows. Later examples of this style in the Orient Historic District are two full stories in height.
During the nineteenth century Orient experienced a succession of building styles, and within the Orient Historic District are to be found adaptations of Greek Revival, Italianate, and Second Empire styles, as well as numerous examples of the rural vernacular frame architecture common throughout much of Long Island from approximately 1800 to the turn of the century. Orient Historic District is particularly rich in examples of these nineteenth century architectural styles.
In addition to dwellings, Orient Historic District includes Orient Wharf, the focal point for the community's seafaring activities since it was established at its present site in 1740. The quiet residential streets of Orient are lined with large spreading shade trees, among which is an ancient buttonwood tree at the intersection of Route 25 and Young's Road which was already providing shade by the mid-eighteenth century.
Throughout its history Orient has resisted the incursions of modern development occurring elsewhere in the area. Though modern dwellings dot the Orient Historic District, the only concentrations of such structures are in areas peripheral to the district, chiefly along Oysterponds Lane and Navy Street. The community nevertheless retains its rural atmosphere, and active preservation and restoration efforts by local residents perpetuate the architectural integrity of the Orient Historic District.
Orient Historic District is a living and largely uncompromised visual reminder of the rural agricultural and seafaring heritage of eastern Long Island from the late eighteenth through the nineteenth century. Because of its location on Gardiner's Bay on the southwest side of Long Island's north fork, Orient traditionally turned to the sea for its livelihood, both for fishing and for transporting its agricultural produce to urban markets. The moderate prosperity and egalitarian spirit which characterized Orient is reflected in the architecture and uniform scale of its homes and public buildings. The Orient Historic District encompasses over one hundred structures built prior to 1900 on the streets near the harbor, buildings which document the evolution of Long Island's rural vernacular architecture over a period of one and one-half centuries. Orient is particularly significant for having retained a sense of timeless architectural harmony throughout its long, active life as a community. Virtually all the homes continue to be occupied by summer or year-round residents. Commercial development has been all but excluded, the sole exceptions being a general store and post office. This hardy coastal community and its rural environment are among the last vestiges of a lifestyle rapidly disappearing from much of eastern Long Island in the face of modern suburban encroachment.
The area occupied by the present community of Orient was originally inhabited by the Algonquin Indian tribes of eastern Long Island. The Indian name for the Orient peninsula was Poquatuck. The English who settled South in 1640 knew the area as Oysterponds, and purchased it from the Indians. The year 1661 is generally accepted as the date when Oysterponds was permanently settled by Europeans. Shortly thereafter the road which became known as King's Highway (the present Route 25) was laid through Oysterponds, becoming the boundary for farm plots located on Long Island Sound to the north and Gardiner's Bay to the south. By 1717 there were twenty-four families living at Oysterponds. Many early settlers built and owned commercial vessels which made use of the excellent sheltered harbor of Orient. During the first quarter of the eighteenth century settlers purchased numerous small plots near the harbor for the building of homes and shops. In 1940 Richard Shaw built a commercial wharf and warehouse in the harbor. While some local residents worked as tradesmen and fishermen, farming remained the principal occupation on the Orient peninsula.
The early eighteenth-century houses built in Oysterponds were the basic types found elsewhere on eastern Long Island: the shingled or clapboarded one-story cottage with central chimney; a somewhat larger version with small windows in the half story, below a simple cornice; and the two-story gable-roofed house with center chimney and entryway. Several of Orient's eighteenth-century houses retain interior trim and doorways attributed to Amon Tabor, a local master house carpenter who worked between 1730 and 1785. The extant eighteenth-century homes within the Orient Historic District reflect the simple tastes and limited means of their builders.
The history of the settlement at Oysterponds (known as Orient after 1836) has been shaped by various economic and social factors which similarly affected the life of numerous rural Long Island communities. During the Revolutionary War the British plundered the farms around Oysterponds, and used the north fork as a staging area for Loyalist raids on Connecticut towns across Long Island Sound. The hamlet of Oysterponds likewise felt the effects of the British blockade of eastern Long Island brought by the War of 1812. During the first half of the nineteenth century, however, the community began to experience a period of economic growth during which agriculture, fishing, and maritime commerce again became profitable ventures. Alongside the simple one-story frame dwellings of the eighteenth-century farmers the masters of sloops which called Orient Harbor their home port began to build their more refined homes in a variety of architectural styles. Within the Orient Historic District are excellent examples of the shingle on frame Cape Cod cottage, adaptations of Federal and Greek Revival domestic architecture, the Italianate and Second Empire homes of the mid-nineteenth century, and the ornate frame structures of the late Victorian era. The community of Orient exhibits a notable congruity in appearance despite the numerous styles represented in its structures. The dwellings are modest in proportion and unpretentious in their location. The extant houses of the Orient Historic District reflect little disparity between the well-to-do and those builders of more modest means, between employers and artisans. While some buildings have been subjected to the inevitable structural alterations of long active use, a number of exteriors have been preserved or carefully restored. The one hundred extant historic structures of Orient are an excellent representation of Long Island's rural vernacular architecture as it evolved from the simple cottages of the mid-eighteenth century through the more ornate structures of the late nineteenth century. Picket fences and large shade trees preserve the ordered rural atmosphere of the historic district and give the hamlet a sense of overall visual integrity.
Orient has retained its setting and its sense of community into the twentieth century. With the coming of rail and motor transportation to eastern Long Island, the importance of shipping from Orient Harbor declined, and with it the associated supportive industries which once lined the wharfs and waterfront streets of the community. Commercial duck hunting, shell fishing, and commercial and sport fishing as well as truck farming nevertheless remained important local industries into the twentieth century.
Despite the change and commercial development occurring in nearby areas of Suffolk County, the residents of Orient have resisted this encroachment and preserved the rural atmosphere of the historic district. Faced with growing pressures on the land, the community remains hopeful that through controlled development, those who would bring change will do so with respect for Orient's past.
Keogh, Richard. History of Orient." Typescript on deposit N>Y> State Division for Historic Preservation, Albany, N.Y.
Manley, Seon. Long Island Discovery. Garden City, 1966.
Oysterponds Historical Society, Orient, N.Y. Journal of Augustus Griffin, 1767-1866.
[†] Raymond W. Smith, New York State Office of Parks and Recreation, Division for Historic Preservation, Miller Place Historic District, nomination document, 1976, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.