National News

A Hamlet Holding On to That Small-Town Feeling

Posted September 8, 2018 4:15 p.m. EDT

Route 25, or Main Road, on the North Fork of Long Island, wends through farmland, vineyards and tidy, picturesque towns established before the American Revolution. East of Riverhead, where the north and south forks of Long Island split from the larger island, Mattituck — a 9.3-square-mile hamlet with a population of about 4,200 in the larger town of Southold, with the Long Island Sound to the north and the Great Peconic Bay to the south — has long prospered, as its historic buildings, stately churches and bustling commercial area attest.

As the crowds, traffic and real estate prices on the South Fork have intensified, Mattituck, with its under-two-hour drive or easy train ride from Brooklyn and Manhattan, has been drawing more weekenders, second-home owners and vacationers.

“Mattituck’s changing” is a common refrain, uttered both by those whose roots extend back several generations and those who have only recently discovered the area. Fancy new houses and developments have proliferated, especially wherever there is a water view to be had.

Young people who grew up here loving the small-town feel and natural beauty have found it more difficult to afford a starter home, to buy or to rent. A development begun in 2006, the Cottages, is held up as a successful example of affordable housing, but has just 22 units.

“Inventory in Mattituck is low and getting lower,” said Diane Mollica, an agent at Daniel Gale Sotheby’s International Realty. “Prices are climbing. It’s hard to get anything lower than $500,000. There are lots of second-home buyers. Lot of people want to be close to the beach.”

Despite that influx of wealth, the feeling of community and the pleasures of small-town living remain strong. The high school has some 50 teams across 14 sports, well chronicled in the local newspaper, the Suffolk Times. The Mattituck-Laurel Library is a social hub, as is the North Fork Community Theater, where Mattituck residents put on musicals (“You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown”) and serious drama (“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”). The Magic Fountain, an ice cream shop on Main Road, is a long-standing landmark, serving wild flavors like lavender and beet-and-goat-cheese, along with the more traditional scoops.

Dante Apuzzo, an appeals lawyer for the Manhattan courts, and his wife, Margherita Apuzzo, who works in advertising, spent a couple of years looking for a house to buy while renting and vacationing in Mattituck. They eventually bid the asking price, $399,000, for a cedar-shingle farmhouse on a quarter of an acre that had been owned by the same family since the 1800s.

“It’s across the street from the fire station,” Dante Apuzzo said. “The grandfather used to go over to ring the bell if there was a fire.”

Not everyone would want to live next to a fire station, he said, which probably helped keep the price down. But the Apuzzos and their 6-year-old son, Teo, enjoy it. “It’s fun to know it’s 12 o’clock when the alarm goes off,” Dante Apuzzo said. “The Fourth of July Parade goes right by our house. It’s very sweet.”

Love Lane, nearby, is known the length of the North Fork for its seriously good food. The offerings — including the Village Cheese Shop, Lombardi’s Love Lane Market and Love Lane Kitchen, a cozy restaurant with a farm-to-table menu and tables indoors and out — overflow around the corner to Pike Street, where you’ll find empanadas at Goodfood and spanakopita at Agora the Little Greek Market. Celebrated vineyards and tasting rooms are a few minutes’ drive away. There is a multiplex theater in a shopping complex in the area, but not much night life other than that.

But the outdoors — taking a boat out to fish or sail, walking the beaches, riding a bicycle through sunflower fields and vineyards, passing farm stands and water vistas, or merely strolling through town and chatting with neighbors — may be Mattituck’s greatest lure.

— What You’ll Find

Mattituck has lots of waterfront, and houses (and docks) are plentiful. Besides the Long Island Sound and the Great Peconic Bay, there is the long, meandering Mattituck Inlet, dotted with marinas, that extends inward from the Sound, and a couple of boat-friendly creeks on the bay side. Two smaller, quieter hamlets, New Suffolk and Laurel, border Mattituck proper, and pride of place is palpable among their residents.

Houses range from fixer-uppers, modest 19th-century shingle cottages and traditional farmhouses to grand dwellings with every modern accouterment in lushly landscaped new developments. Pools are not uncommon, but apartments are. Plots of land and houses with significant acreage and outbuildings that could be repurposed as studios or guesthouses are also available.

— What You’ll Pay

Thomas Uhlinger, an agent with Douglas Elliman, said a three-bedroom, two-bathroom ranch house in decent shape sells for about $550,000 to $575,000. There have been 35 closings so far this year, with the highest sales price at $1.8 million. The average sales price has been $695,000; the median, $539,000.

Currently on the market, Uhlinger said, are 48 listings, ranging in price from $400,000 to $4.995 million, with a median asking price of $799,000. “We have two listings over $4 million and five in the $2 million range,” he said.

Year-round rentals are “very tight,” he said, noting that a three-bedroom, two-bathroom house typically rents for between $2,700 and $2,900 a month. There are also seasonal rentals, with a one-month summer rental near the water asking about $8,000 to $10,000, “depending on condition and if there was a pool,” he said.

— The Vibe

When the Mattituck-Cutchogue lacrosse teams won the Long Island championships this spring (the girls’ team also won the state championship), the local fire departments turned out to escort the victors home. When residents are performing at the community theater, their neighbors fill the seats. When high school students are looking for summer jobs, local businesses hire them.

Anne Smith has lived in Mattituck since 1985, having spent more than 20 years in the schools, first as a principal and then as superintendent (she retired in July). She and her husband, Ron Smith, who was an English teacher in the nearby Rocky Point school district, raised their three children there.

“It’s a spread-out community, but there are lots of ways people intersect. The upside is everyone knows everybody,” she said, adding with a laugh: “The downside is everyone knows everybody.”

As for the influx of people buying second homes, Smith said, there is the occasional annoyance of traffic and not being able to get a table at a restaurant. But newcomers help the area thrive, she said. “And we’ll have our pancakes on Love Lane in January.”

— The Schools

The public schools in the Mattituck-Cutchogue Union Free School District include the Cutchogue East Elementary School, which had 541 students in kindergarten through sixth grade during the 2016-17 school year. Proficiency scores for fourth-grade students were 36 percent in the English language arts and 53 percent in math, compared with statewide percentages of 41 and 43, respectively.

The Mattituck Junior-Senior High School had 656 students during the 2016-17 school year, and average SAT scores in 2017 were 562 for critical reading and 572 for math, according to Newsday.

Spanish is taught beginning in kindergarten; the goal is to graduate students who are not just bilingual but “biliterate,” Anne Smith said. Enrollment in the schools has dwindled, she noted, as it has elsewhere in New York. “We just graduated a class of 118, down from 130 or 140,” she said, referring to Mattituck Junior-Senior High School. Incoming classes hover at around 60. But there is renewed interest from families with young children, she added, and a number of graduates have returned to Mattituck after going off to college or to the city, in search of a better quality of life for their families.

Two public libraries are in the school district, she noted: Mattituck-Laurel and Cutchogue New Suffolk, which support the schools by holding art shows, concerts and other events. The schools also have educational partnerships with farmers, beekeepers and winemakers, she added: “Farming has come a long way; it isn’t just a guy with a tractor in the field anymore. The question we all ask is, ‘How can we help our students imagine a life back here?'”

— The Commute

The drive from the Queens-Midtown Tunnel to Mattituck is 82 miles, which can take less than two hours, depending on traffic. The ride on the Long Island Rail Road takes about 2 1/2 hours; four eastbound and five westbound trains stop in Mattituck daily. And the Hampton Jitney bus stops several times a day in Mattituck, depending on the season. — The History

The year of 1844, when the Long Island Rail Road line from New York City to Greenport, Long Island, was built, was a turning point for the hamlet. When the railroad came through Mattituck, part of the wagon path leading to the station was named Railroad Avenue.

North of the tracks was a footpath where young couples would go to pitch woo, according to the Mattituck-Laurel Historical Society. The entire road was renamed Love Lane in the 1920s.