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Sep 21, 2010 5:16 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

Family fights to keep last bit of a legacy: Seeks new lease for Montauk blockhouse

Sep 21, 2010 5:16 PM

MONTAUK—It takes Daniel Lindley at least 15 minutes to drive from the street entrance of his home on Deer Way to the blockhouse nestled into a 2-acre clearing in Theodore Roosevelt County Park, which his parents purchased in 1950. Beyond the iron gate that declares the land county-owned is a winding, untended, mile-long path that is still there only because cars have driven on it. Brush pushes against either side of Mr. Lindley’s car, springing through the open windows as the car creeps forward. Mr. Lindley navigates the path with practiced care.

“There are a few big rocks,” he said. “You just have to know where they are.”

Mr. Lindley does because he’s driven back and forth on that path for most of his life.

He remembers summers there with his older brother and sister—John, who now lives in California, and Diana, of North Sea. They knew every path that existed in those woods, he said, and never grew bored of the outdoors. Even without electricity or running water, the blockhouse, built in the latter years of World War II to house soldiers on the lookout for German U-boats, was a Lindley family treasure.

So were the 900 acres of wooded oceanfront land that the house sat on, Mr. Lindley said, which is why when the Montauk Beach Development Corporation proposed building 2,000 houses on the land in 1969, Hilda Lindley, Mr. Lindley’s mother, was horrified.

“They wanted Montauk to be the South Beach of Long Island,” Mr. Lindley said. “As a teenager, I remember reading about it in The Star and showing it to my mother. She flipped out. That’s what started the whole thing.”

Ms. Lindley waged a long battle. She formed the Concerned Citizens of Montauk; she found legislators, assemblymen and congressmen who would hear her out; she got Charles Lindbergh and conservative William F. Buckley to visit the site. She proposed turning the land into a public park to preserve it and worked to convince multiple levels of government that any project that proposed building on the fragile and valuable land was shortsighted.

“She really changed the whole attitude in Montauk,” Mr. Lindley said. “Now everybody is an environmentalist, but she was the first.”

Ms. Lindley was determined to win and eventually she did.

Suffolk County bought the land in 1976, Mr. Lindley said, but then there was the question of the house. When the county purchased the land, it also acquired Ms. Lindley’s house through the right of eminent domain—a Catch-22 Mr. Lindley said his mother was shocked and devastated to discover.

There was a lot of back and forth, Mr. Lindley said, and there was talk of a 99-year lease to be signed over to the family. But Daniel Lindley’s mother had made a lot of people angry, he said, and her back was against the wall.

“There were a lot of people with axes to grind,” he said; a lot of people who had lost a lot of development rights.

The Lindleys ended up with a 35-year lease; “a political act of vengeance,” some say, because in the same negotiations, parts of the park were sliced off and given out to a few with political pull. Ms. Lindley died of breast cancer a few years later, Mr. Lindley said. Her family has come back to the blockhouse and called it home for every summer since. But now the Lindleys are faced with a choice: Continue their mother’s fight or give up their house.

Bob Stern, the current president of CCOM, described Ms. Lindley as a legendary Montauk figure. He agreed that the 35-year lease was unheard of in similar situations and he said he hopes the county will reconsider the future of the blockhouse.

“Not everything that’s right is legal and not everything that is legal is right,” he said. “In this case, what the county is doing is legal, but is it right? We’d like to feel more confident that the government has good intentions and understands the very important history of Montauk.”

The United States Army built the Lindleys’ two-story house in 1944 along with other blockhouses at Camp Hero, Shagwong and Cedar Point. Those houses 
have long since been abandoned, left to weather the elements 
and teenagers with cans of 
spray paint. The Lindleys’ blockhouse is the only one that has been preserved, Mr. Lindley said, and the Lindleys have done 
their best to continue maintaining it.

Though Ms. Lindley added a modest kitchen to the home, inserted bay windows on either side of the living space, and painted her own bedroom a bright yellow, much of it remains the same. One side of the house is made of concrete, with a row of small, rectangular lookout windows about five feet from the ground. Looking out, the 12 soldiers stationed there could have seen for miles out over Block Island Sound —straight to Connecticut, Block Island, Rhode Island and beyond.

As a child, Mr. Lindley could gauge time by the beams of light that entered his window from the Montauk Lighthouse, which made a full circle every seven seconds, he said; and Fourth of July was a special treat. The Lindleys could see every fireworks show on the sound.

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If there is one shred of decency left in this neck of the woods, there should be no question in regard to a renewal of the lease.

Usually if you pi$$ off alot of people in this world, as Hilda did, it usually means you are doing the right thing, even though it's not the "popular" one.

Actions like her's should not be rewarded with a blade to one's back. Just my opinion, however, and as always I may be mistaken...
By Mr. Z (10649), North Sea on Sep 27, 10 11:38 PM
1 member liked this comment
The lease should no doubt be renewed. Ms. Lindley's actions are commendable, but to claim her as the first "environmentalist" in Montauk is an insult to the Montaukett tribe from whom these lands were stolen. The entire tribe were environmentalists in the purest sense. If this park were to renamed or designated as a memorial it can justly be done in the name of the Montauketts.
By ICE (1214), Southampton on Sep 28, 10 12:26 AM
Hilarious. Absolutely hilarious. She fights to stop others from developing private property, then her family is up in arms because they weren't given special treatment. What's good for the goose is good for the gander - she was thrilled when the county forced her neighbors to sell, but outraged she was treated the same way.
By Houlihan (1), Westhampton Beach on Sep 28, 10 9:40 AM
1 member liked this comment
You reap what you sow. Ms. Lindley wanted to preserve the land and she signed a 35 years lease. BOTH ends of the bargain have been held up. IF the government decided to reduce the 35 year lease it wouldn't be fair, so what aboout extending it makes it fair. If she would have left well enough alone, she would have a miilion dollar oceanfront spot for her family to enjoy for years or to sell and make money but she wanted everyone off the public land and now 35 years later her wish will come to fruition.
By BGinEH (15), East Hampton on Sep 28, 10 12:59 PM
That was kind of the idea when she fought to preserve it.

I would say the park is VASTLY more valuable than any oceanfront monument to excess, greed, and avarice ever could be.

Frankly, I would fear for the well being of this little slice of history, should it be left for the County to maintain. They've done a bang-up jobe everywhere else lately...
By Mr. Z (10649), North Sea on Sep 28, 10 1:50 PM
It was and is a great legacy, and we are forever in her debt. But that doesn't mean we're indebted to her children and, now, their children. I say give them a couple more years but at that point, back to the county.
By zaz (194), East Hampton on Sep 28, 10 4:30 PM
And editor, your reporters bias is showing, embarassingly.
By zaz (194), East Hampton on Sep 28, 10 4:32 PM
I don't necessarily think anyone is "indebted" to anyone...and I don't think that the Lindley family expects anything from anyone but the county. From what I have read about the situation, the Lindley family just wants to be able to preserve the house (for the beneficial use of the county or whoever) and keep it from falling to pieces. I've hiked up to that house numerous times, and the house IS falling to pieces as we speak. Sad to just let it go to waste. Also, I feel their pain...a home is a ...more
By AGtWandfree (1), Southampton on Feb 23, 15 7:07 PM
Whatever happens,I hope the house is preserved. It's one of the last WWII structures that, from the sounds of it, remains pretty much intact.
By BruceB (141), Sag Harbor on Sep 28, 10 4:47 PM
Who better to preserve it, than those who have done is so well, thus far?

Of course, common sense will most likely give way to beauracracy, as usual...
Sep 28, 10 11:38 PM appended by Mr. Z
Sorry, "it so well". Anyone else enjoying IE9 Beta?
By Mr. Z (10649), North Sea on Sep 28, 10 11:38 PM
1 member liked this comment
just curious why the author of this piece doesn't tell us which parts of the park were sliced off,and who the people (with the political pull)are who got the slices of land...
By montauk resident (41), montauk on Oct 2, 10 11:21 AM
1 member liked this comment