For some, “Umbrella Beach”’ might evoke a wide stretch of sand dotted with brightly colored parasols. But that’s not the case with Umbrella Beach in Montauk, familiar locally as the site of July Fourth fireworks, the shore of the Benson Preserve, and, currently, the staging area for a major beach sand replenishment project.
Umbrella Beach is named for an inn that used to sit near the intersection of the old and new highways just west of today’s Hero Beach. It started out in 1929 as a simple refreshment stand – a one-story shack housing a kitchen, dining room, and storeroom that served casual lunches at outdoor tables. A kind of rest stop for tourists, it was said to be the first of its kind in Montauk.
“Have a bite to eat under the big umbrellas,” suggested an ad for the establishment, which sold gasoline, postcards, and film in addition to clam chowder, lobsters, hot dogs, ice cream sodas, beer, and coffee. “Stop at the Montauk Stand on the Montauk Highway.”
Camilla and Harry Wahlberg, the proprietors, eventually added a second story, expanding the stand into the Umbrella Inn with lodging under its signature gambrel roof. Their granddaughter, Carol Buckner, assembled a collection of photographs, clippings, business cards, documents, and a cookbook that relate to the inn’s history, and she donated the collection to the Montauk Library Archives.
Thanks to a classified ad in the East Hampton Star, we know that the property was still called the Umbrella Inn in 1976, but we don’t know what happened after that. On the other side of the old highway, the Benson Preserve was deeded in 1999 to East Hampton Town, which describes it as “38 acres of land fronting the Atlantic Ocean shoreline also known as ‘Umbrella Beach.’”
Even while the beach is being fortified with new sand, the town is considering introducing hungry goats to the preserve itself to trim what officials say is an overabundance of invasive weeds. Had the inn still been in existence, perhaps it could have cheered on the animals from the other side of the highway– “Have a bite to eat across the street” – with or without any umbrellas.