Even as the times change, Orient’s Village Lane stays largely the same

Cherry blossoms and historic buildings make Village Lane in Orient one of the most beautiful places on the East End. (Credit: David Benthal)

Something happens when you cross the causeway and pass the crab shack and Latham farm stand on your way to Orient.

It’s a feeling, something akin to traveling in a time machine, that is only heightened as you make the turn at the Civil War monument onto Village Lane.

A major part of the Orient Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976, the buildings that line Village Lane still proudly carry a celebrated aesthetic of centuries past. 

The street was once whimsically described by The New York Times as a “three-building commercial district,” but to dozens of Orient families, it’s something entirely different. It’s home.

“As a little kid I would ride my three-wheeled bicycle down Village Lane,” recalled resident Edward “Ted” Webb, whose ancestry can be traced to a house up the road from his. “I knew every crack in the sidewalk.”

Webb, a member of Southold Town’s Historic Preservation Commission, notes that a great deal of the credit for the timeless look of the iconic street is owed to the property owners, stewards who meticulously maintain the quiet small-town.

Webb lives in his parents’ former home and his grandparents lived around the corner on Skippers Lane. The historic Webb House, which dates back to 1740, was the home of his ancestor Orange Webb in the early 1800s.

Ted Webb on his moped in front of his house. (Credit: David Benthal)

While a trip down Village Lane today conjures a feeling of stepping back in time for nearly everyone, it evokes actual memories for Webb.

Growing up in Orient in the 1950s, he recalls trips to the former Idle Hour ice cream shop for a root beer float and the old Royal Scarlett store, where his grandfather delivered groceries to neighbors.

“One of my biggest treats was to ride with my grandfather in the store’s old delivery truck,” Webb recalled. “I remember it had wooden spokes and it was motorized. The people up on the hill would call down to the store and they’d ordered things and kept a running account.”

The Royal Scarlett has since given way to the Orient Country Store, a café and market where longtime regulars and newcomers alike spill in for coffee, sandwiches and the day’s gossip.

Owners Miriam Foster and Grayson Murphy purchased the store in 2011 from longtime owner Linton Duell. The 30-something parents of twins, who live off nearby Youngs Road, they’ve been slowly putting their stamp on the place — but they recognize this is Village Lane in Orient and change must come in moderation.

The old rocking chairs still sit on the storefront’s porch and regular drip coffee is served piping hot, but the couple has added touches like freshly baked gluten-free foods and their acclaimed pies.

“We strive to keep the same sense of place that is community-minded and we know customers on a first-name basis,” Foster said. “We are not trying to come in and hurry Orient up or usher in a new culture.”

The Orient Country Store is a great spot for sandwiches, baked goods and a little small-town conversation. (Credit: David Benthal)

Foster and Murphy were instantly attracted to the quaint lifestyle on the bucolic street when they arrived seven years ago. The young couple eschewed the fast-paced lifestyle of the city. The store is quiet on social media, because it’s “not important to our customers or our identity.”

Settling in Orient was serendipitous for the couple. “I hear that from a lot of people — that they just end up here,” Foster said. “There are people who have their ancestry here, but in recent years, the wave of new Orient discoverers just ended up here through their travels.”

Part-time Village Lane residents Michael and Allison Ventura count themselves among the folks who one day stumbled on Orient and didn’t want to leave.

“When we had an opportunity to purchase the house we are in now in 2012, we didn’t blink an eye,” Michael said.

The Venturas are among a changing demographic of young couples with children purchasing second homes on Village Lane in recent years. Inventory has been traditionally low on the street, as many of the homes remain in the same families for generations and are occupied full-time, but the tides are slowly turning.

“In the past three years, I have sold quite a few [homes on Village Lane],” said Janet Markarian of Daniel Gale Sotheby’s International Realty, who also lives and owns a linen and home goods shop on the street. “People are drawn to the sense of community. If they have children, they love that their kids can ride their bike to sailing class and go to Poquatuck Park and play.”

The Orient Yacht Club is at the end of Village Lane. (Credit: David Benthal)

An active volunteer with several community organizations, Webb has watched with interest the evolution of the street and the greater Orient community over the years.

“Most of the people who have moved here over the past few years are very nice … They respect the community and become a part of the community, even though they are part-timers,” Webb said. “We have been blessed because even though it is changing, and I can’t say it is the same as it was when I was a kid, the change keeps the community moving forward in the way we want it to.”

The Venturas are among those who have immersed themselves in the community and take great interest in its history. They restored their historic Cape Cod house, which may date as far back as the 1700s and was believed to be facing possible demolition before they purchased it.

Their 13-year-old twins are active in the Orient Yacht Club at the end of Village Lane; and Michael is involved with the Oysterponds Historical Society, helping to chair its annual fundraiser, North Fork Fresh, which took place in June.

“The best part about Village Lane for us is the community,” he said. “It really feels like everyone knows everyone. We love the yacht club and the Country Store. We take bike rides all summer long and enjoy the farm stands all summer long. It is just about perfect.”

For Webb, who developed many lifelong friendships during summers spent in Orient, the merging of old and new is a natural progression. The father of five now has 11 grandchildren — all of whom are growing up with a taste of life on Village Lane.

“It is one of my greatest pleasures in life to see my children and my grandchildren enjoying Village Lane like I did,” Webb said. “They ride their bikes up and down the street and go into the Country Store for candy. Things change over time, but in some ways they don’t really change.”