Carleton Kelsey (1913-2005) was East Hampton Town Historian for 12 years, and Director of the Amagansett Library from 1964 to the year 2000. Born in Amagansett, New York, Montauk’s neighbor 11 miles to the east, Kelsey was fascinated with local history, antiques, and books. Even as a child, he dreamed of becoming a librarian. “I used to play librarian as a kid, instead of doctor. I had a dater, a stamp pad, and cards I arranged alphabetically,” Kelsey told a reporter in 1996 (recalled in his East Hampton Star obituary, 8.25.2005).
Carlton Kelsey’s passion for local history was contagious. He loved old houses and told stories of their owners, but he was also an expert on how those houses were built, becoming a consultant on early architecture. He collected traditions and folklore, myths and legends, and thousands of postcards and photographs relating to the East End.
In 2003, two years before his death, Kelsey’s postcards and photographs were distributed among various East End institutions according to subject matter and theme. The Montauk Library received over 300 photographs and postcards. Many rare views were included in the donation. The Amagansett Historical Association, of which Kelsey was a founding member, was the recipient of over 5,000 images. That collection is currently housed in the Long Island History Room of the East Hampton Library, where it is being digitized. This image of Carleton Kelsey standing amid the stacks of the Amagansett Library comes from the Amagansett Historical Association’s collection.
A powerful infusion of images detailing Montauk’s early history, the Kelsey donation significantly expanded the Montauk Library’s collection in subjects relating to Teddy Roosevelt and the Rough Riders recuperating after the Spanish-American War, Promised Land (the bunker-fishing industry), and Montauk’s role in World War I. A book of cyanotypes and their negatives documenting seven houses built by Stanford White was a rare gift, as well.
Scope of Collection
Strengths of this collection of postcards and photographs include early views documenting the growth of Fort Pond Bay Village, Teddy Roosevelt and the Rough Riders; fishermen and the fishing industry, including whaling views; and the military’s presence in Montauk, with a spotlight on WW I (dirigibles) and the buildings of Camp Hero (the Cold War era).