On August 10, 1907, a group of local men met to discuss forming a society for the improvement of Water Mill. A week later, the newly-formed Water Mill Village Improvement Society held its first public meeting with Dr. E. L. Keyes as chairman and A. T. Halsey as secretary-treasurer. The organization would be called a society until 1908 when it became an association. In 1934 it incorporated.
Dues were set at 50 cents a month and committees were established to address four issues: finance, highway and adornment, law and order, and Mecox Bay.
From the outset, it was clear that in addition to assuming responsibility for the village’s maintenance needs, the members and directors meant the organization to be the political arm of the community.
The organization established a lighting district (July 1908) to provide illumination for the main road and assumed responsibility for maintaining the roads and bridges to the ocean, for oiling the local roads in the summer, for building and maintaining a dock at the bathing station on Flying Point (July 1911) and for erecting a flagpole on the village green.
The association also had very strong ideas about the opening of the Mecox inlet and the appropriate water level of Mecox Bay. The organization controlled the inlet, deciding when to dig it and when to close it.
An entry in the July 1912 minutes notes that Walter Benedict would be paid $357.50 for closing the bay for the summer. Another entry notes that a committee was formed to stem the practice of carting and spreading fertilizer (manure) through Water Mill during the summer months.
It is interesting that problems that existed in the group’s early years remain of concern today. The height of the water in Mecox Bay, as mentioned, was an issue then, and still is.
In the minutes of August 1915 it was recorded that Mr. Bottomley was to confer with Dr. Nugent regarding seepage in Mecox from pig pens. Fertilizer run-off and pollution of the bay waters is still a concern today. At the same meeting, Mr. Pierson sought permission to oil the pond at the back of his house and the pond at the schoolhouse to kill the pond insects – another issue that still exists.
The WMVIA was involved in policing the speed of automobiles and motor boats, erecting street signs, planting road trees, repairing bridges, cleaning streets, monitoring the cleanliness of the railroad station, maintaining the village green, and welcoming new residents. It also concerned itself with the politeness of the business people, and in general helped people to get along together – respecting their needs and the needs of the village which they represented.
So you can see, the Water Mill Village Improvement Association helped shape the way Water Mill would grow. Started in 1907 to further the needs of the village and its residents, it has been true to its purpose. It has helped make Water Mill a village of quiet repose and diversity, a community that holds a special place in the hearts of all who come here.
James S. Burnett, past president and 54-year member Water Mill Village Improvement Association