Ribbons Down My Back: A History of the Lyzon Hat Shop

The Lyzon Hat Shop Today, Photo: Barbara Lassen

It was around the early 1920s when a handful of expensive shops lined Main Street, many of which had additional locations in East Hampton or Palm Beach.

“Then they all went away,” says Brenda Sinclair Berntson, the president of the Hampton Bays Historical & Preservation Society. “I would imagine the Stock Market Crash [of 1929] probably took people out.”

In the early 1920s, an economic boom was happening in the town, with boutiques that also included Grande Maison de Blanc, a fine linen shop, Ovington’s china and crystal store and Finchley’s haberdashery. A train from New York City and lodging options like the Canoe Place Inn made Hampton Bays a desirable location for vacationers and second homeowners. It was a time when many judges and politicians would spend time in the area.

Located at 116 Main Street, the Lyzon structure dates back to the 1850s, when it first opened as a general store. It was originally named Camp King, because the King family owned a number of houses in the area.

“Walter King originally styled his hats from fabric left over from the general store,” according to the Hampton Bays Historical Society. Between the time when the location was general store and when it became a hat shop, part of the store burned in a fire and it sat empty for a while.

“In 1911, [King] hired prominent builder and master craftsman Elmer Jackson to help him renovate the store into his vision for a millinery mecca,” says the society. As King’s creations grew in popularity, he wanted a renovation to match his beautiful creations.

Jackson was well known in Good Ground, the previous name of Hampton Bays. He was a Methodist, a baseball player, a member of the Bay Hampton Band, jury foreman and superintendent of the Canoe Place Chapel Sunday School. “Hardly a newspaper edition of the era goes by that does not have Mr. Jackson mentioned in some capacity or other,” notes the society.

To update the shop, Jackson installed a sweeping staircase and many feet of dental molding. The upstairs boasts a unique barrel ceiling.

“The story goes, [King] went to Paris to buy material and on the ship over her saw the word Lyzon in the water,” says Berntson on how the shop’s name came about. On his way back to New York, he realized that the materials he bought were actually made in the United States. He swore he would only use local materials from then on, she says.

The shop became a place for one-of-a-kind hats by King. The wealthy and royal were among his customers, and King filled orders from Paris for his spectacular hats. He even designed a hat for Grace Kelly, the Princess of Monaco’s wedding. Jackie Kennedy Onassis and her family were also customers.

Although exact dates are not known, Lyzon did most of its millinery business in the early ’20s through the mid-’60s. The family also used the space as an art gallery at one point, says Berntson.

While many of the old shops are no longer in existence, the Lyzon Hat Shop, which is now the Lyzon Hat Museum, was restored by 2018, and is now run by the Hampton Bays Historical & Preservation Society.

In 2005, the Town of Southampton purchased land for relocation of Lyzon Hat Shop. The structure was donated by Anita and Bryan Whalen to the Hampton Bays Historical & Preservation Society and then turned over to the Town of Southampton for preservation, which was funded by the town’s Community Preservation Fund.

One of the fundraisers the society hosts each year is the annual Derby Day fundraiser, which takes place in sync with the Kentucky Derby and guests are encouraged to don fanciful hats.

This year the Kentucky Derby was postponed until September 5. There won’t be an on-premise celebration, but the historical society has created a party bag that contains everything supporters might need for their own horse race viewing party. Each bag serves two people and costs $25. Orders can be placed at hamptonbayshistoricalsociety.org or by calling 631-728-0887.