The Shinnecock Canal is a canal that cuts across the South Fork of Long Island at Hampton Bays, New York. At 4700ft long, it connects Great Peconic Bay and the north fork of Long Island with Shinnecock Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. The canal opened to traffic in 1892.
Although "the Hamptons" officially begins about 10mi west at Westhampton, New York, the Shinnecock Canal in popular imagination marks the beginning of the Hamptons since traffic is funneled across two highway bridges (Sunrise Highway and Montauk Highway) or the Long Island Rail Road bridge.
Talk of building a canal on Shinnecock Creek had gone on for years and a popular myth says the Shinnecock Indian Nation and Montaukett Native Americans built the original canal in the 17th century. The canal’s location is specifically called Canoe Place because of this.
A Canal lock system had to be built in 1919 to alleviate dramatic differences in height between the two bays. The Peconic Bay to the north can be three feet higher than Shinnecock Bay. Further, the two bays have opposite tide cycles.
The lock system now is the only navigation lock operating on Long Island.
The lock increased the salinity levels in Shinnecock Bay which had nearly assumed fresh water proportions and was resulting in a dying off of its shell fish population even though it was separated from the Atlantic by a narrow barrier island.
Shinnecock Bay’s salinity levels were solidified during Great Hurricane of 1938 which broke through the barrier island to form Shinnecock Inlet almost due south of the canal. The new inlet has created a short cut to the Atlantic that is now used by 27,000 boats per year.
The canal itself varies in width from 100 to 180ft. The lock is 41ft wide and 250ft long. The lowest bridge is the fixed railroad bridge, with a height of 22ft vertical clearance above the water. The highway bridges have 23ft and 25ft vertical clearance.
The name Canoe Place comes from the Indian word "Niamuck" which described a canoe portage from the north bay "Peconic" to the south bay "Shinnecock" & vice versa. That they carried their canoes seems to indicate that there was no water connection between these two bodies of water. There is no evidence that the Montauketts or Shinnecocks dug a canal, together or separately. The 1918 construction on the canal was of "Tide Gates" & bulkeading, not "Locks" as are in place today. This did not alleviate the difference in the hydrographic elevation but sought to mitigate it. Another effect of this as found in the records of the New York State Salt Water Bays Commission was the water level of Shinnecock Bay was raised by one foot.