WATERWAYS: DESTINATIONS - FIRE ISLAND

 

In previous segments of this project, many opportunities for ways to spend leisure times have been mentioned or discussed: land, water and air activities; clubs or organizations to join, etc.  Some have come and gone over the years while others have remained.  A trip to - or, later a house on - nearby Fire Island has continued to be a popular choice for many local residents. Over the years, the potential destinations from Sayville/West Sayville have included Water Island, Cherry Grove and Fire Island Pines for all as well as Barrett Beach and Sailor's Haven/Sunken Forest, where there are no homes or other accommodations, for day-trippers.  (All except Water Island are within the Sayville Zip Code 11782.)

 


 


 

Ferry to Water Island leaving Candee Avenue Pier

 

 

Ready for a Day on the Bay

 


Images: Top, Fire Island National Seashore; bottom, collection of Sayville Library

 

FIRE ISLAND / GREAT SOUTH BEACH

Originally known as Great South Beach, Fire Island now stretches about 32 miles between Fire Island and Moriches Inlets; it is connected to the mainland by bridges at both Captree and Smith's Point Parks. Jurisdiction was resolved by a joint commission appointed by the Towns of Brookhaven and Islip in December 1834 which reached an agreement on governmental boundaries; it has changed little since, the east end and most of  the Great South Bay bottom is in the Town of Brookhaven; only Ocean Bay Park and communities further to the west are within the Town of Islip.

William "Tangier" Smith (1655-1705), an English Colonel, was serving his government as Mayor of Tangier when, in 1683, Charles II ordered destruction of all of its fortifications, evacuation and abandonment to the Moroccans. Some among the departing forces were rewarded with land-grants in the recently acquired Province of New York in North America; as a consequence, Thomas Dongan, Earl of Limerick - who had been Lieutenant-Governor of Tangier - was appointed Governor of New York and Smith received  land grants in the State. Following his arrival in 1686,  he supplemented  his land grants, which he received from his friend, the Governor, by purchases from Unkechaug Indian Nation and others; eventually, he had 81,000 acres and all of what is now Fire Island. His holdings were solidified by a manorial patent granted by later Governor Benjamin Fletcher in 1693; under this, Smith also established Manor St. George which encompassed not only land he had acquired in Setauket but also  the Town of Brookhaven. He then built a second manor house in Sebonac (now Mastic) where he died. That original Manor House is now long gone.

In 1718, Richard Floyd II purchased 4,400 acres of the Manor from the Smith Estate which also included use rights for the Great South Beach, all of which he gave to his son Nicoll Floyd (1703-1755); Nicoll built the first section of what is now regarded as the William Floyd House in 1724 and developed a prosperous plantation.  It is where his oldest son William (1734-1821) was born and it remained in the family through eight generations until 1976 when it was incorporated into the Fire Island National Seashore. However, over the years, Smith descendants did gradually sell off  their individual holdings; in September 1789, Henry Smith (then of Boston) was the first, selling  tracts on Fire Island to some 20 Brookhaven residents for 200 pounds. .Thereafter, no one paid much attention to ownership there until David Sammis bought grazing land from some of  them in 1845 for his west end Surf Hotel; nevertheless, it was not until 1964 that the last of 24 miles of William Tangier Smith beach property passed into public ownership with the advent of the Fire Island National Seashore. Prior to 1880, the eastern end was  utilized for cattle grazing, the west end had the Fire Island Lighthouse (originally built in 1826, present structure 1858) , the Dominy House and the Surf Hotel; in between were  several fish factories, two telegraph towers with connection to the Life-Saving Stations, and scattered houses of refuge.  

There were very few privately owned craft on the Bay prior to 1900 and ferries were used by locals to reach the Island for day trips.  From West Sayville/Sayville, day trippers were not always sure where they would enjoy their picnic lunch. A lot depended on the wind and the ferryman might land them in either Water Island or Cherry Grove, each of which did have limited hotel or restaurant facilities.  For the trip home, boats were equipped with one or more "shoving poles" and, if the wind died down, the ferryman - and possibly the passengers - might find themselves using them to propel the craft along. Power ferries gradually came into use by the 1920s. .In October 1938 (i.e., following the big Hurricane), Long Island Parks Commissioner Robert Moses advanced a $15.5 million plan to re-habilitate Fire Island which included building four bridges and a  two-lane road from Fire Island Inlet to Southampton; it was immediately opposed by many who preferred the "splendid isolation" that the Island provided. However, the proposal re-surfaced several times, most notably after the hurricane of March 1962. Opposition groups sprouted up in all communities and merchants around the Bay joined, sending protest petitions against the highway on the Beach to Albany and Governor Rockefeller asked for Robert Moses' resignation from the State Highway system.  President Lyndon Johnson signing a law on September 11, 1964 under which the Fire Island National Seashore was created put a final end to it.

 

WATER ISLAND

Captain Daniel Thurber established his first "hotel" at Water Island around 1870; it was close to the land end of the Bayside pier and may, in fact, have been his private home where he began taking in guests; it shows on Jonathan Sammis' 1876 map of Water Island.  Apparently, it became known as the Pavilion, noted for its chowder.  In the early 1880s, it was managed by Arthur Perkinson of Patchogue and Cherry Grove. The building burned around 1880 and was rebuilt closer to the Ocean; however, this is one of the narrowest segments of Fire Island and distance from Bay to Ocean at the time was only about 500 feet. The White House Hotel (so called because of it was painted white) offering 56 guest rooms was built in the 1880s adjacent to Thurber's Pavilion; the White House was said to be a favorite of Bayport-Blue Point families including the Roosevelts and the Suydams and a small community of houses began to grow around it.

 

 

 

White House & Pavilion from Bay Side, about 1900

 

 

 

Pavilion & White House from Ocean side, about 1900

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blue Point Life-Saving Station, just east of Water Island, September 11, 1906

(for details on the U.S. Life-Saving Service, please see Fire Island Pines below)

 

 

 

Two-decker steam ferry Patchogue brings residents and guests for opening of new subdivision to build a modern beach community

 

 

 

White House Hotel, 1912

 

 

 

Ferry arriving from Sayville, August 1914;

White House Hotel, far right

 


 

Ethel B. & sister ship at Water Island pier, August 1914

 


Images: top three rows, from
Water Island compiled by Dr. Fred B. Jones, collection of Patchogue-Medford Library;

 bottom row left & right, collection of Long Island Maritime Museum

 

In 1912, the Caldwell Realty opened up a new area east of the hotels, promoting residential building, but the advent of WWI necessitating the closure of the White House Hotel, put an end to the community's development and popularity.   However, its isolation and the 1919 arrival of prohibition soon renewed Water Island's appeal but to a different group, rumrunners and their followers.  William Hauck restored the Hotel and it openly served liquor brought ashore from craft outside the three-mile limit; slot machines and other gambling were permitted.  The end of prohibition in 1934 coupled with the depression once again, killed the village.  In 1936, the Pavilion was torn down.  In 1938, the bank foreclosed on the Hauck and in April, the White House and was demolished; salvaged lumber was transported to Ocean Beach in a 1929 Ford Model A. After the September Hurricane, only 16 houses remained in the community.

 

 

 

Water Island, 1985

 

 

 Image: Dr. Fred B Jones collection of Patchogue-Medford Library

 

However, over the succeeding years residents cherished their privacy; there were no stores or restaurants, no public water supply or other basic services of any kind.  There was one public telephone at the pier and Water Island was one of the last Fire Island communities to connect to the LIPA grid in the 1970s (though a few may have previously had their own generators). The Water Island Association maintains the community pier and guards homeowners interests. In season, there is limited ferry service from Sayville.

 

BARRETT BEACH / TALISMAN 

 

 

 

Barrett Beach / Talisman from Bay to Ocean

 

 

 

Barrett Beach

 

 

 

Mid-Island concession area

 

 

 

Bayside pier

 

 

Images: Top row, courtesy of National Park Service; bottom. courtesy of Alida Thorpe, the artist

 

Most of Fire Island is in Brookhaven Town; residents of the east end of Islip Town wanted something closer than Atlantique for their docking and ocean beach access. Consequently, in the May 1957, the Town Board approved the purchase of a 300 foot strip of land from Bay to Ocean from the Home Guardian Company of New York for an Islip Town bathing beach; for this land, the Town Board sat, not as a Board but as the Trustee. At the time, there were no facilities.  In the early 1960s, the Board named the strip Barrett Beach after Elijah P. Barrett, a State Assemblyman and Senator, who died in 1966. In the late 1960s, it built a 40-slip marina and other amenities. Reportedly, the marina was constructed in a poor location, very susceptible to bad weather damage. For day-trippers, seasonal ferry service was provided from Port O' Call in Sayville. In the beginning it was successful with Stein's Ferry making six round-trips daily; by however, the Town replaced that with individual fishing boats making only one round daily.  In early 1997, Islip Town Supervisor Pete McGowan entered into discussions with the Fire Island National Seashore, declined to renew ferry and concession contracts and moved to close Barrett Beach down, citing down citing extent of losses and financial problems. Public protest began immediately; flyers appeared providing the number to call the Supervisor's office as did a cut-out-and-send petition to McGowan which appeared in the Suffolk County News. Visitors blamed the Town for mismanagement and failure to keep the Park up and McGowan's cancellation of all special events such as camp programs, dinner cruises, concerts; the Town cited other reasons for the fall-off in attendance including Lyme disease, bad weather,  heavy publicity about waste on ocean beaches and, perhaps more notably,  competition from the more recently established Sailors Haven/Sunken Forest. Nevertheless, the Town razed the playground, signified "No Trespassing" and donated the property  to FINS which accepted and had indicated that it intended to eliminate the marina and  put in a shorter dock better able to withstand winter weather. Today Barrett/Talisman is now part of the Fire Island National Seashore only accessible by private craft (or a walk along the Ocean beach). In season, it offers a pier for unloading and loading visitors only (i.e., No Parking alongside), a trail to the ocean beach, restrooms and a picnic area.

 

FIRE ISLAND PINES (On site of LONE HILL and FISHERMEN'S PATH)

 

 

 

Lone Hill Life-Saving  Station, 1898

 

 

 

Guardsmen with their boat and equipment, 1898

 

 

Vintage Lone Hill postcard.

 

Men from the Lone Hill Station aid  grounded S.S. Princess Irene, April 9, 1911

 

 

 

Lone Hill Coast Guardsmen returning from rescue,

postmarked August 25, 1908

 

 

 

Wet Pants visit Fishermen's Path, about 1940

 

 

Images: Top row, courtesy of Long Island Maritime Museum; middle row, courtesy of Fire Island Pines Historical  Preservation Society;
bottom row left,
Suffolk County News; right, from Pam Obrig Cunningham collection, courtesy of Tom Travis;

 The Congress appropriated $10,000 to establish the U.S. Life-Saving Service in 1848.  Stations, unmanned to be staffed by volunteers (like many of today's fire departments) were established near major ports and equipped with surf boats, rockets, light cannons (Lyle guns) and other auxiliary items. .In 1854, inspection of the stations indicated that much of the rescue gear was in bad shape or ruined and more money was made available to hire a full-time superintendent and two attendants for each station.  That same year, a station was built at Lone Hill, "eight miles east of Fire Island Light". Stations had many similarities: the ground floor encompassed a keeper's room, mess room, store room and boat room; the second floor had two dormitories, one for station crew and one for wreck survivors.  Boats were double ended, about 26 feet long and weighed from 700 to 1100 pounds, light enough to drag to the water.  At first, the site was only manned for three months in winter but the period was gradually extended to ten with July and August off. In 1871, local crews were increased to superintendent plus six men to man the boat. On January 28, 1915, President Woodrow Wilson merged the Life Saving Service with the  Revenue Cutter Service to form the U.S. Coast Guard.

As the 20th century progressed, large sailing ships disappeared and were replaced by motorized vessels; ship wrecks or beachings declined as did the apparent need for the Life-Saving Stations.  In 1933, President Roosevelt closed all Fire Island installations and the station at Lone Hill was listed as inactive in 1938 after the September hurricane demolished its boathouse.  It was returned to service immediately following Pearl Harbor and used as a mess and recreation area for the troops who were billeted there.  In August 1945, it was finally closed and abandoned the following year when Home Guardian Corporation bought the land.   

Around 1905, Warren (trained as a dentist) and brother Arthur Smadbeck succeeded their father, Louis - regarded as the "Henry Ford of Real Estate", who had begun his business in the 1890s - specializing in suburban real estate. Later,  they organized their own operation known as the Warren and Arthur Smadbeck Company which built more than 60 developments in the U.S.A., Canada and Cuba. Reportedly, in 1925, Warren, through one of his subsidiary companies Home Guardian of New York, purchased 200 acres in Lone Hill from Antoinette Sammis, daughter of David Sammis who had established the Surf Hotel (opposite Babylon), one of first on the Island.  However, as a result of the Depression, HGC development was delayed and, at some point, he sold it; later, he regained the land through foreclosure. During the 1930s and 1940s, "mainlanders" visited for day trips (and holly in the fall) and squatters had their own summer communities of makeshift huts on the beach. Additionally, that stretch of sand became regarded as the nude beach.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Ivertons, "squatters" in the 1940s; early residents of Fire Island Pines in the 1950s

 

 

 

Lone Hill Coast Guard Station, abandoned late 1940s

 

 

 

Re-furbished  as Fire Island Pines Community House, 1960s

 

 

Images: Courtesy of the Fire Island Pines Historical Preservation Society

 

By 1947, Home Guardian Company - a subsidiary of the Smadbeck Company, which was responsible for other developments on Long Island including in Mastic, Syosset and Rocky Point - was again underway with planning. It named the new community Fire Island Pines, predicated on the extensive growth of pine trees and holly in the area; presumably, the trees resulted from a ship from England carrying Christmas Trees which grounded near Lone Hill and was wrecked. In 1949, HGC hired Captain Ken Stein Sr. to transport both materials and potential buyers to the site which extended about one mile and a half along both shores, stretching between 1100 and 1400 feet wide.  Stein shipped over the first bulldozer to clear space for the future boardwalks and nine and a half miles of lumber needed to construct them.  He also converted an ex-Post Office Model A Ford to a beach buggy to be used for showing buyers locations and possibilities among the  model homes. HGC also employed a Spanish land architect who insisted that the natural hills in the area be preserved and as many trees as possible be saved, resulting in the rolling boardwalks and greenery that exist today. The sales office was the first building completed. Plans called for an initial first section of 122 plots, 60 by 100 feet and a minimum purchase of three lots.  Among early owners were Joan McCracken, Mary Martin, Xavier Cugat and Pola Negri.

                                                                                                                                                            

 

 

Patchogue Advance, June 26, 1952

 

 

 

Real Estate Office and Ford jitney, 1952

 

 

 

NY Papers, early 1950s

 

 

 

Fire Island Pines was the first passenger ferry to arrive in the Pines. She carried 54 passengers and crossed from  Sayville in forty minutes.  May 22, 1953

 

 

 

Fire Island Boulevard Harbor view, 1954

 

 

 

 

Welcome Sign, 1955

 

 

 

Peggy Fears' Yacht Club, 1957

 

 

Images: All photos courtesy of the Fire Island Pines Historical Preservation Society

 

HGC had anticipated sales as a five year project with one section to be developed each year.  However, sales of lots and construction of new houses went more rapidly than expected and Ken Stein introduced his new passenger ferry service sooner than anticipated.  His first boat, the former rumrunner Miss Ocean Beach, was reconditioned, renamed Fire Island Pines, and had her maiden trip on May 22, 1953. Early on, Clarence LaFountaine built a store selling propane and servicing electric and plumbing supplies and Warren Christopher and William Stryker had a general store.  Another early local entrepreneur was Peggy Spears (1903-1994), an ex-Ziegfeld girl who had married a  movie mogul, Arthur C. Blumenthal, and become a producer.  She bought property and built the two-story, 24-room Fire Island Pines hotel and Yacht Club restaurant on the harbor which she promoted heavily to theatrical people. Unfortunately, her entire complex burned on May 31, 1959 but she managed to get a replacement building for the restaurant  within five weeks by utilizing pre-fabricated aluminum structural components; the new Botel was completed later. The fire also led to organization of a local Fire District; the fire, itself, had been fought by a bucket brigade until help arrived from outside.

The Pines, in its early days, casting an eye westward toward Cherry Grove, indicated its great resistance to gay men and  tried to keep them out; residents  made it clear that this was a "Family Community" and singles of any persuasion were not wanted. However, in the 1960s, the opposition began to moderate with the arrival of John B. Whyte (1928-2004), a prominent model for Look, Life and other magazines.  He early acquired an initial interest in Fears' properties and bought her out in 1966; subsequently he owned about 80% of Pines commercial property (including Botel, Pavilion, Blue Whale and Cultured Elephant).  Although it was a very divisive issue among original owners, he encouraged the gay crowd and bent rules to accommodate them (which was one of the causes of the annual "Invasion of the Pines", begun in 1976). In 1966, he originated two of the community's signature activities, "Low Tea" dance at the Blue Whale from five to eight P.M. and "High Tea", also with dancing, at the Pavilion from eight to ten; the Blue Whale featured a cocktail of vodka and Curacao liqueur which left its customers with blue tongues. However, Whyte frowned on flamboyance, preferring decorum; he was known to shine his flashlight on a couple who might be stretching acceptable behavior. Whyte was co-founder of the Pines Conservation Society as well as founder of From the Pines With Love in 1984 which lined up celebrities to perform at benefits, principally for AIDS research.  In 2002, the Community House built on the site of the old Lone Hill Coast Guard Station (which it replaced) was named Whyte Hall, acknowledging his long-time service to the Pines community.

 

 

 

Fire Island Guide, 1986

 

 

 

Harbor and Business Section, early 2000s: from right

bottom, Pines Pantry, Blue Whale, Botel, retail shops including Cultured Elephant, Pavilion, ferry landing

 

 

 

 Robert Bonanno & Patty Rosado, President & Director of  FIPHPS welcome guests to Tea Dance at Blue Whale

 

 

Images: Top row right, Fire Island Guide, 1986; left, courtesy of Peter Weigel;

bottom, courtesy of Fire Island Pines Historical Preservation Society

In 2003, Whyte decided to sell his commercial holdings but wished them to continue to be managed as he had done; although his initial price had been $12 million, he finally selected a long-time Pines resident, Eric von Kuersteiner, who acquire them for $5.5 million. In 2006, Kuersteiner began a two million dollar restoration of the Pavilion, increasing not only guest capacity but also retail space on the harbor-front. In late 2009, for close to $20 million he then sold it to FIP Ventures, a trio that included Andrew Kirtzman, journalist and author; Matt Blesso, real estate investor; and Seth Weissman, investment banker. On November 1 2011, a devastating fire destroyed both the Pavilion and the adjoining LaFountaine building which included various entertainment venues, a clothing store and real estate offices.  More than 400 firemen from Bayside communities responded. The area has been rebuilt.

On January 22, 2015, the commercial strip on the harbor (once again including the Botel, Pavilion, Cultured Elephant, and Blue Whale) was auctioned off for $10.1 million to Ian Reisner, owner of Out NYC (a Manhattan hotel described as "straight-friendly") and P.J. McAteer who already owns several adjacentbusinesses in the Pines (Sip-n-Twirl Club, Bistro restaurant and a pizza parlor).

 

 

 

Whyte Hall: Community Center, Post Office,

Library and Medical Facility

 

 

 

New Pavilion

 

 

 

Fire Island Pines 2014

 

 

Images: Courtesy of the Fire Island Pines Historical Preservation Society

 

Today, Fire Island Pines is one of the largest communities on Fire Island, having between 600 and700 summer residences  including, reportedly, two-thirds of all the swimming pools on the Island, and a summer population of around 3,000 gay and straight (Winter, '12).   During the season, there are multiple highlight affairs, usually benefiting. LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual) groups or charities.

 

 

 

"Invaders" (and camp followers) arrive at the Pines, 2013

 

 

 

GMHC Morning Party, 1998

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ascension Beach Party, 2007

 

 

Images all courtesy of Fire Island Pines Historic Preservation Society

They include the Dance Festival; the "Invasion of the Queens" (started from Cherry Grove, 1976) on July 4; Pines Party, an all-night dance, begun in 1983 in response to the growing AIDS crisis, now held the last week-end in July, supporting multiple organizations;  and Ascension Weekend, added in 2006 to further attract outsiders; the same year, Fund in the Sun Foundation, established as a parent donor, distributing proceeds to various smaller LGBT groups.

 

CHERRY GROVE

In the 18th and 19th centuries, wreckers (or "land pirates" ) were active along the Great South Beach, lighting fires  that misled inbound ships, particularly in bad weather, causing them to ground on or close to the shore; when this occurred, they plundered the vessel, stealing valuable cargo and at times killing the crew in the process.  One such wrecker was Jeremiah Smith, descendant of William "Tangier" Smith, who - legend has it - built the first house on and was the first resident of Fire Island about 1795 at the present site of Cherry Grove.

Thus, Cherry Grove is the oldest "community" on Fire Island. In 1869, Archie Perkinson of Patchogue bought a mile of the beach stretching from Bay to Ocean from the William "Tangier" Smith Estate; the price was 25 cents a foot measured from Bay to Ocean (far less than the mile along the beach). He resurrected the/an (?) old pirate house; brought over a cow, horse and chickens; planted a small vegetable garden; built a dock and put up a "Shore Dinners" sign.  He named the site "Cherry Grove" because of its wild cherry trees.  Elizabeth, his wife, did the cooking and also, reportedly, made the first salt water taffy which she later shipped to both Cape Cod and Atlantic City.  About 1880, Perkinson built a two-story hotel on the site of his original building which, in 1895, he sold to his son, Stewart. (A later note was that "Perkinson built a small, roughly constructed hotel as a resort for fishermen and gunners".) The Perkinsons also leveled some of the dunes along the ocean front so their guests could more easily admire the seascape and also walk to the breakers. (About 1930, residents initiated a reverse process by establishing the Dunes Fund.).  However, as a community, the Grove grew very slowly; the first boardwalk was constructed about 1900 and there were only a few scattered cottages. Additionally, most of the Island communities were without any stores and household supplies had to be carried from the Mainland. .Consequently, in 1917, Captain Nelson D. (which did not stand for "Dick") Warner - a veteran of the Life Saving Service - converted his fishing boat, the Edward (named after his son), for ferry and supply services.  Daily in season, the boat would leave Patchogue and call at Cherry Grove, Point o' Woods, Ocean Beach and Saltaire carrying fresh fruits and vegetables, ice, kerosene and other household items for sale in the his floating market. In 1922, a seasonal Post Office was established with Mrs. Perkinson as Postmistress in her house on Ocean Walk; as a side line, she also carried a few canned goods but primary reliance for supplies remained with the Edward.

 

 

 

Cherry Grove pier and Hotel, postmarked August 17, 1909

 

 

 

The Edward, Captain Warner's ferry-supply boat with

  fresh fruits and vegetables, began running in 1917

 

 

 

 

Stein's Dare,  sloop converted with a gas engine,

began seasonal daily ferry service from West Sayville to Cherry Grove in 1918; boat also used for snapper fishing

 

 

 

Robert Roosevelt's yacht Sunbeam II became
subchaser S.P.251 in WWI; at the Grove, 1918

 

 

 

Meemy-Minee-Mo Cabins, examples of "tar paper construction" which was popular in the 1920s

 

 

 

Hotel from Ocean side; house to right was Mrs. Perkinson's combination home and store on Ocean Walk, about 1925

 

 

Images: All from collection of Ken Stein, Jr except middle row, right from collection of Sayville Library

 

Following WWI, additional housing units, mostly from the recently closed Camp Upton, were barged over from Patchogue. During the prohibition years, Cherry Grove continued to grow.  It could offer day-trippers not only good shore dinners but also other activities; the family could rent beach umbrellas, chairs, bathing suits and water wings and older members could visit the speakeasy and enjoy liquor, pool and slot machines. In 1921, the Perkinsons sold land east of Duryea Walk to Lone Hill and divided what was left into 109 building lots 50 x 80 feet  which were available for $250 or less. Sayville residents and others availed themselves of the opportunities to buy these for their own summer cottages (frequently simple  tar-paper "shacks") and rented their Mainland homes to city people in the summers.

In 1926, the Perkinsons  turned over management of the Hotel to others - first John Case, then Fred Stein, Joe Levy, and, lastly, Al Sykes - before leasing and then selling it to Edward Duffy in 1939 for $95,000. In February 1928, the summer population now being about 300 people, the Brookhaven Town Board approved construction of a complete system of new boardwalks - about 3,800 feet in total for about $4,000 - as soon as release dedicating rights-of-way to the Town could be gained from the residents; the few existing walks had been in dangerous condition for some time.  In June, the contract was awarded to Gibson & Cushman of Bay Shore and construction was underway in August. The Cherry Grove Association made its debut about (or before) this time; it's first mention in the press was August 31, 1928 citing President Gustav Schmidt, owner of a paint store in Patchogue, and  Vice-President Harry Weeks,  also of Patchogue.

In 1929, as a result of a wager and with the permission of the Post Office Department, an "Air Mail" flight from Patchogue to Cherry Grove was scheduled for July 4.  It was the first (and apparently last) air mail service between these two Long Island Post Offices, a special cachet was applied to mail involved and two carriers left Patchogue P.O., one travelling by speedboat and one by air, to "determine which course was faster". In April 1931, Stewart Perkinson transferred the rights to his remaining land - a 250 foot wide strip from Bay to Ocean which encompassed the dock, hotel pavilion, grocery store post office and ocean bathhouses - to Joseph B. Levy of Sayville.  

In August 1931, on behalf of the Association, Schmidt (who was also unofficial "Mayor") and Weeks enlisted the aid of Suffolk County District Attorney Blue in combating "acts committed by parties coming for picnics or on sailing excursions", most notably those on moonlight sails who were intoxicated; they included "acts of both men and women which offended public decency".  The village set strict rules and regulations concerning dock and beach use, underlining the fact that the beach was (at that time) privately owned and that entrance to it could be barred by turning back entrance at the dock.  Although there may have been a few gays in residence at the time, they were not the issue!

 

 

 

 

"First Flight" delivery of air mail (apparently, the only one ever) from Patchogue, July 4th, 1929

 

 

 

After Captain Warner abandoned his "bum-boat".  

Edward, it returned as a Stein Ferry in the 1930s

 

 

 

Suffolk County News, July 5, 1929

 

 

 

Suffolk County News, July 7, 1933

 

 

 

Captain Warner's  General Store, about 1932

 

 

 

West End with new boardwalks, about 1935

 

 

 

Dock at Cherry Grove with ferry Wayfarer I  right, about 1934.  The craft, originally a pleasure yacht, was built in

New Jersey in  1928 and capable of 12 knots

 

 

 

Guests from Cedarshore Hotel in Sayville visit Cherry Grove, 1930s; note how dunes had been lowered

 

 

Images: Top row left, third row, and bottom left  from collection of Ken Stein Jr; top row right, courtesy of Fire Island Pines Historical Preservation Society;  second row as indicated; bottom right from collection of Webb N. Morrison

 In 1931, Captain Warner built his general store with his residence above on the Bayside; the following year he was appointed  Postmaster; he sold the store in September 1944 but was still Postmaster at the time of his unfortunate death while ice-fishing on the Bay in January 1945. The early 1930s had also been marked by squabbles over docking space and the need for a new public dock, who would pay for it and who would use it.  Finally, in 1933 , the CGA requested that the Town of Brookhaven establish a Dock District and build a permanent all-year round pier which the residents would be taxed for; the District was approved on May 26 and the contract for construction was award June 30. That same year, in West Sayville, Fred Stein collaborated with Walter Lightner  on the development and building of the "Cherry Grove Sneak Box", a small sailboat for junior members of the new Cherry Grove Yacht Club; at least four were built that winter in Lightner's Boat Yard to be raced the next summer.

On September 21, 1938 the unexpected Hurricane struck.  The dunes, which had been lowered by previous managements to allow a better view of the sea, allowed the Ocean to break through both east and west of the Hotel and divide the settlement into three segments. The holly trees, the boardwalks and the remnants of most houses all ended up floating in the Bay; only about 20 of around 85 homes were left on the ground, possibly salvageable. However, the Hotel, General Store and Post Office survived the storm.

 

 

 

Bayside before hurricane of September 21, 1938

 

 

 

 

 

 




The beach, 1940s



The East End, 1940s

 

Images: Top left from collection of Webb N. Morrison,
right ©Cherry Grove Archives Collection from2013 "Celebrating the Heart of Cherry Grove-The Community House" by Lorraine H. Michels;  bottom left , from collection of Ken Stein Jr; bottom right courtesy of Frank McAlonan

 

In 1939, Edward Duffy bought the Hotel and property from the Perkinson family. Additionally, the Town authorized and the WPA re-built about one and three-quarters miles (about 9,000 feet, more than double the 1929 distance) of boardwalks as visitors slowly began to return to the Grove. The Hotel was the only location with a electricity and a telephone. Then WWII arrived;  the U.S. Army took over the Hotel and Marines moved into the Lone Hill Coast Guard station. Both groups took part in 24 hour continuous beach patrols.  Gas rationing encouraged people to stay closer to home. However,  hurricane history, stringent regulations against lights and other restrictions may have diminished family arrivals while the gay community - who had not been welcomed in any of the western Fire Island villages - continued to expand, happy with its isolation. Cherry Grove was on its way to becoming the "gay capital of the World". This bothered not only some long-term summer residents but also day-trippers from across the Bay and the situation  became a crisis with a murder  involving two week-end visitors in July 1949. The Suffolk County News printed an editorial entitled "A Moral Danger"; the Cherry Grove Property Owners Association held a special meeting, moving to rid the resort of "undesirable elements"; Edward Duffy agreed to hire a house detective recommended by the Brookhaven Police for his Hotel; cottage owners were asked to refuse rentals to "men of questionable character";  the Arts Project distributed flyers detailing New York laws against nudity and lewd costumes; and  the Board requested additional police protection because the one patrolman assigned could not "effectively handle the situation". Some objectors sold and  moved away and a truce was achieved.

The Cherry Grove Property Owner's Association had been organized in September 1944 with Dr. Ernest Osborne as its first President; he believed that incorporation was not necessary at the time because the group had neither property assets nor beach rights.  However, the Association did incorporate in March 1946 and took over current projects including the community center and yacht club.  (Dr. Osborne also played a very significant role in saving the Sunken Forest, its neighbor to the west.) In 1945, Earl Blackwell, publisher of  International Celebrity Register  and  Association board member had raised $1,000 for a new Community House;  in January 1946, a barn was purchased from the Hester family in Sayville, barged over, and renovated to serve that purpose; a large stage area was added on its west end.  In 1948, the CGPOA organized the Art Project for the "benefit and entertainment of the entire community".  Its first performance, Cherry Grove Follies (see below), was held in the new Community House Theatre on September 25, 1948 (with the help of a cable from the Hotel, the only source of electricity at the time). In May 1949, New York Telephone laid a cable from Bay Shore across the Bay, expecting to initiate service to Cherry Grove by mid-summer.

 

 

 

 

The barn enlarged to a Community House/Theater, 1947

 

 

 

Cherry Grove, about 1950

 

 

 

Cherry Grove, about 1950

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cherry Grove, about 1950

 

 

 

Regatta on the Great South Bay, about 1950

 

 

 

Completed Community House / Theatre

 and Fire Department (lower left), 1950

 

 

Images: Top and third rows, courtesy of Lee Sharmat, © 2015 Cherry Grove Archives Collection;

second row, courtesy of Alice Gray; bottom row, © Cherry Grove Archive Collection,

 from 2013 "Celebrating the Heart of Cherry Grove - The Community House" by Lorraine H. Michels"

 

Also, in 1948  Benedict Erstein, chief of the newly organized Fire Department, appeared before the Brookhaven Town Board and requested creation of a "fire protection district"; he noted that the Department owned 20 large extinguishers in place at  strategically located cottages  and also  had five alarms.  The appeal was denied; he was informed that equipment on hand must include at least a fire truck or hose cart and a petition signed by at least half of all taxpayers. Full status as Fire District (a political entity with infrastructure that can set taxes) was finally approved and effective on October 1, 1960 and (by New York State Law) 14 taxpayers had to travel over to the Grove for the first Department election on the cold night of December 6.  Now, the Department has several small vehicles which run on the boardwalks, specially designed hose houses with needed equipment located at strategic locations around the village and pull-alarms at many intersections that will immediately sound a fire alarm.

 In the early 1950s, John Henry Eberhardt (1921-2014) arrived in the Grove; he was a noted painter, set designer and self-taught architect as well as an enthusiastic collector of art and antiques.  He was especially a promoter and developer of the community; he began building La Ciel, his fantasy palace furnished from his personal collections, in 1957, which he continued to expand into the 1970s when building beyond existing foundations was no longer permitted. Over the years, he also designed and built more than 50 other houses in the resort.   In 1985, his palatial home became the Belvedere Guest House for Men.

In April 1954, Edward Duffy sold his hotel, including three cottages, a pump house and generator building to Alexander Lenes, a New York attorney, for $95,000; Mr. Lenes was the sole stockholder of the new Cherry Grove Hotel and Restaurant Corporation.  Early on September 27, 1956, the Hotel was struck by fire.  All 30 people on the Beach that night (including 12 women) joined to fight the fire with their two small pumpers and Indian tanks but the building and two adjacent cottages burned to the ground within an hour; however, despite wind, searing flames and flying sparks, they managed to save everything else. Mr. Lenes acted quickly; in October, Carl Stoye of Sayville began developing plans for a new building and ground was broken in early January. The Town approved plans for a 58-room building, in a U-shape around a covered patio; one arm was to be two stories high with guest rooms, the other one-story with bar, lounge and dining room. A pool was added almost immediately.

 

 

 

 

Grove Hotel and Ice Palace from Bay

 

 

 

Grove Hotel Patio and Pool

 

 

 

Bay from Grove Hotel

 

 

Images courtesy of Ramon Pena-Sierra

 

By the 1960s, the Community House had been continually improved and the "Arts Project" gained  non-profit status in 1964. The Property Owners Association had continued to complain about police raids but they appeared to end about the time of  the "Stonewall Riots" in June 1969.  In 1972, The New York Times, referring to Cherry Grove, said "the generally more sympathetic public attitude toward homosexuality is already being reflected by the Suffolk County Police Department.  It appears to be taking a live-and-let live attitude, ignoring moderate displays of public affection."




Cherry Grove, 1976
 

Image:© Cherry Grove Archives from 2013 "Celebrating the Heart of Cherry Grove - The Community House" by Lorraine H. Michels

As the gays and the straights began to know, recognize and adjust to each other, it appears that some of the more flamboyant actions and activities which may have exacerbated the divisions, declined. However, there were exceptions, one leading to the establishment of an annual Community attraction. In 1976, a Cherry Grove resident in drag visited the Pines, a somewhat more conservative venue at the time, and was so overbearing that he was refused service by John Whyte (see Pines above); upon returning to the Grove, he gathered some allies all of whom joined him, dressed appropriately, and took to the water for  the first "Invasion of the Pines", a spectacle which has grown as it has been repeated each July 4 for forty years. In the 1970s, women also broke the male barrier  and joined the Fire Department.                                                 

In the 1980s , the summer visitors were had hit by the "Health Crisis" as AIDS  struck the Community. Life continued, but cautiously and  on a more somber note , and more women arrived taking over some houses vacated by its victims.

 

A major event in the 1990s took place at the annual crowning of the 1994 Homecoming Queen who would represent the Community at many of the social functions throughout the season (e.g., host the Queen's Tea, attend various theatrical performances, cut ribbon at the annual Art Show, sit in at meetings of the Arts Project);  it turned into a major aberration when the audience elected a "real girl".                     

                                                                                                   

 

 

Dock Arrival, August 1995

 

 

 

 The Wagon Park, August 1994

 

 

 

Post Office

 

 

 

Downtown, August 1991

 

 

 

La Ciel, home of John H. Eberhardt, later Belvedere

 

 

 

East Waterfront

 

 

 

Deer: Friend and Menace, Do Not Feed!, August 1995

 

 

 

Quiet Side Walk

 

 

First Response Vehicle

 

 

 

 

View of the Bay from the Top

 

All images courtesy of Alice Gray

In the mid-1950s, the Property Owners Association bought a plot and  built a house to be used by volunteer doctors for some or all of each summer. Over the years , this was not always satisfactory because of gaps in medical presence and delayed responses from outside locations.  Emergency Calls were handled by Suffolk County Police who were not always present in the Grove.  In 2014, the local Emergency Services Committee was able to raise about $ 85,000 to provide improved medical services.  With this, they contracted with Sayville-based Community Ambulance Company to supply 24/7 paramedics during the season (reducing response time to about three minutes) and purchased a  $12,000 emergency response vehicle equipped with necessary equipment.  In addition, North-Shore-LIG Health System staffed a critical care clinic four-hours daily in the original doctor's home, referred to as "Belly Acres".

 

 

 

Johnny DiOrieo and Harriet Retsina sang "45 Minutes from Sayville" in  Cherry Grove Follies of 1949

 

 

 

"Helen Traubel" (George Claussen) & "Jimmy Durante" (Maggie McCorkle) in First Little Show of 1951

 

 

 

"Razzle Dazzle"  from Randy & Panzi production of Shubert Alley, July 1980

 

 

 

Return of the Golden Girls  with a few more silver threads,

directed by Dominic De Santis & Don James, August 1989

 

 

 

Minnie's Girls, a Twisted Musical directed by

Randy Riggs, August 1990

 

 

 

Dames, Damsels and Dumb Blondes,

Doctor's Fund Benefit, July 2007

 

 

 

Roaring Twenties, 14th Annual Doctor's Fund Benefit,
July 2010

 

   

 

Community House proudly displays Gay Pride rainbow bunting, awaiting next performance

 

 

All images © Cherry Grove Archives Collection can be found in Lorraine Michels'  2013

"Celebrating the Heart of Cherry Grove - The Community House"

second row right and third row left photos © by photographer Susan Kravitz

Two other recent events relate to the Community House and Theater. In 2011, two local (summer) artists, Chris Bogia of Queens and Evan Garza, Public Programs Coordinator at Boston School of the Museum Fine Arts,  initiated the Fire Island Artists Residency Program, open only to those identified as LGBT. The first year, five were selected from among 75 applicants to participate in the two-week all-expense paid program which included visiting artist lectures and film screenings.  Since, the Residency has drawn hundreds of National and International applications. The program is the first in the Country to focus exclusively on LGBT artists.

The second event occurred in 2013 when the Cherry Grove Community House and Theatre  was  placed on the National Park Service's National Register of Historic Places  Worthy of Preservation, announced in June by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York.  She commended the Theatre, noting that over its first 65 years it "played a major role in the development of gay performing arts and initiated the first American venue to feature productions by gay people".  Further, it is the only the second LGBT site (after Stonewall Inn) to be recognized in the Register.

 

 

 

"Legends 2009", a bi-annual production in which all living past Homecoming Queens are invited to participate;

theme was "Barbie". "Panzi"(2nd from left) was first and second Queen (1976-1977)

 

 

 

"Invaders" (and camp followers ) en route

 

 

 

 

Volleyball: "Grovettes" vs "Copettes", August 1990

 

 

 

 

 

Competing  for "Miss Fire Island" at the Grove Hotel

 

 

Iimages: Top row, ©Cherry Grove Archives Collection, from 2013 "Celebrating the Heart of Cherry Grove - The Community House" by Lorraine Michels; all others courtesy of Alice Gray except bottom left, courtesy of

Fire Island Pines Historic Preservation Society

Today, Cherry Grove is a bustling summer haven of about 2,000 straight and LGBT residents and 300 houses. However, it also attracts many non-residents, not only for its beach but also for its annual events which include: its two major drag contests, crowning of the Homecoming Queen in May and Miss Fire Island in September; its Memorial Day remembrance (who is still here/ who is not?); its (2) Casino Nights in July, benefiting in rotation the Community Doctors Fund, Fire Department and Arts Project;  its Art Show;  and its annual Volleyball Tournament, begun in 1984, wherein Grovettes play the Copettes (Suffolk County Police Marine Bureau) the first week in August. Additionally, its residents are the major participants in the "Invasion of the Pines" which occurs on the Fourth of July. In more recent years, it has been necessary to charter a ferry boat accompanied by a fleet of smaller craft to carry the much expanded number of participants in their best finery to the Pines on each anniversary; following a parade through the community, they declare "victory" and return home.

 

SAILOR'S HAVEN / SUNKEN FOREST

The Sunken Forest at Sailors Haven is two-to-three-hundred years old; protected by two sets of sand dunes, it encompasses within its vegetation considerable holly, pitch pine, sassafras, wild cherry and other beach growth. .During American prohibition (1919-1933) it was widely used by "rumrunners" as temporary storage space for their goods, floated ashore and later passed on to South Shore Long Island ice houses or other facilities for distribution. Occasional visitors either arrived by private boat or by ferry to either Point o' Woods or Cherry Grove. However, it was plundered for many years - particularly in the fall - by individual and commercial holly-pickers who sailed over and stripped trees for Holiday decorations.

 

 

A view from the Sunken Forest overlook platform

 

Sailor's Haven

 

 

 

Easter Entrance to Sunken Forest

 

 

 

Party tours Forest

 

 

 

Ranger explains surroundings

 

 

 

Visitors sometimes see deer in the dunes

 

 

 

Western Entrance to Sunken Forest

 

 

Images: All from the U. S. National Park Service except bottom left from collection of Ken Stein, Jr

 




Suffolk County News, June 30, 1950 

 

An ad appeared in the Suffolk County News of June 30, 1950 concerning an auction of a tract of land about two miles west of Cherry Grove which included part of the Sunken Forest.  Prior to the auction, Dr. Ernest G. Osborne, professor of Education at Columbia University and a summer resident of Cherry Grove, discovered that the only bidder appeared to be a developer who planned to divide the tract up into 21 lots so, even though he did not have the money, he outbid the developer.  Harvey Case of Sayville and Dr. Edward Smith of Bayport who were also at the auction supported him. Dr. Osborne  then approached Richard Pough, curator of the department of  conservation at the American  Museum of Natural History in New York, with the idea of  establishing the area as a public preserve.  At the time, Mr. Pough was also President of the Nature Conservancy and, among its major aims, was preservation of such areas of natural attractions; the result was the formation of Wildlife Preserves Inc. as a holding company for more land they hoped to acquire with the final objective  of eventually turning all over to, perhaps, the State Park system so that the public could enjoy it. .By July 1955, after much fund-raising to gain $100,000, the group had acquired 60 acres and formed a new non-profit Sunken Forest Preserve, Inc.; it was to be a "living museum" not open to campers or picnickers but available to all nature lovers. Dr. Osborne was appointed custodian. In 1956, the group  moved on to buy another strip of unused land on their western edge to bar builders from constructing more new houses next to their sanctuary and the Point o' Woods Association, joining them,  bought an  additional piece to further expand the protective buffer zone. On Saturday, August 13, 1960, Sunken Forest Preserve  - which by now had been expanded to a 75-acre sylvan tract - held its dedication ceremony in the Community Church in Point o' Woods; over the previous decade it had succeeded in purchasing six contiguous parcels extending one-half mile along the Bay and Ocean fronts and all mortgages had been paid off. .In December 1962, the trustees of the Preserve offered their unspoiled tract to the U. S. Government with the condition that no road ever be built through the area.  The National Park Service had already been under pressure to establish a national seashore on the barrier beach. .On September 3, 1964, Congress passed the enabling legislation, the Wilderness Act, for the National Seashore, and President Johnson signed it a few days later. On May 5, 1966, the U.S. Government took title to the Sunken Forest which was transferred from the Sunken Forest Preserve. The conveyance was made subject to two conditions: the Preserve shall always be maintained as a sanctuary for wildlife and no public road shall be built or used through, upon or over any part of it.

However, there was still land in private hands on the eastern edge of the Sunken Forest. About 50 acres had been acquired by Sailors Haven - Fire Island Inc  headed by President Herman M. Seldin, a Jamaica realtor. In September 1960, he  had announced the establishment of the Sailors Haven Yacht Club on a ten-acre tract on the Bayside, offering a private boat basin and snack bar. He planned to construct 32 one-to-three room efficiency apartments for occupancy from Memorial Day to Labor Day 1961 as well as individual three-bedroom homes for long-term lease only. They were to be of early Colonial architectural style, heated for off-season use, notably for duck hunters and fishermen. ..Additional future expansion, including use of the other two 20-acre parcels (one south and east of the original tract, the second  underwater north of the eastern ground and contiguous with the marina) envisioned apartments along both Bay and Ocean fronts with small groups of one-family homes in the hilly center of the Island, a hotel, and store and restaurants to meet the needs of  boating enthusiasts.  A portion of the beach would be reserved for picnic grounds for boating visitors. In order to retain a natural appearance, the harbor would not be bulkheaded and small craft could simply nose into soft sand.  No part of the community was to be sold; portions of the land could be leased to builders but all would remain under control of Sailors Haven-Fire Island Inc. to ensure that architecture would conform to the natural features of the area.

 

 

 

Suffolk County News, September 8, 1960

 

 

 

Suffolk County News, April 20, 1961

 

 

Apparently, the community was unsuccessful and/or possibly later was discouraged by the advent of the Fire National Seashore.  No publicity can be located beyond 1961. In 1965,  Sailors Haven sponsors became involved in court proceedings with the Secretary of the Interior (acting on behalf of the Seashore) concerning the value of its land acquisition and the suit was settled in May 1969. However, by 1967, what little of the original expectations had actually become reality was taken over by the Seashore; the Yacht Club building was converted to a Visitors Center, the other buildings to housing for Rangers and staff, and the 100-boat marina reduced by about fifty percent.. 


Return to Start of Page