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Fire Island Beach Detail - Smith Point, New York

© Sophie W. Smith

Joined October 2012

Artist's Description

Fire Island is the large center island of the outer barrier islands adjacent to the south shore of Long Island, New York. It is approximately 31 miles (50 km) long and varies between 520 and 1,300 feet (160 and 400 m) wide. Fire Island is part of Suffolk County. It lies within the towns of Babylon, Islip, and Brookhaven, containing two villages and a number of hamlets. All parts of the island not within village limits are part of the Fire Island census-designated place (CDP), which had a permanent population of 292 at the 2010 census,1 though that expands to hundreds of thousands of residents and tourists during the summer months.
The land area of Fire Island is 9.6 square miles (24.9 km2)
Fire Island lies on average 5.5 miles (8.9 km) off the south shore of Long Island, but nearly touches it along the east end. It is separated from Long Island by Great South Bay, which spans interconnected bays along Long Island: Patchogue Bay, Bellport Bay, Narrow Bay, and Moriches Bay. The island is accessible by automobile near each end: via Robert Moses Causeway on its western end, and by William Floyd Parkway (Suffolk County Road 46) near its eastern end. Cross-bay ferries connect to over 10 points inbetween. Motor vehicles are not permitted on the rest of the island, except for utility, construction and emergency access and with limited beach-driving permits in winter. The island and its resort towns are accessible by boat, seaplane and a number of ferries, which depart from Patchogue, Bay Shore and Sayville.
Fire Island is located at 40°39’35" north, 73°5’23" west (40.653188, -73.125795).3 According to the United States Census Bureau, Fire Island has a land area of 9.6 square miles (24.9 km2).
William “Tangier” Smith held title to the entire island in the 17th century, under a royal patent from Thomas Dongan. The remnants of Smith’s Manor of St. George are open to the public in Shirley, New York.
The first large house was built in 1795 in Cherry Grove by Jeremiah Smith. Smith was said to have lured ships to their doom and killed the crews.89
In the early 19th century when slavery was still legal in New York, slave runners built stockades on the island by the Fire Island Inlet.
The first Fire Island Lighthouse was built in 1825 and was replaced by the current lighthouse in 1858.
In 1855, David S.S. Sammis bought 120 acres (0.49 km2) near the Fire Island Lighthouse and built the Surf Hotel at what today is Kismet. Sammis operated the hotel until 1892, when the state took it over. In 1908, it became the first state park on Long Island.
In 1868, Archer and Elizabeth Perkinson bought the land around Cherry Grove and Fire Island Pines. They built a hotel in 1880.
In 1887, the Coast Guard established 11 manned lifesaving stations on the island.
In 1892, troops were called out to suppress a potential riot at Democrat Point over a cholera panic.10
In 1908, Ocean Beach was established, followed by Saltaire in 1910.
In 1921, the Perkinsons sold the land around Cherry Grove in small lots. Bungalows from the newly closed Camp Upton in Yaphank were ferried over the Great South Bay to build the new community. Duffy’s Hotel was built in 1930.
The Great Hurricane of 1938 devastated much of the island and made it appear undesirable to many. However, Duffy’s Hotel remained relatively undamaged. According to legend, the gay population began to concentrate in Cherry Grove at Duffy’s Hotel with Christopher Isherwood and W. H. Auden dressed as Dionysus and Ganymede and carried aloft on a gilded litter by a group of singing followers.11 The gay influence was continued in the 1960s when male model John B. Whyte developed Fire Island Pines. The Pines currently has some of the most expensive property on the island and accounts for two-thirds of the island’s swimming pools.12
In 1964, Robert Moses built the Captree Causeway to the western end of the island.13 Opponents, fearing that this was the beginning of plans for the continuation of Ocean Parkway, which would have run down the middle of the island, organized and eventually stopped the parkway.
In September 1964, Lyndon Johnson signed a bill creating Fire Island National Seashore.Read more

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