GILGO BEACH TIMELINE
Researched, Compiled and Edited By
Mike Cavanaugh, Cottage Walk, Gilgo Beach, N. Y.
Check out his web site Baybottles.com for some interesting and neat history on glass bottles found while he kayaks in the Great South Bay.
Early 1850’s – Hemlock Life Saving Station Established
1879 – First Hemlock Beach Lease
1880’s – VanNostrand Pavilion/Cottage Colony Established at Hemlock Beach
1898 – Daily Ferry Service to Hemlock Beach Established
1900 – Initial Town Survey of Gilgo Beach
1902 – Steamer Service to Hemlock Beach Established
1903 – First Gilgo Beach Leases
1905 – New Inlet Opens near Hemlock Beach
1914 – Storms Force Exodus to Gilgo – 14 Houses Moved from Hemlock to Gilgo
1914 – Gilgo Hotel and Bathing Pavilion Established
1916 – Hemlock Life Saving Station Abandoned
1920 – Close to 50 Cottages at Gilgo
1928 – Deeds Town Lands to NYS for Ocean Parkway
1930 – 22 Cottages Moved to Construct Ocean Parkway – Today’s Cottage Walk Established
1931 – Ocean Parkway Opened Adjacent to Gilgo – Gilgo Parking Lot Established
1933 – Parking Lot Enlarged
1933 – Coast Guard Station/Coast Guard Cove Opened
1934 – Amityville Cut Dredged
1934 – Unqua Corinthian Yacht Club’s Beach Side Facilities Established
1935 – Gilgo Beach Inn Opened
1935 – Electricity Comes to Gilgo
1939 – West Gilgo Beach Association Established
1939/1940 – 40+ Houses Moved from High Hill to West Gilgo
Late 1940’s Early 1950’s – Broadway Houses Begin to Appear at Gilgo
1962 – Innaugural East Coast Surfing Championships Held at Gilgo Beach
THE GILGO BEACH STORY- 1850’s to 1960’s
April 17, 1914. That’s the date of an old newspaper called the “Amityville Sun” which we found in the walls of our family’s Gilgo Beach cottage. So, it seems that our little summer home, situated on Cottage Walk, is in excess of 100 years old. That date likely puts it on the oceanfront until 1930 when it was one of 22 houses moved off the beach to facilitate construction of Ocean Parkway. Today, Cottage Walk is not a boardwalk but a road, and many of its cottages or “beach houses” have been replaced with larger “houses on the beach.” That being said, our little house, along with several other surviving cottages, represent a piece of Gilgo history that fades a little more each time another one vanishes from the “Walk.”
The following is a modest attempt to record and preserve some of this Gilgo history before all signs of the past disappear. There’s not a person who lives at Gilgo, at least for very long, that doesn’t appreciate the beauty and lifestyle of what one writer called “this colony cuddled on the sandy beach between the ocean and the bay, isolated as it were by a series of winding channels.” Hopefully better defining the who, what and where of Gilgo’s past will lead to an even better appreciation of our special community.
With that in mind, I’ve researched old, Gilgo related, newspaper stories and have attempted to verbally knit them together to form this historical narrative. In a nutshell, what I found was a community that grew up around a government life saving station at Hemlock Beach and was forced by Mother Nature to move west to its current location at Gilgo in and around 1914/1915. Ultimately the construction of Ocean Parkway east of Jones Beach resulted in much of today’s configuration.
THE EARLY DAYS – 1850 TO 1879
Back in the early 1850’s the barrier beach south of Amityville actually consisted of two separate islands, Jones Island to the west, and Oak Island (not to be confused with today’s Oak Island) to the east, separated by the Gilgo Inlet. As you might expect, the inlet’s exact location was somewhat fluid over the years but in the mid to late 1800’s it was typically located somewhere in the vicinity of today’s Gilgo. An 1875 “shipwreck” story described the inlet like this:
(N Y Times Dec 31, 1875) The locality where the vessel is reported to be lying is just off the south-western end of Oak Island, at the mouth of the Gilgo Inlet and near to the eastern point of Jones Island. The distance from this city is about twenty-five miles, and it is ten miles from Fire Island Light. These islands are two of a series of sand bars which reach along nearly the whole coast and lay just off the village of South Oyster Bay. On either ends of the islands are life saving stations and the two on the western end of Oak and the eastern end of Jones are separated by Gilgo Inlet, which is only one-half mile across. Projecting from the mouth of the inlet there is a very dangerous sandbar, which has only a few feet of water to cover it at best. Taking the regular course down the coast, standing off, so as to draw from eleven to thirteen fathoms of water, a steamer, were she keeping close in so as to draw the lesser quantity, would run on to this bar. Experienced captains know this danger, and when they make Fire Island light, stand further out so as to avoid it. In case they experience weather like that of yesterday, when the fog was so thick that it was impossible to see twenty yards ahead, they can tell by the regularity of the soundings that they are in dangerous waters, for up to a few hundred yards of the shore the chart indicates, almost invariably, eleven fathoms, and then suddenly the plum shows only seven.
The story mentioned life saving stations at both the east end of Jones Island and the west end of Oak Island. These stations were two in a series of 32 situated along Long Island’s south coast from Coney Island to Montauk. Crews assigned to each station patrolled the beach, searching for and providing assistance to stranded vessels.
The station on the west end of Oak Island (USLSS # 27) was established in the early 1850’s. Originally known as “Oak Island west end station, effective June 1, 1883 its name was changed to “Station Gilgo.” Located approximately one mile east of today’s Gilgo Beach Inn, Hemlock Beach, the predecessor to Gilgo, grew up around this station.
It’s quite likely the station’s crew were the first people to call Hemlock/Gilgo home. A keeper and crew of surfmen manned the station for eight months a year.
(Brooklyn Daily Eagle September 23, 1888) For three months, beginning September 1, six surfmen, beside the keeper, are employed at each of the thirty-two stations. From December 1 to April 30 an additional surfman goes on duty at each station. The pay of the keepers is at the rate of $58.33 per month. The surfmen receive $50 a month for from five to eight months’ service.
Coast Guard records include the names of the keepers that staffed the station through the years: The first two keepers were James Zachariah (appointed in 1853) and Ebenezer Chichester (appointed in 1856); the terms of neither of these is known. Prior Weeks was appointed at the age of 58 (with experience as a surfman, sailor, etc.) on July 3, 1869, and served until his resignation effective December 1, 1877 (“or when suitable replacement can be found”). Then came Frank E. Wicks (November 20, 1877 until October 14, 1885), William E. Austin (November 2, 1885 until his death “from disease contracted in line of duty” on January 30, 1909), Israel VanNostrand (appointed March 6, 1909 until his reassignment to the Long Beach station on April 4, 1917).
Unofficially that makes James Zachariah the first seasonal resident of Gilgo. Ebenezer Chichester would go on to become the first permanent resident, if you believe the following story.
(Brooklyn Daily Eagle Sept 9, 1888) Oak Island is ten miles from Amityville, and on it there is living one of the strangest characters of modern times, whose story of existence for a number of years past will read more like fiction than fact, although its truth cannot be disputed.
Ebenezer Chichester was born in East Amityville, seventy-two years ago. Arriving at the age of early manhood he married a most estimable lady who bore him two sons, Ebenezer, Jr., and William Henry. The first named entered the Northern army in 1861 and the latter was one of Stonewall Jackson’s foot calvery during the whole of the late sectional unpleasantness and he still resides somewhere in the South, but at what point the old gentleman does not know as he has never heard from that son directly since he left Amityville. The other, who was the elder of the two boys, died by his battery at Malvern Hill on the Peninsula of Virginia, during the memorable seven days’ fight when McClellan was routed. The loss of the eldest child preyed heavily on the mind of Mrs. Chichester, and she died of a broken heart. This was the turning point in the old man’s life, and he then resolved to quit the world and all mankind by living for the balance of his life in seclusion. He then repaired to Oak Island, which was a barren sandy waste at that time and covered with water during high tides. For a number of years Mr. Chichester carted dirt and made a mound twenty feet high upon which he built a hut, six feet by six, in which he has lived ever since. On one side of the hut he has erected a bunk in which he sleeps and the other side is devoted to kitchen purposes and a workshop. In the rear of the castle Mr. Chichester has dug a hole in the clay and made a storage room. For twenty years he has lived in solitary seclusion without seeing the face of a single man and subsisting during the time on birds and fish. His room is stocked with a dozen old fashioned muzzle loader guns, and with these he has done effective service. The old recluse stands six feet two inches in his stockings. He is as straight as an arrow, with long full white beard. He keeps well posted on the affairs of the day by reading the papers sent to him from Amityville, and he is strong for Cleveland. It must be remembered that Oak Island is not quite so lonesome a place as it was a few years ago. There is a life saving station on it now, and it is called Gilgo. It is in charge of Captain William Austin, who was a gunner on board the ill fated frigate Congress at the time the Confederate ram Merrimack sunk her in Hampton Roads, Virginia. He is as brave now as he was then, and many a sailing craft passing that shore will, through its crew, bear witness to the fact. If it was not for that life saving crew the poor old hermit would probably have perished long ago. At the time of the blizzard he was snowed in and could not get out of his hut, but the crew of the Life Saving Station missed him and, under the direction of Captain Austin, they dug him out of imprisonment after two days’ hard labor, and were pleased to hear old Solitary laugh and say:
“I was in kind of a siege but had provisions enough to keep me and my nine cats until the thaw came.”
Hermit Chichester is of a dreamy, sleepy nature, slow of talk and taking a long time to think before answering a question. The Inlet is now filled in and there is no chance for the old man to get drowned out but he says that the busy world has no charms for him and he proposes to remain where he is until death overtakes him when he will be buried in the cemetery at Amityville, beside the remains of his wife. Ebenezer Chichester is a curiosity in his way and well worth a visit.
On a side note, Chichester died in 1897 at the age of 85.
HEMLOCK BEACH – 1879 to 1920
Aside from Mr. Chichester and the life saving crew, the first indication of development at the west end of Oak Island occurred in 1879 when the Town of Babylon leased a portion of Hemlock Beach to the Amityville Oyster Club.
(Brooklyn Times Union 9/26/1888) The lease runs for ten years at $5 per year and a further refusal. The contracting parties call themselves the Amityville Oyster Club and are composed of John P. Haff, John F. Ireland, Ketcham Hartt, Soloman Ketcham, Jarvis Baylis, Jason Hartt, Scudder C. Jervis, Jarvis H. Bennett, Gilbert P. Williams and Andrew Ketcham.
They secured their lease in August, 1879.
It’s not clear whether or not the Amityville Oyster Club established any permanent facilities at Hemlock but by the early 1880’s the area was becoming a popular getaway for day trippers, such that in 1884, the Fourth of July brought over 200 people to Hemlock.
(South Side Signal July 12, 1884) About two hundred people from this and neighboring villages spent the Fourth at Hemlock Beach. The resort is becoming quite popular, and bids fair to someday assume proportions more than local.
The main attraction was Van Nostrand Brothers’ Hemlock Pavilion. Occupying an old building previously utilized as part of the life saving station, it likely opened sometime in 1882 or 1883 and was accessible via private boat or a ferry service run by Frank E. Wicks. Here’s their 1885 announcement opening the season.
(South Side Signal June 20, 1885) On Wednesday July 1, Capt. Frank E. Wicks will re-open his ferry to Hemlock Beach. On July 4 he will run special excursion boats to the same place, and after that date will run every Monday, Wednesday and Saturday until October 1. The fare for July 4 will be 40 cents, and every other day 25 cents, for the round trip. The ferry adds much to the attractiveness of our village, and we hope to see it patronized. The VanNostrand Brothers will re-open their summer quarters at Hemlock in a few days, with the expectation of making this one of the most popular of the local resorts. They are building an addition 18 feet, by 13 feet, which will enable them to better accommodate their patrons. They will furnish lunches, chowders, refreshments, etc., at rates that ought to effectually veto the ancestral dinner basket. So long as the place is conducted in a proper manner, which we believe will be the case while the present mangers control it, our people should endeavor to sustain it by their patronage.
One Farmingdale group’s visit to the Hemlock Pavilion in 1887 was described in this newspaper item that will serve to transport you back over 130 years in time. (They don’t write them like this anymore!)
(South Side Signal August 13, 1887) On Wednesday evening William H. Trou came to a “Whoa, Whoa” in front of Dr. H. S. Thorne’s residence, on Main Street, with Mr. G. R. Van Cott’s mammoth stage drawn by two stout horses, for the purpose of conveying the little organization known as the “Onyx Society,” to the Great South Bay for a moonlight sail. At five minutes past seven o’clock the members of association and a few of their friends were comfortably seated, and with a “git up” and a snap of the whip, the prancing steeds started the merry load down Main Street at a speed astonishing to all beholders… At 8:45 Robbins’ Landing was reached, where all hands boarded the little “Carrie,” and with Capt. George Smith at the helm and a gentle breeze from the northeast, the Onyxians started on their moonlight sail. Moon, tide and weather seemed to be specially provided for the occasion…On reaching the dock at Hemlock Beach each gentlemen made his little bow to the lady of his choice and escorted her to Nostrand Bros. Pavilion, where palate tickling dishes and exhilarating fluids were set before them in quantities equal to the demands of their appetites. After lunch (dinner), the party participated in a walk along the shore. Old Ocean roared like a lion. The wild waves suggested many pretty quotations from our American poets, and adjectives expressive of delight and admiration for the beauty which surrounded the Onyxians were completely exhausted. After spending one hour along the surf they bade farewell to Atlantic’s beauty and started on their journey home…
It was also in the early 1880’s that the signs of a cottage community at Hemlock began to appear.
(South Side Signal July 21, 1883) Stephen R. Williams has erected a cottage on the beach near Hemlock Pavilion. The building is 13×24, two stories high, and will be used by Mr. W. and his friends during the heated terms. This plan of spending a week or more, isolated from the bustle and confusion of business, is becoming deservedly popular; so that where but a few years ago the first party of the kind were viewed as harmless lunatics, there will be a large number of parties this year, each of whom will remain in summer quarters at least a week.
This undated map that included Hemlock Beach, shows the life saving station, Van Nostrand’s Hotel and a small cottage colony. It also depicts what looks like a shoaling Gilgo Inlet to the west, likely dating it pre-1900.
By 1898 ferry service to Hemlock was occurring on a daily basis and two years later an upgrade to what was then referred to as regularly scheduled “steamer” service was being considered.
(Brooklyn Times Union June 17, 1898) On and after July 4, the yacht Starlea, Capt Asa E. Chichester, will make daily trips (except Sundays) between Amityville and Hemlock Beach. Capt. Frank E. Wicks will also establish a ferry. The facilities for reaching the surf resorts this season will be unexcelled.
(Brooklyn Times Union June 29, 1900) The question of running a steam ferry between Amityville and Hemlock Beach is being agitated here and a meeting of representative citizens will be held soon to decide as to the feasibility of the project. The ferry men believe it is an absolute necessity and would pay dividends, while others claim that the travel between the beach and mainland is not sufficient to warrant it and that the plan would prove a failure. At present there are fifteen cottages on the main beach, beside a hotel and Government station, and it is expected that several more houses will be built there this season. At present the only means of getting between the beach and mainland is by chartering a special boat or by patronizing the sailing ferry. Many complain that either way is not quick enough and favor the building or purchasing of a light draft steamer with capacity for carrying 150 persons that could make the trip in thirty minutes.
It’s not clear if the Hemlock ferry service included steamers in 1901 but by 1902 the steamer side of the issue had clearly prevailed.
(Brooklyn Daily Eagle July 20, 1902) Hemlock Beach is increasing each season in popularity with local and summer residents who find it a delightful retreat on hot days. An excellent steamer service is maintained to the pretty place by the sea.
The first steamers on the route were named “Columbia” operated by Wicks and “Adele,” operated by Charles Sprague. A publication called the “Golden Avenue – The History and People of Ocean Avenue” described the 48 foot Adele as a “flat bottomed, gasoline powered side wheeler.”
In 1905 Wicks would add the 52 foot Atlantic to his ferry service. Also gasoline powered, she could carry 180 passengers. A round trip cost 25 cents for adults and 15 cents for children in 1904. It appears that the fare included some excitement from time to time as well as basic transportation services.
(Brooklyn Daily Eagle July 24, 1904) While the two steamers Adele and Columbia both plying between the village (Amityville) and Hemlock Beach were racing one day last week to see which could get in first, the Columbia struck the New Point Inn dock, tearing away several of the planks. No one was injured.
The increasing availability of the beach by boat was transforming Hemlock into more and more of a “happening place,” and so, in response, VanNostrand expanded his operation. In 1900, he constructed an addition to his pavilion and two years later he added his own private ferry service.
(Brooklyn Times Union June 12, 1900) Owing to the recent warm weather Hemlock Beach, opposite the village, has begun to show signs of a lively season this year. Several of the cottages are already open and many others are being repainted and otherwise improved for occupation shortly. Among the new buildings being erected are a two story cottage, 18×26 for Stephen R. Williams, Superintendent of the Brunswick Home and an addition 40×40 is also being erected by Wesley VanNostrand, proprietor of the Hemlock Hotel, to meet the demands of summer boarders.
(Brooklyn Times Union Jan. 11, 1902) Wesley VanNostrand has practically competed the work on his thirty foot power-boat, which is to ply between his resort on Hemlock Beach and the mainland next season. The vessel will carry thirty-five persons, but will not be employed as a public carrier.
Hemlock also became a destination for local groups and events. Here’s a sampling of the “happenings” around the turn of the century:
(Brooklyn Times Union July 24, 1894) The excursion to Hemlock Beach under the direction of Amity Hose Co. No. 1 will take place tomorrow. The morning boat will leave Amityville at 9 o’clock. The evening boat will leave at 7 o’clock. The rendezvous will be at VanNostrand’s Hemlock Pavilion. The music will be by Bishop Brothers.
(Brooklyn Times Union Sept. 1, 1897) A boat race will take place this Labor Day under the direction of Wesley VanNostrand, the proprietor of the Hemlock Beach Hotel. Trophies and prizes will be awarded to the successful yachts.
(Brooklyn Times Union July 8, 1898) The Oyster Bay Town Democratic Committee and its friends will have an excursion and clambake to Hemlock Beach on the Great South Bay, on Wednesday next. One hundred and twenty invitations have been issued and it is expected that between seventy-five and one hundred will be accepted. The party will leave on the 7:22 train from Oyster Bay and connect with the train reaching Amityville shortly after 9. From there they will sail across the bay to the beach, where dinner will be served. A very fine time is anticipated.
(Brooklyn Daily Eagle August 6, 1899) It has been a great week for beach parties and Hemlock Beach has been overrun with parties both from the hotels and cottages (in Amityville) and from the interior of the island. Parties of farmers and their families from the farming districts to the north drive over in big market wagons and take sailboats to the beach. They leave home early in the morning and get back late and have as a rule a long drive in a farm wagon, but they seem to enjoy their outing even better than the more aristocratic summer residents.
(Brooklyn Daily Eagle August 1, 1902) An interesting race is on at the Unqua-Corinthian Yacht Club tomorrow between the sloop Edice, belonging to Commodore Delancy P. Smith; the sloop Emla, owned by Vice Commodore Francis H. Williams of this borough, and the catboat Cecil F., the property of Edgar P. Foster. The contest is for a cup presented by Frederick D. Daizell, a prominent member of the organization. There has been quite a bit of discussion on the relative merits of the two sloops, which were built last winter by Frank Weeks of Amityville. They measure about the same racing length. The trophy is a silver loving cup with ebony handles. After the race the yachtsmen will go across the bay to Hemlock Beach where a clambake will be held.
As you might have guessed, the weather was less than cooperative at times, so it wasn’t all wine and roses.
(New York Sun April 17, 1903) Victor Wilsey, a surfman, was patrolling the beach at Hemlock last night when the ocean and the bay met. There was a sudden rise in the water and he was unable to continue dryshod.
During the storm last night a house owned by I. V. Darlan of Arlington N. J. at Hemlock Beach, opposite Amityville, was swept away. The tide rose and was at its height during the worst of the storm and the house was carried away.
A major setback to the resort occurred in 1905 when Hemlock experienced a January storm that opened a new inlet west of the life saving station in the midst of the cottage community. (The original Gligo inlet had pretty much shoaled up by the late 1800’s.
(Port Jefferson Echo Feb. 4, 1905) During the storm of last week a new inlet was cut through the Great South Beach near Hemlock life saving station, opposite Amityville, and old baymen say it may be possible to prevent the new waterway from being closed. The inlet is about 200 feet in width and apparently deep enough to float fair sized vessels. Directly in the path of the rushing waters were the summer cottages of two residents of Manhattan. They were swept away and wrecked.
Two months later; another storm.
(March 25, 1905 South Side Signal) The new inlet at Hemlock began to widen with alarming rapidity during the storm of Tuesday night and the situation at that point is now a critical one to owners of cottages and people doing business there. The inlet is working east and the beach is rapidly being cut away from both the bay and ocean sides. John E. Ireland’s cottage was swept out to sea on Wednesday while Mr. Ireland and a party of friends were endeavoring to rescue the building. The cottage of Frank Jarvis was also undermined on Thursday morning and the cottages of Wellington Powell, Timothy Ketcham, Raymond Melick, Israel Van Nostrand and the Darcy villa are said to be doomed. The government station is in none too secure a position and the existing state of affairs is far from pleasing to those who were interested in Hemlock’s future as a sea side resort. The tide on Wednesday and Thursday was said to be whirling past the point occupied by Van Nostrand at a simply alarming rate of speed, making navigation in the opposite direction practically impossible as well as very dangerous. As soon as the members of the life saving crew were aware of the imminent danger the cottages were in, the contents of each were removed and a large barrier was placed around the Ireland cottage. Mr. Ireland was notified and in company with Postmaster Powell, C. O. Ireland, Capt. Elmer W. Davis and others went at once to the beach and made every effort to save the building, but were unable to do so. On their return trip their boat was carried by the swift current on the hard shifting sand where they were forced to remain for several hours. Wellington Powell went to the beach with a force of helpers on Thursday with the hope of saving his cottage. He arrived in the nick of time and by hard work suceeded in moving the building to a place of safety. Reports from the beach today are to the effect that the waterway is daily widening and becoming more dangerous.
Despite the horrendous winter and the presence of the inlet, ferry service to the beach was again available during the summer season and the resort remained operational. However, the new inlet was still impacting the area’s topography and in the Fall and Winter, 1905, the Life Saving Station, along with Van Nostrand’s pavilion and a number of cottages were being moved.
(Suffolk County News Sept 1, 1905) Owing to the rapid widening of the inlet that opened through the beach west of Gilgo Life Saving Station last January during one of the heavy southeast storms, it has become necessary to move the station to a point some distance from the inlet.
(Brooklyn Times Union Jan. 6, 1906) House mover William V. De Garmo returned to the mainland on Saturday from Hemlock Beach, and reports a serious condition of things there. He says it is impossible to tell the extent of the damage made by the new inlet, which broke through the beach – after moving the station last autumn he can notice the change in the beach perceptibly. He is now at work moving the big VanNostrand Pavilion and five cottages belonging to the proprietor, and has contracts for skidding three others to places of safety. The inlet is practically of no use for navigation, and instead of being a decided boom has been a source of danger and has in consequence retarded the growth of the resort.
Hemlock survived the winter, and the 1906 season saw its popularity increasing as it became more accessible to the residents of the north shore and mid-island via a trolley service called the cross-island autobus which connected with their ferry service.
(Brooklyn Times Union Aug. 4, 1906) The annual visit of the Melville neighbors on Tuesday was one of the leading events of the season at this charming beach resort. There were about four hundred men, women and children in the party and about every family in Melville was represented. The surf and still-water bathing, the shore dinners, the basket luncheon, fishing and all the other amusements were hugely enjoyed.
The steamers Adele and Atlantic are bringing large numbers of visitors to the beach daily from Amityville, and as they connect with the Cross-Island autobus, from Melville, Farmingdale and Huntington, as well.
Between 1907 and 1913 it appears that Hemlock had not only recovered from the bad winters but was flourishing. This 1912 story painted a pretty rosy picture.
(Brooklyn Times Union July 29, 1912) This colony, cuddled on the sandy beach between the ocean and the bay, isolated as it were by a series of winding channels, picturesque in the intricacies is having a big season. Every one of the cottages is occupied and, what with the cruising parties here and there, the population is a-bustle.
The Town of Babylon’s supervisor’s Report in August of 1913 reported that of the 200 houses on the barrier beach and islands, 28 were located at Hemlock Beach
(Brooklyn Times Union August 12, 1913) The supervisor’s report a total of over 200 houses on the town lands, 97 of which are located on Oak Island Beach and 31 on the association grounds at Oak Island Beach. Oak Island has 38 houses and Hemlock Beach, opposite Amityville, has 28, while there are a dozen at Cap Tree Island.
Bigger things were being planned for the following year.
Brooklyn Times Union Sept. 12, 1913) There is a big boom promised for Hemlock Beach, opposite Amityville, which bids fair to out rival Oak Island Beach, a colony opposite Babylon.
Arthur S. Austin, of Amityville, has prepared plans for a company to be organized for the erection of a two-story hotel capable of accommodating fifty guests at first.
The proposed hotel will front on the ocean and bay, the first floor to have six large rooms for a dining room, parlors, dance hall, kitchen, bar, etc.
Many other private applications for lots at Hemlock Beach have also been asked for, and as it is required that all lots be built upon within a year, there is every prospect of a magic city appearing there to next season’s visitors.
The following January Mother Nature had different ideas, dampening much of this enthusiasm.
(Brooklyn Daily Eagle Jan 6, 1914) At Hemlock Beach, directly opposite Amityville, the surf washed down the bank which usually protects the houses from the ocean and carried away the bathing houses. Here also the water mounted to a level with the floor of the houses but failed to budge any of them from their foundations. The four cottages that had wisely been moved back from the beach in December would surely have gone out to sea in the rush of water on Sunday.
This storm signaled the beginning of the end for Hemlock as a resort, and served as the catalyst for a move down the beach to Gilgo.
(Brooklyn Times Union June 19, 1914) There seems to be a generous exodus of lessors from Hemlock Beach to Gilgo, judging from the numerous applications received by the Babylon Town Board yesterday. The heavy storms of the past winter washed away many lots at Hemlock causing a general rush for the higher lands. Many lessors are asking that their holdings be transferred on account of their lots being partly submerged.
The following winter an early December storm put the nail in the Hemlock coffin.
(South Side Signal Dec 11, 1914) Hemlock Beach was hit hard by the big northeast storm of Sunday and Monday that did over $750,000 in damage along the Atlantic coast. The Gilgo Life Saving Station was toppled over by the surf which swept over the beach and the station’s several out buildings were washed away or broken completely. The beach at Hemlock was nearly all under water.
Before the storm broke in its fury the water had come within a few hundred feet of the station, and Captain Israel VanNostrand was expecting at any minute to be compelled to abandon the station. Slowly but surely the tide kept rising, first filling the station cellar until it had washed away the foundation supports. The crew then took up their quarters in the Seth Low, a summer cottage built some years ago from the ship of that name that was driven ashore.
Telephone communication was cut off from the Gilgo station early on Monday and folks on the mainland had become alarmed for the safety of Captain VanNostrand and his brave crew. They were all right, however, and kept at their duty throughout. Owing to the breaking through of the surf on the beach the Gilgo eastward patrol could not go out.
A cottage owned by the Rev. W. L. Davison, pastor of the Fleet Street Methodist Church, Brooklyn, was washed from its foundation on the beach and is said to be a total wreck. Several other houses were also surrounded by water and somewhat damaged.
Within a week, lots at Gilgo Beach were in demand.
(South Side Signal Dec 18, 1914 ) There was a rush at yesterday’s meeting of the Town Board in Amityville for lots at Gilgo Beach by house owners at Hemlock Beach, who want to move their buildings from their submerged sites on Hemlock to the higher land at Gilgo…
There are fourteen houses on Hemlock to be moved to Gilgo shortly.
Another story went into more detail on the houses that were to be moved.
(South Side Signal Dec 18, 1914 ) Owing to the high tides that swept over Hemlock Beach last week, many of the leaseholders there have planned to move to Gilgo Beach where they hope to be free from ravages of future storms. Among the houses to be moved from Hemlock to Gilgo are those of Timothy Ketcham, Charles Ketcham, Royal Carman, Alexander Cork, Augustus Pearsall, Harry Hewlett, Milford Ketcham, Alexander Miller, N.V.W Colyer and J.W.S. Harding. Hemlock Beach was beginning to boom, many applications for lots having been made within the past year and this knockout blow by the sea will probably settle its ever becoming a popular summer place.
Later that winter another storm did more damage
(South Side Signal Jan 15, 1915) The storm of Tuesday and Wednesday hit hard the remaining cottages at Hemlock Beach. Visitors returning from Hemlock yesterday said that section of the beach resembles a good sized clam flat now. The life saving staion is gone, and the members of the crew are occupying one of the Wesley VanNostrand houses.
(Suffolk County News Feb 4, 1916) It is said that the United States government is to abandon its coast guard station at Hemlock Beach opposite Amityville, and that the members of the crew as well as Capt. Israel VanNostrand will be assigned to other stations. Last winter the station at Hemlock Beach was undermined by the high tides and badly wrecked by the breakers which reached it during a severe storm. The wrecked building still lies on the beach and since that time the Gilgo crew, as it is known, has been occupying two cottages at Hemlock Beach.
An excerpt from a 1920 story on beach erosion could fittingly serve as Hemlock’s obituary.
(Brooklyn Times Union Dec 16, 1920) Some years ago Hemlock Beach opposite Amityville, was a favorite spot for hundreds of commuters in the summer time. The action of the winds and tides has forced the removal of the pretty cottages, which once adorned Hemlock Beach, to other localities, many of them taken to Gilgo Beach, which is some distance west. Today Hemlock Beach is a barren place, caused by the encroachment of the sea during the storm periods and the erosion of swift running tides cutting away the beaches.
On a side note, plans to replace the Gilgo Life Saving Station at Hemlock were floated several times but nothing ever materialized. Up until 1933, when a new Coast Guard Station opened just east of Gilgo, the beach in this area was patrolled by the crews from the Oak Beach and Jones Beach stations.
GILGO BEACH – 1900 TO 1960’S
The success of the beach colonies to the east, including Hemlock, Oak Island and Oak Beach, began generating interest in Gilgo Beach right around the turn of the century or roughly 14 years before the exodus from Hemlock.
(Brooklyn Times Union June 6, 1900) The Babylon Town Board made an official visit to the town’s property across the bay, near the old Gilgo Inlet. The land is located at the extreme southwestern portion of Suffolk County, and was formerly considered of no value. Lately, however, the demand for lots on the beaches have been so great that even this remote spot was sought after by parties who desired a quiet retreat for the summer months.
The trip was made in one of Capt Frank Wicks’ numerous sailing crafts, every member of the Board being present. The beach was carefully inspected, and it was decided that a map of the land should be made at once. Civil Engineer Joshua P. Jervis, the town surveyor, who accompanied the Board, was directed to make a survey of the land, and prepare a map. The Board after partaking in a hearty lunch, prepared by Mine Host Pierce, of the Ocean Point Pavilion, spent the remainder of the day in exploring the heretofore practically unknown portion of the town’s possession, and returned to the port from which they embarked an hour or two before sundown. The entrance to the beach at Gilgo is much better than at any point along the beach for several miles. With the exception of one shoal bar, a deep and broad channel leads directly to the shore front, which makes the place quite accessible. It is believed that the section in a few years will be a very popular summer resort. The town officials are very anxious to effect as many leases as possible, as the town in this way already derives an income of several hundred dollars. An effort has been made from time to time to induce the officials to sell the land instead of leasing, but this is vigorously opposed by the more thoughtful and conservative element, who realize that the town would really be parting with its birthright.
As early as 1903, the town was leasing tracts at Gilgo. The first two lease holders that I can identify were Delancey Ketcham and Joseph Tetlow.
(Brooklyn Times Union Dec. 19, 1903)
Thats the Place That May or May Not Supersede Hemlock Beach
A project which is intended to practically revolutionize affairs on the beach opposite here, has become known. The matter is in charge of Delancey Ketcham, who has leased a large tract of beach land at Gilgo Heading of the town, and the plan briefly is to induce the majority portion of the cottage colony at Hemlock Beach to move their homes to the Gilgo Heading, where much better shooting is said to be obtained. Joseph Tetlow, one of the pioneer settlers at Hemlock, has his cottage underway and will in the spring put up a large pavilion and summer hostelry.
A millionaire from Philadelphia, Tetlow was the son of Henry Tetlow, inventor of Swandown and Gossamer talcum powder. The immense Tetlow lease holding was described years later in an April 12, 1919 Brooklyn Times Union story as “a thousand feet of ocean front property.”
The property in question, consisting of sixty beach lots 60×100 feet, situated on the narrow strip of land separating South Bay from the ocean, is now held in lease by Mrs. Ida Tetlow, of Philadelphia, widow of the patent medicine king, who before his death spent his summers at Gilgo.
(In case you’re interested, between 1914 and 1918 the Tetlow’s lease cost was $50 per annum and in 1919 the Tetlow cottage was the only one on the entire lease hold.)
As far as I can tell the pavilion mentioned in the 1903 story wasn’t built at that time and as the second decade of the 1900’s began barrier beach statistics make it clear that Gilgo was still Hemlock’s little brother.
(South Side Signal Nov 24, 1911) Town clerk Charles Warta has completed a list of buildings located at the various beaches, which shows twenty-three belonging to the Oak Beach Association, sixty-three at Oak Beach, thirty-five at Oak Island, fourteen at Cap Tree, one at Ramshorn Island, three at Gilgo and twenty at Hemlock Beach.
That all began to change as the winter of 1914 took its toll and by June the exodus of Hemlock residents to Gilgo was well underway.
(Brooklyn Times Union June 26, 1914)
RUSH OF PEOPLE TO GILGO BEACH
New Shore Resort Sites in Great Demand
The rush of people to Gilgo Beach, opposite Amityville, still continues, as evidenced by the number of applications received for lots at yesterday’s Town Board meeting. Those who wish to build summer homes there are Grace A. Robbins, George W. Robbins, Lida H. Delano, editor of the Amityville Record; Charles F. Delano, Irene P. Walters, George J. Walters, Whitsin Smith.
As the lease applications were growing, so too were the beach facilities. This included the pavilion originally planned back in 1903.
(Brooklyn Daily Eagle June 19, 1914) Work will commence Monday on the construction of a hotel and bathing pavilion on that unsettled section of the Great South Beach known as Gilgo Beach. Phillip W. Ketcham applied last Saturday for a ten-year lease of a tract of land consisting of ten lots near the tract now held under lease by Delancey Ketcham.
The lease was granted by the town trustees yesterday, and it is expected that the buildings will be completed early in July.
Amazingly, one month later the pavilion opened for business.
(Brooklyn Daily Eagle July 20, 1914) The new pavilion at Gilgo Beach, directly opposite this village, formally opened its doors to crowds of picnickers from Amityville, Copaigue, Farmingdale and other inland villages last Saturday afternoon. Although the bathing houses were not finished to accommodate bathers, Manager Fred Brown, who is taking charge of the resort for Phillip Ketcham, the owner, ingratiated himself with the patrons by allowing them to use the rooms above the pavilion for dressing rooms. Special ferry service was maintained throughout the day, the last boat leaving Amityville Creek at 7 o’clock in the evening.
Before the end of the week it is expected that the bathing houses and part of the boardwalk will have been erected. The erection of cottages by those who have applied for beach lots adjoining the pavilion will not commence this summer, but a number of the lessees have announced their plans for building next spring.
As the 1915 season opened, the Hemlock cottagers had relocated to Gilgo, regular ferry service was initiated and the resort was growing as both a cottage colony and beach destination.
(Brooklyn Times Union May 8, 1915) Although Amityville’s principal ocean frontage, Hemlock Beach, was washed flat by the storms of last winter, yet there is another popular resort growing up on Gilgo Beach. At the request of the Gilgo settlers, who moved their cottages there from Hemlock, the Town Board has ordered that a channel be dug there and the Hemlock boardwalks transferred to Gilgo. These all help to make Gilgo a coming resort that will be well patronized.
(Brooklyn Daily Eagle July 4, 1915) The beginning of regular Sunday ferry service to Gilgo Beach is a boon to many who admit their lack of seamanship. Already the little beach has sprung into the proportions of a life-size resort. Houses are being planned and constructed steadily and a big future is predicted for Gilgo.
A topographic survey, circa 1915, showed that Gilgo occupied an approximate 800′ x 500′ area located between the ocean and a canal that extended from the Great South Bay. The survey depicted a series of boardwalks running in both north-south and east-west directions.
The 14 cottages situated on the eastern half of town are likely those relocated from Hemlock. The western half included the Ketcham lots and the pavilion. The large Tetlow tract was located immediately west of the boardwalked area. That tract began being parceled up by the town in 1919 when Joseph Tetlow’s widow, Ida Tetlow, sold her cottage.
In 1916 the boardwalks, referred to as highways and streets, received names from the Town Board.
(South Side Signal Nov 3, 1916) Following out the plan of naming the highways on the beaches, the board designated the Gilgo Beach highways running east and west Gilgo Avenue and Colyer Avenue and the north south streets Rhoda Place, Steinbuck Place and Delancey Road.
By then the resort was certainly up in full swing.
(Brooklyn Daily Eagle Sept 13 1916) Gilgo Beach, the new resort across the Great South Bay from Amityville, is enjoying a banner season. The high tide will come this weekend. Every cottage will be occupied and the Gilgo Hotel reports a large number of reservations. Surf and still water bathing continues popular.
Many weakfish have been caught in the surf and snappers are plentiful in the bay.
The hotel is a popular social center. Manager Steinbuck and his assistant, Fred Brown, have provided very good music and a good dance floor, and the place is the rendezvous for many private boat parties.
The splash of light on the western horizon was very puzzling to those sojourners who neglected to arrange for the newspapers to follow them. The Sperry gyroscope hydroplane, with which experiments are made off Amityville, makes almost daily flights across the beach. Gilgo is probably the only South Side beach which expects aeroplane stunts as a part of each day’s program.
On a side note: In 1915 the Sperry Gyroscope Company worked with the Navy to produce what they called a self controlled aerial torpedo or flying bomb. (The first guided missile?) Experiments were carried out at an aviation field the company acquired near Amityville.
A control device was perfected and adapted to a Navy hydroplane which flew under automatic control over a seven-mile test course. At a predetermined distance (apparently somewhere near Gilgo) the automatic device caused the plane, carrying two test pilots, to take a sharp dive. Only the test pilot’s resumption of manual control prevented a crash. It must have provided quite a spectacle in 1915!
Gilgo Beach living for the remainder of the decade remained upbeat as evidenced by this description of the 1917 season.
(Brooklyn Daily Eagle July 15, 1917) Evidence of the attractions of this ocean and bay resort just across the Great South Bay from Amityville is seen in the presence this year of many persons who have spent every summer here since this part of the beach became a summer resort. The number of week-end boating parties who come to the hotel for a shore dinner is greater than in any previous season. Nearly every cottage is now occupied and many of those which are offered for rent have been taken until late in the season. One thing that draws an increasing number of vacationists here is that the visitor has his choice of safe still water bathing in the Great South Bay or safe surf bathing on one of the finest beaches on the South Shore of Long Island. The beach slopes gently, there is a good surf and there has not been a serious accident to a bather this season. The Hotel Gilgo continues to be the mecca of boating parties and the object point of many visiting sails.
The Town of Babylon has completed more than 1,250 feet of new boardwalk. This, added to the walks previously built, provides a long promenade from which views of ocean and bay may be had…
James I. Hoile of Brooklyn was a week-end visitor.
Mr. and Mrs. Charles Smith of Farmingdale, the new owners of the Nelson Collier cottage, are enjoying the pleasures of the beach.
Mr. and Mrs. George VanSise of Richmond Hill and James Boarer of Cypress Hills are occupying the VanSise cottage.
Mrs. Wellington Powell, her son, Charles Powell, and her grandson Ellis Purdy, of Amityville, have opened the Powell cottage, Bayview.
Regular visitors to Gilgo will be glad to learn that Fred Brown is again assisting Henry Steinbuch at the hotel.
The area also served as good hunting grounds.
(New York Herald July 29, 1918) As good snipe haunts as any are able to be found at Gilgo Beach, accessible from Amityville. In many situations on Great South Bay adjacent to Gilgo Beach are extensive feeding grounds of the various snipe consisting of salt water marshland and of islands flats and bars, the latter alternatively covered and exposed with the tidal movements, where much of the ground can be covered by walking and the remainder shot over with stools.
There were even some interesting moments in the winter time.
(Brooklyn Times Union Jan 9, 1918) William J. Moran of this village (Amityville); Julius Truelson, of Copiague, and a friend of Mr. Moran, were the first people in the vicinity to cross the Great South Bay on the ice in an auto, when, on Sunday, the three left Amityville at the foot of Ocean Avenue and drove down the bay to Oak Island and back again to Gilgo beach, opposite Amityville.
Mr. Truelson stated that the return trip from Gilgo Beach to the starting point at Ocean Avenue was made in a trifle over five minutes. The route covered coming back from Gilgo is in the neighborhood of three miles, and all three highly enjoyed their novel experience. Besides the Moran party, other autoists also crossed the bay further west, and one or two broke through where the ice was thinnest, off Unqua Point. Besides the autos, people crossed the bay on foot and on skates. Old-timers around here say they have never seen the bay frozen over so tightly before.
In 1920 the Gilgo cottage community was approaching 50 in number and had formed an association.
(Brooklyn Daily Eagle March 3, 1920) Under the name of the Amityville Beach and Waterways Association a number of persons here who are lessees of lots on Gilgo Beach, owned by the Town of Babylon, have launched a movement to secure the improvement of that beach and to create interest in it as an inviting place for summer cottages. They say it is the only beach along the Great South Bay that has escaped the ravages of the ocean during the past winter. At the present time there are close to 50 cottages there, and the aim of the association is to develop a large summer community…Lots on Gilgo Beach can be obtained only on lease from the town. The rent is only from $3 to $6 per year for a lot, but the lessee must guarantee to erect a suitable house within a year.
As the 1920’s progressed it appears that the optimism expressed in the above story did not pan out as anticipated. The decade started out with funding issues.
(Brooklyn Daily Eagle Aug 19, 1920)
BABYLON OUT MONEY
Town Officials Dissatisfied With Improvements That Have Been Made This Summer
Muncie and Oak Islands, the beaches thereon, and the waterways across Great South Bay, affording access thereto from the mainland, took up most of the time at the monthly meeting of the Babylon Town Board of Trustees on Tuesday, when it appeared to be the sense of the members that the time, labor and expense bestowed upon them thus far this summer have not produced satisfactory results. There has been piecemeal dredging, too long delayed and at times interrupted, that has not afforded such convenience for water transit that is both possible and desirable. The condition and facilities of some of the landing places, at the mainland and on the islands, are not by any means what they should be. There is a large need of improvement in the board walks provided at some points…
It’s likely that this lack of attention to the beaches led to this 1922 pier collapse.
(New York Tribune August 8, 1922) It was established tonight that no one was drowned yesterday when fifty persons, mostly women and children, were thrown into Great South Bay off Gilgo Beach by the collapse of part of the dock.
After the confusion of rescues that had their share of thrills it was believed that some of those on the dock still were missing.
The police immediately began dragging the water. A close check-up resulted in the official announcement that there were no fatalities.
The dock was crowded with passengers waiting for a ferry boat to take them back to the mainland, and crumpled under the strain. Many of the women managed to grasp hold of the piling and thus were saved from the drenching.
Women and children, who were hurled into the water, screamed for help. Several men leaped overboard to aid them and rowboats were pressed into service.
That wasn’t the only ferry accident Gilgo experienced during the 1920’s. The second, a grounding, occurred in 1929. While no one was hurt, the story is worth repeating if just for its humorous aspect. What can go wrong, will go wrong!
(Brooklyn Times Union July 9, 1929) Upwards of 30 persons, chiefly visitors to Gilgo Beach, were forced to stay on the beach over Sunday night, when the ferry boat grounded in Gilgo Channel. While there was nothing eventful in this occurrence – many boats find themselves in this predicament because of shallow water – the accident was the cause of one other boat grounding, and a third, manned by police of Amityville, breaking down.
It was the last trip of the ferryboat that night. The small craft went to the beach for the purpose of taking the stragglers to shore, but when it got out in the channel Capt. Stevens found himself hard ashore. Boats, noting the plight, came to the scene and transferred the people to the beach, and in the meantime a sturdier power-boat undertook to tow her off the shoal. The efforts expended were unsuccessful and soon the rescue ship was aground.
Guardsmen from the Oak Island Station were called, but the ferry had floated off on the high tide. A line was passed to the motorboat, and, after a time, she was freed from the sand and muck. In the meantime, however, the Amityville police had been notified.
Capt. Robert Fallot and Sergt. A. Smith in a boat owned by Lewis Haff, of Amityville, started out from the mainland and when about a mile off shore, the clutch bearing burned out. Temporary repairs were made and the craft was headed back to Amityville. Another boat, the property of Robert Hulse, was borrowed and a safe passage was made. Only two of the ferry’s original lot of passengers remained on the beach, and at 8 o’clock yesterday morning, after spending a sleepless night, they were placed ashore and taken to the railroad station for trains to take them to their labors.
The weather also hit Gilgo hard during the 1920’s, in particular, two events that occurred in the mid-1920’s. The first occurred in the summer of 1926.
(Brooklyn Times Union Aug 24, 1926) Considerable Damage was done on Gilgo Beach Sunday night when the boat of Tom Lauder crumpled up and was carried to sea on one of the biggest tides ever experienced on the beach.
Two weeks ago saw an especially high surf breaking on the beaches along the ocean. At Gilgo the high tides threatened to extend far beyond the usual point and several houses were in jeopardy. At that time considerable damage was done to the Lauder cottage on the walk nearest the ocean and to other houses in the neighborhood.
Among the other houses in danger are those of Powell and Gardiner. The latter was found to be in such bad shape that an attempt is now being made to save it.
The second occurred the following winter.
(Brooklyn Times Union Feb 21, 1927) Up to early afternoon no report had been received from Gilgo Beach opposite Amityville, and fear was expressed at coast guard headquarters that most of the bungalows there had been swept away, possibly with loss of life. It was recalled that in smaller storms houses had been swept into the sea there.
It’s not clear what impact this particular storm had on Gilgo but, all told, the 1920’s were not kind to the Gilgo colony. While the earlier story published in 1920 mentioned close to 50 cottages, a story in 1930 mentioned that the cottage colony numbered 28 as the decade ended.
It was however, in the 1920’s that plans for the development of Jones Beach and Ocean Parkway were in the works and change was in the air for the Babylon beaches; change that would ultimately transform Gilgo into its present configuration.
(Brooklyn Times Union July 19, 1924) It looks now as if Babylon Town, which covers from the Nassau County line on the west to the Islip town line on the east, would in the very near future be asked to relinquish their title to five miles of beach that front on the Atlantic Ocean to the State for park purposes.
The Long Island Park Commission or the State having obtained title to not only Fire Park but to the beach known as Point Democrat extending miles out in the ocean by a grant from the federal government, seek to obtain from the town of Babylon all the land lying and being so to speak, on the beach between what is known as the New Inlet, directly opposite Babylon, west to the Nassau County line, including the settlement of Gilgo, opposite Amityville.
On a side note, at this point, the inlet at Hemlock had filled in and a “New Inlet” in the vicinity of Cedar Island/Muncie Island had opened up.
Three years later, a Brooklyn Times Union story laid out in greater detail what the State wanted from the town.
(Brooklyn Times Union Dec 6, 1927) It is proposed by the State that Babylon gives a 160 foot strip of land (later increased to 400 feet) for continuation of this ocean boulevard and also to cede one-third of Gilgo Beach for which the State would complete by January 1, 1932, the ocean boulevard to Cedar Island Inlet.
The portion of Gilgo Beach that the State was looking to acquire included the section of town beach as we know it today. The Town of Babylon pushed back at a December 7, 1927 meeting and their position was published the next day.
(Brooklyn Times Union Dec 8, 1927) While Babylon is not in a mood to cede Gilgo to the State, there is a definite sentiment for a park elsewhere on the beach, and the proposed ocean boulevard is seen as an adequate compensation for the territory Babylon will give in exchange.
By the end of December a compromise that shifted the proposed state park further east (now the present state park/four wheel drive area) had been reached.
(Brooklyn Times Union Dec 21, 1927) Mr. Howland (the State’s engineer) showed that this map excludes Gilgo Beach as a State park. The new proposed land to be used is located about 500 feet east of Gilgo, and includes a smaller amount of territory than did the Gilgo proposition. The new site is located about half way between the Nassau County line and Cedar Island inlet. It comprises 480 acres of sand beach, while the Gilgo proposition included about 600 acres. East of the proposed site is a stretch of sandy beach amounting to roughly 160 acres.
Robert Moses outlined the formal plan in a speech he gave in late March, 1928, just days before a scheduled town vote on whether or not to transfer the property to the State.
(Brooklyn Times Union April 1, 1928) Sentiment in favor of the dedication of Babylon Town lands for development of an Ocean Park and Ocean blvd. by the Long Island State Park Commission is rapidly crystallizing. This is the result of the address made last week by Secretary of State Robert Moses, president of the Commission, to the voters of Babylon….
Outlining the proposition in detail, Mr. Moses pointed to the following reasons why the proposition is considered desirable for Babylon:
The State will improve the area dedicated for a park and install recreational facilities (which they apparently never did).
The State will build an ocean parkway to and through the lands. This Ocean blvd. will connect the Gilgo Beach section and the Babylon State Park area with the Jones Beach Causway (Wantagh Parkway), now under construction.
Plan Boat Channel – The State will construct a boat channel in the bay north of the proposed State park and the lands retained by the town. The channel will connect Gilgo Beach and will be at least 8 feet deep by 40 feet wide.
The new Ocean blvd., together with the new boat channel will open up hitherto inaccessible town beach lands.
The State is asking for only two-fifths of the town beach between the county line and Cedar Island Inlet.
The State does not want any of the remaining ocean beach frontage for the Ocean blvd. right of way or for any other purpose.
State Stands Expense – All construction and development will be done at the expense of the State without cost to the Town of Babylon.
If the Ocean blvd. is not completed to and through the park lands by January 1, 1932, the lands dedicated to the State will revert to the town
On April 3, 1928, by a vote of 1,063 to 988, the Town of Babylon voted in favor of turning the land over to the State and the deed was signed in early August of that year.
Jones Beach, along with the Wantagh Parkway, officially opened in August, 1929 and by then construction of the new Ocean Parkway was progressing eastward. The State was using the hydraulic fill dredged from their new boat channel to build the parkway’s embankment and by early 1930 that work was nearing Gilgo’s colony of cottages.
(Brooklyn Times Union May 2, 1930) Due to speeding up work on the contracts for the hydraulic fill, houses on Gilgo Beach, opposite Amityville, must be moved in the near future. Plans of the Long Island State Park Commission have undergone a complete revision because of the size of the dredges which are to make the embankment to carry the roadway from the Nassau County line to Fire Island Inlet.
Representatives of the Park Commission conferred with members of the town board in an effort to obtain cooperation from the latter body in removing houses on town-owned lands. Houses on the State’s land will be moved or acquired by purchase and demolished, it was stated.
Twenty-Eight houses comprise the colony on Gilgo. Of these, eight are in the direct path of the boulevard. The remainder are situated chiefly to the south of the proposed road. It was pointed out that owners who cooperate with the State and town will have their places moved at the time free of charge. If they do not avail themselves of this opportunity, and insist on remaining until the lease expires in January 1932, removal must be done at their own expense. The town has decided that no new leases will be renewed until Jan. 1932. It has also been practically decided that no houses will be permitted south of the boulevard, the entire ocean front being reserved. The town is now prepared to grant owners of houses a temporary location on the north side of the boulevard, to the east of the new canal which is to be created…
The temporary, and ultimately final, location mentioned in the story is certainly the Cottage Walk of today’s Gilgo, though it’s not clear how the number reduced from 28 to 22. The new canal is certainly the one occupied by today’s town dock.
The May 2, 1930 story went on to list most of the cottage owners at the time.
The Commission has taken photographs of the houses on the Gilgo section of the beach. Some of them are substantial buildings. Included are those owned by Frederick R. Powell, Lester E. Gardiner, Thomas Wardle, the hotel owned by Sellars and Brown, Milford H. Ketcham, Louise Haff, John H. Mahler, Timothy Ketcham, Richard Haff, Royal T. Carman and A. A. Pearsall, all of Amityville; Grace A. Robbins, of Freeport; Charles W. Jordan, of Pinelawn; Carrie E. Post, of Ronkonkoma; Henry C. Steinbuck, Harry Ketcham, Isabella Squires, and Christopher Beirling of Farmingdale; Phoebe Van Sise, of Richmond Hill; Theodore Voelker, of Lindenhurst.
A month later, the house-moving contract was awarded and work was underway.
(Brooklyn Times Union June 10, 1930) Work on the beach boulevard through the town of Babylon is under full headway. The contract for the removal of summer houses on Gilgo Beach was awarded a few days ago to Julius Auserehl of Jamaica at a cost of $18,750. This was the last contract for work necessary before the hydraulic fill could reach that part of the job.
Work for removing the houses on Gilgo Beach will begin soon, said Howland. Equipment is being floated to the beach. All houses will be moved from the Boulevard route, as will also those to the south. New sites have been provided by the town authorities for occupancy until the termination of leases in Jan., 1932. The hotel and bathing pavilion are not included in the removal contract, but according to Howland, the commission is anxious to have the south part of the beach free from all forms of structures.
Instrumental in the house relocation was a man named James Brownie. Apparently working for Julius Auserehl, he was able to move the entire Gilgo colony in 19 days.
(The Patchogue Advance Oct 16, 1936) James A. Brownie, mover of houses, machinery, safes, boats, etc., has built up a record of achievement which is truly remarkable. Jobs which would seem well nigh impossible have been accomplished by him, very often in record time. Nineteen hundred and thirty was perhaps Mr. Brownie’s biggest year. During that time he moved the entire south side of the business section of Westhampton Beach, consisting of stores and buildings constructed of various materials such as brick, hollow tile and timber. An even greater feat than that was the moving of the village of Gilgo Beach, opposite Amityville. At this time 23 (actually 22) houses were moved in 19 working days. With such a record, one would not be surprised to hear of this intrepid Italian, “moving mountains.”
In July, all but the hotel/pavilion had been moved.
(Brooklyn Times Union July 25, 1930)
Pavilion Owner Claims State Hurts His Business; Differ on Damages
With a threatened injunction proceeding to restrain the State from continuing making the hydraulic fill for the ocean boulevard at Gilgo Beach, Attorney Raymond C. Haff of Amityville, representing Oscar K. Sellars, proprietor of a pavilion at the beach resort, has asked the town to protect the rights of his client. The State has moved all the houses in the path of the embankment except the pavilion. An offer of $1,500 was extended to Sellers, who maintains that the work will entail an expenditure of approximately $4,000.
The story went on to describe the current situation at the pavilion.
According to the complaint filed by Attorney Haff, the big dredge engaged in making the hydraulic fill has not yet reached his client’s property. The sand and bay bottom however is running off in the direction of the land, thereby making it practically impossible to reach the pavilion unless boots are worn. Sellars stated that he will be unable to do any business this season and that if nothing is done for him he will be put out of business.
It appears that Sellars lost the fight and as far as I can tell the pavilion was never moved and ultimately razed.
With the embankment in place, the contract to construct the roadway on top of the new embankment was initiated in the winter/spring of 1931.
(Brooklyn Times Union Feb 11, 1931) Bids were opened yesterday by the Long Island State Park Commission for construction of approximately 2 1/2 miles of ocean boulevard extending from the Nassau County Line to Gilgo State Park, opposite Amityville.
That section of Ocean Parkway opened on September 10, 1931 and, with cottagers now able to reach Gilgo by car, the town was forced to establish a parking area for residents as well as beach goers. Up to that point cottagers had been parking on the yet unopened/unfinished road.
(Brooklyn Times Union Sept 10, 1931) While the discussion over town docks was in progress, the creation of a parking area at Gilgo Beach, off Amityville, was discussed with authorization being given to Highways Superintendent John S. Wolf to proceed with the work.
The action was taken following a request by the Long Island State Park Commission that necessity demanded the construction of parking area for towns people. A new stretch of Ocean boulevard has been opened to the public at large and beach residents will no longer be able to use the roadway for parking. A hasty survey was made by the Town Board as a result and, it was decided that the field would be built at the northern extremity of the west ramp at Gilgo, within a short distance of the public dock…
The parking area to be constructed will be 80 feet by 40 feet and will accommodate approximately 50 motor cars.
The described location of the lot in the story (north of the west bound ramp) puts it in the general location of today’s lot, although it has certainly grown substantially over the years.
With this section of Parkway opened, and more to come, Robert Moses had most definitely changed the “Gilgo” experienced by the local cottagers. Some of their specific issues were enumerated in an October, 1930 letter from the Gilgo Beach Association to the town board.
(Brooklyn Daily Eagle October 1, 1931) …Among these is a loss of the use of cottages for a period from one to one and one-half years during the construction work, a reduction in the size of town lots from 75 to 50 feet, the removal of many of the cottages from their former position close to a channel and the loss of docking facilities some of which were provided by cottagers at their own expense.
Adding insult to injury, in 1932 the cost of their lease almost tripled.
(The Patchogue Advance June 10, 1932) Rental prices for lots located in the vicinity of the east basin of Gilgo Beach took a big jump last week when the Babylon town board fixed the rates for the current year. The leases which expired in January were at $7.50 each a year but the new ones are to be $20 a year. The houses were moved to their present sites by the state a few years ago during the construction of the Ocean Boulevard.
A story, written around the time the parkway opened, very eloquently described the impact the project had on the cottagers as well as the Gilgo landscape in general.
(Brooklyn Times Union Sept 21, 1931) Gilgo and its salt marshes, known far and wide as the duck hunters’ paradise, no longer offers the inducement which made it one of the South Shore’s most favorite rendezvous for the sportsmen. Time has changed Gilgo like it has almost everything else. Old Gilgo is gone forever. Instead of offering the seclusion demanded by the few, the State is making it a place where the multitude may gather.
Indian lore tells of Gilgo as the place where meat was available when hunting was poor on the mainland; it is a place where there is abundance of wampum for there was the quahog in millions; the channels dividing the salt marshes assured good catch of fish. It was one of the reasons why Wyandanch became such a powerful chieftain.
Later when the whites settled on the mainland, gradually driving the redskins eastward, the marshes became common lands; salt hay was a commodity much in demand and the marshes supplied it. The shallow waters of the bay continued as fishing grounds for the hardy early Long Islander. Eventually the seclusion of the beach gripped him. Not a single household was without its bayman; almost every male inhabitant of those early days had his boat. It was a necessity.
When there was no more need for salt hay, the beach afforded the ideal diversion from the day’s toil. The boat continued in use. Houses sprung up near the strand. Built among the dunes with an eye to shelter from the wind, Gilgo soon boasted of a select population, a sporting population which in the early days was actually the aristocracy. It took money to maintain two houses, even though one was nothing more than a shack. More and more people “went over to the beach” as the fall months approached because the gunning was good. It was then that Gilgo started to become known as the duck hunters’ paradise.
But now Old Gilgo has been opened to motor traffic. A stretch of roadway built up on an embankment 14 feet high made it necessary to pick up the shacks of the summer residents, and the gunners, and place them on new sites. The development of the waterways brought a new deep water channel, salt marshes by the hundreds of acres have been reclaimed so that they would return revenues to the township in lease fees. In another year, or so, the beach will be teeming with people, and motor cars. Swift speed boats are plying the channels. There will be no more gunning. Fishing will be a thing of the past. Gilgo will be a metropolitan resort.
The same old dunes will be there, but nobody will stop to think of the beach’s history. None but the gunner will remember.
Moses and the town weren’t done and were actually pushing for more development, ultimately preparing a master plan to improve most of the marshland adjoining Gilgo.
(Brooklyn Times Union April 1, 1932) A plan for the development of Gilgo Beach, opposite Amityville, drawn by the engineers of the Long Island State Park Commission, was recently adopted Wednesday by the Babylon town board. The map is in keeping with the plan adopted recently for Oak Beach, and conforms with the geneal layout planned for the beaches by the park commission.
The map shows a total of 1,286 lots each having 7,500 square feet. Like at Oak Beach a thoroughfare parallels the Ocean Blvd., access to that artery being given by two ramps. Two basins, one of which is yet to be dug, are shown on the map, and there are recreation areas for adults and children.
While the entire plan was never implemented in full, I suspect that a portion of it was ultimately responsible for what is now the west end (originally Boardwalk, now Broadway) of today’s Gilgo.
The decade of the 1930’s continued to bring changes many of which are still with us today. This 1933 announcement of the seasonal opening mentioned parking fees, bay constables and a comfort station.
(Brooklyn Times Union May 26, 1933) Gilgo Beach parking is destined to yield revenue to the town. Beginning next week an attendant will be stationed at the area each day, instead of only weekends, as was the custom last year when $768 was earned. The beach will be visited by constables to see that bathing rules are adhered to. The board, however, has failed to give a ruling on the type of bathing suits that may be worn.
Justices of the Peace Claude Lapsley and Charles A. Fisher, both of this village, were appointed a committee to have a public drinking fount installed at the beach. It is entirely possible that a refreshment concession may be made available.
The next year an application to build a refreshment stand was approved and the seeds of the Gilgo Beach Inn were planted.
(Brooklyn Times Union July 19, 1934) Obstacles were removed to the construction of a restaurant on Gilgo Beach by Arthur K. Bennett of Amityville, at a hearing for determining whether a change from Residence “A” to business zone should be allowed. No opposition was voted and the board granted the application.
The “Inn” officially opened the next year in 1935.
Bennett’s 1939 obituary confirmed old photos that show the inn washed into the bay after the 1938 hurricane.
(Brooklyn Daily Eagle Sept 18, 1939) …Mr Bennett was known among summer residents and bathers who frequented Babylon town owned beaches facing the ocean. During recent years he operated a refreshment stand at Gilgo Beach. The stand was washed away during the hurricane a year ago and restored shortly after…
On a side note, the “Inn” has been locally owned and operated for over half a century. The Hilbert family acquired it in 1960 and it was run by James Hilbert and later, sons Eddie and Robert, up until 2015, when it was acquired by Paul McDuffie in partnership with Steve Stratigos. Both the Hilbert family and McDuffie are long-time residents of Gilgo’s Cottage Walk.
The Gilgo parking lot was certainly expanded on several occasions in the 1930’s. One I can identify occurred in the summer of 1933.
(Brooklyn Times Union July 13, 1933) Plans are being pushed for enlargement of the town’s parking area on Gilgo Beach. A contract was awarded to Donald E. Muncy, of Amityville, for 900 cubic yards of topsoil, at 97 cents per cubic yard. The work will be done by men assigned from the emergency work relief bureau. The board also called for bids on sinking piles off the Gilgo dock, to relieve congestion.
By the fall of 1933 there were 40 of these piles located adjacent to the Gilgo dock; just about as many as exist today.
(N Y Daily News September 5, 1933) The Babylon Town Board has ordered Gilgo Beach’s thirty hitching posts for yachts increased to forty to accommodate visitors, on the order of Justice of the Peace Charles A. Fisher. The posts will cost $8 each.
In 1934 more direct boat access to Gilgo was achieved with the dredging of what is known today as the “Amityville Cut.” Prior to the “Cut” the route from Amityville to Gilgo was roundabout at best.
(Brooklyn Times Union Feb 7, 1934) The distance between Amityville and Gilgo Beach is five miles. Formerly the old Gilgo Channel, the only way of reaching the beach opposite Amityville, necessitated traveling shoal waters almost the entire distance of its winding seven miles.
The State agreed to dredge the new “Cut” back in late 1930 in exchange for the town land necessary to provide both beach and underwater right-of-way for the Robert Moses Causeway but Parks Commission budget cuts delayed the work until CWA funds were allocated for it in 1934.
(The Patchogue Advance Feb 9, 1934) The big 20-inch dredge “Cape May” owned by the Atlantic Gulf and Pacific Company, which was working on the State Boat channel at Captree Island, has started dredging the Amityville-Gilgo cross-bay channel. This work is being done by the Long Island State Park Commission under its Civil Works Administration Program. This channel, when completed, will furnish an important link in the state channel system, connecting the mainland at Amityville with the State Boat Channel which runs east and west. The project will be completed in about 60 days and will provide work for approximately 200 men for that time.
The new channel will be 15 feet deep and 200 feet wide and will extend from the public dock at the foot of Ocean Avenue, Amityville, to the main boat channel in the vicinity of Gilgo Beach. At its southern terminus a basin has already been dredged extending to the Ocean Parkway.
The project was completed in April, 1934 during which the dredge removed approximately 1,250,000 cubic yards of material from the bottom of the bay. This was deposited near Gilgo Island, creating a new island of about 70 acres which became the property of the Town of Babylon. The island, situated on the east side of the channel just north of Gilgo Island, remains there, uninhabited, to this day.
Amityville’s Unqua Corinthian Yacht Club had advocated strongly for the new channel and there’s little mystery as to why. Shortly after the channel was completed they established their beach side docking facilities in the basin at its southern terminus.
(The Patchogue Advance Dec 7, 1934) Seven lots embracing 490 front feet along the westerly portion of the canal and yacht basin west of the main Gilgo Beach dock, have been leased for a 25-year term by the Babylon Town Board to the Unqua Corinthian Yacht Club of Amityville. The lease calls for the payment of only $10 a year by the club which is thus given exclusive rights to all the shore and docks. Conditions under which the lease was granted compel the yacht club to erect at least 50 running feet of staving together with decking each year until the program is completed, and, there is a provision that the lease can be cancelled and the improvements acquired by the town under certain conditions. The arrangement has caused some tart public discussion and has been condemned by the local press.
The club’s docking facilities, remain there to this day, located immediately east of West Gilgo.
Electricity made it to Gilgo sometime in the mid-1930’s.
(Brooklyn Times Union Sept 5, 1935) Electricity will be conveyed to the town limits at Gilgo Beach, where there is a cottage colony. This was made possible by the efforts of Justice of the Peace Charles A. Fisher, who announced today that on the suggestion of a beach resident he took up the matter with the Long Island Lighting Co. some time ago.
He has received word that the lighting company will install the necessary poles and wires free of charge if all the residents of the beach will wire their cottages and subscribe for the service. The town also will have to subscribe and will be asked to use two large lights at the parking field.
The arrangements have been made entirely between Judge Fisher and the lighting company, but now that the project is possible he plans to submit it to the town board.
The mosquito trenches we see in the marshland today were excavated in the mid-1930’s. Interestingly, they were dug for the benefit of those on the mainland, not necessarily for beach residents.
(Brooklyn Times Union July 12,1936) With the county passing through the worst heat wave it has experienced in years, Suffolk householders have been warned by the county Mosquito Elimination Bureau that there is an unusual influx of salt marsh mosquitoes on the mainland to the extent that communities which have been practically free of the pest are now being visited.
Southerly winds are said to be responsible for the annoyance. The mosquitoes are carried across Great South Bay where the elimination work is proceeding at top speed.
The Fire Island area and the Oak Island Beach and Gilgo Beach areas, from the Nassau County line eastward to Sexton Island have been ditched and drained. Work is beginning further east on the Island and will continue to a point about opposite Bellport. Beyond that the work has been completed.
Until all the salt marsh areas have been drained there will be no permanent relief, the bureau believes. Entomologists report salt marsh mosquitoes at times travel as far as 20 to 30 miles if wind conditions are right.
Last but not least, plans for the Coast Guard Station whose rubble now plagues the ocean beach east of Gilgo were announced in 1932.
(Brooklyn Times Union Feb 7, 1932) A new control Coast Guard station at Gilgo Beach State Park, opposite Amityville, soon will replace the Jones Beach, High Hill Beach and Oak Beach stations, it was revealed today by W. Earle Andrews, deputy chief engineer of the Long Island State Park Commission.
Construction of a $100,000 station to cover the 15-mile waterfront between Jones Inlet and Fire Island Island Inlet has been agreed on by the State Parks Commission and the United States Treasury Department. The Federal Government will supply the funds for the erection of the Coast Guard quarters and the Commission will provide the land.
Besides saving considerable expense by combining the personnel of three existing stations, the improvement will carry out the general plan of beautifying the waterfront. The new coast guard station will conform with the buildings at Jones Beach State Park.
The buildings which make up the Jones Beach, High Hill Beach and Oak Beach stations are unsightly wooden structures, Mr. Andrews asserted. The new station will have landscaped grounds, and modernistic terra cotta buildings.
As part of the plan, the park commission will dredge a boat basin for the Gilgo Beach station, adjacent to the new State boat channel, giving access to Jones Beach and Fire Island Inlets.
It will be an easy matter, Mr. Andrews said, for the single station to patrol the 15 mile beach from Jones Inlet to Fire Island Inlet. Gilgo Beach is located midway between the two points.
Another story written around the same time described the station like this:
(Brooklyn Daily Eagle Feb 15, 1932) …the Gilgo Beach station will be erected 150 feet south of the Ocean Parkway. Construction will conform with the architectural style of buildings on the Jones Beach State Park development. The building will be two stories high and will have a 53-foot observation tower, surmounted by a glassed-in observation room. The west, or main wing of the building will house sleeping quarters, mess hall, kitchen, officer’s quarters, day room, sitting porch and terrace. The east wing is designed as the boat room with space for life saving equipment.
Gilgo Beach station has been designed to accommodate 17 men, but additional space can be provided, it is said.
The building, officially called the Jones Beach Coast Guard Station, opened on or about June 1, 1933. The station’s boat basin is what we call today, Coast Guard (or sometimes Garbage) Cove.
The Coast Guard Station only remained operational until sometime in the late 1940’s when it was apparently decommissioned. By the summer of 1950 it was serving as a catering hall for the Long Island State Parks Commission.
(N Y Daily News May 16, 1950)
Beach Offers a Group Area
Organizations seeking separate space for outings at Jones beach now have a pavilion set aside for them – the former Jones Beach Coast Guard Station at Gilgo State Park.
The building is seven miles east of the water tower at Jones Beach and has accomodations for groups of 50 or more. Picnic and play areas are provided, as well as bath houses, beach chairs and umbrellas, under plans outlined by the Long Island State Park Commission in announcing opening of beach activities May 27. Food service also will be furnished.
As the decade of the 1930’s was ending, Moses was still serving as the catalyst for change at Gilgo when 70 plus cottages at High Hill Beach were forced to relocate due to the expansion of Jones Beach. A 1938 story described the cottager’s situation at the time.
(Nassau Daily Review Star October 10, 1938) The High Hill Beach Civic Association represents about 75 cottage owners who formerly leased property from the town of Oyster Bay, but who since the creation of Jones Beach State Park have been leasing from the State of New York at a yearly rental of about $150 a year.
These leases expire March 1, 1940, at which time it will be necessary to move the houses to some other location. There are but two places available, namely Tobay Beach, belonging to the town of Oyster Bay and Gilgo or Oak Beach belonging to the town of Babylon.
By September, 1939, more than half of the cottagers had selected Gilgo as their destination and they formed the West Gilgo Beach Association.
(Suffolk County News Sept 8, 1939) Only the question of remapping a section of West Gilgo Beach stands between the Babylon Town Board and 45 cottage owners at High Hill Beach who are anxious to rent Gilgo sites for $100 a year for 12 years and assume the cost of all improvements. The town would receive $4,500 a year.
(Brooklyn Citizen Sept 18, 1939) Four borough men today organized the West Gilgo Beach Association, Inc., a non-profit organization, after receiving necessary permission to incorporate from Supreme Court Justice Algeron I. Nova.
Purpose of the organization is to lease certain real estate at West Gilgo Beach near Babylon, Suffolk County, and to sub-rent it to members of the organization. Management, maintenance, improvement and development of the grounds will be in the hands of the corporation.
In addition to being a non-profit making association, it is co-operative in character. It will maintain its office at West Gilgo Beach…
In October the agreement between the Association and Babylon was formalized and by December the cottages were being moved.
(Suffolk County News Oct 20, 1939) A lease between Babylon Township and the West Gilgo Beach Association for some 47 cottage sites at the Fire Island resort, as well as sufficient property for a parking field, has been signed, Justice of the Peace Charles A. Fisher has reported to the town board. Yearly rentals amount to $100 a lot.
(Nassau County Review Star Jan 2, 1940) The picturesque cottage colony at High Hill Beach is giving way before the slow march of Jones Beach eastward.
Some 70 little summer homes are being picked up bodily and taken by truck along Ocean Parkway or by barge through the state boat channel to new locations at West Gilgo Beach, just over the Suffolk County line in the Town of Babylon.
While a few cottages are being set up again at isolated sites, most of them are being re-located at West Gilgo Beach, where the owners have secured leases from the Town of Babylon. The leases will begin on June 1, 1940, and run through 1952 with the privilege of renewal for at least five years more after that date. According to James Tooker, Babylon Town Clerk, the leases stipulate that the cottages must be kept in presentable condition on their new locations.
Another story written around the same time mentioned that the cost of moving a house ranged from $200 to $1,000.
Hurricanes hit Long Island in 1938 (The Long Island Express) and again in 1944 (The 1944 Great Atlantic Hurricane). In addition to dumping the Gilgo Beach Inn into the bay in 1938, they exposed the localized erosion issue created by the presence of the Coast Guard station on the beach proper. The problem persists to this day due to a portion of the station’s foundation and rubble that remains on the beach.
(The Long Island Traveler, Mattituck Watchman April 12, 1945) Supervisor Donald E. Muncy of Babylon…disclosed that the Federal Government is planning to spend $22,500 on the building of an artificial dune some 300 feet wide to protect the Coast Guard Station at Gilgo Beach, pumping fill from the boat channel and basin. He said he has been informed work on this job will start next week.
The need to replenish the entire ocean beach in the vicinity of Gilgo was also in the works at this point.
(The Suffolk County News April 20, 1945)
Muncy Asks County To Start Building Dunes At Gilgo
The Board of Supervisors has asked Harry T. Tuthill, county superintendent of highways, to make an inspection of the beaches in all five of the towns which border on the ocean and report his findings at a meeting of the board on April 30th.
The request came after Supervisor Donald E. Muncy, of Babylon Town, had laid before the Suffolk Supervisors, a proposal that the county make an appropriation, to be met with an appropriation of State funds, for the erection of sand dunes on the ocean beach from the Gilgo Coast Guard station westerly to the Nassau County line and on the shore of Oak Beach, across the Fire Island Inlet from Point Democrat. At these places erosion has cut into the beach in a manner threatening to houses and, in at least one spot, to Ocean Parkway.
The need to periodically replenish the beach in the vicinity of Gilgo also continues to this day.
On a side note: The Jones Island barrier beach and Oak Island barrier beach had almost always been two separate islands. As far back as the early 1800’s the Gilgo Inlet split the two islands. Originally located in the vicinity of today’s Gilgo, sometime in the late 1800’s that inlet had shoaled up but opened again in 1905 at Hemlock contributing to the demise of the resort there. Later that inlet also closed, only to open further east near Cedar Island/ Muncie Island sometime around 1920. This inlet was permanently closed in the Summer of 1931 by construction of the Ocean Parkway embankment, effectively creating one barrier island. Mother Nature apparently prefers two independent islands, which results in the need for periodic replenishment of the beach.
The late 1940’s saw two different plane crashes occurring in the vicinity of Gilgo. The first occurred in 1947 on the beach in Gilgo State Park.
(N. Y. Daily News Jan 6, 1947) A Los Angeles-bound American Airlines plane, carrying 13 passengers and a crew of three was marooned for 2 hours and 55 minutes last night-after being unable to land at Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington or its home field, LaGuardia – and finally crash landed at 9:45 P.M. on the sand near the Jones Beach Coast Guard Lifeboat Station. The twin-engine DC-3 was badly damaged, but only the pilot, J.E. Boothe of Memphis, and the co-pilot Thomas E. Hatcher, also of Memphis, were reported slightly hurt. The stewardess and all thirteen passengers were unscathed, according to first Coast Guard reports.
In a snowstorm and unable to land locally, the plane was on its way to Westover Field, near Springfield, Mass, when it ran out of fuel.
The gasoline was now down to five minutes supply and the ship was over water. It looked like a landing at sea.
Boothe finally saw a white strip beneath him – the Jones Beach State Parkway – and decided to land. He put the big ship down on the sand – in what a passenger called “smooth a landing as any I’ve had at LaGuardia Field.”
The ship skidded to a stop just a few yards from the swirling Atlantic. Coast Guardsmen said that when the tide became high at 4 A.M. the plane would be awash.
Two of the passengers immediately set out for help.They were Tom P. Walker, of 32 Washington Square West and Lenthiel Downs, of Goshen, N. Y.
Walker and Downs walked west along the highway for about a half-hour before they saw a light. It was the beacon atop the Jones Beach Coast Guard tower. The two men stumbled into the station, and gasped out their story to two chief bosuns…
…the plane was wrecked. Both wings were badly damaged, and the fuselage was torn and bent. The tail was intact, but the right motor was knocked loose.
The airline sent a bus out to Jones Beach to pick up the passengers for the return trip to New York and an official told them they could start again on their trip aboard a plane leaving LaGuardia at 4 A.M. today. There were no takers.
The second crash occurred in 1949 on the bay side near West Gilgo. Local tradition (Bud Maser to be specific) says it occurred on the marsh located between Gilgo and West Gilgo.
(The Suffolk County News January 2, 1949) Lieut. Alfred M. Pratt, of Harrington Park, N. J. a Naval Reserve pilot, was killed on Saturday when the Navy F4U Corsair plane he was piloting dropped out of a formation of seven aircraft into a marshy area of West Gilgo Beach, six miles east of the water tower at Jones Beach. He attempted to bail out of his stricken ship but his chute became entangled in the tail assembly.
The accident took place at 11:09 a.m., according to observers. The plane burst into flames upon hitting the marshes. Pratt was a veteran of Naval air action at Okinawa and over Japan during the war.
In the late 1940’s or early 1950’s, the houses situated along Broadway, west of the Gilgo Beach Inn, began to appear, likely following, at least loosely, the Long Island State Park Commission’s 1932 master plan. According to Zillow.com, many of the houses were originally built in the early 1950’s.
I couldn’t end this narrative without touching on what some refer to as “the surfing capital of the East Coast.” It’s not clear exactly when the first surfboard hit Gilgo waters, but based on this item in the “Encyclopedia of Surfing,” by Matt Warshaw, I’m guessing the feat was probably accomplished by a lifeguard sometime in the 1930’s.
Surfing was introduced to New York in 1912 by renowned surfer/swimmer Duke Kahanamoku of Hawaii, who gave a wave-riding demonstration at Rockaway while traveling from Honolulu to compete in the Stockholm Olympics. Wisconsin born surfer Tom Blake visited Jones Beach in the summer of 1934, rode with local lifeguards, and shared with them his latest hollow surfboard designs. A few more locals picked up the sport, but it developed slowly over the decades, practiced mainly by lifeguards at Babylon, Jones Beach and Gilgo Beach. In 1959, Long Island surfer John Hannon began selling surfboards out of his garage, and the following year Hannon opened a surf shop near Gilgo, with protege Charlie Bunger soon to follow.
The Surfing Encyclopedia goes on to say that Hannon, who also ran a beach concession at Gilgo where he rented surfboards and gave surf lessons, organized the inaugural East Coast Surfing Championships, holding them at Gilgo. As the story goes:
In the summer of 1961 a group of blue-blood New York teenagers returned home with surfboards after visiting California and Hawaii, went to Gilgo Beach, a nascent East Coast surfing hot spot on Long Island, and had a private surf-themed party that included an impromptu surfing contest. Gilgo surf shop owner John Hannon organized the second version of the contest and ambitiously titled it the East Coast Surfing Championships; locals George Fisher and Donna Snodgrass won their divisions.
That inaugural contest was held on September 8, 1962.
(New York Daily News Sept 16, 1962) Five thousand spectators lined Babylon Town’s Gilgo Beach as 175 men, women and junior surfboarders rode the waves like Hawaiians.
By the mid 1960’s, the East Coast Surfing Championships had moved to Virginia Beach, but the Gilgo contest would continue as the Gilgo Beach Surfing Championships.
So there you have it; the 100 plus year history of Gilgo Beach up through the early 1960’s. What’s clear is that people have been drawn to this ‘little piece of heaven” for the last century and a half. Some call it home, many others come just to get away from every day life on the mainland. This special attraction has allowed Gilgo to adapt, survive and even prosper through a plethora of both natural and man made challenges that included, among other things, the opening and closing of inlets; the development of Ocean Parkway and even mosquitoes.
Changes will continue to come, and we all know what Mother Nature is capable of, but, if the history of Gilgo has taught us anything, its that in another 100 years Gilgo will still be luring like-minded people to it’s shores.
THE GILGO BEACH STORY
Researched, Compiled and Edited By
Mike Cavanaugh, Cottage Walk, Gilgo Beach, N. Y.
Check out his web site Baybottles.com for some interesting and neat history on glass bottles found while he kayaks in the Great South Bay.