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Cherry Grove and Fire Island Pines, Long Island New York
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Fire Island: Before and After the Great Hurricane of 1938
by Jeanne Gerrodette Skinner and collaborated by Carl Luss 
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photo courtesy of Evelyn Danko
A new breach created by the hurricane - of what was Surf Walk (at the Bay end), Silverbelle in the forefront.
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I HAVE BEEN asked to write a history of Cherry Grove and, in going back over my memories of my early childhood, I was surprised how clearly I was able to recall the following details which I am now setting down for you.

"In 1868 my grandparents, Archer and Elizabeth Perkinson, bought a piece of land on the Great South Beach, extending from Lone Hill (now Fire Island Pines) West to just beyond the present hotel, and from bay to ocean. They paid .25 cents a front foot for it and named it Cherry Grove because there was a regular forest of black cherry trees just north of a small house which was on the property where the present hotel now stands.

"Since my grandmother was a wonderful cook, they decided to enlarge the little house and serve shore dinners. In no time at all the place became well known and popular with sailing parties on the Great South Bay. When my sister, Mrs. Henry Erman, and I were quite small we visited at Cherry Grove each summer, and I remember that Host Perkinson used to entertain his guests by playing a big music box which he wound by hand. It looked like the old fashioned street pianos.

"During the time the elder Perkinsons were at the beach there were three very bad shipwrecks near by. On January, 28, 1876 the "Great Western", the first solely steam propelled ship to be used in trans-Atlantic travel, was wrecked right on the ocean front at Cherry Grove. I remember being able to see her great boilers at low tide. She crossed the Atlantic in 13 days and 3 hours and was in use for 46 years. At the time of the wreck there were 36 on board and all were saved. My sister and I heard our grandfather tell often about the "Louis V. Place" which went aground just off Lone Hill on February 8, 1895. It was a terrible wreck and a sad memory of my childhood. The weather was extremely cold and the ship became unmanageable, because of ice. The Coast Guard crew at Lone Hill Station were unable to even launch a boat, and only one man was saved out of a crew of 8. Grandfather, using a spy glass I suppose, could see the men drop into the sea after freezing to the rigging. The "John B. Manning", the third vessel to be wrecked, went aground during the same storm, but all were saved. The Great South Bay was frozen solid so that horses and wagons could cross it, and everyone who could get there visited to see both of these wrecks. The Manning was loaded with ponies and oranges. The ponies were all killed, but there were oranges for everyone. I can still see the pans full in our kitchen at home. The Manning was freed and resumed her voyage.

"In 1895, Grandfather had his son Stewart help him run the hotel, and since Stewart and his wife enjoyed the life on the beach , his father sold the place to him. Each year after that, early in the Spring, Mr. And Mrs. Stewart Perkinson would leave Patchogue with a scow fastened to their boat. On it would be a horse, a cow, several pigs, many chickens and a dog. A garden would be planted down by the bay, having been fertilized the previous Fall with seaweed and horseshoe crabs, and fine corn, tomatoes, potatoes, beans, etc. were raised for use with the dinners.

"The dog would run down to the dock, which, in those days, was put down each Spring and taken up in the Fall, to bark a welcome to all visitors. The horse was used to plow the garden and to bring driftwood from the beach for the stoves. The cow gave milk, the chickens supplied fresh eggs and were also eaten fried for dinners; the pigs disposed of the garbage and furnished food for the winter months later on. Blueberries, which could be picked nearby, were made into pies and fritters for desserts. In addition, my cousins and my uncle caught fish, clams and crabs, so the delicious shore dinners which began with steamed clams and progressed to fish, chicken and vegetables, salad and dessert, came directly from Cherry Grove.

"There was a hill near the house called Money Hill because someone once found some Spanish coins there. After we heard the story we dug and dug, but never found any more.

"We were at Cherry Grove on July 10, 1918, when the "San Diego", a troop ship, was sunk by a German mine. Some of the men were landed at Lone Hill Coast Guard Station and several boat loads were taken to Point O'Woods so, although we had made up all available beds to care for the sailors, none were needed. 50 men lost their lives at that time.

"In 1921 the Perkinsons had sold all the land East of Duryea Walk to Lone Hill, and then divided what was let into 109 building lots. A lot 50 x 80 feet could be bought for $250 or less, and ocean front lots cost no more than a dollar a front foot. A few were sold--mostly to relatives--and buildings which were bought from Camp Upton were put up. A commuter's ferry, run by a son, Marion Perkinson, left each morning to take the men to Patchogue and returned each evening. Later, after other people from more distant places bought lots and built cottages, another ferry ran from Sayville and train connections were made for New York.

"In 1922, a Post Office was established and Mrs. Perkinson was the first Postmaster. It was in a combination cottage and store which was located on Ocean Walk just about where "The Monster" and "Too Much" are now. The store carried only a few canned goods, but a bum-boat with ice and vegetables (and meat on order) used to leave Patchogue at 8:00 a.m. Its first stop was Cherry Grove, where it stayed about an hour, and then continued down to Point O' Woods, Ocean Beach, Saltaire and the Fire Island State Park. It arrived at the State Park shortly before lunchtime. Our summer was incomplete without at least one trip on the "Edward" with Captain Dick (Nelson Warner) who later operated our General Store for years.

"In 1929 the first boardwalks were built. A couple of cottages had to be moved because they had been put in the right of ways. It was also in 1929 that we had a "First Flight" on July 4th from Patchogue to Cherry Grove (it is the only one ever). Mail amounting to $81 came from all over the world to receive the first flight cachet from Cherry Grove and to be sent out from here.

"When Captain Warner later built the store at the corner of Bayview and Cherry Grove Walks, the post office was moved to the store and he became the second postmaster of Cherry Grove. The "bum-boat" was discontinued, but the "Edward" long remained a familiar sight on the Great South Bay. In the 1938 hurricane, with Captain and Mrs. Warner, Mr. and Mrs. John Thurber, old Stewart Perkinson, and Mr. Ronald Gerrodette aboard, it started to make the trip to Patchogue, but ended up at Long Cove, high and dry, where they were forced to stay all night. Housemovers were needed to get it afloat again. About half the cottages were washed away at Cherry Grove during that storm and ours was one of them. The only one left on the ocean front was the Lewis cottage, which had just been purchased two weeks previously by the Gerrodettes. It was on the lot where the present "Beachome" is, and was called "Hurricane House". It was sold to Mr. and Mrs. Wilkie Rustin and moved west to Sea Walk on the ocean front. It was later purchased by Mrs. Charles Harrison Goddard and has had several extensive additions made, but the original house is still there, and Mrs. Goddard has retained the name "Hurricane House".

"We were among the first to come back and rebuild our house, but sold it a few years ago to the Gerrodettes. It is next door to the one they live in and is called "Bestbet". Their daughter is your Cherry Grove reporter.
Myra Jones Weeks

"Since the 1938 hurricane Cherry Grove has grown by leaps and bounds. There were many people interested in Cherry Grove who were not property owners and therefore ineligible to belong to the Property Owners Assn. These folks formed the Cherry Grove Arts Projects Assn. and each year this group has sponsored several musical shows, camera shows and other affairs to raise money. One of their most important projects was to have a doctor here at all times. They, at first, rented a house and then later built one which is known as the "Elmer Lindsay Memorial Clinic".

"Many persons had tried their hands at running the hotel after the Perkinson Family gave it up. The Fred Steins (parents of the present owner of our ferries), the Joseph Levys (parents of Ira Levy, Sayville attorney), the Alfred Sykes family, who later operated the Kensington Hotel in Sayville, which was on the site of the present Bohack store, and, just before the hurricane, by the Duffy's, who had also taken over the Kensington in Sayville. After the hurricane, Mr. Duffy sold the hotel to the present owners and it is operated now by Arnold Stevens.

"Cherry Grove boasts of a very good volunteer Fire Department, with Dick Schneider as Fire Chief. They did themselves proud, when the original hotel burned to the ground in the Fall of 1956, by confining the damage to just the hotel and two houses. A much larger and more modern building has now replaced the old hotel, and there has even been rumors of a swimming pool in the future! The hotel has movies every Tuesday evening, free, and a summer stock show every Sunday evening. Also, one of their latest attractions is their barbecue dinners, with your second drink "on the house". "Pat's", on the ocean front, started out as a small soda and sandwich shop right after the hurricane, but has since grown into a fine eating place, with rooms for rent, too. To the west of the Cherry Grove Walk is the "Sea Shack" (formerly the home of Mr. Alexander Grenier) where delicious dinners are prepared by Ernesto, and free movies are shown on Thursday evenings.

"For thirteen or fourteen years the Post Office has had its own quarters, separate from the store, with Mrs. Gerrodette as Postmaster.

"Our Corner Store (the general store) has really become a super-market since the owner, Frank Woolfenden, enlarged and remodeled it early this Spring.

"I feel that this addition to the history, as written by Mrs. Harry Weeks, brings you pretty well up to this present day and age. Times have changed--from kerosene lamps, outhouses and no boardwalks--to electricity in the hotel and a few homes and the store, modern plumbing, and boardwalks. People have come and gone but there are a few who have remained faithful, and have grown up here from childhood, through parenthood, and are now grandparents. Time marches on.



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