Ocean Bay Park is a small town with big personality. Largely populated by share houses, OBP knows how to throw a beach barbeque blowout. The riotous weekend warrior reputation is reinforced by the serious drinking and all night dancing at Flynn’s, Schooners, and The Inn Between. This town’s laid-back, non-restrictive lifestyle is especially appreciated by the waves of young renters seeking a beach party environment. However Ocean Bay Park also has it’s share of longtime seasoned residents.
Ocean Bay Park was originally conceived as a community for retired New York City Police and Firemen. While that concept never really got off the ground, it started to boom as a vacation resort with World War II when gas rationing and international travel restrictions made Ocean Bay Park an appealing and accessible getaway. In this era domestic servants from Point O’ Woods directly east were known to frequent Ocean Bay Park during their night off, so in the end Ocean Bay Park really did become a working class resort after all.
The architecture in Ocean Bay Park tends to be modest, but with character. All the residential streets are named after lakes. Buildings like Flynn’s and the Fire Island Hotel are actually renovated Coast Guard stations from Forge River and neighboring Point O’ Woods. The Ocean Bay Park Firehouse is among the prettiest volunteer firehouses on Fire Island, with a large back deck that overlooks the bay and serves as a community-meeting center.
For a Fire Island town and community that really is not all that large (about 350 houses) Ocean Bay Park has an abundance of bar/ restaurants, pizza places, two decent hotels, a tennis court, bike shop and well-stocked grocery store. Ocean Bay Park also offers a direct ferry line though Fire Island Ferries, from Bay Shore, NY. Flynn’s offers marina space for about 50 boats.
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Lonelyville is one of the first communities to be established on Fire Island, and is true to its namesake. The secluded scene attracts those who wish to get away from it all. Lonelyville’s real estate includes a mix of modest beach cottages, largely concentrated at the east end; and more modern homes that were built on the west end.
The community began as Fire Island Fishing Company founded by Captain Selah Clock in the late 1880’s. Unlike Seaview, which was a fish oil processing plant, Fire Island Fishing Company’s focus was the transportation of fish for food to serve greater Long Island. A 400-foot pier extended out into the Atlantic Ocean, so fishing vessels could unload their catch. A rail system would cross over Fire Island through Lonelyville and bring the fish to other boats waiting on the other side. From there the perishable cargo would be delivered to Greater Long Island. This practice saved time, money and meant that fisherman need not circumnavigate the Fire Island Inlet, which could prove treacherous.
Captain Clock in time closed his company went into the real estate development business. He subdivided his land tract for residential sale in 1905. The dilapidated pier still extended out into the ocean for the first few decades of the 20th Century, but the Hurricane of 1938 washed away the last remnants of it.
In 2011 Lonelyville made history by becoming the first Fire District to consolidate with the non- contiguous Fair Harbor Fire District. (The community of Dunewood being between the two.) There is no direct ferry to Lonelyville. Fair Harbor or the Dunewood/ Atlantique lines are the best alternative options. The same goes for other amenities like restaurants, shops and markets which are a short walk away to Fair Harbor in the west, or a slightly longer trip to Ocean Beach due east.
Things to do
Kismet is Fire Island’s westernmost party hub. Kismet’s young New Yorker singles scene hosts never-ending happy hours, disco dancing, and boisterous house parties. A popular Fire Island summer share house destination, Kismet is home to many seasoned Fire Islanders. Kismet nightlife is upheld by two popular bayside bar and grills, The Inn and Surf’s Out. Kismet has a beautiful 100-slip commercial marina that is always packed with boaters. This quaint country-like atmosphere is a refuge from the seemingly congested beaches and towns to its east.
The location that would become Kismet was home to the Dominy House Hotel, the first hotel on Fire Island. Dominy had been one of the Keepers at the old Fire Island Lighthouse, but was ultimately discharged from his duties for entertaining guests to the extent that his Keeper duties became secondary. The rustic hotel was built by Felix Dominy in 1844, and was attractive to hunters and fishermen. When the colossal Surf Hotel was constructed to the east of Dominy House in 1857, obstructing its view of the Lighthouse, business began to falter. Dominy House would be destroyed by fire under questionable circumstances in 1903. An excavated chimney-base attributed to Dominy House stands a few hundred feet from the Surf’s Out as a monument to Fire Island’s early heritage.
After 1925 Kismet began not as one, but three separate communities: Seabay Beach, Lighthouse Shores and Kismet proper. They ultimately merged together to form a single hamlet, but a walk through the neighborhood of roughly 300 homes still bears evidence that the separate communities were stitched together after the fact by the layout of the walkways.
Kismet is accessible via the Kismet ferry line out of Bay Shore, NY. However one advantage of being the most western of the Fire Island communities is that one does not need a ferry to get there. Many visitors park in Field 5 where Kismet is just a short walk east.
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Home of the “tea dance,” Fire Island Pines is a zigzag of boardwalks that lead to the island’s most ritzy real estate. The Pines turnout is known to be a bit more subdued than its neighboring Cherry Grove. Indeed the Pines is an affluent gay-friendly community where same-sex as well as heterosexual lifestyles co-exist comfortably.
It is fabled that Fire Island Pines was named due to a shipwreck in which a cargo of evergreen trees that were being transported for the Christmas season came to shore and took root, giving the area its lush green appearance. While this may or may not be true, the Lone Hill Lifesaving station was located in this proximity of Fire Island during the 19th Century. The Lone Hill building was used as the Fire Island Pines Community House right through the 20th Century until it was ultimately razed and Whyte Hall took its place.
In 1924 the Home Guardian Company purchased the tract of land that would become Fire Island Pines for the purposes of Real Estate development. But with the Great Depression followed by the Second World War, the tract languished until 1952 when the Smadbeck Brothers (also known as the “Henry Fords of Real Estate”) subdivided the into 122 lots for sale and constructed a private harbor with large landing dock with the vision of marketing the community to the boating enthusiast. And while this vision did in fact become true, dynamics of the era made the conditions right to make the area attractive to a wealthy gay clientele.
Today charitable fundraisers and cocktail parties dot the Fire Island Pines’ social calendar also summer long, with the annual “Invasion of the Pines,” the Fire Island Dance Festival and the Ascension Party being among the most notable. The Pines caters to its Manhattan weekenders and features delightful markets, boutiques and restaurants. Ferry service is out of Sayville, NY.
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Fair Harbor began as a real estate enterprise between George Weeks and Selah Clock (also the founder of Lonleyville) in 1923 with the concept of making beach houses available to the “working man” and indeed they attracted a strong clientele from south shore Long Island hamlets like Bay Shore and Islip. However with the Great Depression on the horizon the business concept became strained. Then the Hurricane of 1938 roared on over Fire Island leaving only eight houses standing in Fair Harbor and enterprise went bankrupt. The community rebounded however after World War II, attracting New York’s City’s metropolitan upper-middleclass.
Now known as a refuge from the urban grind, Fair Harbor is a sanctuary for New York City inhabitants who find solace in its unbuttoned atmosphere. Fair Harbor features a small but well planned downtown district made up of an upscale food market, post office, liquor store, the ice cream stand known as “Unfriendly’s,” and a funky general hardware store called Corliss on the Bay which sells both used and vintage items. Most importantly it is the home of Le Dock, an acclaimed bar and restaurant known for its spectacular bay views.
Fair Harbor is famous for its annual Pine Walk Arts and Crafts Fair, a Fire Island favorite, which adds to this community’s bohemian beach vibe while still being an intimate family community where neighbors congregate at the bay to watch the sunsets. Some 400 modest yet gracious beach houses adorn the narrow residential walks. There are no hotels or B&B’s in Fair Harbor, but they do have a thriving real estate agent industry and house rentals are readily available. The community can also boast one of the finest volunteer fire and EMS departments on the western end of Fire Island, the Fair Harbor Fire District. Fair Harbor also has its own direct ferry line out of Bay Shore and private community marina.
Davis Park is the most easterly of the communities recognized by Fire Island National Seashore’s enacting legislation. It is also among the younger Fire Island communities relatively speaking, emerging after 1945. It evolved around a parcel of land that was donated to the Town of Brookhaven by Davis Brothers of Patchogue, NY. A public park and marina was then constructed by the town, for the enjoyment of the people of Brookhaven. Construction of summer homes west of the park followed in short order becoming the community of Davis Park. Additional property development east of the park began sprouting in the 1960’s and while within Davis Park proper is also known by the secondary name of Ocean Ridge.
Leja Beach in the center is also encompassed by Davis Park. The name is derived from four building contractors who floated a vacant restaurant building originally in Blue Point across the Great South Bay from greater Long Island that became the restaurant now known as the Casino. Those four contractors Lee Coffin, Ed Sembler, Joe Gerard and Al Brown wanted to distinguish their private tract of land from the Brookhaven Town holdings. The name eventually chosen comes from the first initials of each partner – “Leja.”
Today Davis Park is a true boaters’ community with huge 250-boat marina with electric and water hook-ups as well as shower facilities. The Park maintains an even balance between a young single share house crowd and family-oriented homeowners. The Casino Café also remains an important Davis Park social hub; a combination restaurant and bar is where the entire town comes together. It is also the only ocean front restaurant on Fire Island. (The original Casino was washed out to sea in the winter of 1996. A near-replica was floated over shortly after.) Davis Park also boasts one of the larger and better-stocked grocery stores on Fire Island, known as the Harbor Store. Ferry service is out of Patchogue.
Atlantique is a community for the serious boating enthusiast. Located on one of the narrowest parts of Fire Island, the community of Altantique was founded in 1912 by Carlton Brewster and Dr. George King. Shortly thereafter a strip of land to its west that had been known as Sea Fire Beach was acquired by the Town of Islip and deemed a public recreational facility. Subsequently Sea Fire Beach was renamed Atlantique Beach. Today the two Atlantiques are at once distinct yet linked. The community proper consists of only about 50 homes, including the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Fire Island headquarters.
The park consists of a marina with more than 150 slips that offer electrical and fresh water hook-ups, pump-out station, 24-hour restrooms and hot showers, children’s playground, handball and basketball courts, barbeque areas, as well as lifeguard protected bay and ocean beaches and sand dune guided walkways. Sorry, no pets allowed on or about the town-operated facilities. Marina docking rates are extremely reasonable for Islip Town residents, but higher for non-residents. Availability is at a first come first served basis at the digression of the dockmaster. Anchoring out on either side of the marina is permissible. The Altantique Marina dockmaster’s office monitors VHF Channel 9 and is also available by telephone at 631-583-8610. The snack shack serves as restaurant, mini-mart, and all-round social gathering spot.
Additional services are available via the western and eastern neighbors of Fair Harbor or Ocean Beach respectively, both of which are a short walk away via the ocean or the famous “Burma Road.” Ferry access on the Dunewood/ Atlantique line out of Bay Shore is limited to just a few boats a day, so those without private boat access often opt for using the Ocean Beach or Fair Harbor lines as alternatives. The quiet rustic charm of Altantique makes it worth the trip.
Located just to the west of Ocean Beach, Corneille Estates is most popular among single young professionals, and while group shares are common, so is a family atmosphere and sense of neighborhood. Only one and a half residential blocks in size, the developer of this diminutively sized community was once in business partnership with John Wilbur, the entrepreneurial founder of Ocean Beach, its much larger and more powerful neighbor directly east. However with different visions and business philosophies they parted ways prior to 1912. This vision is still apparent today as Corneille has a much more lush and natural appearance as well as some surprisingly handsome, yet understated architecture.
The compact community is accessible by winding boardwalks and defined by lush wooded areas that provide shade from the summer sun. Corneille Estates is also the official home of “Trangle Ball” ® a game somewhat related to handball which is a local favorite and along with volleyball played on the beaches almost every summer weekend for almost decades. Trangle Ball tournaments get very competitive and always draw the in crowds!
Close enough to enjoy all the amenities Ocean Beach has to offer, but far enough away as not to be stifled by its abundance of rules and ordinances. Corneille Estates residents have easy access to the downtown Ocean Beach scene just a short stroll or bicycle ride away. Woodhull Elementary School, the only public school facility that is part of Fire Island Union Free School District is also located in Corneille and offers a baseball field, basketball courts, and a public library that offers computer use and Internet access at no charge. There is no direct ferry line, water taxi landing spot, or a community marina in Corneille Estates. Residents must look to Ocean Beach for these services as well.
The unofficial capital of Fire Island, Ocean Beach is a 600-home community with the greatest concentration of bars, restaurants and stores on the entire island. Overflowing with small-town charm reminiscent of a simpler time, main street walks are lined with ice cream shops, mom and pop markets, and “beach chic” boutiques. Local children sell painted shell souvenirs out of red radio-flyer wagons. Just outside of town, Ocean Beach walkways are lined with traditional summer cottages that are both home to longtime Fire Island families and home away from home for many share-house transients.
Ocean Beach started as two communities that joined together after the fact when becoming an incorporated village in 1921. A businessman named John Wilbur founded the community of Ocean Beach in 1908 and its eastern boundary only extended as far as Bungalow Walk. What is the last three western blocks of Ocean Beach today (Ocean, Wilmot, and Surf Roads) were know as Stay-a-While Estates, a real estate enterprise organized by the heirs of New York Supreme Court Justice Wilmot M. Smith in 1912. Ocean Beach was once home to a grand hotel named the New Surf Hotel, which was destroyed by fire around 1918. To this day many confuse the history of the New Surf Hotel with its neighbor and namesake near Kismet that had been known as the Surf Hotel, but they were in fact separate entities.
Ocean Beach also has been known as “The Land of No,” a moniker it gained by its labyrinth of local laws and ordinances to govern life within the Village in ways both large and small. These rules restrict activities like bicycle riding, playing ball or picnicking on the beach. This idiosyncrasy hit a climax in 1977 when the great “cookie case” made national headlines when two teenage boys went to court to defend their right to eat freshly baked cookies purchased at a local bakery on the Ocean Beach public walk and prevailed. The Land of No characterization has relaxed in Ocean Beach over time, but it has never completely gone away.
Point O’ Woods
As Fire Island’s oldest community, Point O’ Woods is self-contained and offers a clubhouse, tennis courts, park, and market to homeowners. This rustic neighborhood has a strong emphasis on family living and the look and feel of a bygone era, burrowed in wooded terrain sits a collection of Victorian-era houses and curious ancient railroad tracks. Point O’ Woods is also a gated community, with a massive fence – very unusual for Fire Island. This has led to many misunderstandings about the true nature of this community.
Point O’ Woods has its roots as a Chautauqua retreat in 1894. While this forum for spiritual and self-enlightenment was a very popular concept at the time, the enterprise was a financial failure and dissolved within four years. Unsuccessful as the Chautauqua enterprise may have been, it gave birth to the organization of the first true residential community on Fire Island. Point O’ Woods operated on the premise of 99-year leases of the land which is held in common by the Point O’ Woods Association, while the houses themselves are privately owned. This has kept the appearance of Point O’ Woods relatively unspoiled by progress.
Point O’ Woods also has an unusual demographic for Fire Island. Well pedigreed families come from all corners of the country to summer at Point O’ Woods, while many neighboring Fire Island communities are predominantly populated by New York City and greater Long Island summer residents. Point O’ Woods residents cherish their land and water sports almost as much as they value family, continuity in their way of life, and of course their privacy.
Like many of the western Fire Island communities ferry service is out of Bay Shore, NY. In fact Point O’ Woods pioneered Bay Shore as a launching spot for ferry service to Fire Island. Before that most ferry service to Fire Island originated out of Babylon, NY. Today the Point O’ Woods ferry line is the last remaining ferry line in Bay Shore that has not been absorbed by the conglomerate, Fire Island Ferries Inc.
Robert Moses State Park
Robert Moses is the perfect escape for city day-trippers working on a tan. It is accessible by automobile attached to the mainland by the Robert Moses Causeway. It is the only State owned parkland on Fire Island and offers incredible surfing, fishing, public parks, and facilities.
Originally known as Fire Island State Park, established in 1908, it was the first State Park on Long Island. New York State had established presence on Fire Island back in 1892 when a cholera scare prompted the Governor Roswell P. Flower to hastily purchase the Surf Hotel to quarantine immigrants exposed to the disease on transatlantic ships of September that year. This action caused a panic as commercial orders of fish harvested from the Great South Bay were cancelled. In addition, nearby residents began to worry about their own health and wellbeing.
An organized protest of fishermen and citizens from Islip and Babylon assembled at the dock of the Surf Hotel to prevent a day boat called the Cephus filled with quarantine passengers to land. Governor Flower eventually called in armed regiments to assure the men and women aboard the Cephus safe arrival. The Surf Hotel had once been one of the grandest hotel establishments on Fire Island, but it never recovered from the cholera protest incident, which made global headlines. Nor did the State have any talent for operating hotels. In time parts of the dilapidated structure washed out to sea while other portions of the sprawling compound were auctioned off and barged away.
From this turbulent beginning the State converted their Fire Island holdings into the parkland. In 1924 Robert Moses who was the newly appointed Commissioner of Long Island Parks System amended the parkland boundary to include additional lands built from westward littoral drift to form the profile of Fire Island State Park, as we know it today.
Prior to 1964 access to Fire Island State Park was via ferry from Babylon, NY. That year construction of a causeway was completed allowing automobile access and both the park and the causeway were named in honor of Commissioner Moses. This of course was the same Robert Moses that had desired to build a highway down the center of Fire Island, but was vehemently defeated by grassroots organized Fire Island residents. So the road stops abruptly shortly after Robert Moses State Park eastern line, and continues on no further.
Nestled in the midst of Federal Seashore wilderness, Robbins Rest is a quiet, low-key beach break with approximately 40 residential houses. The sand dune walkways make Robbins Rest a true barefoot society. Robbins Rest residents treasure their privacy, but frequent Ocean Beach for all its amenities. The rustic nature of Robbins Rest is not for those who desire the pampered beach house with all the comforts of home, but for those who enjoy seclusion and low-key charm Robbins Rest has much to offer.The community was established in 1925, founded by an attorney named William Robbins, who was a partner with a prominent law firm in Bay Shore called Robbins, Wells, and Walser.
There was a time that Robbins Rest was the home to an impressive hotel with bar and restaurant known as the Sand Castle operated by a longtime Fire resident by the name of George Phillips. After Phillips passed away the establishment changed hands several times, its latest incarnation being known as Tequila Jacks.
Tequila Jacks enjoyed respectable success. However hard-line Robbins Rest residents resented the noise and unrest such a secluded nightspot enticed. In 2007 a group of silent partners purchased the building with the intent of never opening a commercial establishment there again, thus ensuring that Robbins Rest remain a peaceful community and the quiet enjoyment of the residents remain undisturbed.
It is possible to stop at Robbins Rest via water taxi, but there is no direct ferry service to be had. Like the people of Fire Island Summer Club and Corneille Estates reliance on the Ocean Beach ferry line is necessary. The walk to Robbins Rest is a little further west and lacks paved walkways, but the walk is still not terribly far way, and quite doable for those who are in reasonably good health.