The Shelter Island Grove and Camp Meeting Association of the Methodist Episcopal Church was incorporated on May 11, 1872. The incorporators were Charles P. Armstrong of New Haven, Samuel Booth of Brooklyn. John H. Crane of Jamaica, Queens, John French of Brooklyn, the Reverend William T. Hill of New Rochelle, New York, the Reverend George A. Hubbell of New Haven, Richard Kelly, William Mayo Little of Brooklyn, Foster Pettit of Brooklyn, George G. Reynolds of Brooklyn, the Reverend John E. Searles of Brooklyn, John E. Searles of New Haven, and George N. Shaffer of Brooklyn. All but Armstrong, John Searles, Jr.’s business partner, and Kelly would be purchasers of Association lots, indeed, many lots.
The place soon to be called Prospect Grove was a bee hive of activity. Construction of the hotel had continued through the Spring. It must have been amazing. Wood and plumbing supplies being delivered to the old Wharf, and carpenters sawing and hammering to build a grand hotel. Our son, an architect, has told us that using balloon construction, the four story hotel, with no insulation, no electrical wiring, and rudimentary plumbing could easily be built in a few months.
Let us for a moment imagine the place called Prospect Grove that first summer in 1872. The only new building we absolutely know about -- through Ralph Duvall -- is the Prospect House. We do not know how many rooms it had, but it could accommodate 150 overnight guests. The Restaurant, now the Chequit, may also have been in place. The developers possibly had been able to build a bathing pavilion with some bath houses. They may have put in tennis courts.
There may have been some trees on the western side of the peninsula, but most of it was meadow as Squire Chase had raised sheep there. It must have been pretty muddy around the hotel, but some young trees would have been planted, paths laid, and shrubs planted. By July, a lawn would have been well seeded and now green.
The hotel would have been lighted by gas, and all plumbing was in communal bathrooms near the stairs. There were no shops on Grand Avenue nor across the bridge. There was a well on the front lawn of the hotel with a windmill on top to draw water. The well, itself, is there still.
There were public parlors and a dining room on the first floor, with three levels of guest rooms.
According to Ralph Duvall, the old McGayhey house was on the front lawn of the hotel that first year and was used as a grocery store.
It was a very basic seaside resort, by any standards, but it had lots of potential. The developers had a right to be optimistic because at least some of the Methodist community in Brooklyn had bought into the great experiment.
It was not until August 6, 1872 that John E. Searles of Brooklyn and his wife Mary A. conveyed the entire peninsula, about 275 acres, to the Shelter Island Grove and Camp Meeting Association for $37,000.
One interesting footnote to this story is the fact that most of the parcels of land were purchased in the name of the name of John E. Searles of New Haven, but John E. Searles of Brooklyn transferred the entire peninsula to the Association.
Another footnote is that in spite of the deed conveying ownership of the entire peninsula, John E. Searles did not own all of it. At least four parcels on the peninsula would be acquired by the Association during the next three years. The Wells family conveyed about 30 acres directly to the Association on March 28, 1872. On January 8, 1874 the Cobb family sold their Prospect lots, including a half-interest in a lot on the Bay, north of Washington Street, to the Association. Israel and Clarissa Fanning sold the Association the remaining half of the Cobb property on October 3. On August 16, 1875, Emeline Chase Skillman, a Chase daughter and widow and administratrix of the estate of Joseph Skillman, sold five acres, which we believe to be around White Hill, to the Association for $600.
And finally, the Association’s advisors must have had concerns because in 1887 they asked Rebecca Beebe, then in her 70s, to confirm, in a new deed, events that had transpired in 1869.
An End Note: Deed, 8/6/1872, Liber 192, page 189, recorded 1/2/1873. The Deed provided:
“Whereas the said John E. Searles in contemplation of the Incorporation of the [Association] and for the purposes of the said Association has purchased the premises...from several proprietors thereof for prices mentioned in the conveyance thereof amounting to $37,000 (more or less) and he now desires to transfer all his title to and interst in the said premises to the [Association] which desires to accept the same;
“Now Therefore the Indenture Witnesseth that [Searles] in consideration of $37,000 (less mortgages for the amount of $3.200 (more or less)) to them duly paid have granted...all that tract in Shelter Island...bounded as follows: Commencing at the Southeast corner of the City Road (so called) and adjoining the west line of the land formerly of Moses D. Griffing deceased, then bounded Southerly by the said road or highway until it comes to the shore of Peconic Bay, then bounded Westerly, Northerly, and Easterly by the Bay or Ferry until it comes to Dering Harbor and then bounded Easterly by the waters of Dering’s Harbor and by the Creek and (from the head of the Creek) by land formerly of Moses D. Griffing deceased until it comes to the said City Road or place of beginning. Containing about 275 acres (more or less) and the Buildings and Edifices thereon...”