The most politically distinguished among the incorporators was Samuel Booth who had served as the 16th Mayor of Brooklyn from 1866 through 1867. He had been born on the 4th of July, 1818 in England, but spent the first ten years of his childhood in New York City, and then moved to Tillary Street on the Johnson Farm in Brooklyn. He had little formal education, but went into the carpentry and building trade in which he was exceedingly successful. While he was the mayor he was a member of the syndicate that arranged to build the Brooklyn Bridge and hired John A. Roebling. On February 10, 1873, he purchased lots 143, 145, 147 and 149, and lot 137. Julia Ann Booth, Samuel’s wife, purchased lots 205 and 207. At the same time, his brother William C. Booth purchased lots 124 and 126. A month later he purchased lot 103 with a house on it. Lot 103 is where Albert Chase’s house stood.
On July 18, 1873, John M. Crane of Jamaica, Queens, cashier of the Shoe and Leather Bank, purchased lots 30 and 32.
John French, a graduate of Dartmouth College, and Brooklyn philanthropist, was elected president of the Shelter Island Grove and Camp Meeting Association in October 1872. He was the man in charge. The year 1873 was very busy for him. He was elected a director of the Brooklyn YMCA which had 4,088 members. He was appointed to the Committee of 100 whose job in Brooklyn was to nominate Republicans for public office. And, he was appointed to the Board of Managers of the General Missionary Committee of the Methodist Episcopal Church, a nation-wide organization.John French was always active in temperance causes. On November 12, 1873, he purchased lots 982, 998, 999, 1000, 211, and 171.
On October 1, 1873 John Crane and John French each purchased one quarter of lots 0, 1, 3, 5, 7, and 9, the lots containing the Association building, and the first houses up the hill from the ferry. Tradition is that these men -- a small syndicate -- built spec houses to show future visitors to the Prospect Grove what they could build on their own lot -- a marketing strategy. Right up from the ferry and in front of the hotel! Everyone had to pass by them.
The Reverend William T. Hill was from New Rochelle. He was an 1854 graduate of Wesleyan and was a pastor in churches in Connecticut and Long Island until 1899 when he retired. He preached the Thanksgiving service at the new Methodist Church in Jamaica, Queens in 1874. His church was a member of the New York East Methodist Conference which he joined in 1855. In 1880, he was an elder in the Conference and reported that his district had 76 churches, 67 pastors, and 134 new members. He died in 1917 at the age of 87. He purchased two lots on February 10, 1873, numbers 182 and 286. It was William B. Hill, his son, from whom we have learned so much about the early years.
The Reverend George H. Hubbell of New Haven purchased lots 186 and 188 on February 10, 1873. A graduate of Hamilton College, he was pastor of the Simpson Church in Brooklyn in 1857 and 1858. He was also a member of the New York East Methodist Conference.
William Mayo Little of Brooklyn, born in 1839, was the son and grandson of men both named George Little, also of Brooklyn. In his early years he had been a real estate auctioneer, a clothier, and a piano dealer. He was married to John French’s daughter Sarah and they had two children George French Little who became a doctor and a daughter who married Charles Budd Byron. In 1866, he was supervisor of the 20th Ward in Brooklyn. In 1874 he was Register of Arrears, and by 1879, he was the Treasurer of Brooklyn. His 1911 obituary revealed that he had been prominent in both the political and religious life of Brooklyn. He was on his way to Shelter Island for the summer when he died. On November 12, 1873, he purchased lots 169, 994, 995, and 997.
Foster Pettit of Brooklyn purchased lot 263 on February 10, 1873. A month later, he purchased 97, 99, and part of 101.
George G. Reynolds of Brooklyn purchased lots 192 and 194 on March 2, 1874. In 1872, he had been elected to the City Court. From 1884, he was Chief Judge. He also served as a judge of the State Supreme Court. He had graduated from Wesleyan College in the class of 1841, and in 1890, he became president of the Wesleyan Board of Trustees. He died in 1913 just a few weeks shy of his 92nd birthday as the result of a fall outside of a friend’s house a few doors from his own.
The Reverend John E. Searles of Brooklyn, who we know as the consolidator of the Chase estate, purchased lots 34 and 310 on February 10, 1873. A month later he purchased lot 101. The Reverend died on February 12, 1893, at the age of 74, at his residence in Brooklyn. He had been rector of four churches in Brooklyn over a 50 year period, the last being the Russell Place Methodist Episcopal Church, built with his own money, from which he had retired a year before his death because of ill health.
On February 10, 1873, John E. Searles, Jr. of New London purchased lots 65, 67, and 69. On that same day, his wife Caroline purchased 121, 123, and 125. Born in 1840, in the 1870’s he was a partner in the West India shipping company of L. W. P. Armstrong in New Haven which soon developed a large sugar business. In 1890, in New York, he helped to form the American Sugar Refining Company which became known as the Sugar Trust with capital of $50 million. At the time of his father’s death, he was secretary, but later became chief executive officer of the company. He resigned in December 1898 ostensibly because of bad health, but it was rumored that he was broke. He made a second fortune in cotton and a third in railroads. He died of a heart attack in London on October 23, 1908 while waiting on a platform with his wife to take a train to Guilford.
The final incorporator, George H. Shaffer of Brooklyn, purchased nine lots on March 2, 1874, numbers 450, 488, 490, 492, 959, 960, 976, 977, and 978. We have no idea why he waited until 1874, but soon it will be clear why he bought so many.
How much did lots cost? Mostly, $200. A few were $150, and some $300. But an average lot cost $220 and four together about $800.
Other interesting people were, of course, early purchasers of Prospect Grove properties.
One who stands out is Joseph Battin of Elizabeth, New Jersey. He seems to have been a man of exuberance and generosity. He founded the Elizabeth Water Company and became exceedingly wealthy. He purchased the Dimock estate with a house on it which had cost $240,000, we are told, built in 1873, and he gave it to the City of Elizabeth in 1889, as a high school. By 1891, his sons were in despair of him as he was giving all of his property to the New York “faith curist” Mr. Simpson. The sons became his guardians by order of the court. On June 6, 1892, he presided over the laying of the cornerstone of the United Baptist Church. Battin died in 1893 leaving no will and was living in the “faith curist’s” rest home in New York City. He had demonstrated his enthusiasms at Prospect Grove, purchasing on November 12, 1873 eleven lots: 174, 232, 425, 443, 471, 480, 957, 958, 979, 1001, and 1002.
In 1873, Lemuel Burrows was the Tax Collector of Brooklyn. By law he was to turn over all receipts daily to Controller Frederick A. Schroeder, but choose not to do so. It was reported in 1874 that all preceding tax collectors were in the habit of appropriating interest on taxes for themselves; he choose not to do so. In May 1875, he was not reappointed as Tax Collector. In 1880 Burrows was sued by William Mayo Little for fraud in a real estate deal. And, in 1886, Burrows was not reappointed as Assessor by Mayor Daniel D. Whitney. On February 10, 1873 Burrows purchased lot 103 1/2. In October of that year, he purchased lot 43 and part of lot 41. Lot 103 1/2 was initially intended to be a park, but it was probably impossible to resist the entreaties of Brooklyn’s Tax Collector. Actually, he never built on that lot, and for many years it was owned by subsequent owners of lot 103.
Frederick A. Schroeder, who would be Mayor of Brooklyn in 1876 and 1877, was in 1867 president of a new banking institution, the Germania Savings Bank. Before becoming Mayor, he was Controller of Brooklyn. On February 10, 1873, he purchased lots 73, 75, 77, and 79.
Andrew K. Shiebler, also of Brooklyn, purchased lot 216 on September 5, 1874. Mr. Shiebler’s name remains important on Shelter Island, as his son Marvin was in the real estate business here for many years and a prominent citizen. We are indebted to him for his squirrel-like behavior of maintaining records many of which are now in the possession of the Historical Society. He was the lead agent in the development of the first tax maps for Shelter Island in 1931-1933, and many of those records survive as well.
D. E. Smith, M.D. of Brooklyn purchased lots 54, 56, 114 and 116 on February 10, 1873. Lots 114 and 116 are where the twin houses are that were built as one home but were later separated into two. A month later he purchased lots 206 and 208.
The Reverend L. S. Weed was marrying people in Brooklyn as early as 1855. On February 10, 1873 he purchased six lots: 58, 60, 78. 80, 217, 219. On May 24, 1870, he was reported to have spoken at the Methodist Preachers’ Meeting on missionary work toward the Indians. He said that it was an error to treat Indians as independent nations rather than as American citizens. A man of his time, he related incidents to show the depravity of the Indian mind. He was twice the pastor of the John’s Street Church, the oldest Methodist Church in America, which was reported in 1880 as having 201 members (that is families because then only men could be members) and property valued at $50,000. In 1883, a memorial tablet in his memory was unveiled. He was remembered as a “revivalist,” a man of “great faith, concentration of purpose, and thoroughly religious feeling.”
Lots 115 and 117 are where the house with the leaning tower stands. This is the first house that greets visitors to the Island as they enter the Heights from the North Ferry. Rodolphus. B. Johnson purchased lot 115 in 1874. Clara Dennen purchased lot 117 in 1877. That lot had Lydia Chase Boardman’s original pre-1870 house on it. Clara Dennen also purchased lot 115 from Mr. Johnson on the same day.