The 1876 Summer Season
The Suffolk Times reported that the 1876 Prospect Grove season began with the opening of the hotel on June 20. The Amusement Hall also opened at the same time. Caleb Dawson had a market on Grand Avenue. Beginning on July 3, Captain Isaac Reeve, Jr. began running regularly scheduled ferry service to and from Greenport on the steam ferry “Cambria.”
Before the Brooklyn contingent could move to Shelter Island for the summer of 1876, they had to celebrate the nation’s Centennial in Brooklyn which was under the presidency of Mayor Schroeder and vice presidency of Alderman John French. Ceremonies began with a parade which began at 8 pm on July 3. Twenty-five different groups were represented with over 20,000 people participating. Following the parade, speeches, and singing, a committee was set up to raise a subscription of $50,000 to build a monument at Fort Greene to honor the 12,000 soldiers and sailors who had died in the British prison ships off Brooklyn in Walleboat Bay during the Revolution. That the memory of those 12,000 victims of British cruelty was so fresh in peoples’ minds after 100 years is refreshing. The monument stands today at Fort Greene. The evening was capped with fireworks which ended at about 1:30 am on July 4.
Finally to Shelter Island. Those occupying with their families the cozy and handsome cottages were Mayor Schroeder, Foster Pettit, Stephen Pettit, Philip Weck, Dr. D. E. Smith, John French, W. M. Little, Dwight Johnson, Samuel Booth, William Booth, William H. Wallace, Mr. Hill, Reverend John E. Searles, Chester Bedell, Colonel Lee, William Putnam, and Mr. Tauber. Most of these houses were built without kitchens with the belief that families would take their meals at the hotel.
Between 50 and 60 cottages were built on the streets surrounding the Grove during the first five years. Two builders built most of them. August M. Birck moved from Brooklyn to build these cottage. He “furnished plans.” Another prominent builder was Charles L. Corwin of Greenport. A Mr. Upton from Martha’s Vineyard was the contractor for a cottage on Dering Harbor. The style is called “Carpenter Gothic.” “Gothic” because they were built in the style promoted by A. J. Downing, and “Carpenter” because the builders were carpenters who made up the styles from books and their heads. As we know, most were built in the design of a cross.
William Hill reported “The entire early development was along modest lines. The lots were laid out of small area -- and while careful restrictions were imposed on other respects, an owner might build upon a single lot, and in some instances this was done -- the early cottages were flimsy affairs. No modern sanitary arrangements were provided. Existence was to be simple, with stress laid on the religious side. To this end a great covered preaching stand was built in the Grove, with tiers of substantial benches rising in the natural amphitheater in front of it and there for many years large audiences gathered to listen to the inspiring sermons delivered by distinguished clergymen...”
During the early years, there was conflict between those who came to the Island to enjoy it as a summer resort, and those who came for the camp meeting. Camp meeting attendees did not approve of drinking, smoking, dancing and games such as billiards and bowling. The summer vacation folks, on the other hand, were determined to enjoy good clean fun. They practiced what they called “Muscular Christianity,” which the following description from the August 13, 1876 Suffolk Times demonstrates.
The Prospect House was conducted on a “strictly temperance” plan. It was supervised by Captain Benjamin Cole. It had a commodious dining hall where meals were served both to the guests of the hotel and occupants of adjacent cottages as “may choose to avail themselves of it.” There were stores and markets nearby.
The number of buildings on the grounds of the Association was now between 40 and 50, and several more cottages were about to be built by residents of Brooklyn and New York. A post office, telegraph station, and delivery stable had been established and an ample number of bathing houses erected. In the Amusement Hall, “there was an ice cream saloon, bowling alleys, billiard room and music hall, the latter having been furnished with a piano and other appliances for concert, tableaux, etc.”
The Suffolk Times reporter wrote:
"I should like to try and correct an impression prevalent in Brooklyn ... The very name of Shelter Island has grown to be almost synonymous for Puritanical restraint. This is a great mistake... Those who landed at the Prospect hotel pier suddenly found themselves in as gay a place as could have been found. The ladies had laid aside their croquet implements, sent their rosy cheek children away for the night, and were seated about the grounds and on the piazzas enjoying the cool evening air. Within a hundred feet of the pier was a well patronized bowling alley, and close by it Mayor Schroeder stood playing billiards (and losing), and Mr. President French at bagatells.
"Billiards! Why I saw a young exquisite teaching a couple of daintily dressed damsels how to play, and very apt scholars they proved to be. In an adjoining room, on the same floor, a young lady was playing the piano and singing to a critical audience, and exquisitely she did it, too.
"It was up to the hotel, however, that the gaity had reached its height. The parlors were resonant with music and giddy with waltzing couples. I never saw more unalloyed enjoyment in my life at a seaside watering place. What the secret is I don't know, but the 500 or 600 people now here are more like one family than 150 families.
"I wish you could have seen Mayor Schroeder this morning step out of a bath house, clad in a close fitting grey woolen bathing suit and followed by a pretty, light-haired, six year-old daughter. The child needed no arts to induce her to take her morning bath in the Bay. Unaided she walked in, placed the palms of her tiny hands together, as bathers do when about to dive, and the next moment disappeared in about 2 feet of water. Her father coming to her side, she climbed on his back, and thus burdened, the mayor swam in deeper water for the succeeding 10 or 15 minutes."
Only E. C. Sheldon purchased lots in 1876, bringing in $975.