Fishers Island, New York
Fishers Island is an island located in Southold, New York at the eastern end of Long Island Sound, 2 miles (3 km) off the southeastern coast of Connecticut across Fishers Island Sound. Approximately 9 miles (14 km) long and 1 mile (1.6 km) wide, it is approximately 11 miles (18 km) from the tip of Long Island at Orient Point, 2 miles (3 km) each from Napatree Point at the southwestern tip of Rhode Island and Groton Long Point in Connecticut, and approximately 7 miles (11 km) southeast of New London, Connecticut. It is accessible from New London by plane and regular ferry service.
The island is part of the town of Southold in Suffolk County, New York. It is a census-designated place (CDP). As of the 2010 census, there were 236 people living year-round on 4.1 square miles (10.6 km2) of land; however, the population rises to approximately 2,000 during peak summer weekends, as throngs disembark on the island from Connecticut.
The island was called Munnawtawkit by the Pequot Indians. Adriaen Block, the first recorded European visitor, named it Vischer’s Island in 1614 after one of his companions. For the next 25 years, it remained a wilderness, visited occasionally by Dutch traders.
John Winthrop the Younger obtained a grant of Fisher’s Island in 1640 from the Massachusetts Bay Colony, “reserving the right of Connecticut if it should be decided to be theirs.” He simultaneously applied to the Connecticut General Court for a similar grant in order that there might be no flaw in his title. The title was given to him in the following words, which are copied from the records of a General Court held at Hartford, Connecticut, April 9, 1641:
Winthrop lived only one winter on the island. He was named governor of the Connecticut Colony 1657–58 and 1659–76, and he used the island to raise sheep for food and wool. He died in 1676 and his son Fitz-John installed a lessee farmer from England on the island named William Walworth. Walworth brought a system of cultivation that was continued on the island for nearly 200 years. He established farmland out of the heavily forested island. Walworth and his family vacated the island nine years later due to the threat of pirates. Fishers Island remained in the Winthrop family of Connecticut until 1863, when ownership passed to Robert R. Fox, and then to Edmund and Walton Ferguson, also of Connecticut.
The island was the subject of a border dispute between New York and Connecticut. The states of New York, Connecticut, and Rhode Island meet in the waters east of Fishers Island. Before the British took possession of New York City from the Dutch in 1664, all of Suffolk County was claimed by Connecticut, with British settlers there accepting its jurisdiction. A 1664 land patent given to the Duke of York included all islands in Long Island Sound, apparently thus granting Fishers Island also to the Province of New York. The Duke of York held a grudge against Connecticut, as the New Haven settlers had hidden three of the judges who sentenced his father King Charles I to death in 1649. Settlers throughout Suffolk County pressed to stay part of Connecticut, but Governor Sir Edmund Andros threatened to eliminate their rights to land if they did not yield, which they did by 1676. A joint commission from Connecticut and New York in 1879 reiterated that New York has legal title to Fishers Island.
The island was a target of British soldiers during the Revolutionary War, who raided islands in Long Island Sound for supplies. Many of the residents of Fishers Island took their herds to the relative safety of Connecticut in 1776. The raids continued, though, and the British burned many of the island’s homes in 1779.
In 1783, brick-making was established as the island’s only industry, using the vast amounts of available clay. This business was discontinued in 1889. In 1870, a lifesaving station was erected at the western end of the island by the State of Connecticut, which overlooked the waters between Fishers Island and Little Gull Island. The Race Rock Light was constructed in 1878 as a navigational aid for travel in the Race, located approximately 1 mile (1.6 km) west of Fishers Island. In the early 1900s, a permanent Coast Guard station was built on the west end. In 1898, the Fergusons sold 216 acres (0.9 km2) on the western end to the federal government. This land was developed as Fort H.G. Wright, which was named after the Civil War Union commander who was born in Clinton, Connecticut. The fort was established as part of the Endicott Program, a large coastal defense project. It was largely abandoned following World War II. Over the years, Fort Wright drew a large number of residents to the island. The 1890s brought a growing summer population and the construction of the Fishers Island Yacht Club.
The E.W. & W. Ferguson business was established which managed the Mansion House Hotel and Cottages, a ferry service, and the electricity, water, and telephone enterprises. This business was renamed Fishers Island Farms in 1918. It was purchased and became the Fishers Island Utility Company following the death of the Fishers Island Farms president in 1965, which continues to own and operate the water, telephone service (area code 631, exchange 788), and electrical utilities. The ferry is operated by the Fishers Island Ferry District, a public entity financed through a special tax district. The town has contracts with the Ferry District to operate Elizabeth Field airport and to manage other structures that were part of Fort Wright.
Hurricanes have played an important role in the island’s history, with the Great September Gale of 1815 and the New England Hurricane of 1938 both causing widespread damage. The 1815 storm destroyed substantially all of the trees by a combination of powerful winds and the 17-foot (5.2 m) storm surge that flooded coastal towns with seawater. The consequences for Fishers Island were visible for almost a century and a half. A panoramic photograph taken from one vantage point on the island in 1910 shows more boats in Hay and West harbors than there are mature trees. Until the 1950s, Fishers Island had the look of Ireland: stone walls, few trees, and windswept moors.
The 1938 storm blew in seeds, returning Fishers to its pre-1815 foliage. The damage from this storm was less severe than the 1815 storm, with only a few local residences destroyed, primarily by wind. (Most Fishers Island residences have sitings above sea level that protect them from storm surge.) Winds in excess of 120 mph (190 km/h) ripped off the roof from John Nicholas Brown’s ultra-modern residence Windshield, designed by Richard Neutra, which had only recently been completed. The Browns rebuilt Windshield, but it was destroyed by fire in the early 1970s.
As of the census of 2000, there were 289 people, 138 households, and 77 families residing in the CDP. The population density was 71.3 per square mile (27.6/km2). There were 625 housing units at an average density of 154.2/sq mi (59.6/km2). The racial makeup of the community was 95.50% White, 1.04% African American, 1.04% Asian, and 2.42% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 1.38% of the population. More than 53% of inhabitants of the island have mainland homes in Connecticut.
There were 138 households, out of which 26.1% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 44.2% were married couples living together, 5.1% had a female householder with no husband present, and 43.5% were non-families. 34.8% of all households were made up of individuals, and 10.1% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.09 and the average family size was 2.72.
In the CDP, the population was spread out, with 21.8% under the age of 18, 2.1% from 18 to 24, 30.8% from 25 to 44, 27.3% from 45 to 64, and 18.0% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 43 years. For every 100 females, there were 105.0 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 98.2 males.
The median income for a household in the community was $50,521, and the median income for a family was $59,583. Males had a median income of $47,917 versus $26,250 for females. The per capita income for the CDP was $31,652. Approximately 4.5% of families and 9.0% of the population were below the poverty line, including 9.8% of those under the age of eighteen and 7.9% of those 65 or over.
Home owners currently pay New York sales tax, property tax, etc.
Fishers Island Union Free School District is located at 19 Greenwood Road and consists of one school that serves 68 students in grades PK through 12. The district spends $36,811 per pupil in current expenditures. The district spends 71% on instruction, and 29% on support services. The district’s student-teacher ratio is five students for every full-time equivalent teacher.