Our Fire Island Beach House (1950's- 60's)
by Judy Delaney
(Blue Point, Long Island, NY)
We spent the first ten summers of my life in a beach house on Fire Island situated across from Bellport Village. The area was known then as Whalehouse Point. There were only two beach houses there, somewhat near to what was once a very grand mansion, that was by then, weathered to shambles.
Our house was also very old, once used as a duck hunter's shelter, complete with small boathouse, and attached outhouse. We used oil lamps for light, a natural gas refrigerator for our food, a gas stove, and a gasoline pump that drew water from the ground.
There was no television. We children entertained ourselves by coloring, or playing board games. The adults kept busy by, either crabbing at night, or playing canasta. (a card game)
Bedtime came for us kids soon after the sun went down. Our days were filled with activities that were always related to the beach on the ocean, or boating on the bayside. I can remember one of the last July 4th nights at the beach house. We could see fireworks over Bellport, Patchogue, and Sayville, simultaneously.
Life was simple then. The summers seemed endless; the sun-drenched days, the peaceful nights; sponge baths after a day at the beach; clean laundry blowing on the breeze; my dear Mother preparing supper for all of us.
Dad would get into his boat in the morning, ride to the mainland, go to work, and come back every evening to stay with us in the beach house. We wintered in our 'real' house during the other three seasons.
The summer really began when we loaded up the station wagon with supplies and kids and headed for the boatyard. The family dog named 'Shep' got to vacation with us too.
One venture to the beach house for the season was an adventure, and a test of Dad's navigational skills. We started out of the Patchogue River just after dinner, the sun approaching the treetops in the west. A thick fog was rolling in out of the southwest, and I guess Dad thought he could get us to the beach house before it got too bad. Well, halfway across the bay, the fog was so thick that Dad had to resort to his compass. He kept his southeast heading, knowing it would bring us to where we needed to go.
The fog became so dangerously heavy that Mom and Dad decided that we couldn't continue safely. The bay was calm, and there wasn't any reason that we couldn't camp on the boat until morning light, and the lift of the fog.
Mom made us all as comfortable as she could and we children went to sleep. Dad discovered that we were in shallow water, and decided to go overboard and try to catch some crabs. He found an abundance of them with his flashlight, along the shoals, and the edge of what seemed a marsh. He figured that we had made it to Fire Island, but he had no idea just where.
He caught so many crabs, that he had to put some of them into the well near the outboard motor on our boat. The crabs started to climb out of the well, and as the story was told my Mom, were crawling precariously close to her sleeping children. We had no clue, as we were asleep, thank goodness, or there would have been mayhem, for sure...
As morning broke, lo and behold, appearing through the breaking fog was our beach house just a hundred feet to our east! Go, Daddy. Go!
Editor's note: Whalehouse Point was established on 1653 by Isaac Stratford of Babylon when he built a whaling station on Fire Island
about 3 ½ miles west of Smith Point.
Operation of the whaling station was simple: men stood watch in towers built on the dunes and when they saw a whale would shout “whale off!” Boats were launched and the whale was harpooned and brought ashore for processing. Whaling continued until the 1800's when the whales no longer came near shore.
This small community of barely more than a dozen homes was absorbed by Fire Island National Sea Shore in 1964. At that time residents were given the choice of a cash buyout or limited time option of about 20 years which expired in the mid 1980’s.
The homes are now gone and Whalehouse Point is part of the Otis Pike Wilderness area. Few traces of this community are left save an access road that occasionally bears tire marks from park service or maintenance vehicles.