I have had a long love affair with Shelter Island – a place that many people in New York have never heard of; a place some have heard of, but they aren’t sure where it is; a place some have driven through. An even smaller number have been and stayed there! It’s an island between the North and South Fork of Eastern Long Island where time, in many ways, has stood still; for me it is like the Midwest meets New England: It is a very special place.
While it is necessary to take a short ferry to get to the island from either Greenport or North Haven, there are treasures to be found.
I think it is worth the trip, and so apparently does HC&G!
The important July issue of HC&G with the tag line ‘SECRET RETREATS‘ features not one, but two very special Shelter Island properties; however, they are not secrets to me, both places are familiar – like old friends!
The cover image is from the gardens at Sylvester Manor – there are remnants of what was once a grand garden destined for eventual restoration. (Incidentally it was in this garden in the 1650’s that the very first ‘Buxus’ or boxwood were used in the United States.)
Sylvester Manor is a remarkable home in the center of the island, with a very long and rich history. Originally the property encompassed ALL of Shelter Island (that is 8,000 acres); however, over time, much of the land was sold, allowing for the Shelter Island we know today to develop. Remarkably, until very recently the remaining 243 acres were still owned by descendants of the original family- that is more than 10 generations and 360 years!
Today, the not-for-profit ‘Sylvester Manor Educational Farm‘ now owns 225 acres of the remaining land, the historic Manor house, and many ancillary structures. Bennett Konesni, the great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great nephew of the original family, has been orchestrating the transition from a family property to a vital organic farm, educational, historical and cultural center. Bennett has brought an earnestness and authentic spirit to creating an inclusive and multidimensional future for the property, with a mission to explore the relationships between community, food, culture and place.
This year the house and many buildings were added to previous donations to the SMEF, and HC&G focused on the Manor House and some of the plans for the future.
The gate to the property is at a prominent location on Shelter Island, but for many years it remained a mysterious and pretty much unknown entity: this has all changed.
A recent book traces the history of slavery in the North, and specifically at Sylvester Manor, The Manor: Three Centuries at a Slave Plantation on Long Island.
I have walked up the ‘slave stairs’ and been into the attic which housed a number of slaves – it is a beautifully poetic space, and being in it was a moving experience.
The other special property on Shelter Island featured in HC&G is a modest Victorian era cottage in the original ‘colony’ known as Shelter Island Heights, owned by an understated yet remarkable man named Tom Fallon.
It was just a couple of Summers ago that I took it upon myself to meet Tom; I had heard about about his charm and wit and his ‘magical house in the Heights’ from numerous people, and since the island is small, and I am who I am, I just rang him up!
I have since had the great pleasure of being in his house a couple of times, once on the day we met for a delightful and very extensive tour, and another evening for a fantastic dinner with a witty and sophisticated bunch. Tom Fallon is old school in the best of possible ways….and his quaint seasonal Victorian cottage is a treasure – the combination is intoxicating!
Tom has owned the house since 1980. In its many iterations, the house has been featured in many magazines and books, including House Beautiful and the World of Interiors. Tom has traveled far and wide and navigated incredible social circles of the world, initially working very closely with Halston, then for many years with Bill Blass. (Boy, does he have great stories!)
More recently Tom Fallon has taken on decorating for himself and others to focus his creative energies, bringing to the process a lifetime of incredible experiences and cultivated taste!
If you are intrigued and want to visit this wonderful island that has been “hiding in plain view” I suggest that you take a few days to make your own discoveries on Shelter Island – the UN-Hampton!
I know very well and love the laid back approach to Summer living maintained at the Pridwin Hotel since 1928 – tell them you read this post and get a 20% discount for midweek stays and 10% for weekends!
Shelter Island is a place where time has not stood still, but a place where time certainly moves more slowly…see evidence below:
Thank you for this wonderful post. It brings back happy memories of special day trips to Shelter Island during my childhood when I would spend weekends with a family in Southold on the North Fork. Both locales were incredibly magical, atmospheric and charming. They are etched in my mind forever!
Thanks for sharing your memories of a time gone by….if you haven’t been in a while you might be pleasantly surprised at how little things have changed.