How many Shelter Islanders know they have a vested interest in a little island within Shelter Island?
For those of us who didn’t, P.A.T. Hunt, President of the Taylor’s Island Foundation and Co-Chair of the Taylor’s Island Preservation and Management Committee took the ladies and guests of the Shelter Island Women’s Club on an historical journey to this special place called Taylor’s Island.
It sits within Coecles Harbor and is really a tombolo, an island only at high tide.
Cedar Island, as it was originally called, was purchased by Francis Marion Smith, the Borax King, in 1899. Around 1900 he built a small Adirondack style log cabin which he and his family and friends enjoyed until the 1930s when it was purchased by S. Gregory Taylor (Soterios Gregorios Tavoulares).
Mr. Taylor added a kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, heating system and an iconic tower to the cabin, where he summered until his death in 1948. He is buried on the northeast side of the island.
As he had no children, his will left the use of the Island to his nephew Stephen Stephano with the title passing to the Town of Shelter Island for “the use and enjoyment of the general public” upon the death of Mr. Stephano. During Mr. Stephano’s deeded usage he extended the use of the Island to Andrew Arkin and subsequently to sailors Ron and Ronnie Sauers in exchange for their care of the cabin.
In 1997, Mr. Stephano passed away and in 1998 the Town of Shelter Island received the title to the island as stipulated in Mr. Taylor’s will.
Between 1998 and December 2005 there were two separate plans presented to the Town of Shelter Island to demolish the cabin — but this was not to be, due to a public outcry to save it. Councilwoman Christine Lewis proposed forming the Taylor’s Island Preservation and Management Committee with the support of Councilmen Ed Brown and Neal Raymond, along with Supervisor Elect Alfred J. Kilb, Jr.
In 2006 a couple of committee members, with the pro bono help of Edward Shillingburg, created the Taylor’s Island Foundation. This all volunteer group assists the Town with fundraising for the restoration, preservation, historic documentation, public use and stewardship of the Smith-Taylor Cabin.
In 2007 the cabin was listed on the NYS and National Registers of Historical Places and with that designation, has received grants to restore the cabin and the island.
Every August, the Foundation hosts a Kettle Clambake following the tradition of Mr. Smith who always had a party. Taylor’s Island welcomes numerous Shelter Island groups and organizations, kayakers on the Coecles Harbor Marine Water Trail and area sailors anchored in the nearby Town mooring area.
A list of ways to enjoy the island, compiled by visitors over the years, is being fulfilled with anniversary, birthday and wedding celebrations, overnight stays, and Plein Air workshops.
If you’re interested in volunteering or scheduling a guided tour of the cabin, please contact the Taylor’s Island Foundation at (631) 749-1603, or visit taylorsisland.org.