Column: The more things change…


“This Island has changed.”

This statement is heard often. Sometimes it is uttered by individuals who arrived here five years ago and other times by people who have been here for more than half a century. And it usually is full of negative connotations.

How often have we heard, “There’s too much building going on.”

“There’s no wild space left.”

I guess it’s all about individual perspectives.

I, for one, remember it being busier here in February 40 years ago than it is now. There were stores and restaurants and saloons and they were all open all the time. Very few places are available now. But this is the winter and this is a resort island. And a conscious decision was made in the 19th century to make it that way.

The big industry here in the 19th century was bunker fishing. Those are small fish caught for their commercial value for fertilizer, pet food, nail polish and paint, among other items.

As I understand it, they were netted by the bunker boats and brought to shore where they were boiled down in “bunker pots” that dotted the beaches all over the Island.

And did they stink. The summer air was filled with the stench of boiling bunker. Not a pleasant scent for visitors looking to escape the foul air of the city.

So the town fathers made the decision to stress the resort nature and stop the bunker industry. The Island’s future was cemented.

And it became a resort of big hotels, grand summer homes and Island bungalows. Folks came in the summer and had a wonderful time enjoying the beaches, boating, barbecues and nightlife.

Then something happened as the ’90s moved along. The “Hamptons,” always quietly popular as a resort retreat for the very wealthy, became accessible for the newly arrived and very wealthy. That desire for a hideaway manse jumped across to the Island from Sag Harbor resulting in a building boom of luxurious homes.

There were not any more summer bungalows being built on a shoestring by civil servants from the city for their growing families.

The new mansions have everything so residents don’t have to venture out to dine or swim or have cocktails. They have it all at home.

So there has been change. But I still love it here. The view from my study has not changed in 50 years. One big change that I have noticed is in North Ferry service — the long waits are gone. Remember when leaving the Island on Sunday evening could take up to two hours?

So take the time to enjoy this wonderful place. Everything changes.

As the French say: Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.