The name of Dinah Rock Road, a street stretching north from Gardiner’s Bay Country Club into Hay Beach, has homes in both fact and legend.
The thoroughfare is named for Diana Williams, one of Shelter Island’s first freed slaves, according to the Shelter Island Historical Society (SIHS).
Variations of her name include Dianna and Dinah.
Born into slavery in Orient, Diana gained her freedom at 25, and became a property owner, according to the Shelter Island census of 1830. She inspired respect from her neighbors, one of whom, August Griffin, complimented her “manners, conversation and knowledge,” according to sources at SIHS. Diana sometimes cared for ill and aging Island residents, a town document states. She died on the Island in March 1837, which was noted in Mr. Griffin’s diary.
Now, for the legend: Diana would sit on a flat rock — later named “Dinah’s Rock” — and clean her freshly caught fish, playing a bosun’s pipe and waving to passing fisherman and sailors. Sailors would then sing to her, “Someone’s in the kitchen with Dinah,” referring to her home up the hill from the rock.
Professor Eben Horsford purchased much of the Dinah Rock area in 1873, and later opened a “pleasure resort,” according to archived advertisements at the SIHS.
The popular tourist site consisted mostly of a large pier, where boaters and the steam ferry Cambria docked to take in the pier’s sights and amenities. Visitors enjoyed picnicking as well as the pier’s carousel, from which the current Carousel Lane later derived its name. The site was active until the 1890s, according to SIHS, when Professor Horsford closed his “resort.”
In an essay from 1930, Ralph Duvall wrote: “During our lives we have seen some radical changes take place in this particular spot,” which might qualify as an understatement.
Today, residents of the quiet street enjoy views of magnificent sunsets, sights probably unchanged from the ones Diana Williams gazed upon from her rock long ago.