Street Smart: George Fox Lane

How much do you know about the streets and roads of the Island?
How much do you know about the streets and roads of the Island?

George Fox Lane doesn’t look like much when you drive past it along Ram Island Road. In fact, you might even miss it altogether, thinking it’s just a forgotten dirt path.

But the name behind the lane comes with some pretty weighty material.

George Fox was born in Drayton, Leicestershire, England, in July 1624. He was a leader in the 17th century religious movement that eventually became known as the Quakers, or the Society of Friends.

Nathaniel Sylvester, founder of Sylvester Manor, was also a Quaker known for welcoming to his property fellow adherents to the faith and providing safe haven for those fleeing persecution in New England. George Fox was among those who visited Sylvester here, as was Mary Dyer, a Quaker who was eventually hanged on Boston Commons for her beliefs.

In his 1899 history, “Shelter Island and its Presbyterian Church,” the Reverend Jacob E. Mallmann writes of Fox’s visit to the Island: “Before leaving the Quakers it is worthy of record that George Fox, the founder of this sect, twice visited this island and was entertained by the Sylvesters. The Rev. Mr. Fox, in his journal of 1672, speaks of his visits to this island, and of his preaching to the Indians and the people, who were deeply impressed by what he said unto them.”


Today, George Fox Lane appears far less impressive than its namesake. Town Assessor Quinn Karpeh explains that’s because George Fox Lane really serves as an access road to a few homes that sit on a 13-acre parcel formerly owned by Dr. George Nicklin of Garden City.

“The abutting properties use it as driveway, like a flag lot,” Mr. Karpeh said. “Dr. Nicklin bought 17.9 acres and then some in 1973. He owned it for a while and the configuration had this little strip of land for quite some time.”

According to his 2007 obituary in the New York Times, Dr. Nicklin was a psychiatrist, psychoanalyst and educator. He was also a Quaker “who helped to found numerous educational and professional institutions, including Friends World College.”

Dr. Nicklin spent summers on the Island and established the Quaker Meeting that still meets in the warmer months on Sylvester Manor property. Mr. Karpeh notes that Dr. Nicklin donated the 13-acre parcel abutting George Fox Lane to Friends World College, which subsequently subdivided it for housing.

“It was officially declared a right of way for use of a couple of the adjacent properties in 1978,” said Mr. Karpeh of George Fox Lane. He also noted that in 2011, the Shelter Island Meeting Religious Society of Friends was given title to the adjacent 4.5-acre parcel, representing the remainder of Dr. Micklin’s original land purchase.

“It’s a vacant landlocked parcel between Burns and Ram Island Road,” the assessor said.

So while George Fox may have secured his position in history as a major figure and founder of the Quaker religion (there’s even a university named for him in Oregon), the lane named for him is not quite as well respected today.

“I don’t think the town recognizes it as a road,” Mr. Karpeh said. “When it comes to plowing they’re probably on their own.”