Around the Island

Get ready to learn ‘The History of Taylor’s Island’ with P.A.T Hunt

If you’re like many Shelter Islanders, you may not know where Taylor’s Island is or what role it has played in the Island’s history, much less visited there, though you may have heard about the fabulous benefit clambakes held there each summer.

While the island is best visited in warmer weather, January is a perfect time to learn about its history from the woman who has been instrumental in helping to “save” this lovely scrap of land.

On Friday, Jan. 10 at 7 p.m., come to the Shelter Island Library to hear P.A.T. Hunt talk about “The History of Taylor’s Island” as the Library kicks off its Friday Night Dialogue series for the new year.

Here’s the first “fascinating fact” you should know about Taylor’s Island: it is technically a “tombolo,” a landform in which an island is attached to the mainland by a narrow piece of land such as a spit or a bar. Once attached, it is then known as a “tied island.” Our tombolo sits in Coecles Harbor and was originally known as Cedar Island. The second interesting fact is that the story of the island is really that of two successful entrepreneurs, F. M. Smith and S. Gregory Taylor.

Francis Marion Smith owned land that included what is now Mashomack Preserve. (Courtesy Photo)

The property was originally purchased by Mr. Smith in 1899 from the Nicoll family, who had extensive land holdings on the southeast end of the island, including the property which Mashomack Preserve now encompasses. Smith was known as the Borax King, as his Pacific Coast Borax Company, which marketed “20 Mule Team Borax,” was the industry leader for decades. He build a simple log cabin on the island as a rustic retreat, often hosting picnics, outings and clambakes there. After his death in 1921, the land’s title was transferred to various development companies until it was purchased in 1939 by the second of our entrepreneurs, Mr. Taylor, who ultimately gifted it to the Town of Shelter Island for the “use and enjoyment of the general public.” 

Taylor, born Soterios Gregorios Tavoulares, emigrated from Greece in 1908 at age twenty, and worked his way from bellhop to owner of several large New York hotels, including The Montclair, The Hotel Dixie, and the Hotel St. Moritz. Forty years after Smith built the original rustic cabin on Cedar Island, Taylor added a bedroom, kitchen, running water, a heating system and a tower and renamed it (of course) Taylor’s Island. He cherished his little retreat and was ultimately buried on its northeast side, overlooking Coecles Harbor. Under the terms of his will, his nephew, Stephen Stephano, had the use of Taylor’s Island until his death, which occurred in 1997. The Town took actual possession of the tombolo a year later.

Over the years, the cabin fell into disrepair and in 2001, the Town and the Nature Conservancy entered into an agreement for the management of Taylor’s Island. Ms. Hunt was involved from the start and with a group of impassioned Islanders, undertook the task of raising funds to fulfill Taylor’s wish. Today, the island is a popular destination for kayaks and canoes, but can also be reached by foot at low tide.

Come hear more of this fascinating story and how the Foundation set up to save the island currently works. The event starts at 7 p.m. in the library’s Community Room. Reservations are appreciated, as are donations, though the event is free.