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‘Walking back into history’ — Town set to preserve a part of Shelter Island’s heritage

There’s a lot of history to two lots expected to be acquired for passive recreation purposes, said Community Preservation Fund Advisory Board Chairman Gordon Gooding.

The lots at 72 and 80 Midway Road are owned by Laura Tuthill and John Needham and with the anticipated approval would be purchased for $3 million with the Community Preservation Fund (CPF) and Suffolk County splitting the cost.

“Laura Tuthill and John Needham are special for their patience while working with the CPF,” Mr. Gooding said. The Tuthill family has deep roots and connection to the land and our community,” he said.

They had other options that could have been more lucrative for them but “choose to keep this land preserved as ‘open space’ for all [of] Shelter Island to enjoy,” Mr. Gooding said. 

“As you walk Turkems Rest Preserve and the Tuthill farm property, you are walking back in history,” he said. “If you close your eyes you can imagine the Manhanset Indian settlement, the Turkey-Man, Nathaniel Sylvester, George Havens, John Wickham Tuthill, Amy Tuthill Wallace, Alfred Wilmot Tuthill, just to name a few … walking in their same footsteps today and being proud of today’s generation for preserving the . . . wonderful part of history.”

The parcels the family has negotiated to sell for preservation are hardly the first through the years.

According to information Mr. Gooding gathered from the Shelter Island Historical Society, Wades Beach was once called Tuthill’s beach, having changed hands through the years to the eventual owner Alfred W. Tuthill who owned the property, except for a narrow corridor owned by J.D. Robb.

The property was part of 1,000 acres George Havens bought from Nathaniel Sylvester in 1700. The following year, Mr. Havens transferred 200 acres to his son, Jonathan Havens, with provisions requiring a fence be constructed between the two properties and that the 200 acres could not be sold during George Havens’ lifetime. Later the property was part of several parcels  acquired by James D. Tuthill in the mid 1800s. By 1915, the beach had been left to his nephew, J. Wickham Tuthill.

The upland, east of the beach and straddling South Midway Road was inherited by his grandnephew, Wickham Courtland Wade, who was the son of Maria F. Tuthill and Thomas R. Wade. It was in 1955 the easterly beach area passed to John and Alfred W. Tuthill and Nathan P. Dickerson while by 1971, the westerly beach area, except for a narrow corridor owned by J.D. Robb, was owned by Alfred W. Tuthill.

In 1971, there was a condemnation and purchase of what is now known as Wades Beach because the federal government charting agency had changed the name of the nearby creek from Tuthill Creek to Dickerson Creek.

“Wade was accepted because the Wades had owned the farm at 19 South Country Road nearby,” according to the SIHS records.

Ezra Tuthill Wade, son of Wickham Courtland Wade and a respected community member, had grown up there and enjoyed the beach.

As for the renaming of Dickerson Creek, many Dickerson family members owned farms along the creek and had a boat they called Dickerson ferry to transport livestock and equipment and the various properties on Silver Beach, Menantic and Turkem’s Neck.

Although Elliott Dickerson spent much of his life on Shelter Island and, while he recalled it had been originally called Tuthill Creek, the federal government charted the waterways and decided too many properties in the area bore the Tuthill name, changed the name to Dickerson Creek.

The Town Board has scheduled a public hearing on the acquisition of the Tuthill/Needham properties at 72 and 80 Midway Road for Monday at its regular 6 p.m. meeting.