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Union Chapel honors Shelter Island Historical Society: Presentation focuses on Goat Hill

Everyone is welcome to Union Chapel for Shelter Island Historical Society Sunday, when SIHS President Mary Fran Gleason and Shelter Island Country Club President Linda Springer talk about “Shelter Island Country Club: The Little Course that Could.”

Sweet Island Dulcimers will perform under the direction of Chapel Music Director Linda Betjeman at the service on June 30 at 10:30 a.m.

More than 40 years ago, Island voters overwhelmingly approved the Town’s purchase of Goat Hill — Shelter Island Country Club’s hilly home. In doing so, they protected a large parcel of recreational open space and preserved a significant slice of Island history.

The 43-acre, nine-hole golf course is one of the few remaining icons of the Island’s Gilded Age of the late 19th century, when wealthy Brooklynites and Bostonians made Shelter Island their summer playground.

Prominent Brooklyn residents with summer homes in the Heights wanted a course of their own after Bostonians of Dering Harbor built their own course in 1896 (now privately-owned Gardiner’s Bay Country Club).

After five years of planning and wrangling, the Shelter Island Country Club (SICC) was established on Sept. 20, 1901. C.H. Bateman, the surveyor who designed many of the Island’s roadways, laid out the nine holes to fit the rugged terrain that rises high above Dering Harbor to the north and Peconic Bay to the south.

The Shelter Island Grove and Camp Meeting Association — now the Shelter Island Heights Association — maintained ownership of the property and leased it to the club for $1 a year. The clubhouse, built by Charles Corwin, was crafted in the same style as the Yacht Club clubhouse and was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2009.

The Shelter Island Country Club’s clubhouse at Goat Hill. (Reporter file photo)

SICC’s members — nearly 250 that first year — enjoyed a full range of activities including golf and ping pong. Three ping pong tables took up the main floor of the clubhouse, which was also the scene of card games, teas and dances. Tennis courts were located just below and to the left of the first tee.

For more than two decades, the club hummed with activity, until the stock market crashed in 1929 and dramatically changed its fortunes. The club limped its way through the next decade, but when the New Prospect Hotel burned in 1942, the future of the club was uncertain.

If anyone could be called the hero of Goat Hill, it is Bill Congdon, the Island boy who had worked at the club since he was 10 years old. He and his wife, Olive, persuaded the Heights Association to let them run it, which they did successfully for the next 37 years. 

In its 123-year lifetime, the club has survived the Great Depression, near-bankruptcy, the threat of land sale and development, devastating hurricanes, snowstorms, droughts and a pandemic.

Mary Fran Gleason graduated from Shelter Island School and earned her BA at the College of Saint Elizabeth (NJ) and a Master’s in Public Affairs Journalism from Columbia College (Chicago). She began her career at the Shelter Island Reporter, was a reporter and editor for Syracuse papers and managing editor of the Times Union in Albany and Communications Manager for the NYS United Teachers.

She is the chair of the SIHS Semiquincentennial Committee and in 2022, she chaired the SICC’s 120th anniversary celebration. Mary Fran and her husband, Tom Bliss, retired to the island in 2018.

Linda Springer helped create the club’s Owen N. Dickson Junior Golf Program. She graduated from Shelter Island School, and is a former owner of her family’s business, Jernick Moving and Storage. She also worked in the administration department at the Tuckahoe School District in Southampton.

She was on the Shelter Island Board of Education, St. Gabe’s Board of Trustees and Director of Religious Education for Our Lady of the Isle. She and her husband, Arthur, raised four children and have 15 grandchildren — the fourth generation to play golf at Goat Hill. 

Sweet Island Dulcimers was formed four years ago by Linda Betjeman and specializes in traditional early American hymns, ballads, and folk music, as well as music by The Beatles and others. They perform for churches, children’s groups and passersby on Crescent Beach, where they often practice during the summer. Instrumentalists include Susan Ahlborn, Marianne Baird, Diane Blagburn, Lynn Coolidge, Anne Danforth, Vicky Kotula, Linda Kraus, Charity Robey and Linda Betjeman.

Join us on June 30 at 10:30 a.m. when we celebrate Historical Society Sunday and the legacy of Goat Hill. An outdoor reception, catered by Stars Cafe, will follow the service.