If it wasn't written down, it didn't happen ...

Will the Town Build a Ferry Slip?

by Patricia and Edward Shillingburg ©2005


This is a photograph of Bridge Street taken in about 1921. Through the arch, one can see it beginning to develop. Daivd Harries Young’s general store is on the right and Nathan P. Dickerson’s first store, now the Island Food Centre is on the left.

    In early 1920s, the Island became electric with anticipation that the abysmal ferry service might be improved with the arrival of the Poggatticut. Maybe they could finally have year-round double ended ferry service year-round rather than just for a few months of the year. Maybe it could come into a slip at the end of the State Road in Dering Harbor rather than at the slip in the Heights three quarters of a mile further away. At least from October through May. Maybe!
    The Town’s Winter residents circulated a petition requesting that the Town negotiate such a proposal with the Ferry Company.
    After receiving the petition on May 4, the Town Board appointed a committee consisting of W. Roscoe Cartwright, John Morrison, both members of the Town Board and Edgar Baldwin, the Town Clerk. They were “to obtain estimates of cost and consult with the Ferry Company as to its feasibility.”
    The committee determined that it would cost as much as $3,000 to build a slip and dredge a channel. From a letter to the Town Board from Mr. Howard Raymond, president of the new Shelter Island Securities Company, dated July 6, it is clear that Mr. Morrison did reach out to him. The letter reads:

    Referring to the suggestion of your Mr. J. B. Morrison that the town of Shelter Island might be willing, at its own cost, to build a slip for a double end type ferry boat, at or near the town dock, and dredge, maintain and keep open a channel in Dering Harbor sufficient in depth and width to accommodate the new ferry boat “Poggatticut,” with the understanding that suitable arrangement will be made by the Shelter Island and Greenport Ferry Company to schedule its regular landings during the period of October 1st to May 1st at said slip.
    I beg to advise that the Board of Directors have authorized me to state on their behalf that if the town will so construct and maintain, upon notification to that effect, it is prepared to enter into an agreement that will embody mutually fair requirements, and go into detail at the time.

    No one from the Town responded to Mr. Raymond’s letter, but the Committee on the Ferry did determine that counsel should be consulted about  a Special Town Meeting to authorize the expenditure of funds to build the slip and to approach the Shelter Island Securities Corporation about “whether or not they will maintain the slip and its approach if same is constructed by the Town.”
    The Town attorney, Frederick Tasker of Greenport, corresponded with Mr. Raymond on August 13. He responded that he would be happy to meet with anyone appropriate, but it would be best to meet after August 23 when the Securities Corporation would have its annual meeting and elect new members. Mr. Tasker did not follow through, and no meeting was scheduled.
    However, the Town was moving ahead with solving its issues concerning the ferry slip because on September 2 the Town Board resolved to talk to Nathan P. Dickerson about leasing his land for the slip.
    In early November they scheduled the Special meeting for December 7. From the correspondence it is clear that not all members of the community trusted the Ferry Company to use the slip if the Town built it. And, if built they expected the Ferry Company to maintain it.
    Mr. Raymond was exasperated. He was well aware that rumors of bad faith on the part of the Ferry Company were swirling around the Island. He heard from Phebe Griffing, wife of the ferry boat captain, Moses Griffing, an employee of the Ferry Company, asking that he send her a “tangible reply that can be laid before the meeting...”
    He responded, “It must be understood we do not seek this building, dredging, etc. The maintenance of service to the slip, with our larger boat, means a cash loss most of the months of operation to it.... We cannot be expected to solicit from the Town its building.”
    He was encouraging, “With respect to your meeting. Go right ahead with confidence of proper reception of your needs by us...”
    Mr. Raymond was now back at his rooms at the Union League Club in New York City. William Otis Badger, a lawyer and resident of the Island, called upon him, and Mr. Raymond gave him a typed list of requirements if the Poggatticut were to come to the Town slip. Primarily, the Town needed to build the slip and pay for it’s maintenance. C. Pliny Brigham, secretary-treasurer of the Greenport Basin & Construction Company of Greenport, the same company that had build the ferry Poggatticut,  wrote him on November 15 chastising him for not dealing with the Town’s people squarely. “Everybody is asking this question -- ‘Will the ferry come in and use the dock if this money is spent?’ On the reply to this question I think depends the way that people will vote....” Clearly Mr. Raymond’s word was not trusted.
    After more back and forth with letters and telegrams,  Mr. Raymond came to the Island on Saturday, November 20 and met with interested folks. It must have been a raucous meeting. But, Mr. Raymond was respectful and spoke his position clearly. Having a slip in Dering Harbor was for the convenience of the Town; therefore, the Town must build it and maintain it. However, the Ferry Company was willing to provide ferry service to the new slip. He must have finally been believed because on December 7, the special meeting of the Town was held, and the proposition “Shall the sum of Three thousand dollars ($3,000) be raised for the purpose of improving the approach to the town dock and for such repairs to the town dock as may be deemed necessary and proper” was passed 76 to 24.
    The Town would build the slip.
    But, negotiations, it seems were now about to begin; Mr. Raymond sought equity.
    Sources for this story are from a file kept by Mr. Raymond and now in the archives of the Shelter Island Heights Association and Town Board Minutes.
    Other Island historical research can be viewed at www.shelter-island.org. Click on the Island History Revisited button.