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

Ida Angell: Heights Association President

by Patricia and Edward Shillingburg ©2005


Charles and Ida Angell bought this house on Prospect Avenue in December 1925. Ida was a gracious hostess during the summers here. She was the first and only woman to be the president of the Heights Association, a position she held from the death of her husband in August 1933 until her death in February 1942.

    Upon Charles A.. Angell’s death in August 1933, the Board of Trustees of the Shelter Island Heights Association elected his wife Ida Angell as president. She would be the first, and as of this date, the only woman president. She inherited the management of a Summer resort suffering severely in the midst of the Nation’s worst financial depression.
    Even before the annual meeting, held on February 8, 1934 at the Association’s city offices at One Hanson Place in Brooklyn, Marvin Sheibler and N. Chandler Jones, self appointed members of the Economy Stockholders Committee, were fomenting rebellion. The “Association has been a rudderless ship drifting on the winds of chance... and unless the stockholders interest themselves at once, it will be wrecked on the rocks of bankruptcy.” The resident manager Mr. Back had dropped both William Capon and Moses Griffing from the payroll. Mr. Shiebler was demanding that the resident manager be fired and Mr. Capon and Mr. Griffing reinstated. Several members of the community were distressed that such long time employees had been let go, but the revolt was averted. The winter of 1934 was a cruel one. On February 10, Mr. Shiebler wrote to Mrs. Angell, “If Mr. Capon were on the job, your Fresh Pond ice house would now be filled with eight to ten inch ice and the operating expenses of the Ice Company for 1934 would be reduced approximately $2,500.” Further, he stated: “I think it would be most impracticable to spend any money on a hotel sprinkler system and that the money would be wasted.” He followed up on February 18 about the deplorable cold bursting pipes in his steam-heated house and that was “the reason for the tirade on the hotel sprinkler system” without a non-freezing mixture.
    Mrs. Angell’s annual report for the 1934 season stated that a promised program of strict economy had been faithfully carried out. Reductions had been made in all salaries and no one had resigned. There had been an increased in Ferry revenue, and for the hotel, although it was filled with satisfied guests and a reputation for excellent cuisine, net returns did not meet expectations due primarily to increased costs of food and labor. The repeal of prohibition helped, but not as much as they could have hoped. Maintenance was kept to a minimum, but the sewer pipe to the Bay had been repaired with a solid casing of concrete. The upper deck of the beach club was remodelled and renovated as a casino and became a social success. She also reported that the 28 acres of property at Weck’s Pond had been surveyed, cleared and prepared as building sites. She mentioned particularly the “beautification of the grounds with the aid of the newly formed Garden Club.”   
    After receiving the 1934 annual report, Mr. Shiebler wrote a scathing criticism based on the financials. Mrs. Angell’s response on February 18, 1934 shows very clearly her tact and composure:

My dear Cub: -
    The morning mail brought me a copy of your letter to, as you call it, the Economy Committee.
    I read it with much interest and real pleasure. I wish I could express to you my inner satisfaction feeling you will work with us and we can all work for betterment.
    I have much in mind and am in hopes the coming season to get you to give me many more valued ideas. I may fuss with you Cub, but I also listen.
    In our little community we should all work together, and have for our motto bear and for-bear.
    Rome was not built in a day, and the Association cannot get out of the red with one jump - but I feel if you lend me help and a little more patience, we can show better returns next season. If I do not, go to it.
    In the 1936 report, she stressed that the financial picture was much improved.  The hotel earnings improved remarkably. And, although ferry operations in January and February had been curtailed due to bad weather, the Ferry had met expectations overall.  The insurance had been substantially decreased under the leadership of Marvin Shiebler. All bank loans were paid off. “We can not help calling attention to the success of the moving pictures at the bathing beach. While as yet, the Association had not realized very much from this feature, we feel that the move is well justified because of its entertainment value. Its enthusiastic reception seems to prove this.” Alterations had been made to the hotel, including work in the ladies room and cocktail lounge; quarters had been remodelled under to ballroom to make room for a barber shop and a beauty parlor, and four new bathrooms had been installed in the rooms on the west side of the main lobby.
    In the 1937 report, Mrs. Angell could report a much better financial picture. For the first time since 1927, the hotel could report a profit, although a small one. The new beauty and barber shops “added allurement and increased profits. Many were attracted by the enlarged and newly decorated cocktail lounge with its modern funishings and friendly atmosphere.” The hotel added 150 new mattresses. “Prosaic, but necessary, a washing machine was added to the laundry, and many labor saving devices to the kitchen.” Receipts for the ferry exceed those in 1936. And Waldo Kraemer, secretary and treasurer, had been authorized to secure plans for a new ferry.
    Also in 1937, Mr. Shiebler was writing memos about the increase in land values in the Heights if the bridges were built.
    1938 was disappointing. “Unsettled weather and poor business kept many people in the city, and inspite of the fact that the hotel was never in better condition or better staffed, and that our advertising was considered attractive, business fell off... The hurricane destroyed an appalling number of the beautiful trees on our grounds, and a great amount of work was necessary to clear the damage... Labor alone on the hurricane damage came to more than $5,000. At the present moment, no funds are available to replace trees.” The unexpected costs of the hurricane, heavy commitment on a new ferry boat, and improvements on the hotel have “embarrassed us financially.”
    Mrs. Angell reported that 1939 was a financial disappointment. Fire destroyed the hotel laundry and power plant on July 26. Fortunately, there was an auxiliary boiler at the hotel and operations could continue without interruption. A portable one from Brooklyn was then rented. The disappointing ferry revenue was the result of lower revenue and higher costs, mostly attributed to rigid government inspection. Hotel business was also down. Beach Club revenue had been dwindling perhaps because of the popularity of the “beach now used by the public fronting our Weck’s Pond property.” She continued: “Golf -- For the past six years the Association has been financing the operating of the Shelter Island Country Club, principally because we felt it necessary for the hotel guests and incidentally it was a means of upkeep of the property which is owned by the Association and which otherwise might revert to wilderness.” In discussing the tax rate increase, she lamented, “To my mind, too little thought has been given to the sale of building sites which would shift this tax burden to the individual, and at the same time be a means for us to reduce our mortgage indebtedness.” With 262 of the original 300 acres still in the hands of the Association, “We are what you might say ‘property poor.’”
    Finances in 1940 were equally disappointing. Unable to rent the Fisher building, formerly the plumbing shop of Peter Hines it was disposed of to save taxes. The executors of the Dettmer and Glacy did the same, as did the County in removing the “Winyah,” behind the post office. The Association acquired the property of Miss Bertha Winkel, deceased, from the County and cleared it to make a parking lot for Our Lady of the Isle church.
    There is no annual report for 1941 available; however, his correspondence shows that Mr. Shiebler continued to express his opinion, take independent actions, and push his own agenda. He decided that New York Avenue, from West Neck Road to the “old steamer dock,” should be handed over to the Town. He pressed that issue, including the “deplorable state” of Grand Avenue in front of the post office and the pharmacy and the need to widen it. He even had representatives from the State Department of Transportation come to the Island and survey the Heights roads.
    Mrs. Angell died suddenly on February 28, 1942 while visiting her son-in-law George A. Shuford in Ashville, North Carolina. She was 67 years old. The Board of the Association adopted the following resolution:
    That the death of our beloved President, Ida L. Angell, on February 28, 1942, deprived the Shelter Island Heights Association of a tactful, magnetic leader. In assuming the duties of President upon the death of her husband, Charles A. Angell, she had but one purpose in view, to help the Association and Shelter Island a a whole. By her efforts she created a feeling of good will toward the Association and it’s enterprises, which benefitted it greatly. The Trustees of this Assocation hereby express their feelings of great personal loss.

    When asked recently if she knew Ida Angell, Mrs. Andrew Fiske of Sylvester Manor lite up, “Oh yes, she was older than my mother you know. She was the epitome of a lady. So calm. So dignified.”
    The New Prospect Hotel burned to the ground four months later.
    Sources for this story are the annual reports at the Heights Association in the archives of the Shelter Island Historical Society, the U. S. Census, and the papers of Marvin Shiebler.
    Other Island historical research can be viewed at www.shelter-island.org. Click on the Island History Revisited button.