Dowling College professor and reference librarian Diane Holliday recently took Sayville Library patrons on a postcard tour of hotels and inns on Long Island’s South Shore at the turn of the 20th century.
During the lecture, Holliday showed pictures and gave a bit of history on 50 different hotels spanning seven South Shore towns. Why would the South Shore be an appealing destination?
New York City was hot, crowded and sometimes smelly in the summer months, whereas Long Island offered a contrasting picture. Known as a place to escape, with cool breezes, shade and plenty of activity, the South Shore was an ideal getaway. It offered locally abundant fresh food, a large commercial fishing fleet, opportunities for hunting and fishing as well as many sporting activities.
The postcard tour started in Babylon with the Argyle Hotel, built in 1892 by the president of the Long Island Rail Road. It offered 300 rooms on 15 acres of land for $4 per day ($107 in today’s dollars). The Argyle was never a success and it failed in 1896 and was demolished in 1904. The lumber was used to construct 20 cottages, which are now private residences around Argyle Lake. The La Grange Inn had accommodations for about 60 guests and the Watson House, built in 1870, was known for its high ceilings.
The Dominy House was built by Felix and Phoebe Dominy, keepers of the Fire Island Lighthouse. They ran it from 1844 to 1861 and eventually it was taken over by their son Arthur. Arthur sold the location in 1869 and it changed hands many times before it burned down in 1903. The Surf Hotel, built in 1855, started as a chowder house. Business was so good, the owner decided to make a hotel. The Muncie Sanitarium Hotel was a health spa for the affluent.
Moving on to Bay Shore, there was the Cortland House built by Joseph McGowan. A Dominy House was also built in Bay Shore in 1861 by the owners of the original location. The Hotel Mildred, first known as the Bay Shore Inn, was built overlooking the Great South Bay. The Linwood, built in 1888, was known as a barracks for Navy Flyers.
In Islip, Holliday spoke about Stellenwerf’s Lake House, where Brookwood Hall now stands. There was also the Hocker’s Hotel in East Islip that catered to hunters.
In Sayville, there was the Hotel Kensington, which opened in 1838 as Bedell’s Tavern. Around 1900, it became the Kensington and in 1937 it was where the first Rotary Club meeting was held.
The Cedarshore Club was built in 1913 after a remodeled barn was turned into a bathing pavilion. It was expanded three times but it burned down in 1917. The three-story house next to it remained and it operated for seven years until the new hotel was built. The original owners sold the property in 1940 and after changing hands several times, it became the Sayville Manor & Beach Club before burning down in 1953.
The Delavan Hotel had 75 rooms and was located on Foster Avenue. The Elmore was built in 1885 on Handsome Avenue and featured tennis courts and a bowling alley. In 1888, the Hotel Hamlyn was built on Candee Avenue, which eventually became known as the Lafayette in 1924. The South Bay House was built in 1880 on the foot of Foster Avenue. Owned by Charles Brown, it was renamed the Shoreham Hotel in 1921. In 1987, it burned down and is now the Foster Avenue Park and Playground.
Moving east to Blue Point, Holliday explored the Ye Olde Anchorage Inn, built in 1897 by Captain William Graham. It only held 35 guests but it was a unique hotel that was very Bohemian in its ways. Many famous people stayed there and since there was no guestbook, guests actually signed the walls. There was also a large Sphinx outside the property, which is now resides at Fontana & Brothers.
The Chip-A-Qua Inn, the Cochran House, Five Mile Look Hotel, Hotel Monterey, the South Bay House, the Warner House and the Hallett House were among some of the other properties operating during the turn of the century.
In Patchogue, the Clifton Hotel was built in 1882 and due to its popularity, it doubled in size by 1896. It could accommodate 300 guests at about $15 per week. Leo’s Inn started as a private home and became a restaurant in 1900.
The Ocean Avenue Hotel was built in 1878 and rooms were added in 1910 as its popularity grew. The Old Oak Hotel was built as a private residence and converted to a hotel in 1895. In 1900, a bowling alley was added but the building was destroyed by a fire in 1950.
Other popular destinations in Patchogue included the Algonquin Restaurant, the Laurel Inn, the Mascot Inn, the Patchogue Hotel, Roe’s Hotel, Xeller’s Restaurant & Grill and White House Hotel.
Bellport was known for its theater crowd as many actors and actresses gathered there. The Bay House once stood on the foundation of the bandshell in Bellport. The Bellport Hotel was built in 1898 and still stands as a restaurant. Hampton Hall was a private home in the early 1800s that was enlarged to accommodate 50 guests.
There was also the Goldthwaite Hotel, the Mallard Inn and the Wyandotte Hotel, which is best known for starting the Sunday duck dinner tradition.