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The origin of Fire Island's name is not certain. It is believed its Native American name was Sictem Hackey which translated to "Land of the Secatogues". The Secatogues were a tribe in the Bay Shore, New York, area. It was part of what was also called the "Seal Islands."

Historian Richard Bayles suggested that the name Fire derives from a misinterpretation or corruption of the Dutch word "vijf" (for five) or in another version "vier" (or four) referring to the number of islands near the Fire Island inlet.

At times histories have referred to it in the plural Fire Islands because of the inlet breaks. Other versions say the island derived its name from fires built on the sea's edge by Native Americans or by pirates to lure unsuspecting ships into the sandbars.


Some say it is how portions of the island look to be on fire from sea in the Autumn. Yet another version says it comes from the rash caused by poison ivy on the island.

The name of Fire Island first appeared on a deed in 1789.

While the western portion of the island was referred to as Fire Island for many years the eastern portion was referred to as Great South Beach until 1920 when widespread development of the island caused the whole island to be referred to as Fire Island.




  • William "Tangier" Smith held title to the entire island in the 1600s, under a royal patent from Thomas Dongan. The remnants of Smith's Manor of St. George are open to the public in Shirley, New York.
  • The first large house was built in 1795 in Cherry Grove by Jeremiah Smith. Smith was said to have lured ships to their doom and killed the crews.
  • In the early 1800s when slavery was still legal in New York, slave runners built stockades on the island by the Fire Island Inlet.
  • The first Fire Island Lighthouse was built in 1825 and was replaced by the current lighthouse in 1858.
  • In 1855 David S.S. Sammis bought 120 acres near the Fire Island Lighthouse and built the Surf Hotel at what today is Kismet. Sammis operated the hotel until 1892 when the state took it over. In 1908 it became the first state park on Long Island.
  • In 1868 Archer and Elizabeth Perkinson bought the land around Cherry Grove and Fire Island Pines. They built a hotel in 1880.
  • In 1887 the Coast Guard established 11 manned life saving stations on the island.
  • In 1892 troops were called out to suppress a potential riot at Democrat Point over a cholera panic.
  • In 1908 Ocean Beach was established followed by Saltaire in 1910. In 1921 the Perkinsons sold the land around Cherry Grove in small lots. Bungalows from the newly closed Camp Upton in Yaphank, New York were ferried over the Great South Bay to build the new community. Duffy's Hotel was built in 1930.
  • The Great Hurricane of 1938 devastated much of the island and made it appear undesirable to many. However, Duffy's Hotel remained relatively undamaged. According to legend, the gay population began to concentrate in Cherry Grove at Duffy's Hotel with Christopher Isherwood and W. H. Auden dressed as Dionysus and Ganymede and carried aloft on a gilded litter by a group of singing followers. The gay influence was continued in the 1960s when male model John B. Whyte developed Fire Island Pines. The Pines currently has some of the most expensive property on the island and accounts for two-thirds of the island's swimming pools.
  • In 1954 Robert Moses built the Captree Causeway to the western end of the island. Opponents, fearing that this was the beginning of plans for the continuation of Ocean Parkway (Long Island) which would have run down the middle of the island, organized and eventually stopped the Parkway.
  • In September 1964 Lyndon Johnson signed the bill creating Fire Island National Seashore.

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    Fire Island, its shores and elevations constantly shifting, represents a kind of equilibrium among mighty natural forces. In 1653, Isaac Stratford of Babylon set up a shore whaling station on the Island (the name, Whalehouse Point, still persists). Stratford's crews would carry their whaleboats across the Island to the ocean side, build crude shelters and erect a look-out from which a man could watch for the spouting of a whale. "Whale Off!" he would cry when the great beast was sighted, and the boats would be launched into the rough surf.

    In 1825 the Federal government constructed a lighthouse at the extreme western tip of Fire Island. As late as 1856, a boatman sailing through the Inlet could toss a newspaper to the lighthousekeeper. Less than 100 years later, four miles of sand had accumulated between the lighthouse and the western end of the Island.

    During the early 1920's, the Island found fame as a Bohemian retreat. The rum flowed in and the whine of high-speed Coast Guard cutters slashed the early morning air. The beaches were littered with copies of Variety and Billboard, the saloons cluttered with penciled manuscripts and blue air, and back porches were congested by the acrid smell of oils.


    But behind all this frivolity, business continued in the form of rampant real estate speculation.

    In the three centuries since Isaac Stratford established his whaling station, the Island has undergone many changes . . . it has developed into a vacation-land whose few year-round inhabitants derive their living from providing goods and services to the summer visitors.

    It's impossible to speak of Fire Island as a unity for there are as many different Fire Islands as there are types of people in New York. Fire Island is many things to many people and each year thousands visit Fire Island to frolic on the playground of the suntan set to see if all the things they've heard are really true. And they are.

    Fire Island has a beauty all of its own -- a lonely loveliness other resorts don't possess. It's the isolation of the place, the utter aloneness. At no time do you feel less like leaving the Island than in the warm late Sunday afternoon when it's time to begin walking toward the bay, toward the ferry waiting to return you to the mainland. You will discover, as everyone who truly likes the island does, that special, secret magic of the place.