In COLUMNS, Fair Harbor by FIN2 Comments


by Emily S. Brafman

FOR THOSE OF YOU WHO HAVE NEVER been to Fair Harbor or are here for your first visit, I promise you it will not be your last. Fair Harbor is intoxicating and if you are the type of person who likes the simple life, you have just set foot upon your happy place.

Fair Harbor is a mid-size Fire Island community, with just the bare necessities. It is the width of two-city blocks from ocean to bay. Instead of cars, most people get around by foot or by bike. We have a grocery store called The Pioneer, stocked with the best quality of everything you could ever need. There’s Unfriendly’s Ice Cream, and Corliss On The Bay where you can buy practically anything. Our restaurant, Le Dock, has recently been transformed into an upscale establishment run by Jean Georges Vongerichten.

Fair Harbor is a family town with a sprinkling of singles. Children can swim in the bay or the ocean supervised by their parents and the amazing lifeguards. Houses are quaint and close together. There is an amazing volunteer fire department that keeps us safe, they have an outstanding firehouse and they invite the children in for Wednesday movie night. Our town has a simple charm and its residents are very protective of it. We welcome you to Fair Harbor, we hope you love it as much as we do, and that you keep our little secret between us.

The History

In my opinion, memories are the best source of history. I would like to start off this special edition of my Fair Harbor column dedicating it to the memory of a very special member of the Fair Harbor Community, Linda Sandler. Linda was an amazing mother to her children and loyal friend to the rest of us. We lost her way too soon but she lives in our memory forever. My greatest memory of Linda is that she came to my house every night to schmooze with my parents. I can picture her at the head of the table drinking coffee and talking about the day’s events with my mom and dad… My favorite summer evenings now consist of sitting around the table with my family and best friends eating barbeque, laughing and schmoozing about the day on the beach.

I was lucky enough to interview Susan Chadburn, she made the documentary, “Partition Lot 6: Fair Harbor.” She is a long time Fair Harbor resident and has personal knowledge of our little town from way back when. She was a little girl in Fair Harbor in the early 1950s. Here is a snap shot of Fair Harbor in her own words.

“The down and dirty of the history of FH is that it took until 1923 for the owners of the land to get clear deeds for anything west of Ocean Beach,” Susan wrote to me in an email. “So Clock and Weeks began selling in Fair Harbor in 1923. That’s when my grandmother, Eugenia Estler, bought…The little building on the bay, which is the liquor store now, was built by Walter Thornburg. It served as a place to live, then an ice cream parlor and a hardware store that was run by Art Aldrich.

“People waited for ‘boat-time’ and also watched people come in by seaplane,” she continued. “Usually Charles Collingwood and Louise Albriten, were big events!

“We’d get groceries from Eddie’s, owned by Eddie Lipinsky, which was where Corliss’ is now. Pioneer market was run by the Grassnick family… Mallogold ice cream was in a freezer up front. You would unroll the ice cream and stick it in a cake cone.. soooo creamy and good!”

What Fair Harbor Means to Me

I always say that nothing much changes in Fair Harbor. That is what makes it so special to me. When I hear about Susan’s childhood in the 1950s, it is nearly the same as my childhood, which is extremely similar to the experiences my children are having as Fair Harbor kids right now. Fair Harbor is a timeless place. After a long winter of “reality” we all can rely on the fact that our little island will be waiting for us unchanged and full of joy.

When the sun begins to shine and we take the boat across the bay for our first voyage of the season, we leave behind our professions, our financial status, our fancy clothes and we begin our simple summer life at the beach. We know that familiar faces will be waiting to greet us. The folks at The Pioneer will be on the bench waving their first hellos, bikes will be ready for kids to take first rides around town and the ferry dock will be standing strong ready to host sunset as the evening’s closing act. Even when change happens and new things blossom, we can be sure that our town will always honor what Fair Harbor is all about, community, safety and of course bare feet.

Fair Harbor dock, circa 1950.

Fair Harbor dock, circa 1950.

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  1. This is a sweet article. And thanks to Susan Chadburn, our historian. Great photo, I don’t have this one. My Dad’s house on the far left (the now called “Loading Dock”). Great memories, great town, great life.
    Thanks for sharing. ~ Linda Thornberg

  2. Thank you, Emily, for capturing the sweetness of our summers here. Our family feels so lucky to have had such wonderful neighbors and good friends over all of these years. – The Pearlmans on Holly

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