In The Magazine

Shelter Island: The Original Hipster Haven

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

In 1883, Dr. Richard Salter Storrs of Brooklyn built a home in Shelter Island Heights. It was three stories, crafted in the Queen Anne style. It didn’t have a kitchen. Or a bathroom. Next door, he built a home for his daughter Mary, who married minister Dr. Edward B. Coe. Situated above sea level, with sweeping views of the Peconic, the land was named Divinity Hill.

Renamed, renovated and most recently restored in 2009, Sunset Hill, Dr. Storrs’ home at 22 Prospect Avenue, is now for sale for $8.875 million.

The home has new chimneys—rebuilt brick by brick—and a basement, which it lacked for its first 130-plus years. It has new wiring, new heating, a new swimming pool and new shingles replicated from the originals.

The house was built as a part of the Shelter Island Grove and Camp Meeting Association. The religious retreat was established in 1871 by 24 Brooklyn ministers and their congregations. There was a strong sense of community among the Brooklyn-based residents. All meals were served in “the restaurant,” which today is The Chequit. The retreat later became the Shelter Island Heights Association. As Priscilla Dunhill, who acquired Dr. Storrs’ home almost 100 years later, notes in her book An Island Sheltered: Shelter Island Celebrates 350 Years, the train from Brooklyn to Greenport was “one of the fastest short-haul trains in the country,” making Shelter Island an easy escape from the city.

The Heights district was designed by landscape architects Frederick Law Olmsted and Robert Morris Copeland. Among the buildings was Union Chapel, initially called Prospect Chapel, which still stands. Built in 1875, it was a center of entertainment, set inside a natural amphitheater, and served as an open-air forum for religious ceremonies. It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1976.

A few years prior, in 1872, The Prospect House hotel was built. Though it initially served as a social center exclusively for Heights association members, it was later opened to the public, becoming one of the premier luxury hotels at the time. According to the Shelter Island Reporter, Clark Gable was a frequent visitor. Fire damaged the Prospect Hotel in 1923. It was rebuilt, but it completely burned down in 1942. The site is now called Prospect Park.

Dr. Storrs was a minister at Church of the Pilgrims in Brooklyn Heights. Abraham Lincoln maintained a pew there. Dr. Storrs eulogized him in 1865. Almost 20 years later, in 1883, Dr. Storrs delivered prayers at the opening ceremony of the Brooklyn Bridge.

Storrs built his home when he was 60 years old. According to Dunhill, as was customary at the time, the house was built in one season, from cookie cutter designs. Homes were then individualized, and deviations from the norm gave “the island’s Carpenter Gothic architecture its unique ebullience.”

Dr. Storrs died in 1900, and the home has since gone through a number of owners and renovations, including, belatedly, a kitchen and bathrooms.

In 1922, the Shelter Island Heights Association transferred the property to Jay Rathbun, an avid sailor with the Shelter Island Yacht Club (established in 1886). In 1931, the property was transferred to Charles Angell, who was prominent in the Brooklyn and Shelter Island communities. He was the president of Cranford Co. subway contractors. Angell was a former head of the Brooklyn Rotary Club, an active participant in Shelter Island Civic affairs, serving as commissioner of the Shelter Island Heights Fire Department, and the vice president of the New York State Hotel Association and the Shelter Island Heights Association, which operated the Prospect Hotel. Angell died in his Shelter Island home in 1933.

In the 1960s, future New York governor Hugh Carey and his family used Sunset Hill as their summer residence. Hugo and Priscilla Dunhill, the writer and lecturer, acquired the property in 1969.

The current owners purchased Sunset Hill in 2008, and immediately set about renovating and restoring the property, under the auspices of the Shelter Island Heights Historic District, which includes 141 buildings. The Heights have also been listed as both National and New York State Historic Districts since 1993.

Today, the home boasts seven bedrooms and eight bathrooms, with 7,165 square feet on 1.87 acres. And, you don’t have to be from Brooklyn to enjoy all that space.


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