The Changing Face of the Lyles Beach & Munnatawket Hotels
The Lyles Beach Hotel (1882-1891)
Billed as “The Coney Island of the East”, the Lyles Beach Hotel was Fishers Island’s first major hotel. Located on the island’s north shore several hundred yards west of the entrance to West Harbor, the Lyles Beach catered primarily to day excursionists. On weekends hundreds of “day trippers” arrived for a day of fun that included such activities as swimming, sailing, bowling, arcade activity, pony and horse rides, target practice, eating, drinking and dancing. Patrons arrived from various mainland ports—primarily New London, Norwich, Groton and Watch Hill—on large side-wheel steamers like the S.S. Ella and the S.S. Block Island. Almost all returned to the mainland at the end of an action-packed day. After Edmund and Walton Ferguson bought out the Lyles Beach Hotel in 1891, they immediately shut it down and banished excursion steamers from landing at the hotel dock. Subsequently the hotel underwent an extensive remodeling and expansion.
The Munnatawket Hotel (1892-to circa 1926)
In 1892, the former Lyles Beach Hotel reopened under E.M. & W Ferguson ownership as the Munnatawket Hotel. Munnatawket was an Indian name for Fishers Island. Note the new addition on left and what appears to be a new third story on the old Lyles Beach structure.
A Downsized Hotel with Adjacent Cottages (1905-1913)
In 1905, due to a glut of hotel rooms on Fishers Island and the cost of renovating the older sections, the Munnatawket Hotel was downsized. While the newer sections were kept, including the 1892 addition seen here at left, most of the old Lyles Beach structure was swept away. Note the three Munnatawket Cottages— better known today as “The Three Sisters.” They were built in 1903 in association with the hotel.
Big Once Again (1913-circa 1926)
In 1913, E.M. & W. Ferguson restored the Munnatawket Hotel to its original 1892 size. The hotel remained in this configuration with associated cottages until the mid-1920s when it was razed.
Munnatawket Hotel, Dock & Cottages. Circa 1920.
Why was this hotel torn down in the mid-1920s? Although the dock seems quite busy in this photograph, lack of business is the most logical explanation. During its final years the Munnatawket was leased to outside managers and generated almost no income for the Ferguson owners. By the 1920s, the Fergusons were primarily focused on the development of a private residential colony on the eastern two-thirds of Fishers Island. There is some evidence that from the outset of their ownership they envisioned the primary purpose of their hotels to be the attraction of potential home builders to Fishers Island. By the mid-1920s, dozens of new home owners were starting construction of substantive houses as part of the east end development known as “The Olmsted Plan.” This residential building boom made the Munnatawket Hotel a disposable asset in the grand development scheme.