The Long Forgotten Fishers Island Jail
by Pierce Rafferty
Immediately after E.M. & W. Ferguson purchased almost all of Fishers Island in 1889, they enlarged the Mansion House, extensively renovated the Lyles Beach Hotel, carved new roads, established a West End water system and revived farms throughout the island. One long forgotten improvement was the construction of a new jail that was located near to-day’s F.I. Yacht Club clubhouse.
Built in response to a rash of off-season burglaries of summer cottages, the jail was conveniently located adjacent to the vessels and ferries that carried miscreants swiftly away from our shores. Completed in late 1890 at a cost of $860.00, the small, one-story frame dwelling was more of a holding tank than an actual jail. It measured 18 ft., 6 in. long, by 14 ft., 6 in. wide, by 8 ft. high. The following article from The Day (Aug. 7, 1909) proposed possible modifications for the jail—tongue firmly in cheek—while recounting a particularly egregious case of misbehavior that stirred the structure into active service after decades of dormancy:
JAIL USED FIRST TIME IN 20 YEARS: Disorderly Porter Occupied It—Suggested Improvements
“Fishers Island, Aug. 7 (1909). For the first time in 20 years the Fishers Island jail was brought into use Tuesday night. The man who had the honor of occupying one of the cells was the porter at the Munnatawket hotel, who after imbibing wanted to run the house and lick the guests. The porter was taken into custody by the chief of police and after spending the night in the little used jail the prisoner was brought before Judge [Frank. E.] Hine Wednesday morning. The sentence imposed was that the porter should return to New York City whence he came. The prisoner departed on the next boat, rather pleased with the sentence, as the price of his fare to the aforesaid city had to be made up by subscription. Now that a use has been found for the jail it is proposed that the building, which is an imposing structure, be remodeled and the outer room converted into a courtroom, where the prisoner will be tried. As there is no patrol wagon on the island, wheels will be placed under the building which will be drawn to the place where an arrest is made and the prisoner once lodged inside, court may be held immediately.”
As it turns out, the jail building was indeed moved away from its West Harbor location circa 1949, but not after conversion into a mobile jail. It was hauled to the side lawn of the Harold Baker family residence—the former Murdock Cottage—where it held “Romeo’s Barber Shop,” proprietor Romeo Abbondanza, for approximately fifteen years from 1950 to the mid-1960s. In more recent years, it has functioned in the same location as a guest cottage for Bobby and Susie Parson’s residence “Neau Vue.” For those not familiar with these house names, the former jail is located across from today’s Fire Station near the turn where Equestrian Avenue intersects with Fox Avenue and Mansion House Drive.