Point O' Woods, New York

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Point O' Woods
Point O' Woods is located in New York
Point O' Woods
Point O' Woods
Location within the state of New York
Coordinates: 40°39′05″N 73°07′43″W / 40.65139°N 73.12861°W / 40.65139; -73.12861Coordinates: 40°39′05″N 73°07′43″W / 40.65139°N 73.12861°W / 40.65139; -73.12861
CountryUnited States
StateNew York
Time zoneUTC−5 (Eastern (EST))
 • Summer (DST)UTC−4 (EDT)

Point O' Woods is a hamlet that consists of a private vacation retreat on Fire Island, New York, in Suffolk County. Although it resembles a village or small town, with services such as a ferry port, a general store, church and fire department, the private community is open exclusively to members and their guests, who are the only persons allowed in through the hamlet's gate, or allowed to use the private ferry that runs to Point O' Woods from Bay Shore on Long Island.

Location and history[edit]

The hamlet's bay harbor includes a swimming area.

Point O' Woods is located within the Town of Brookhaven, between Ocean Bay Park and Oakleyville. Immediately to the east is the Sunken Forest, a park situated below mean high tide level.

Point O' Woods is not a municipality and has no government as such. Like a few other Fire Island enclaves, it is a privately owned parcel of land. It is subject to the political jurisdiction of Brookhaven Township in Suffolk County; local law enforcement is the duty of Suffolk County Police Department's Marine Bureau. The beaches are (a) open to the public, and (b) regularly patrolled by state and local police, as well as by the National Park Service and US Coast Guard.[1]

This is said to have been the first European-American settlement on Fire Island, though Cherry Grove also makes that claim.[2] The settlement was originally organized in 1894 for religious retreats, some from the Chautauqua assemblies. In approximately 1898, the Chautauqua group went bankrupt, and ownership passed to the Point O' Woods Association. This group still administers it today.[3]

Today Point O' Woods serves as a summer vacation retreat for Association members and their families. Many members are from the East coast, but there are also members and guests from the West coast. The hamlet is opened by the Association in the mid-Spring, and closed in early autumn each year.

As on much of Fire Island, cars are not permitted in Point O' Woods and bicycles are the principal means of wheeled transport. The community uses its private railroad, a half-mile long, 3 ft (914 mm) narrow gauge[4] line to transport freight from the dock to key buildings in the town. It is not used for passenger service. In addition, the community operates a small fleet of motor vehicles to conduct maintenance, recycling and pest control.


Essentially a village-sized private club, Point O' Woods is noted for its insularity and exclusivity.[5] The land on which the cottages are built are technically owned by the Association, which offers long-term leases to the members who reside in them. Many members' families have summered there for generations.

The hamlet is separated from its nearest western neighbor, Ocean Bay Park, by a six-foot chain-link barrier known simply as "the Fence". The Sunken Forest serves as a natural barrier to the east. Tourists are not welcome; the ferry from Bay Shore, L.I., is privately owned. Uninvited visitors who board may well be met by an Association member when they arrive at the Point O' Woods dock and directed to return to Bay Shore.[2]

Point O' Woods has its own church and volunteer fire department. It operated a post office until Nat Hentoff complained (described below).[5]

By its insularity and tight restrictions, Point O' Woods has avoided the kinds of commercial development and expansion that has affected the rest of Fire Island. It is still well known for its peaceful atmosphere, safe environment and its orientation towards family life.[5]

In spite of its storied exclusivity, Point O' Woods has established intramural relationships with summer camp sports programs with other Fire Island communities. The Volunteer Fire Department regularly trains with counterparts in Ocean Bay Park.[citation needed]


A July 25, 1932 advertisement in Time magazine for Point O' Woods vacation info requests led to complaints of restricted lodging. In 1968, journalist Nat Hentoff, who was not a member of the community, protested because club rules denied him access to the federally funded U.S. post office located within the Point O' Woods grounds. Eventually, the hamlet resolved the dispute by giving up its federal post office; it now has no separate ZIP Code. Mail is delivered to the Bay Shore Post Office by the USPS and taken by ferry to Point O' Woods, where it is distributed privately.

Wreck of the Elizabeth[edit]

On July 19, 1850 the English barque Elizabeth sank after running aground on the Fire Island sandbar just off of Point O' Woods. Famed feminist author Margaret Fuller died in the wreck, along with her infant child. Three days after the sinking, Fuller's friend Henry David Thoreau arrived at Point O' Woods to search for her remains. Her body was never recovered.[6]

In popular culture[edit]

  • In the television series Mad Men season 2, episode 6, "Maidenform", Trudy and Pete tell Bud and Judy Campbell they'll summer at Point O' Woods, so Pete can stay near the office. He says his presence there is important.


  1. ^ Fire Island#Other locations
  2. ^ a b Ketcham, Diane (August 28, 1988). "Point O'Woods: 90 Years of Gentility and Privacy". The New York Times. p. LI12. Retrieved 13 April 2019.
  3. ^ "Paul Krassner Leads Fire Island Incursion", by Tony Ortega, The Village Voice, July 28, 2010
  4. ^ Small Layout Scrapbook
  5. ^ a b c Taylor, Candace (July 10, 2008). "Big Changes Afoot on Fire Island, Except for One Enclave". New York Sun. Retrieved 13 April 2019.
  6. ^ Cheever, Susan (2006). American Bloomsbury: Louisa May Alcott, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Henry David Thoreau: Their Lives, Their Loves, Their Work. New York: Simon & Schuster. pp. 140–141. ISBN 0-7432-6461-4.

External links[edit]

Preceded by
Cherry Grove
Beaches of Fire Island Succeeded by
Ocean Bay Park