Score one point for yourself if you have ever heard of Fishers Island. Score two points if you know where it is. Score three if you know someone who has been there. Now forget about going yourself because the people who go there do not need to score points.
Fishers Island—or Fishers, as it is called simply by those in the know—is an eight-mile strip of woods, beach and golf green at the head of Long Island Sound. It is, Cleveland Amory once wrote, the last resort of the big rich, and they want it kept that way. Fishers, in fact, is so exclusive that it is not even mentioned in the official federal guide to New York State, and John Hay Whitney, a prominent summer resident and publisher of the
New York Herald Tribune
, once rejected a poem that an islander submitted on the grounds that lyrical allusion might prove ruinous.
To Fisherites the worst disaster ever to hit the island was not the 1938 hurricane but the 1951 visit of Amory, who came over to scout the good life for a chapter in one of his books. Although Amory was generally complimentary, Fisherites were so incensed at being done up in print that they promptly exiled the chap who had invited him over. "We don't want any publicity," the Reverend Dr. Arthur Lee Kinsolving, rector of posh St. James's in New York and a confirmed Fisherite, says with a discreet shudder. "Publicity ruined Newport and Bar Harbor."
Among the summer residents are the Roger Firestones, the Jerrold T. Bryces, the Jansen Noyeses (senior and junior), the Grant Simmonses ("she's Horlick's malted milk and he's beds"), the Cass Canfields and a dozen du Ponts (including Pierre S. III, Reynolds, Willis H., Mrs. George de F. Lord Jr., Mrs. W. F. Harrington and Mrs. Richard E. Riegel). To such folk Fishers offers a respite from the cares of capitalism. Once, many years ago, when Lammot du Pont Sr. was stricken with a heart attack, a doctor was rushed to the house. Seeking to render aid, the doctor asked, "Where's your nitroglycerin?" "Why," murmured du Pont, rousing himself, "we always keep that at the factory."
For the big rich, Fishers is also a place where the children can grow up and meet and eventually marry their own kind. Any number of summer romances have blossomed into matrimony, capped by the inevitable Lester Lanin wingding, and the interlocking kinship between some families is enough to befuddle the most dedicated genealogist. As a mating ground, Fishers is a sort of Episcopal Grossinger's.
Fishers lies only five miles off New London, with which it is connected by ferry, but through historical fluke the island is part of New York instead of Connecticut. Fishers was first settled in 1644 by John Winthrop Jr., a governor of Connecticut, and for years that state claimed jurisdiction. In 1879 New York, which based its claim on a 1664 grant to the Duke of York, finally wrested control (though Connecticut is now exploring ways to buy the island back from New York). In return, Connecticut then received full title to the Fairfield County panhandle, which intrudes into New York's Westchester County.
For more than 200 years Fishers—the name, incidentally, is of unknown origin—was the personal fief of the Winthrops. In 1863 a family named Fox bought the island outright and farmed it until 1878, when they sold part of the western end to a friend, George Bartlett, who had been shipwrecked there. Several years later friends of Bartlett, Edmund and Walton Ferguson, bought most of the rest of the island.
Up until this year the Ferguson family had been the principal landowners, but recently they sold off the bulk of their holdings, which included the electric company, the telephone company, the waterworks, a construction firm and one of the two gas stations on the island, to a syndicate composed of a number of the prominent families who summer there. The syndicate, known as the Fishers Island Utility Company, is not likely to utilize anything at all. Fisherites like the island the way it is now. "We want it kept a quiet resort place," says Lee Ferguson, the head of the Ferguson family. "We don't want a mass of people."
The multimillionaire John Nicholas Brown was a prime factor in making Fishers a fashionable place for society. Once known as "the world's richest baby" (he was supposedly raised on milk from a cow given distilled water thrice daily), Brown started spending his summers at Fishers after meeting Anne Kinsolving, the reverend doctor's sister, whom he married in 1930. The 1938 hurricane flattened their home, Windshield, but they erected a new house of glass, also named Windshield. Not long afterward the senior Lammot du Pont bought the adjacent hill and built a house that cut off part of the Browns' view. Some Fisherites jokingly dubbed the du Pont house Windshield Wiper, but the house was no joke to Brown, who later packed up and moved back to Newport, where his mother had a home.
For a long spell Windshield was on the market at the bargain price of $135,000 (it had cost $300,000), but last year, in a gesture of goodwill, Brown sold it to the Fishers Island Country Club for the nominal sum of $1. Now the club gets $50 or $100 a day for rooms.