Then & Now: Two Encounters on Cartwright Island in Gardiners Bay

Gardiners Island cartoon by Mickey Paraskevas
Cartoon by Mickey Paraskevas

Someone asked me the other day if I could give an example of how things have changed in the Hamptons from years ago.

What sprang immediately to my mind was a party I went to on a tiny island in Gardiners Bay when I was in my 20s, and how that compared to what happened on this same island recently when some people tried to have a party there.

The island in question is called Cartwright Island. Gardiners Island is two miles north of this tiny island, and the mainland at Barnes Landing is two miles to the south. You get there by paddleboard or by dropping anchor, by boat. From east to west it’s about a hundred feet across. From north to south it’s about 400 feet. There are low dunes and beach grass.

In the summer of 2018, Rod Richardson and his family were paddle boarding in the bay near Cartwright Island. Paddling along, they encountered several families in four boats going the other way who, as they passed the Richardsons, said they’d just been told by security people that they could not use the Cartwright Island beach.

Richardson and his family continued on anyway. And when they got to the island and he came ashore, Richardson had an encounter with the security people. At a certain point, Richardson pulled up two NO TRESPASSING signs out of the ground. Marine Patrol had by now been called. When the patrol arrived, they told Richardson that Cartwright Island was part of Gardiners Island and gave Richardson two summonses—one for third-degree criminal tampering and the other for trespassing, The East Hampton Star reported.

Richardson fought these summonses into 2019 and ultimately lost. His last line of defense was asking for the East Hampton Trustees to help. The Trustees are empowered to protect public beach access. The Trustees hired Steve Boerner, a local historian, to look into the matter and make a report on whether Cartwright is public or part of Gardiners, and after Boerner made his report saying yes, it is part of Gardiners, the Trustees indicated there was nothing they could do.

So no, you can’t sit on the beach at Cartwright Island. Not anymore, anyway.

The party I went to on that little island took place 40 days after Neil Armstrong landed on the moon in July 1969. There were about a hundred of us, and we were there without permission of the Gardiners. As always when we’d picnic there, we just went.

On that island, two men had spent three months building a 15-foot-tall steel sculpture, LUNAR SUITE 1. The party was to celebrate that fact—a gallery opening.

Caviar, cheese, crackers and champagne were there. A band played. Everyone was in a celebratory mood. We watched the sunset. A reporter from Newsday interviewed the two sculptors. One was Bob Dhaemers, a professor at Mills College. The other was Ronnie de Rosa, a Manhattan-based commercial artist. They said they’d been camping out there with their wives in May when they got the idea to build such a thing. They came back with propane blowtorches and pieces of steel, and after three months, this was the result.

At one point, a small Piper Cub airplane circled over the beach. People thought it was just buzzing them for fun, but then it circled low and came in for a landing. People shouted for everyone to get back from the beach, and so in came the plane and, light as a feather to land there.

“Get these folks some champagne,” partygoers shouted as three passengers hopped out, smiling and waving.

Newsday asked the two men if the sculpture was for sale—Dhaemers said yes and Da Rose said no. Well, whatever.

King Charles II of England issued a Proprietor’s Patent to Lion Gardiner in 1639 after that gentleman showed he had a signed deed from the Montaukett Chief Wyandanch. Early maps show Gardiners Island, with a one-mile-long tail to the north and the two-mile-long tail to Cartwright. The patent gave that first Gardiner rights similar to those given to the Towns of Southampton and East Hampton, who came a few years after Gardiner landed.

Sea level rise often puts the tails underwater. But the ownership is there. According to the Gardiners Island security people, it was reported, the offshore ownership extended off the main island for as far as an ox could walk without getting his belly wet.

LUNAR SUITE 1 remained on the island for many months and no one objected to it, except for members of the Barnes Landing Association on the mainland, who said it spoiled their sea view.

It was a great day in the Hamptons.

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