One Little River, The Story of the Connetquot River: Millionaire-Sportsmen’s Paradise; by Robert Graham Giffen, 2016 (Shires Press)
I am a history buff, especially Long Island Gold Coast history. It all started with F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and then E.L. Doctorow’s Loon Lake – actually it was before then – you see, I grew up just south of the Phipps’ and Whitney’s and we used to raid their estates and hide in the old windmill.
My cousin worked at one of the “Camps” in the Adirondacks which got me even more intrigued and I had two Aunts who took care of children of the privileged and traveled from city penthouse to country estate to southern escape. Today I live in view of where Vanderbilt parked his yacht.
More to the point, I learned at an early age from my father, who knew the keepers of these estates through the local hardware stores they shopped in, that this is what it means to be rich and powerful. He showed me the Southside Sportsmen’s Club as we drove by on Sunrise Highway on our way to the blue collar version of hunting birds with the citizens of the east end. He also told me of the private clubs’ trout waters, both here and upstate. “Plenty of fish in there” he would say, as we drove by looking for public access.
So I have had a lifelong fascination for the homes and recreation of the rich and famous. When New York State bought the Southside Sportsmen’s Club (Connetquot River State Park) as well as the Wyandanch Club (Caleb Smith State Park) and the County secured Suffolk Club at Fire Place property from the Hard family (Southaven and the Carmans River) it was like a dream come true.
By the mid 1970’s we the people could wander through these preserves for the first time in over 100 years. Those of you who have read Letters to Mack and my Blog know the love I have for these places and also know that I thank the Robber Barons of old for keeping them for us. Without those men of privilege none of these paradises would have survived the post war building boom.
So back to the book – One Little River. It is an obvious work of passion by its author, Robert Graham Giffen. He has poured his entire adult life into this work. I cannot imagine the hours he spent researching and writing. We are all in his debt for this document on the place we love; the place many of us caught our first trout; the place fly fishing was firmly established on Long Island as the sport of the people it has today become. Ironic!
The subtitle tells of the contents: The Story of the Connetquot River: Millionaire-Sportsmen’s Paradise. Millionaires back when they didn’t live next door to you. Real money. We are talking about the richest men in the world and the most powerful. As you read the genealogy of this club you are reading the history of our industrial revolution, the amassing of fortunes, and the building of this country both economically and politically. Such was the power of the members of the Southside Sportsmen’s Club.
It starts where every American story should start, with the Native Americans who first lived here, and moves to the granting of patents in pre-revolution times. The revolution and its impact on Long Island, the rural economy, the trout and ducks harvested and sent to the restaurants and markets of New York City. The early draw of prominent Americans to Long Island as it truly offered some of the best hunting and fishing in the country. This is the heritage we have been given in the form of these parks, Connetquot in particular.
They locked up this beautiful land in large estates, 400 to 1200 acres each, and held it maintaining the character and integrity of the land. The clubs held even more acres. Today many of the parks we enjoy on a state, county and township level are thanks to the preservation these estates and clubs provided. Although self-serving and exclusionary at the time, we would not have these jewels otherwise.
Mr. Giffen tells the story well, with enough detail and interest to keep me turning the pages while leaving me thirsty for still more. I can feel the ghosts of those who came before us as I walk and fish these parks, especially Connetquot. Now I can put names to those ghosts.
The proceeds of the book go to Friends of Connetquot, an organization I belong to and support. Each of you who use and care for this park would do well to consider joining as well. FOC works hard to keep the park exactly as it was, and they do it for us.
If you love Connetquot as I do, you have to read this book …and you should consider joining Friends of Connetquot as well. The book is available in the Connetquot State Park Office or on Amazon.
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