Bird Watching

An island of off-grid homes, just 50 miles from Times Square


In 2012, Hurricane Sandy devastated three homes on the east side and severely damaged many more. Fires are the island’s biggest threat. Two neighboring houses burned to the ground during a winter thunderstorm in 2018, when no one was on the island. The island is served by the Babylon Fire Department and an operational pump truck is housed in the middle of the island and can be pushed onto the promenade or loaded onto a boat to reach a fire, but its “first responders” are those who are closest to the fire. The island comprises three automated external defibrillators. To reach the nearest hospital, it takes between 20 and 40 minutes, including a boat and car ride. Each home has an audible alarm to signal a fire or medical emergency.

Recreation naturally revolves around water: fishing, clam fishing and sailing are the favorite pastimes. Cocktail hour is appreciated. Mrs. Rexrode, the great-granddaughter of Pennsylvania farmers, is one of the few on the island to successfully maintain a garden, sharing her harvest with her neighbors. Based on islander anecdotes, this kind of generosity is reflective here.

“You see someone with a full boat, you’re going to help unload,” Ms. Liddle said. “If a boat is submerged, you take it out, you refloat it. You don’t say anything, you just do it.

Technically Mid-Atlantic, there’s a touch of New England reserve here, a sort of Yankee perseverance where descriptions of taking the walk every summer to avoid frost heaving and carrying refrigerators in a skiff are relayed with quiet pride. Many of the owners, like Mrs. Liddle, who lives in Albany, originally come from neighboring Babylon. Others have winter homes in warmer climates.

The owners differ when it comes to income, professions and politics. However, according to some locals who said controversy was avoided, the island is rather conservative.

“We agree to disagree and then we talk about something else that will make us a lot happier,” Ms. Ellis said.

There is a shared loathing for exuberance and pretense.

“It would be ridiculous to try to be pretentious on Oak Island because you can’t get anywhere once you’re here,” said Alanna Heiss, founder of MoMA PS1. She and her husband, Fred Sherman, a litigator, scoured the newspaper classifieds for many years before they found their vintage cottage. “You can only socialize through friendship,” Ms. Heiss added.