The Town of Cherry Grove

One of the most popular gay resort communities in the United States, Cherry Grove is visited by people from all over the world. It is reputedly the nation’s first and oldest gay community, and the longest continuously inhabited resort on Fire Island.

According to historical archives, Archie Perkinson, a local Long Island businessman, and his wife moved into a cabin after purchasing a mile of East End beach for 25 cents a foot in 1869. Noting the predominance of wild cherry trees in his new domain, Perkinson named the area “Cherry Grove.” Perkinson went on to open a hotel – Perkinson’s Hotel – and small, summer cottages began to sprout up around it. It has been reported that Oscar Wilde visited Fire Island in 1882, stayed at Perkinson’s Hotel, and declared Cherry Grove to be one of the most beautiful resorts he had ever visited.

Beginning in the early 1930s, the area became a beacon toward which gays were drawn — an escape from the demands of gender and sexual conformity of that time. New York City was experiencing a cultural revival, as well as a population increase (the region’s population grew by one million in the 1920s) and affluent city residents were drawn to the leisurely, quaint and rugged atmosphere, mixed with a certain craziness for which the Grove was rapidly becoming well known.

The later opening of Duffy’s Hotel—the only facility on the island with electricity and a phone—drew many visitors and soon became the center for social life. However, a devastating hurricane in 1938 nearly destroyed Cherry Grove. Over the next decades, the people of Cherry Grove rebuilt and rejuvenated the area, strengthening its reputation as a celebrity and gay beach resort.

During the 1940s, Cherry Grove attracted an increasing number of prominent gay men and lesbians. Also during this time, the Grove’s sense of community was reinforced by the founding of the Arts Project of Cherry Grove (APCG). The Arts Project offered residents and visitors the opportunity to use their artistic and creative talents to contribute to the cultural life of the community.

By 1960, Cherry Grove had become the summer capitol of the gay world and by the 1980s, drag and cross-dressing had become an important part of Cherry Grove’s social and community life.

Today, virtually all of Cherry Grove’s available land has been developed; it consists of approximately 280 houses and quite a number of commercial establishments. Since the vast number of houses are un-winterized summer homes, the year-round population of Cherry Grove is small. In recent years, the number of people who are winterizing their homes and coming out to the Grove during the off-season has increased. Still others have extended the season and are spending eight months or more out of the year in the Grove. The average daily summer population numbers in the thousands.