Cherry Grove is one of some twenty communities that sprang up along the
30-mile long barrier beach known as Fire Island over the last two to three centuries. Originally it was a fishing outpost and family picnic destination for residents of the mainland. During WWII, it was an important civil defense post and Nazi U-boat spotting gateway into the New York harbor. But by the mid-20th Century, Cherry Grove had become a safe haven and refuge for homosexuals (at the time, mostly men), notably those in the arts.
In the 1940s and 50s, the "Grove" was quite humble – houses were often sea-shacks or simple sheds and barns that had been floated across the bay and log-rolled to their new locales. Many of the original structures remain today much as they were which lends a rustic homeliness that is often noted in sharp contrast to the glass and steel modernity of the Fire Island Pines.
Over the years, the raw power of Cherry Grove's sexual honesty attracted the anonymous and the well-known alike. W.H. Auden, Christopher Isherwood, Stephen Spender, Janet Flanner, Paul Cadmus, Hermione Gingold, Nancy Walker, Earl Blackwell, Kaye Ballard, Liz Smith, Jerry Herman visited, lived, entertained and even fell in love here. For many visitors, the Grove is a place to drop pretense and live an unhidden life.
Community organizations in the early days were few – the Property Owners organized in 1946 and the Arts Project in 1948. These organizations were overseen by a few residents and many of the benefits (and restrictions) we live with six decades later were forged in that period.
But times change and a new generation is writing the future for Cherry Grove, respectful of our rich past and hopeful that whatever we become in the next 50 years will continue to beckon people who revere the beauty of our glorious beach and the freedom of an honestly-lived life.