“This is where we are staying. Isn’t it fine?” wrote F.C.H. in 1906 on a postcard from the Montauk Inn.
“Am staying here. I am having a fine time. Board costs $20.00 a week. I have my auto here also,” Doris wrote in 1907.
The Long Island Rail Road opened the Montauk Inn in 1899 at the top of Signal Hill’s rolling terrain. Rocking chairs on its wraparound veranda offered sweeping visions of Fort Pond, Fort Pond Bay, and the fishing village, as well as glimpses of the Atlantic and the Sound. Theodore and the owl-bespectacled Emma Conklin, formerly innkeepers at Third House, were gracious hosts. The Inn was a hit with tycoons, dignitaries, and others, including Arthur Conan Doyle, Oscar Hammerstein, and Guglielmo Marconi.
By 1926, however, it was the visions of Carl Fisher that loomed most on the horizon. Engineers and surveyors were using the Montauk Inn as a headquarters and lodging while preparing for or actually executing Fisher’s grand development of Montauk – dynamiting an opening in Lake Wyandanee to create Montauk Harbor and establish a yacht club there, installing piers for a dock in Fort Pond Bay, building housing for construction workers, erecting a seven-story office building – and, of course, breaking ground for Montauk Manor, a luxurious 778-room hotel almost exactly where the Montauk Inn was standing.
When the Montauk Inn burned to the ground the night of April 29, 1926, Fisher’s men sprang to action, rescuing invaluable maps, blueprints, and plans at the expense of their personal belongings. They also rescued a ham, with which they made sandwiches the next morning for a reporter from the East Hampton Star. Two men, they said, had been able to remove a heavy safe from the blaze that later required eight men to hoist.
“They had been to a party and I guess felt pretty strong,” the reporter was told. “They must drink good stuff.”
Before the embers at the Inn were fully extinguished, a temporary headquarters had been established at the F.W. Parsons General Store in the village: “Office of the Montauk Beach Development Corporation, the Carl G. Fisher properties,” the sign said.
“By 9 o’clock the workers were already making telephone and other connections and the rest of the morning was spent in putting things into ship-shape condition,” the Star reported a week later. “Fisher’s Organization ‘Carrying On’ As Usual.”