It hangs quietly on the wall inside the Shelter Island Historical Society’s barn, an advertisement for a lost period of the Island’s past.
The now faded billboard is a vintage ad for The New Prospect Hotel, once the biggest hotel establishment on the island. With 160 rooms, it was the destination for many visiting the East End of Long Island.
An article in The New York Times states that it was built in 1872 in the Shelter Island Heights district. The hotel was originally named The Prospect House and quickly became the social center of the Island.
The Times article described the hotel as a first-class establishment.
“It had a full orchestra which played at both lunch and dinner. There was a formal dinner dance every Saturday night. There was now a cocktail lounge and a beauty parlor and barber shop. Tea was served on the veranda in the afternoon, and lunch was also available on the upper floor of the Beach Club. The hotel management prided itself on its reputation for the very finest cuisine and gracious service,” the article reads.
The Times detailed how the hotel began to fall into disrepair in the beginning of the 20th century, but was later renovated. In 1923 it was damaged in a fire, but was repaired and re-opened as the New Prospect Hotel in 1924.
The giant billboard was created some time between 1924 and 1942, according to members of the Shelter Island Historical Society.
“It was most likely built in the early 1930s,” said Archivist Rebecca Plock. “It originally stood at the end of the road located right off of the North Ferry on the Shelter Island side.”
Ferry passengers arriving from Greenport would have immediately been greeted by the more-than-five-foot-tall advertisement as they disembarked.
From what now remains the sign reads the following: New Prospect Hotel, Shelter Island Heights, 4-1/2 miles Route 114, The Outstanding Resort Hotel of Long Island on the Bay, First Class Accomodations.
The Times article goes on to describe how the hotel went on to survive the Roaring 20s, the Great Depression and even the early years of World War II. Then in the summer of 1942, just before it was scheduled to open for the summer season, another fire broke out in the middle of the night.
Eighteen guests and 60 employees had to be evacuated. While no one was seriously injured, the main part of the hotel was destroyed.
Volunteer firemen were able to save an annex of the hotel, but without a kitchen, it could not re-open. Efforts to rebuild and/or sell the annex were unsuccessful and it was soon torn down. What happened to the sign after that remains a mystery.
It wasn’t until the 1980s that the sign resurfaced, according to the Shelter Island Historical Society. It was discovered and rescued from the dump by Walter Cole Brigham Junior.
Brigham Jr. was the son of Shelter Island artist Walter Cole Brigham, who is best known for his innovative work with stained glass using transparent shells, pebbles and beach glass and for his pulp magazine illustrations. An example of Brigham’s stained glass work can be seen at the Union Chapel in the Grove on Shelter island.
The New Prospect Hotel billboard was eventually brought to the Historical Society where it has been kept ever since. The site where the hotel once stood is now a park.