In 1869, Archie Perkinson bought a mile of East End beach for 25 cents a foot and moved himself and his wife into a cabin whose former owner was a bloodthirsty pirate. Noting the predominance of wild cherry trees in his new domain, Perkinson named the area “Cherry Grove.” Today, the community is known not for its foliage, but for the openly gay lifestyle embraced by the majority of its residents.
By 1960, Cherry Grove had become the summer capital of the gay world, its reputation worldwide. Duffy’s Hotel, built in 1930, the only place with electricity and a phone, was the center of social life, drawing visitors and residents who dined and danced to the melodies provided by a nickelodeon.
The fierce pride of Cherry Grove residents is manifested in their deep involvement in community affairs. The Cherry Grove Property Owners Association is among the most active on the island and its meetings in the century-old, landmark Community House are well-attended.
The spirit is best embodied by the Arts Project of Cherry Grove, an organization now entering its fifth decade. Drawing solely from a pool of talented residents and visitors, the APCG sponsors three top-notch productions each season. Both the APCG and the CGPOA put the revenue from their fundraising events back into the community renovating the Community House, painting boardwalks, shoring up the dunes and subsidizing the community doctor.
Another force in the community is the Fire Department, which offers Casino nights every year. This event includes a Vegas-style revue, poker, blackjack and wheels of fortune, drawing high rollers from all over the island.
Drag and other forms of dressing up are popular practices in fun-loving Cherry Grove. Afternoon theme parties, the annual crowning of the (usually male) HomecomingQueen, and the yearly Invasion of the Pines are among almost weekly events.
Grove homes run the gamut, from early FI A-Frames to the double-decked wonders of the eastern end of Bay Walk. The house “Cielo E Mar” features a stately European courtyard with an 1890’s gazebo facing the bay. Its neighbor, Belvedere, is a veritable Venetian palazzo. Narrow elevated walks wend their way through more modest wooden frame houses whose owners have created wonderful, well-tended gardens.
The Grove developed slowly, populated mostly by mainland families, until the 1938 hurricane left many unwilling to build. The Grove began attracting rich and famous Manhattanities such as Garbo, Xavier Cougat, Paulette Goddard, Pola Negri, Arlene Francis and Earl Blackwell, who produced the first Arts Project show.
The growth of the Grove as a world-renowned gay resort and was perhaps heralded by the arrival at a party of Christopher Isherwood and W.H. Auden dressed as Dionysus and Ganymede, carried aloft on a gilded litter by a group of singing followers.