Key to Point O’Woods

Key to Point O’Woods

By Shoshanna McCollum


At summer’s end in 2002, a disgruntled nanny approached my husband in a bar and sold him her spare key to the Point O’ Woods gate for $10. Based on how highly Point O’Woods residents value their privacy, I suspected any effort to locate an actual POW resident willing to write about their community for this issue would have been met with polite refusals. However Point O’ Woods holds too pivotal a place in this island’s genesis to simply be ignored, so the job fell to me – and why not me? After all I hold the key.

A Brief History

My history with Point O’Woods began months before I ever set foot on Fire Island. It started in the winter of 1994 when I checked out a book, entitled “Fire Island: 1650s-1980s” by Madeline Johnson, from Queens Public Library. I was researching for a job interview on Fire Island at someplace called Ocean Beach Historical Society. While I read other books on the subject as well, this was the title I kept returning to. Through her book I had a solid picture of the island, but it was her descriptions of Point O’Woods that were painted most vividly.

What a strange turn of events when only months later I not only landed the job, but was calling Ms. Johnson on the telephone to order books for the gift shop. I can still see her husband dropping a small pile of them off, with a neatly written invoice inside the top one in the stack. People would stop by that gallery often to chat, and I was their captive audience. Some spoke of “Woodies,” and all this talk about some “fence.” Seemed a little unkind. The Point O’Woods folks who sometimes came by seemed pleasant, soft-spoken, and often smartly dressed.

Fast forward some six years later and I was several years married and living year-round on Fire Island. The summer of 2000 was when I got my first newspaper column. My husband convinced me to put some of my news column earnings towards a used Sears & Roebuck adult tricycle. That vintage trike had a steel frame and was solid as a tank. I rode all over the place on that thing. In my travels that fall I noticed that the “fire-gate” to the POW fence was open. I discovered their general store, as well as their thrift shop! In subsequent trips I returned often just to hear the hum of insects, smell the lush foliage, and admire the elegant dignity of their houses with high rooftop peaks. This was a corner of Fire Island that had not been ruined, and that can’t be said for all parts of this island unfortunately.

Although I had been frequenting Point O’Woods for some time before we came into ownership of the illicit key, it still became a prized possession as well as a guarded secret. Sometimes a self-invited houseguest of ours would ask if I’d lend them the key, a request I always flatly refused. “Problem is if you fumble at the gate and the key is confiscated, it will be very hard to forgive you,” was my standard response. Rarely did anyone make that request twice.


In the year 2010, life once again took a strange turn as I found myself signing a contract to write my own book about Fire Island. Again I was sitting in the Queens Library’s Long Island room doing research. Going through their Fire Island picture files, I saw silver-gelatin prints of a great hotel called Gerard House that stood in Point O’Woods, which burnt to the ground in 1909. The image of people combing through the debris in that picture still sends chills up my spine when I think of it.

A few Point O’Woods residents offered me assistance preparing the book, but always under the condition of anonymity. One was kind enough to buy me lunch at their country club, a place I never thought I would get to dine. I still have the logo-printed paper napkin band in a keepsake box.

A woman in the audience of one of the libraries I spoke at shortly after the book was released asked if I thought the Point O’Woods fence was “wrong” during the question and answer period.

“It’s a private community Madame,” I answered hoping to move to the next question quickly, but she was persistent. “It’s still part of a national park, how dare they!” “The fence has been up a lot longer than Fire Island has been a national park,” I answered. “That’s their lifestyle choice.”

A few months after Hurricane Sandy, I had the difficult task of writing Madeline Johnson’s obituary for the publication I was working with at the time. “Your book was right by her bedside at the hospital,” her daughter-in-law Kathryn told me over the phone.

My heart sank when I learned my key had become obsolete this summer – replaced by a computerized fob! However perhaps it was time to let it go. We had a good run with it over the past 12 years. Now it too will be set-aside in that keepsake box, along with a paper napkin ring.

Yes Point O’Woods has train tracks. The demure rail-line once moved luggage across the community. Today it is only operated for ceremonial purposes.