Author and historian Amy Folk discusses ‘Plum Island: A World Unto Itself’


Each week reporter and history-lover Mariana Dominguez visits a historical location on the South Shore or attends a historical lecture. This week she attended a lecture presented by the Islip Library and the Historical Society of Islip Hamlet.


I was very excited to attend this week’s event because it was on a topic that fascinates many people, including myself. Author and historian Amy Folk Zoomed into the Islip Library to talk about the history of Plum Island and the book she co-wrote, “Plum Island: A World Unto Itself.” The book was also written with Ruth Ann Bramson and Geoffrey K. Fleming. Plum Island is located at the very eastern end of Long Island in the Long Island Sound. If you ever take a trip to Connecticut on the Cross Sound Ferry, you will be able to see the island.

Something that I did not know about Plum Island and the other small islands surrounding it, such as Great Gull Island is that it is a dangerous place for vessels. Folk explained that the waters from the Long Island Sound rush past the island when the tide changes, and over the years there have been hundreds of shipwrecks. Because of the number of shipwrecks in the area, the Plum Island lighthouse was built in 1827.

During the late 19th and early 20th century, when leisure activities and vacationing were becoming big in the American consciousness, many people went to Plum Island to enjoy the sunshine. Folk showed a photo of visitors outside the now gone Smoke Pipe Clubhouse that was on the shore of the island facing Orient Point. She noted that President Grover Cleveland enjoyed fishing around the waters of the island. The New York Yacht Club Regatta also held their events in the area.

In 1897, Fort Terry was established on Long Island along with a chain of other forts in the area. The fort was completed by 1913. Folk described that the fort was designed to be “a fort hiding in plain sight.” The overall site plans of the fort were created to resemble a village from a distance.

In 1952, with the federal government now owning the island, it was decided that Plum Island would be used as a research site for the Department of Agriculture and the Army Chemical Corps. Folk explained that the goal of the new animal disease lab was to combat animal diseases. The labs concentrated on foot and mouth disease in cattle. Folk noted that today, the lab has mostly reverted to its natural state with the lab only taking up one small corner of the island.

At the end of her presentation, Folk took questions, with some people asking about the rumors and speculation about the nefarious nature of Plum Island and the government buildings there. She explained that because of the tight security of the labs and the viruses they are dealing with, the rumors have grown. She noted, however, that throughout her reporting, which included visits to the island, she discovered nothing of the sort.


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