What was Fire Island like before the summer people took over? Frank Turano, a professor of environmental history at Stony Brook University, the island's 19th-century sensibility was about as far from today’s sun and sand ethos as can be expected. “In the 19th century,” he says, this was a place of sorrow, known mostly for its shipwrecks."

Turano, who is working on a documentary about the island, will give a talk May 20 titled “100 Years on Fire Island, 1850-1950” as part of the Huntington Historical Society’s lecture series.

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With the end of the Civil War, he says, there was the rise of the middle class. “They were trying to emulate the upper classes, with their summer retreats. So, you had the rise of the boarding houses,” which continued into the 20th century.

Middle-class families would move out to the beach for a week or two, says Turano. In fact, he says, vacations like this were so popular that the 5 p.m. boat from Bay Shore was called the "Daddy Boat."

As far as real estate mania is concerned -- that probably started around the turn of the last century. “Around World War I,” says Turano, “you could buy a strip of land running from the bay to the ocean for about $500 -- 50 cents a foot.”

What does Turano see as the future? He points to Cherry Grove as a place where changes are imminent. “The Grove is probably the most reasonably priced real estate on the beach,” he says. “A lot of Yuppies -- for lack of a better word -- are moving in. The Grove as it existed in 1980 has maybe another 25 years to go before it will be a completely different place.”

The lecture begins at 1:30 pm at 2 High St. in Huntington. Admission is $5 for non-members. Call 631-427-7045, ext. 403 for reservations.

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Newsday photo / Michael E. Ach