A chance meeting, a coin flip and a dollar bill 40 years ago helped Port Jefferson officials buy the land that became the village golf course.
Village officials have named the park land on which the Port Jefferson Country Club is located after Harold J. Sheprow, the former mayor whose quick thinking helped save the property from falling into the hands of developers.
“It’s a bit of a surprise,” Sheprow, 87, said in a telephone interview before the ceremony Monday afternoon. “I love it. It gives you a really good feeling.”
Sheprow, a retired Grumman flight test manager, served two stints as Port Jefferson’s mayor, first from 1977 to 1985, then from 1987 to 1991. His 12 years in office make him the village’s longest-serving mayor.
He said village officials became alarmed in 1977 when real estate mogul Norman K. Winston died, leaving his 200-acre Port Jefferson estate in the hands of trustees in Manhattan. Sheprow feared the property, which included a private country club, would be developed as a housing complex.
At a family barbecue in New Jersey, Sheprow had a chance meeting with his wife’s cousin, who knew the Winston estate trustees. The cousin arranged a meeting between the trustees and village officials at a corporate office in Manhattan.
“We went into this absolutely marvelous-looking board room,” Sheprow said. “I’m sure to them we looked like a couple of hayseeds coming from the East End.”
Village officials explained they wanted to buy the Winston property, Sheprow said. He said he told the trustees the village would lease the property for $1 until a public referendum could be held.
“I took a dollar out of my pocket and said, ‘Here’s the lease right here,’ ” Sheprow said. “We signed the dollar.”
They held a coin flip to decide who would hold the dollar. “We flipped and I won,” Sheprow said. He still has that dollar bill.
In 1978, village residents approved the estate purchase for $2.9 million. The village created two beaches at the former estate.
Sheprow said the purchase raised village taxes an average of $50 per household, but the average home increased about $5,000 in market value.
Current Mayor Margot J. Garant said Sheprow was “way ahead of his time” for recognizing the country club’s potential value to the village. “Hal had an interesting way of bringing people together to solve problems,” she said.
Sheprow said he was proud of many things he accomplished as Port Jefferson’s mayor, but the country club purchase topped them all.
“This one was kismet, because of the number of things that happened,” he said. “I fell into the mud and came out smelling like a rose.”
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story had an incorrect age for Harold J. Sheprow.