In those muggy, unbearable summer days of the 70s, Suffolk Country residents packed the family into the car and made their way southbound on William Floyd Parkway to Smith Point. Waiting for them – soft and sandy beach, an iconic snack bar, and the cool, soothing Atlantic Ocean.
The largest of the Suffolk County Parks, Smith’s Point was, of course, named after the mayor of Tangier in Morocco. No, seriously.
His name was William “Tangier” Smith, an Englishman who, along with becoming the mayor of Tangier, was also an early settler of New York, and, in 1701, an acting Governor of New York. He owned 50 miles worth of the southern coast of Long Island, and as a result, had this beautiful County Park named after him.
Getting to Smith Point (and yes, it is technically called “Smith Point.” not Smith’s Point), means heading over a two-lane drawbridge, commissioned in 1955 and opened on July 4th, 1959. That’s the day the gateway to the Atlantic opened to millions of Long Islanders who have called Smith Point their preferred summer retreat for nearly six decades.
Once you cross the bridge, you follow the pathway under one of two concrete tunnels that lead to the actual boardwalk and beach area. And, if you didn’t scream your lungs out in these tunnels as a kid, you missed out. One of the joys of a childhood summer on Long Island.
Sitting next to the beach, a weathered establishment called the Beach Hut stood ready to handle all of your food, drink and snack needs. No trip to the beach was complete without stopping by for an Italian Ice. Back in the day, there was something special about getting a cheap cheeseburger and fries or ice cream cone or cold soda and trudging back to your towel in the sand to enjoy under the sun, then jumping back into the water to rinse the sand off afterwards. I spend many a summer’s day doing precisely that, and loved every minute of it.
Much has happened at Smith Point since those dog days of the 70s summers. One event in particular made Smith Point a well known place all over the world. A horrific tragedy occurred in July of 1996, when TWA flight 800 crashed just 14 miles from the beach, killing everyone aboard. Today, a beautiful memorial sits at Smith Point, in tribute to all 230 passengers and crew that perished that night.
Years later, natural disaster struck Smith Point. In 2012, the sheer devastation of Hurricane Sandy created three nearby breaches, one of them inside Smith Point County Park, that caused major erosion to the beloved beach. Thankfully, the Army Corp of Engineers are making good strides in helping to rehabilitate the beach back to its former glory.
Did you spend your childhood 70s summers at Smith’s Point? If so, maybe we waited in line at the Beach Hut together, or stood knee-deep in our cutoffs near each other as we acclimated to the water temperature. The funny thing is, you never know. I’d love to hear your own memories of your summers at Smith Point in our comments section below.