"The special thing about North Haven is everyone knows you by name and you’re not going to find that anywhere else."
My name is Jeanette Sanger and I'm 72 and I've been coming to North Haven since 1963.
My parents bought the house when I was 17. So that was the first summer I spent there and I loved it from the first moment I went there.
When I was a junior I kind of liked where I was in boarding school, but I liked going there in my mind, just knowing that North Haven was there waiting for me was important, as it still is.
Sitting here talking to you, picture North Haven in the background and, you know, it really is probably the most beautiful place I've ever been in my life. And my husband and I travel all over and then we'll come home and we'll say, North Haven is more beautiful than any place we've been.
Well, my parents had been trying out different communities and so we spent one–two summers in Fisher's Island, which I hated because everyone was already formed into cliques there. And, also, it was all about your linen shorts and your McMullen blouses and all of that.
And I loved the fact that when we got to North Haven [we could] wear whatever we wanted and people seemed very inclusive and didn't matter that I didn't play tennis or golf. People seemed to accept other people the way they are.
My mother liked Fisher's Island because it was fun for her and social and lots of cocktail parties and my father really yearned for someplace that was more isolated. And I remember sitting on the beach with him and he would be looking out at the lights at New London and he was saying he'd really much rather be further away where he couldn't see those distant lights so closely.
He and my mother looked at North Haven and the house was so falling down that they decided not to get it. And then, my grandmother went to see it with them and thought it would make a wonderful family house. So, they bought the house and spent about a year rebuilding it, decorating it. A woman named Sister Parrish came over who was quite a famous decorator and she did the White House, she worked for Jackie Onassis. And she did a beautiful job.
I loved it. I hadn't ever attached to a summer spot before. Also, loved the property and the house it was so big you could just go exploring in it and find different parts.
Oh, it was so beautiful. And for the first time I had a room with my own bathroom. I was the oldest, and still am, the oldest girl of five. So, I looked at all the bedrooms and this was a big bedroom and the main selling point was that it had its own bathroom. And then I got to pick out beautiful flowered wallpaper for the walls. And I just loved it.
And we also had a heated pool, which was a great lure for our friends. So, they liked to come hang out at our property because we had the pool. They would play touch football on our landing strip and then my younger sisters would make brownies and bring them out to everyone after the games. I just remember it totally happily.
Well, that summer, when I was 17, I had to go to sailing class, so that took up part of the time. But then, we would meet friends and go have a picnic or people might come over to our house and go swimming. I just remember drifting through these wonderful summer days. And, at that age, your summer seems to go on forever. And the days seem very long in a wonderful way.
We had a wonderful group of friends. It was from about 13 to 18 or 19 and we all hung out together. And Nick Heyl used to play the guitar and we’d sing and we had treasure hunts that my father and other parents created, so we would be driving all over the island looking for different things to bring back. I just remember it as a wonderful haze of beach picnics and swimming and meeting nice people, making friends.
We had two horses on the island and my sisters and I would go riding around the property, galloping around the property on the horses. And I wasn't a particularly good rider, so it's amazing I survived. My sister, Olive, very good rider. She set up jumps and I was learning how to jump on the horse. My sister Olive had a beautiful thoroughbred horse called, I think his name was Corwin, thoroughbred gorgeous. And then my father got this horse named Stormy for me and others to ride around in. And Stormy sort of lived up to his name. He wasn't that obedient. But, still, it was a lot of fun to have the horse. And I remember one day my sister Lucinda and I thought it would be very funny if we rode downtown on our horses. So, we rode downtown and walked around and no one seemed to care or notice that we'd ridden down. So then, we rode back home but it was a great adventure, anyway.
Oh, and then another great person I loved was Elsie Morrison. I don't know if you knew her. But Elsie used to be my parents’ laundress. She would come one day a week and she used to tell me wonderful stories about the island and what it was like, and when the Great Impostor taught school there and when he got arrested. And I would just hang onto her every word. And then later we stayed in touch and I would invite her over with Clare Brown, Jimmy, our caretaker's, wife and they both would reminisce about the big house and when the King and Queen of Thailand visited and what it was like. So, they had they had lots of great stories to tell.
Leta I'm wondering what it was like bringing Alex to the island.
Jeannette Yeah, well it was really a big deal because my first husband hadn't liked it. I wanted my family to like Alex, my sisters and my brother. And then I wanted him to be able to fit into the community.
Alex's first weekend in North Haven, this was kind of the North Haven test. Would people like him? Would he like it? And it turned out he was great. He did everything. He sailed. He played tennis. He played golf. He cooked. And he and a friend of mine cooked dinner one night and he wanted to do a butterflied leg of lamb. Well, of course, asking Franklin for a butterflied leg of lamb–but so Alex deftly butterflied the lamb himself, grilled it, served it with some wonderful yogurt sauce that he made.
But he loved it. He loved it. He just fit right in. I was so lucky because his family went to Fisher's Island. And I was so grateful that he didn't want to go there and that he was happy to come spend time in Maine.
So, it was a very easy transition. And Alex and I have been married now nearly 40 years.
Lewis would have, every Sunday, he would serve coffee, if you came. And made pie and you could get pie. And then, he would sit and he would just talk and then everyone would say, oh, Lewis, tell us the story about this and the story about that. And it was very, very interesting.
And then I would hear amazing stories and that was always a mixture of island people and summer people. And he had incredible stories to tell about his life on North Haven and he said that, somehow, he and my father got to be friends. So, Daddy invited him to come up in his little planes. And then Lewis was pointing out his son in the lobster boat. So, they went down in the plane, they zoomed the plane, they went away. And the son came back and said, some fool–and then Lewis said, that with me and Tom Watson.
It used to be, I was much more insulated from the island because my father had a plane that would leave from Westchester every Friday afternoon and fly back Sunday, so I could fly my friends up there. And then I thought, maybe this was 15 years ago, there are some really nice people in North Haven, I'd like to get to know them. So, my friend Joyce Moss started a book club as an excuse for me to make friends on the island. So, I did, I started meeting people. And the best was when we met the Davids because suddenly I was taken into this whole community and I met island people and summer people and that was when it really–the life became much more fluid than it had.
Being on the board of the library was wonderful because then I felt like I was more part of the community. Well, and Alex has gotten very involved in Waterman's. So, we're much more–we feel part of the community than an isolated person staying out on their property. We have so many great friends on North Haven.
It's so wonderful on the island because you don't have a lot of formal parties but it's a party just walking down the main street because it's like a cocktail party. I could run into four people and have a really nice little [conversations] or going to the grocery store. And Alex loves to go to the grocery store because he gets in all these conversations. I don't like it as much as he does but if I'm lonely then I go to the grocery store and have nice conversations.
I mean, of course, the special thing about North Haven is everyone knows you by name and you're not going to find that anywhere else.
In North Haven people aren't really judged, it seems to me, by how much money they have or how big their house is. It seems as though there are a different set of values. And it's more about the person's fundamental character. And I think, it seems to me, very good values in North Haven.
Photos courtesy of the Sanger & Watson families