Carl G. Fisher House
CNPHS Historic Recognition Program
Carl G. Fisher (1874-1939)
By Ross Lumpkin, Trustee
Carl Fisher was a kid from Indiana who quit school when he was 12 years old. It didn’t take long for his adventuresome, entrepreneurial spirit to reveal itself. He opened a bicycle repair shop in Indianapolis, and within fifteen years, had become a wealthy man. He was said to be the first person in that city to own a car, and in 1904, he set a speed record in a 2-mile race. He invented an automobile headlight. He was the visionary behind the Lincoln Highway for east-west travel and the Dixie Highway for north-south travel. He built the Indianapolis Speedway that in 1915 drew 15,000 paying spectators to that city to see what later became “the greatest tradition in racing,” the Indy 500.
At one time, he was estimated to be worth as much as 100 million dollars, more than enough to indulge his new interest in racing boats, so he could contract with Consolidated Shipbuilding to have Gil and Ned Purdy build him a yacht every year or so. In 1914 he liked them enough to hire them away from Consolidated and set them up as the Purdy Boat Company, with an office on the infield of his speedway, an unlikely place to build a boat.
His greatest success came as real estate developer. On one of his sailing trips, he ventured around Key West and up the Atlantic Coast to a little town called Miami, which at that time was surrounded by swampland. Carl imagined a beach resort and relocated there. He filled in the swamp, built a bridge, hotels, homes, and a golf course - and Miami Beach was born. In spite of his wealth, his wife Jane said it was never about the money for Carl, he just “loved to make the dirt fly!”, as he was fond of saying. Indeed, the money would fly out of his hands as quickly as it flew in.
In 1922, he came to Port Washington for a summer vacation, and, like so many others before and after him, decided to stay. He had started to work on another visionary development for a “Miami Beach of the North” at Montauk on the east end of Long Island. Once again, he was clearing and shaping the land, building luxurious homes and hotels, but the development never came to fruition. He had financed Montauk Manor using the Miami Beach development as collateral, and when, in 1926, a horrific hurricane crippled the Florida coast, his funding dried up. Creditors began knocking on his door.
In spite of these problems, he was productive in Port Washington throughout the 1920s. He purchased property between the Manhasset Bay and Port Washington Yacht Clubs. He built a home for himself and his wife Jane on the northern end that doubled as station for yachts to link Manhattan and Montauk. He brought the Purdys with him to Port, and set up shop for them on the southern side of his property. He began building 45 “restricted homes for millionaires” in a development he named Bayview Colony. Considering the size of his Miami and Montauk developments, the wonderful Bayview Colony was the equivalent of a “divertissement” at a four-star French restaurant..
The Great Depression sealed his fate. Fortunately for Port Washington, he had transferred ownership of Purdy Boat Company to the Purdy Brothers who continued to build world class boats here until 1950. His former home in Bayview Colony has been lovingly restored, and awarded a historical distinction plaque from the Cow Neck Peninsula Historical Society.