In 2012, Hurricane Sandy washed down three houses on the east side and severely damaged many more. Fires are the island’s biggest threat. Two neighboring homes burned to the ground in a winter lightning storm in 2018, when no one was on the island. The island is serviced by the Babylon Fire Department and an operational pump truck is housed mid-island and can be pushed down the boardwalk or loaded onto a boat to reach a fire, but its “first responders” are those nearest the blaze. The island includes three automated external defibrillators. To reach the closest hospital takes between 20 and 40 minutes, including a boat and car ride. Each household has an air horn to signify a fire or medical emergency.
Leisure activities naturally revolve around the water: fishing, clamming, and sailing are favorite pastimes. Cocktail hour is cherished. Ms. Rexrode, the great-granddaughter of Pennsylvania farmers, is one of the few on the island who successfully maintains a garden, sharing her harvest with neighbors. Based on anecdotes from islanders, that kind of generosity is reflexive here.
“You see someone with a full boat, you go and help unload,” Ms. Liddle said. “If a boat is submerged, you pull it out, bail it out. You don’t say anything, you just do it.”
Technically Mid-Atlantic, there is a touch of New England reserve here, a kind of Yankee perseverance where descriptions of taking up the boardwalk each summer to prevent frost heave and carting over refrigerators in a skiff are relayed with quiet pride. Many of the homeowners, like Ms. Liddle, who lives in Albany, originally come from nearby Babylon. Others have winter homes in warmer climates.
The homeowners diverge when it comes to income, professions and politics. However, according to some residents who said controversy is sidestepped, the island leans conservative.
“We agree to disagree, then we talk about something else that will make us much happier,” Ms. Ellis said.
There is a shared distaste for showiness and pretense.
“It would be ludicrous to try to be pretentious on Oak Island because you can’t go anywhere once you are here,” said Alanna Heiss, the founder of MoMA PS1. She and her husband, Fred Sherman, a litigator, scanned the classifieds of newspapers for many years before finding their vintage cottage. “You can only socialize through friendship,” Ms. Heiss added.