Lake Ronkonkoma has long been a recreational and cultural touchstone for many Long Islanders. Bordering the three towns of Brookhaven, Islip, and Smithtown, the Lake has served the community for decades with summer recreation, rich local history, and natural beauty.
One of the mainstays of the Lake was none other than the Bavarian Inn, which stood for nearly one hundred years on the northern shore of Lake Ronkonkoma off Lake Shore Road. The Inn was originally called “Ronkonkoma Shores” when constructed in the 1930s as a seasonal business that served concessions and provided access to the beach.
In 1939, German immigrants William Huber and Rudolf Lipponer purchased the property and began offering locker rooms and canoe rentals in addition to beach access and food and beverages.
In 1955, the business was renamed to “The Bavarian Inn” as the business shifted its seasonal recreational focus to one of year-round dining and catering. The building was later expanded and could accommodate seating for 140 people or catering parties of 400.
Over the years, the Inn fought many battles with the Lake’s perennial tides and rising waters. In 2007, the property was flooded and was forced to close. The Inn sat for several years thereafter, a blighted, dilapidated property that became a hotbed for graffiti, criminal activity, and homelessness.
In 2012, Suffolk County purchased the property, and in 2013, the building was razed. The property sat vacant for years as questions swirled around the land’s future.
Today, the former parking lot is an open field with young trees and new benches, as well as access to the beach.
Legislator Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset) sponsored legislation that was unanimously approved by all eighteen County Legislators that would rename the property “The Bavarian Shores,” in honor of the long-beloved, legendary property. A gathering held on Saturday, November 4, not only included a slate of local elected officials, including County Executive Steve Bellone (D-West Babylon), who signed the bill into law on site, but also former employees of the Bavarian Inn.
“The first thing you notice when you walk up here is noticing the beauty we have,” said Executive Bellone. “It’s always been an extraordinary spot and one of the best we have in the region. There was a period of time when some of the things surrounding the Lake did not reflect the beauty we see now. When we razed the building ten years ago, there was sadness in the community because of the memories attached to the Bavarian Inn. But that building coming down was the beginning of something new, and a lot of the change that’s happened has been community-driven. Today’s legislation reflects and pays tribute to the history of this place, but also helps communicate rebirth. What’s coming is still to be determined, but I’m excited to see what happens here. This is a place that’s been really special to the community and it will continue to be so in the future.”
Legislator Kennedy, the bill’s sponsor, said that while “two people can’t agree on anything,” it was “miraculous” how three towns cooperated to revitalize the land.
“We are standing on land that has hosted hundreds of weddings, communions, confirmations, birthdays, and holiday parties since 1939,” said Kennedy. “This is a community area that we have all loved. I hope this always stays a park and that we make it into one of the best parks available. I love driving by and seeing people fishing and boating.”
Kennedy also mentioned that the son of the original owner lives in California but could not attend Saturday’s naming of the park. She said that he is “thrilled” that the land has been preserved.
“As long as I’m alive, I’m taking care of this, even if I’m not in office,” Kennedy vowed.
Islip Town Supervisor Angie Carpenter (R-West Islip) also gave her remarks.
“It’s always an exciting day when we preserve history,” said Carpenter. “My memories of the Inn are coming here every year for their annual Salvation Army Kettle Drive kickoff luncheon. Having that ‘Bavarian’ name for Bavarian Shores is a great tribute to the family that ran the Inn for so many years. It’s miraculous how the community, multiple levels of government, and the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) came together to get this done. This seemed to be impossible, but it happened because of the community members here today.”
New York State Senator Dean Murray (R-East Patchogue) discussed how well-known the Inn was and how salient an issue the remediation of the property has been across Long Island.
“I’m thrilled that this is new territory for me [in my district],” said Murray. “But understand that this is not in a bubble; this location is iconic. People from all over come to Lake Ronkonkoma. Listening to the history of this location is interesting, but the future is a new beginning. The credit really goes to you [the community] for your efforts and your caring for your area. I’m excited that this is a mixture of the old with the brand new; there’s a great future ahead.”
Assemblyman Doug Smith (R-Holbrook) said: “The reality is, the attitude of every single person here has been ‘let’s get it done,’ and that continues today. It’s a refreshing day to see government come together and see something come to fruition. This is not the end, this is the beginning. With the incoming Lake Keeper position to maintain Lake Ronkonkoma, it’s only going to get better as the years go on.”
Matt Balkam, co-founder of the Lake Ronkonkoma Improvement Group (LRIG), thanked members of the community who were instrumental in the revitalization of Lake Ronkonkoma, but also mentioned several others whose history and involvement with the property deserved recognition, including a late friend and former employee of the Inn.
All speakers were sure to credit Evelyn Volgraff, co-founder of LRIG, for her years-long passion for the cleanup of the Lake and her tenacity in herding community leaders and elected officials to contribute to the project.
The bill was signed into law on site by Executive Bellone and the new sign bearing the name of the shore and the history of the Bavarian Inn was unveiled. The sign was designed by Darryl Walsh of Walsh Signs.
At the entrance to the property from the Lake Ronkonkoma County Park driveway was the original wooden Bavarian Inn sign. Faded and chipped, the sign sat for photos before being transferred to a local museum.