The Baxter Homestead
In early April, 1904, local photographer John Witmer set up his view camera in the middle of Shore Road. A large dark cloth covered his head as well as the back of the camera so that he could carefully frame and focus his lens on the old Baxter Homestead, their family farm, and the edge of Baxter’s Ice Pond. A couple was approaching, walking up Shore Road, about to enter the left edge of the carefully composed scene, so Witmer had no time to lose. Once the couple walked into his frame, John Witmer clicked the shutter, and captured this scene for us to view 111 years later.
To truly enjoy John Witmer’s photograph greatly enlarged, click here!
John Witmer was well aware of the rich history surrounding the Baxter property. Long before the Baxter family purchased the property in the mid 1700’s, this had been the site of a thriving Matinecock Indian village. A home had been built on the property by Robert Hutchings and John Betts in the late 1600’s, and about 1742 the property was purchased by Oliver Baxter who established a fullering business to serve the few hundred people who lived in town, then known as Cow Neck.
During the American Revolution, the British hired more than 18,000 Hessian soliders from Germany, posting them throughout the American colonies, eventually to fight alongside the Brits against the American colonists. The Hessian mercenaries often occupied rooms in local homes, including the Baxter House and the Dodge House, both situated near the water and the center of town. Most American, those loyal to King George and those favoring independence, feared the Hessian soldiers, who had reputations for brutality second only to actual British soldiers. Having them living in your home in 1776 was not a welcome circumstance, to put it mildly.
John Witmer had heard these distant stories of early Cow Neck. The Baxter family had been been involved in many trades over the previous century, as whalers, shipbuilders, fullers, blacksmiths and other trades of the era. Ida Baxter had been the village’s third postmaster, working out of the nearby McKee’s General Store, at the Mill Pond. Just a decade before, in 1895, the State of New York had chartered the town’s first library, where townspeople could meet, read, take out books, all in the parlor of the Baxter house. A few years after Witmer took these photographs the house was purchased by noted American architect Addison Mizner (1872 - 1933) who created homes and resorts in a Spanish Colonial Revival style as well as Mediterranean Revival style largely in Florida. He realized the importance of historic tradition, and thus left the Baxter home largely unchanged.
Witmer photographed the Baxter house and property many time in April, May and June of 1904. He focused on the house, on the rolling farmland, and on the ice pond. Here are some of his most arresting images (all of which can be enlarged by clicking on them).
Here is a view of the Baxter Ice Pond, which had been formed in the mid 1800’s by damming up the stream that ran down through the property to the bay. “Baxter Estates” was still a few years in the future.
A rare view of the house from the north.
The last of the Baxters to live in the house sold it in the late 1890’s, before Witmer began photographing the area. Although the owner’s names in 1904 have been lost to history, Witmer was friendly with whomever he met, and captured more intimate views of the home and its inhabitants, including an exceptionally rare interior, shown below.
This photograph hints at the magnificent sunsets seen daily.
A rare interior photograph of the dining room of the Baxter House, April 1904.
Many other photographers photographed the area, of course, some of them with the intent to make postcards, which were extremely popular in the early 1900’s. Wherever people traveled, they often sent postcards off to family and friends, showing off their travels. Here is the most beautiful of the Baxter Pond cards, showing the rolling hills and farmland, before the 1910 development of Baxter Estates.
Here is a view of the newly created Baxter Estates, circa 1910, showing off the beautiful stone wall which survives into 2016.
In our final views of the developing hills of Baxter Estates, you can see children enjoying the frozen pond, which the people of Port Washington did until the early 1970’s, often referring to it as “The Duck Pond”. Central Drive appears to be in place, and additional roads are probably under development.
An enlarged section from the image above. The two houses on Central Drive are still there today!
The Baxter House
It is sad to say that the Baxter House today is willfully neglected. For several years, it has been allowed to deteriorate rapidly by an owner who doesn’t live there and who wants to divide the property into two pieces, building brand new house in what is now the back yard. It is also being allowed to happen by a Village who claims that there is little that they can do. In the parlance of those involved in historic home preservation, this is often referred to as Demolition by Neglect. Everyone voices concern, but little is done.
Take a look, see for yourself, and then consider our suggestions:
Several Baxter Estates residents have told us that if a village homeowner allows their lawn to grow wildly to an unkepmpt and unsightly state, the Village has the power to send in a crew to clean up the mess. The Village then sends the homeowner the bill. If that is so, why doesn’t the Village employ the same principle, and fix the roof, the gutters, the front porch?
This historic house has been allowed to deteriorate for many years. Water, time & temperature are its enemies. Water is seeping into the structure with every rainfall and as the temperature drops, the freezing rain, snow and ice will do tremendous damage. It can be prevented in one of two ways. Either fix the roof and the gutters or tarp the house. Blue construction tarps could be draped over the house for the remainder of the winter until the Village, the owner, and the residents of Baxter Estates come to a solution. Just do it. Waiting for more board meetings, more wringing of hands, month after month gives the rain and snow time to do affect their damage. Fix the house or tarp the house. Anything less is willful neglect of this iconic house from the colonial days of Cow Neck. Anything less makes the owner and the village accomplices in Demolition by Neglect.
There is nothing the historical society can do other than bringing this to everyone’s attention. This is up to the citizens of Port Washington to voice their opinions. So let your opinion be known!
Email the village your thoughts by sending them to
[Originally posted December 2015]
Picture the Port Washington Police Department’s building on Port Washington Boulevard. Now picture that spot almost 150 years earlier. Picture the Port Washington Police Department’s building on Port Washington Boulevard. Now picture that spot almost 150 years earlier. It’s 1869, four years after the Civil War ended. Four years after John Wilkes Booth, an actor and Confederate sympathizer, assassinated President Abraham Lincoln in Ford’s Theater, just 5 weeks after Lincoln delivered his second inaugural address.
250 miles north of Washington, D.C., the little village of Cow Neck had changed its name to Port Washington a dozen years earlier. Although the town was growing, there were fewer than 750 people living there, most of them involved in shell fishing or the brand new industry of sand mining.
This area was often referred to as Up-Neck, as opposed to the area north of Baxter Pond, which was Down-Neck, with the Down-Neck School overlooking the Mill Pond. By 1869 the Up-neckers needed a school of their own, and property was purchased from the Onderdonk family, who had extensive land holdings in town. By summer’s end, a new two-room schoolhouse was built, and named the Flower Hill School.
Interestingly, this was the second Flower Hill School--the first one had been built at the corner of Bogart and Port Washington Blvd. Very little is known of this structure and no photographs are known to exist. The term “Flower Hill” first appeared on local maps as the name of the cemetery behind the Post Office, usually referred to as the Monfort Cemetery. [The third Flower Hill School was on today’s Campus Drive, but that’s a story for another day.
By the end of the century, several additional rooms and a second floor had been added, to accommodate Port Washington’s population, which had reached 1200. Here is a beautiful view of the school, circa 1905 (again, on the spot where the Police Department is today).
For the first few decades of the 20th century, Port boasted three schools, the down neck Sands Point School overlooking the Mill Pond, the new Main Street School, and this Flower Hill School.
Sadly, after more than five decades of educating the youth of town, the beautiful little schoolhouse succumbed to an accidental fire. According to school superintendant Paul D. Schreiber, the janitor, William Allen, had been burning refuse when the fire got out of control and ignited some nearby kerosene. The fire quickly spread and burned the building beyond repair on June 24th, 1924. The school had served several generations of school children for 55 years.
(with an Abraham Lincoln tie-in)
The Port Washington Police Department has occupied this spot since 1955. Designed by architect Ted Davis and built by local contractors Pollock & Wysong, the 60-year-old building is thought by many to be far short of the town’s current needs. The original PW Police Department was established in 1921, and had no headquarters at all until a small brick building was erected in 1923. That quaint little structure still stands today, home of the Police Athletic League on lower Main Street in Sunset Park.
Before you virtually visit the spot today, allow me to circle back to Abraham Lincoln.
More than a decade ago, when the Ford’s Theater in Washington D.C. was expanding their amazing museum, they were reviewing the actual Lincoln material that they had on display, along with artifacts still locked in the vaults at the National Archives. Brooks Brothers had made the greatcoat that Lincoln was wearing on the night of his assassination. The greatcoat had been made especially for his second inauguration, and although it is preserved at the National Archives, it is blood stained and in poor condition. So the National Archives approached Brooks Brothers with a simple request: Would the company make an exact replica of the original, using the exact same weight of wool, the same thread count per inch, and even the same quilted silk lining, which shows a flying eagle and the words One Country, One Destiny? Brooks Brothers, the oldest clothier in the United States, was honored to make a perfect replica of this important piece of American history. So they made two. One is on display at Ford’s Theater in Washington D.C. The other is on display at our Sands-Willets House, as part of our Costume & Culture exhibition, on display through the end of February. Click here for more information and to buy tickets on-line. This is truly a world-class exhibition. Tours are limited in size and are selling-out regularly. Don’t miss this!
[Originally posted October 2015]
To grow up in Port Washington, once known as Cow Neck, was to grow up alongside Manhasset Bay. These days, most people who enjoy being “on the water” do so as a leisure activity, whether sailing, motor boating, kayaking, paddle-boarding, fishing or even the seemingly simple task of rowing a boat. On whatever craft one crisscrosses the bay, we should all be aware of the countless people who have been plying these waters for several hundred years, often for sport, yet more often just to make a living.
Shell fishing in the bay originally started in the 1830’s when Henry Cocks damned up part of today’s Sheet’s Creek, creating a pond in which he grew oysters. The new industry expanded over the ensuing decades, due to demand for such delicacies from New York City’s finest restaurants. By 1880 the majority of registered voters in Port (all men at the time) made their living tied to the shell fishing business. They were proudly known as clam diggers. Eventually a combination of pollution and over-fishing doomed the industry in the early part of the 20th century.
Just after the Civil War ended in 1865, when there were barely 200 people living in Port Washington, it was discovered that beneath the hills dotting our coastline was a fine grade of sand, perfectly suited to the making of cement. The local sand-mining business was born, and for more than 100 years, dozens of tugs and barges carrying “Cow Bay sand” were transported every day to a rapidly growing New York City.
The dawn of aviation had many local roots on Long Island, including seaplanes flying in and out of Manhasset Bay as early as 1913. By the late 1930’s, Pan American Airways had its major seaplane base on Manhasset Isle, flying the huge 4-engined Dixie Clippers to Bermuda and Europe.
Various yacht clubs sprung up along our shores, sometimes transplanted from other towns to our friendlier waters. Sailors poked fun at their “stink pot” motor boating counterparts, while camaraderie and endless good times were enjoyed by all lucky enough to belong. Ice boating and frostbiting kept the hardiest of members challenged during the winter months. Most of the clubs have survived to this day, though some, alas, have disappeared.
Knickerbocker Yacht Club
Manhasset Bay Yacht Club
Port Washington Yacht Club
The clamdiggers are long gone, as are the fishing boats that hauled in mussels, a dozen bushels at a time. When you sail, motor, kayak, or otherwise traverse the waters of Manhasset Bay, you do so in the wake of countless barges loaded to the gunnels with tons of Cow Bay sand, headed for a growing Manhattan. Try to picture the high-rolling travelers paying $11,000 per ticket, bound for Europe, boarding the huge floating Dixie Clipper near the Town Dock. We all have shared the same tides, high and low, and the history of the bay charts the story of our town.
[Originally posted September 2015]
With our Fall Country Fair coming up on Saturday, September 12th, we thought we’d revisit this very rare view of the historic Sands-Willets House, the home of the Cow Neck Peninsula Historical Society, when the new addition, added by one Edmund Willets, was only 20 years old, in the 1870s. The left side of the house (lower roof portion) is the original part of the house, the Sands portion, and the right side is the Willets portion.
There is no street in front of the house, of course, as the Willet’s property encompassed several dozen acres. Difficult to see without magnification is the horse & buggy & the mystery person in front of the Sands portion of the house (lower/smaller portion at the left):
Behind those windows, are the Hearth Kitchen and the Out Kitchen, both part of the Sands portion of the house. The Sands family has a fascinating relationship to one of the world’s finest clothing stores, Brooks Brothers, and which you’ll hear about NEXT month, big time. But for now…
[August 2015… a repeat from 2013]
Growing up in Port Washington in the 60’s and 70’s, it was always just "The Guggenheim Estate”. Although it had been built by Howard Gould, and reportedly modeled after the castles of Kilkenny, Ireland which had been visited on his honeymoon, the property was sold to Daniel Guggenheim in 1917. Daniel christened the 228 foot wide castle overlooking Long Island Sound, Hempstead House and you can see its imposing structure in our first rare photograph, up on the hill. The building on the right, dubbed “The Casino”, is long gone.
Below is a close-up from the estate-side entry drive, looking very much as it looks today.
Would you like to go inside? Read on!
Daniel’s son Harry was given 90 acres on the 220+ acre estate on which he built his own home Falaise in 1923. Harry befriended aviator Charles Lindburgh in the mid 1920’s and when Lindburgh needed a quiet place to write his autobiography - - his 1927 trans-Atlantic ocean flight made him the biggest celebrity in the world - - Harry invited him to stay on the estate. Harry backed his third wife’s ambitions to start a newspaper, and Alicia Patterson and Harry founded Newsday.
An archival view of Hempstead House from the Long Island Sound side. Incredibly beautiful rose gardens, formal plantings and two beautiful fountains now grace the lawn. Did I mention you can visit?
From the Sands Point Preserve’s website, we learn:
"In its heyday in the 1920s, Hempstead House revealed a taste for extravagance. In the Entry Foyer was an organ made of oak. Medieval tapestries once hung on the walls, and oriental carpets covered the floor. The sunken Palm Court once contained 150 species of rare orchids and other plants. An aviary housed exotic birds in ornate cages among the flowers. The walnut-paneled Library was copied from the palace of King James I; The Billiard Room featured a gold leaf ceiling, hand-tooled leather wall coverings, and carved oak woodwork from a 17th century Spanish palace."
This archival postcard shows the view of Castle Gould across the massive lawn from Hempstead House, which was originally a stables. The building on the right is now the Phil Dejana Learning Center.
Hempstead House, and most of the rest of the property, passed to the Navy department early in WWII, becoming the Navy Special Devices Center for several decades. The Navy painted the entire interior battleship gray (!), and then moved to Florida in 1967. Disrepair set in, until the property was rescued, first by Nassau County, New York’s Department of Parks, Recreation and Museums. In 2003, much of its care was taken over by the Friends of Sands Point Preserve who have brought the property back to life.
[Originally posted July 2015]
Restaurants come and go. We can all probably name a dozen restaurants in Port Washington that are no longer with us. Here are some to get your brain cells churning: Bradley’s, Miramar, Gildos (WInston’s), Bill’s Harbor Inn, The Riviera, The Library, The Club House, Aqua Manor, Andy’s, Scotto’s, The Embers, Youngs, Augie’s, Jonathan’s, Orlando’s, Jimmy’s Backyard, Hogan’s Pub, The Inn, Cow Bay Wine & Cheese, The Barge… and there are more, of course. In fact, when you are finished with this column, head over to our Facebook page and remind everyone of other restaurants, diners, pizzerias that we somehow overlooked!
In 1837 a young man emigrated from Kaiserlaten, Germany and settled in College Point, on Long Island. He opened a saloon and joined the local fire department. Eventually Louis Zwerlein rose to the level of Captain of the Enterprise Hose Company.
After a time, the family moved to Port Washington, and in 1905 opened a floating restaurant dubbed the "Kare Killer”. Anchored in mid-bay, and offering a menu featuring the freshest fish and a wide choice of adult beverages, the Kare Killer could only be reached by boat. Sadly, the Kare Killer’s days were numbered as the national move toward Prohibition took over, finally becoming law in 1920.
The Zwerlein family then pivoted and "opened a shop along the harbor, renting boats, selling chowder, steamers, clams and lobsters.”
In 1932, after North Hempstead evicted a whole row of entrenched squatters along the shoreline, the family moved their business 50 yards south, and opened Louie’s.
Decade after decade, Louie’s entertained many generations of Port Washington residents young and old, providing great food & drink and more often than not, perfect sunsets over Manhasset Bay.
In the 1980’s, I photographed the side of Louie’s restaurant with their then classic neon sign (yes, using Kodachrome). In 2014 local artist Lawrence Chrapliwy created a beautiful 2’x3’ painting of that scene using my photograph for inspiration. He captured the essence of the Louie’s that Port residents knew and loved for decades, currently on-display at the Sands-Willets House, and seen here:
[heartfelt thanks to the Zwerlein family for their help assembling this information]
The Zwerlein family retired from the business a decade ago, but the name lives on, as does the spirit of good food and good times that the location has always enjoyed. A beautiful view of the new facade can be seen from our 360 panoramic tour, by visiting the NOW section of our Then & Now series!
[Originally posted June 2015]
Shorelines can change. Much of lower Manhattan as well as most of Ellis Island is build on landfill, some of it the excess rock that was dug from the early digging of subway tunnels. Port Washington, once known as Cow Neck, has had a changing shoreline as well. The most drastic example is the beautiful waterfront known as Sunset Park. Perhaps you just drive past this gem of a park next to the Town Dock several times each week or maybe your kids play ball on the PAL field. Maybe you have enjoyed a summer-time musical concert or a full feature movie under the stars at the Sousa Bandshell. It’s even possible that you have joined one of our new walking tours along our historic shoreline. In all these cases, you’ve enjoyed Sunset Park, a beautiful multiple-use park which was built on landfill.
Imagine a time before the land was filled in, before the park was built, when Manhasset Bay came all the way up to the road. The best view of this area, between 1902 and 1916, would have been from the top of a mast from a tall ship, situated about where the Sousa Bandshell is today. Below is an extremely rare photograph, showing you such a view, looking over the area where Sunset Park is today, and on up the hill of Lower Main Street:
There is so much detail that we can see in such a photograph, that we’re making it available to you greatly englarged, by clicking here. There is a lot to look at, so take your time.
On the far right side of the image you’ll see a sign on a small building which reads “HOTEL SHED”, which was where the horses and carriages were kept for the Port Washington Hotel, across from the Town Dock, later known as “ Bradley’s". The little house just behind it is still standing today (Check it out next time you drive by… it’s blue!).
Now look at the word we printed on the photograph, “cowneck.org” If you were standing right above the letter “c”, looking up the street, this is what you would see:
One of the spots where these two buildings on the right were standing 100 years ago, a vacant lot stands today, where a mixed use office/residential/retail building will soon be built. Direct your attention to the building to the right with the 6 windows on the second floor and the man watching us way down in the lower right corner. The left side of that building WAS the first official Post Office in Port Washington. The right side was our town's first bank, the Bank of North Hempstead, which later expanded and moved up the street into the new building we now know as Fish Kebab. Note the trolley coming down the street, which dates this postcard to between 1908 and 1920, when the trolley ran from Port to Mineola.
If you turned your gaze to the left, looking at the spot now taken up by the little brick PAL building and the ball field, you would see the Hyde & Hults Garage, where they serviced the new-fangled motorcars that were becoming wildly popular:
Now go back to the first overview and find these buildings. If this kind of thing amuses for more than a few minutes, than you qualify as a histo-nerd, and you really should join the Cow Neck Peninsula Historical Society (if you aren’t already a member) by clicking here. We’re just saying…
And one last thing to look for in that first overview, looking up the street: The beautiful Bayles Drug Store building (now home to Dolphin Books as well as beautiful office and residential spaces on the upper floors) doesn’t appear up the street this photograph because it wasn’t built until 1916. That means that Doc Bayles, whose first drugstore had burned in the great fire of 1902, was working away in another building, saving his money to build a new store and office building.
The winter shoreline was strewn with boats as well as shacks owned by various clam diggers, one of the area’s top occupations in the late 1800’s. If you were standing next to Hyde & Hults Garage, looking out over the nearby shoreline in the spring, across the cove toward the Hotel Renwick (Diwan today), here’s the view you would have seen, including the Seaman & Crooker Clam & Oyster Shack.
But enough of the past...
Sunset Park came later. And if you haven’t visited it lately, it’s worth a stroll to spend some quality time with a good book or a newspaper. Park at the Town Dock or in the parking lot across from Baxter Pond.
Better yet, catch a sunset concert at the bandshell this summer! Or a feature movie under the stars, presented by the Residents for a More Beautiful Port Washington. Just to set the scene, we are going to repeat one of our 360 tours from 2 years ago, featuring a summer-time sunset concert in the Sousa bandshell. Bring the kids and/or a picnic. Make time for this beautiful park this year, along our historic shoreline.
[Originally posted May 2015]
Most villages were originally settled near sources of water, for drinking as well as for various types of commerce. Port Washington, formerly called Cow Neck, was no exception. Before our own Mill Pond was a pond, it was an inlet, without the “Shore Road" that we all know today. Dodge’s Inlet, as it was known, allowed smaller boats to sail all the way back to the Dodge Homestead. Around 1795, just 12 years after we won our independence from Britain, the Cornwall family (Cornwell, Cornell, and other spellings) built a dam at the bay side of the pond, creating a roadway, with a water spillway running under the road, powering a tidal mill. Below is a beautiful photograph by local photographer John Witmer. In this photograph, you are standing on the new “Shore Road”, looking north. Manhasset Bay is on your left. The Hotel Renwick, which many of you know today as Diwan (formerly Winstons, formerly Gildo’s) is just out of frame on the right. Two men in bowler hats are walking away from us, one with a doctor’s bag, probably making a house call. The three men in the foreground are standing next to the big wheel that powers the mill, which grinds the corn, the wheat, and whatever other grains that the customer’s of Cornwall’s mill might have needed. In the distance, you can just make out the large conveyor belt structure that carried sand over the road to the waiting barges, bound for a rapidly growing New York City. The doctor and his friend will be walking underneath that structure in just a few minutes, soon after John Witmer clicked the shutter.
However, this was our town’s second grist mill. Before we take a look at the mill up the road, let’s review how a tidal mill works, which is very simple. The tide comes in, filling up the Mill Pond (and thousands of similar ponds and inlets all over the world). Once filled, the height of the water in the pond is now 6 or 7 feet higher than it had been at low tide. Before the tide goes out, at high tide, large gates are closed at the spillway, trapping the water in the pond. The tide then goes out, leaving tens of thousands of gallons of water in the pond, higher than that in the bay, just a few feet away across the road. There is tremendous weight in all that water which is trapped in the pond, probably hundreds of thousands of pounds (any mathemeticians out there specializing in differential equations want to take a shot at this calculation?). The water is then released in a controlled manner, over the big water wheel that you see in the photo above, turning the wheel, which turns the large grinding stones within the mill. Day after day. Week after month after year. Want to take a day off? Just leave the gate open so the water in the pond can rise and fall. Time to get back to work? No problem. Open and close the gates and send those tens of thousands of pounds of water cascading over the mill’s wheel. Tides were very dependable that way in those days. They still are, actually.
Up the road a piece, approximately across from the current day Stop & Shop, land which used to be occupied by the large Lewis Oil tank farm there was once upon a time another tidal mill. Built by Adam Mott around 1781 and sold to the Cock’s family about 1864, it was thereafter known as Cock’s Mill. It actually not only predated the Cornwall Mill at the Mill Pond, it was much larger, a 5-story monster of a mill powered by the damning of a watery inlet now known as Sheet’s Creek. It’s unclear as to why our little town needed two mills, but there must have been enough demand. If you were standing on a pier directly across from the Diwan restuarant (Gildo’s, Winston’s, Hotel Renwick) and you looked north, toward present day Soundview, this would be your view of “The Old Mill, That is No More”.
So what is there now? A beautiful dock, built largely through the hard work of some extremely dedicated folks in the incorporated village of Port Washington North. Kudos to all involved in that project, completed about 5 years ago. And the best part is that you can take a leisurely walk to this dock from our own Town Dock, alongside the entire waterfront, soaking up todays’s beautiful shoreline views while you try to picture our area’s rich history.
And yes, I have just circled back to a plug for the historical society’s new guided walking tours of the shoreline, guided by knowledgeable docents, revealing Port’s history with shell fishing, sand-mining, aviation, and much more.
So follow this link to the spot where the Cock’s Mill once stood, and enjoy a virtual trip to the Port North dock. Then visit us at cowneck.org, and book a walk with us! Every Sunday through October plus the first Saturday of every month.
[Originally posted April 2015]
Announcing Cow Neck Walking Tours
On Sunday, May 3, at 11am, the Cow Neck Peninsula Historical Society will launch our first walking tours of the Port Washington shoreline. Starting at the Town Dock, join a knowledgeable tour guide walking the shoreline to the Port North Dock, opposite Stop & Shop, while you see and hear the fascinating history of early Port Washington. Topics will include the livelihoods that helped Port develop into the town you know today, including shell fishing, sandmining, and aviation. Picture the yacht clubs, the tidal mills and much, much more. On-line Reservations required. $15 per person. Check the home page of our website after April 15th for more information and on-line reservations.
Castles come in all shapes and sizes. At the Sands Point Preserve, the monumental Castle Gould is a huge stately stone building, modeled on the famous castles of Kilkenny, Ireland. Shortly after Daniel Guggenheim purchased the property from Howard Gould in 1917, he renamed the castle Hempstead House, and you can virtually step into the rose garden here.… but WAIT! Come back later to visit that link. Our story is just about to get interesting!
Way out at the very tip of Sands Point however, on the same 5-acre parcel of land on which the Sands Point Lighthouse had been built in 1809, another castle rose to command the landscape. Enter noted socialite Alva Smith Vanderbilt Belmont, whose divorce from William K. Vanderbilt left her with a $10 million dollar settlement ($235 million dollars in 2015… yes, that is a quarter of a billion dollars in today’s dollars.) She soon remarried at age 46, this time to Oliver Hazard Perry Belmont, who passed away in 1909, leaving her a tidy sum as well. Alva (Mrs. Belmont to the rest of us) was left one of the richest women in the country. With such funds at her disposal, she decided in 1916 to build a Norman castle at the tip of Sands Point, with 140 rooms. She christened it Beacon Towers. Take a look from the water side:
An independent woman of substantial means, Alva became a noted suffragist leader, with groups of local women often meeting at Beacon Towers. Reportedly bothered by people walking on the beach to gawk at her house, Alva constructed a wall from the east side of the Sands Point tip (the Hempstead Harbor side) clear over to the west side of the Sands Point tip (the Manhasset Bay side), attempting to isolate the 5-acre property from the casual onlookers. That sea-to-sea wall, and the massive entrance gate, survive to this day, complete with large spikes across the wall’s ridgeline.
After only 10 years, Alva moved on, this time to Paris, selling the house and property to William Randolph Hearst in 1927, afterwhich it became known as the Hearst Castle. Here is a view of the front of the castle, facing the road.
One last view of the home, as the trees had begun their climb toward maturity. William Hearst reportedly spent most of his time at San Simeon, his castle in California, along with his mistress, the “would-be actress Marion Davies” while his wife preferred the Sands Point property. It was sold and torn down in 1942.
As I said, the "sea to shining sea” wall which isolates the tip of Sands Point from the rest of the village still stands. The original gate can be also be seen at the very end of Middle Neck Road (the extension of Port Washington Blvd), as can the beautiful gate house, just inside the gate to the left (now very private property: please don’t trespass). Several years ago, the current owner greatly expanded the gatehouse, keeping the original style intact, a beautiful example of respecting the original architecture. Now it’s time to virtually stand just outside of Mrs. Belmont's wall, gazing at the original gatehouse.
[Originally posted March 2015]
When someone in Port Washington mentions “the Guggenheim Estate,” most of us immediately picture the 200+ acre estate behind the tall black fence on Middle Neck Road, just inside the border of Sands Point. Home to Hempstead House, Castle Gould, and Falaise, the property and massive structures are owned by Nassau County and are lovingly maintained and managed by the Friends of Sands Point Preserve. So you would be correct in identifying the property that Daniel Guggenheim (1856-1930) purchased from Howard Gould (1871-1959), the latter being one of famed financier Jay Gould’s six children. In fact it was Howard Gould’s architects that designed and built the castle-like buildings that we all enjoy to this day, though they bear the latter-day names that the Guggenheim’s adopted. Like they say, "It’s complicated!"
Daniel’s son Harry was was given 90 acres of his fathers estate, on which he built Falaise in 1923, the beautiful Norman mansion on the cliffs overlooking Long Island Sound (note: plan to take the tour this spring/summer if you haven’t already). In 1939 Harry married his third wife, Alicia Patterson, and provided the financial backing for her to start Newsday, Long Island’s own newspaper, which they ran for decades, until a few years beyond her passing in 1963, when the Vietnam War and national politics split much of the country and Newsday as well. Here is an aerial shot of Falaise:
These are the Guggenheims that you are probably familiar with, yet there were other Guggenheims that came to make their homes in Sands Point as well, long before Harry met Alicia. Daniel’s older brother William Guggenheim (1868-1941) had actually been "the first of four brothers to choose Sands Point” (Discovering Sands Point, by Joan Kent), briefly living a life that would make a fine melodramatic mini-series today. William sold his property to Averill Harriman in 1927.
Then there was Issac Guggenheim (1854-1922). He was the eldest son of Meyer Guggenheim, followed by Daniel, Murry, Solomon, (John) Simon, Benjamin (died on the Titanic) and finally William. Meyer was an Ashkenazi Jewish immigrant who lived the classic rags to riches story, starting as a door-to-door peddlar and rising to become an importer and entrepreneur, eventuallly creating the family dynasty by investing in mining and smelting. Meyer’s son Issac purchased 200 acres around 1906, probably from the Mott family, building an Italian mansion which survives to this day. Those of us who have known this area for decades remember the property when it bore the IBM logo, though it now is home to the Village Club of Sands Point.
The home was designed by architect H. Van Buren Magonagle, and was thought to be a more comfortable home than Issac’s brother’s Hempstead House, a mile or so down the shoreline.
There was a darker story involved with this property, however. In John H. Davis’ book, The Guggenheims: An American Epic (William Morrow 1978) the author tells of how Issac Guggenheim, an avid golfer, tried to join the Sands Point Bath & Golf Club, only to be “turned down because he was a Jew.” It was rumored that his neighbors the Astors and the Woolworths were among those objecting to Guggenheim’s membership. Quoting Davis’ book, “After catching his breath, he reacted to the unspeakable slight by canceling much of his landscaping plans and creating his own private nine-hole golf course on the property. Not ony that, he also hired the best golf-course designer in the country to lay out the course, order him to duplicate what he considered were the "finest holes in the United States.” Although Issac was only able to enjoy the estate for a few short years before his death, “no fewer than 18 servants and 104 grounds keepers toiled for him and his not-too-large family at Villa Carola."
After Issac’s death, his younger brother Solomon (1861-1941) purchased the property, extensively remodeling the house, and enjoying it until his death at the age of 88. Again quoting Joan Kent’s landmark book on Sands Point on the aftermath of Solomon’s death, “For a short while there was speculation about the future of his 200-plus acres, and Village officials were concerned. However, after a building project by private developers was unsucccesful, IBM came up with a a proposal in the early 1950’s that pleased everyone: a country club and conference center for IBM employees.”
Above is a wonderful view of the front gates of the Issac Guggenheim property, not terribly different from the IBM country club days.
In 1994, after quite a bit of spirited local discussion, the votes in the incorporated village were cast in favor of $15,000,000 in bonds to purchase the property. The former Guggenheim property, which for the previous 25 years had been home to the IBM golf course and conference center, became the Village Club of Sands Point.
Which brings us to...
Take a look at the photograph above, showing the building nearly 70 years ago. Here is a close up of that lower right hand corner, where the arched windows top the white columns:
In the upcoming panoramic photo, you’ll be transported to the corner of that building in the summer of 2013. Note that it is not very different from how it has stood through many generations for the better part of the last century. As a bonus this month, I’ve added a second 360, inside the building, since its always fun to peek inside and since the property is so wonderfully maintained.
If you remember the IBM Golfcourse, as a member, as a guest, as a caddy, or as someone who just drove past wondering, “What goes on in there?” visit our Facebook page (linked above) and share your memories! As always, we invite you to click here to join the Society, buy a “Circa 1644” t-shirt, or make a donation.
[Originally posted January 2015]
The heart of many towns began by the sea, and life on the Port Washington peninsula, originally known as Cow Neck, was no different. Commercial shellfishing started in the 1830’s with the “seeding” of oyster ponds across from where Stop & Shop is located today (formerly Lewis Oil for all of you with longer memories of town). By 1880, oystering was the largest industry in town, not to be exceeded by sandmining for several decades to come. In fact in 1880, there were 320 adult males on the local voter roles (remember, women couldn’t vote nationally until 1920, with the passage of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution). Of the 320 voting males in town, 200 of them listed their occupation as oystermen. Hence the nickname of the old-timers came to be “Clam Diggers.” [NOTE: The Cow Neck Peninsula Historical Society will be starting monthly historic walking tours of the shoreline this Spring… info to follow]
Here is a photograph showing Seaman’s Clam & Oyster shack, near where the Sousa Bandshell is today, with a sandmining trestle in the background, over near where Diwan restaurant is (formerly Hotel Renwick, Guildo’s and a dozen other establishments. (Photo courtesy of Helen Vogt Collection/CNPHS).
Lower Main Street: As the waterfront developed, so did lower Main Street, with general stores, our first post office & bank, hotels, restaurants, and all of the types of stores you would expect in a growing community. Even after the arrival of the Long Island Railroad in 1898, lower Main Street continued to be the hub of the town’s activity through the first several decades of the 1900’s, and continues to be one of the most vibrant areas of town to this day. This month we’re going to focus on lower Main Street since much of this area’s history is still intact. A huge thanks goes out to George Williams, former teacher at Weber Junior High and former trustee of the Society, who wrote several histories of various parts of Port Washington, including A Walking Guide to Lower Main Street.
Above, you are standing in the middle of the intersection, looking up the hill. On the right are the familiar columns of [what is now] Fish Kebab, built by local buiders Smull & Walsh as the Bank of North Hempstead circa 1900. The steeple of the Methodist Church can be seen at the top of the hill, where it was located until the Library was built in the 1960’s. On the left, on the corner lot where Ayhan’s parking lot is now located, you can see the Cove Inn. Here’s another view of that building, originally built by Gideon Seaman in 1872 and named “Old Heidelberg”. Later owners changed the name to the Central Hotel, then the Cove Inn, and finally The Washington Inn, before it was finally demolished in 1933.
Across the same side of the street you can still see the ornate Bayles Drugstore building, where Dolphin Books is located today. But before we look at that beautiful structure, let’s revisit George Willam’s description of how that lot became available for such a large building:
"On the morning of May 10, 1902, a fire broke out in the a barn in the rear of Bayles’ Drug store (a small 1-story shop then - ed.), spreading to Van Wicklen’s ice house, Dr. Cocke’s barn and Easton’s Barber Shop. Twelve buildings were ablaze; six were destroyed. It was the most destructive of all Port’s fires up to that time. Only the heroic work of the firemen saved this entire lower part of the village from being burned."
Built in 1916 by local contractor Henry Decker, the three story Bayles Building stands as a testament to A.C. Bayles, who had the town’s first phone, helped found Nassau-Knolls cemetery, served as treasurer of the school district, founded the Bank of North Hempstead, and served as the town’s postmaster for many years. His extensive land holdings included the area where the railroad station is located, with North and South Bayles Avenues being named for this outstanding member of the community. Next time you walk into the front door of Dolphin Books, note the floor tiles at the entrance that bears his name. Here’s the building:
Across the street, where Ralph’s Italian Ice store is currenlty located once stood Halpern’s Variety Store (“We Save You Money”), and Louis Smith’s Store, “Outfitter to the Whole Family”, which was home to Salon 290 for many years. Peter B. Lewis, Port’s first dentist, had his practice on the second floor. Bank Street is on the left, with Fish Kebab just out of view up the hill.
If you pivoted your view a bit to the left from the view above, you’d see the view below, in what is probably Port Washington’s best known postcard. The Bank of North Hempstead is on the right, and the combination of horse drawn wagons and new fangled motorcars shows a particularly telling slice of history in a single view. Again, the Methodist Church can be seen at the top of the hill where today’s public library stands. The church had actually been moved to this location in 1883, from the corner of Carlton & Bayview Avenues. Yes, they moved buildings a lot in those days. No plumbing or electrical connections to make things difficult. Just jack up the structure, insert logs underneath and teams of horses, and roll it to the new location (greatly simplified, obviously!).
This next link will transport you to the corner of Main Street and Shore Road, standing at the same corner once occupied by the Cove Inn. Take a look around as the view turns slowly by itself, or grab control with your mouse, trackpad, or tablet. And please accept the best wishes from all of the volunteers at the Cow Neck Peninsula Historical Society for a happy and healthy New Year! Click here to join the Society or to make a donation.
[Originally posted December 2014]
Life on the Port Washington / Manhasset Peninsula would be changed forever!
But several decades earlier in 1867, soon after the end of the Civil War and the assassination of President Lincoln, the railroad had reached Great Neck, on the North Shore of Long Island. It would be more than 30 years before the Long Island Railroad could secure the political will and economic backing to extend the line further to its logical terminus, in scenic Port Washington. One million, one hundred and eighty five thousand dollars had been expended to purchase the right of way from local landowners between Great Neck and Port Washington. A bridge over the Manhasset Valley was constructed at an additional cost of $60,000, built by Kings Bridge Iron Company, a subsidiary of Carnegie Steel. At 678 feet long and 81 feet high, the bridge was to remain the highest bridge that the Long Island Railroad would ever construct.
If you were standing on that bridge around 1915, looking south toward the park, towards Macy’s (formerly A&S, Abraham & Strauss… who remembers that one?), this is what you’d see:
And if you turned around and looked north, toward Manhasset Bay, you’d see this.
On June 23rd, 1898, the first steam locomotive set out towards the small hamlet of Port Washington, which then had a population of just 1800 farmers, shell fisherman, shopkeepers, sand miners and families. Of course, the locomotive and her two passenger cars hadn’t come from Manhattan. In 1898 it would have come from the western terminus at Hunter’s Point, in Long Island City. Travel to and from Manhattan still required a ferry ride across the East River to the 34th street ferry dock. It wasn’t until early in the 1910’s that a tunnel under the river and the streets of Manhattan, allowed the rail line to reach all the way to Pennsylvania Station.
Technically, the first train arrived somewhat quietly between 11am and noon, carrying dignitaries and honored guests, who were dropped off in the brand new station in Port Washington.
A few hours later in the day, the “official” first train finally steamed into town.
That water tank on the far right is approximately where the footbridge crosses over to Haven Avenue.
(photo by John Witmer)
It was the biggest celebration in Port Washington’s history, with Theodore Morgan as Marshal of the jubilant parade, which marched all over town with multiple bands playing.
Alfred C. Bayles, who owned the property where the station stands, had given the railroad a right of way 66’ wide and 700’ deep, later widened by 67’ on both the north and south sides (toward present day South Maryland and Haven Avenues). William Simon was one of the engineers that day, father of Ernie Simon, who went on to write hundreds of local history columns for local newspapers. A 7-year-old Ernie Simon was aboard one of the trains that historic day, having no idea that one day he would chronicle the town’s history, or that one day, in 2014 his writings would inspire yet another retelling of an important local story.
[Originally posted November 2014]
It was suggested by a friend, that since this will be sent out on Halloween, that I think of an appropriate Halloween-esque theme for this month. So, accepting that challenge, let’s focus on Port Washington cemeteries, of which there are many. In no particular order, here is a list of our town’s cemeteries, with the locations.
- Monfort Cemetery (Old Dutch Cemetery), on a hill behind the Post Office
- Mitchell Cemetery (off New Street & 5th Avenue
- Hillside Cemetery (exact location undetermined; on several old maps, off present day Preston St., approximately)
- Sands Cemetery (on private property in Sands Point)
- Cornwell Cemetery (in Soundview, on a small hill, near Sousa, surrounded by houses)
- Pleasant Avenue Cemetery (tiny fenced in cemetery, just east of the Happy Montessory School)
- Free Church Cemetery (Harbor Road, on a hillside between the Dodge Homestead and the Tennis Academy)
-Nassau Knolls Cemetery (the subject of this month’s column)
Toward the latter half of the 19th Century, the “town cemetery” was the Free Church Cemetery, overlooking Harbor Road, between the Dodge Homestead and the Tennis Academy. Some reports state that it was falling into disrepair by the 1890’s, and talk turned to the founding of a new cemetery, on the outskirts of town, on property owned by the Onderdonk family. Several prominent businessmen, lead by Charles F. Lewis, secured the property in 1900, and Nassau Knolls Cemetery was born.
There are numerous fascinating aspects to this beautiful cemetery, though I’ll just focus on two of them. First, at one point there was a beautiful reflecting pool near the entrance of the property. Called the Mirror Pool, and shown in this postcard, it was eventually absorbed into the rest of the needed real estate that makes up the cemetery. Still, it looks beautiful in this 1930’s era postcard:
Second, and more intersting, are all of the town names present in that one cemetery. Some you’ll recognize as the names of streets, or real estate companies, docks, landings, mill owners, land owners, sand mine owners, and other prominent family names; Others are just old Port Washington names. All of these names were photographed in less than one hour, in the older area of Nassau Knolls, and it is by no means a complete list of who’s who in Port. Just a random sampling. Take a look and see how many names you recognize:
Some have streets named after them. Some built Landmarks. All of them contributed to making this town the special place that we all know, which once upon a time was called Cow Neck. There are thousands of others, resting in peace in our many cemeteries. Remember them well, quietylly, with respect, and often.
Of course, via the magic of high-resolution panoramic photography, we can visit one of these places where our town’s ancestors rest. Start off in the oldest part of Nassau Knolls cemetery just last Sunday afternoon. This beautiful cemetery has graced Port Washington Boulevard since 1900, and is beautifully maintained to this day. There is a hotspot that transports you back to last Spring, when tulip trees (or are they magnolias?) were in full bloom. Then link around town, from hotspot to hotspot.
[Originally posted October 2014]
The Estate of Gould and Guggenheim
Many family fortunes were made in the latter half of the 1800’s, including that of Jason “Jay” Gould (1836-1892), who rose to become the ninth richest U.S. citizen in history. From work as an accountant to a blacksmith, to co-owner of a tannery, and on into gold and railroads, Gould was known to be ruthless in his business dealings. Along with Helen Day Miller he fathered six children, one of whom, Howard Gould (1871-1959) has figured prominently in Sands Point for more than 100 years.
Howard Gould married Viola Katherine Clemmons in 1898, she was a “showgirl” with the Buffalo Bill Cody Wild West Show, and for their honeymoon, they toured Europe aboard Gould’s 272 foot yacht. Upon returning to New York, Gould engaged the services of architect Abner J. Haydel, to build castle-like buildings that Katherine had adored in Kilkenny, Ireland. The 60 room mansion was to be built on property in Sands Point that Gould had recently bought from the Fay family. By 1907, marital infidelities were detected by Mr. Gould, and confirmed by a fleet of hired detectives, and William Cody (Buffalo Bill) was named in the divorce suit, all duly reported in the tabloid press, including the new Port Washington News.
Despite these troubles, Gould hired New York architects Hunt & Hunt to finish the plans, build the various buildings on the estate, and "Port Washington Mason Charles Dodge claimed that he laid the first brick for Gould’s mansion at 10 a.m. on February 10, 1910” [Discovering Sands Point by Joan Kent, former CNPHS President]. Gould saw to the completion of the buildings, including Hempstead House, Castle Gould, a cow barn, and various other structures around the 220 acre property, but rarely visited them, preferring his residences in New York City and elsewhere. In 1917, he sold the entire property “as is” to Daniel Guggenheim.
It was rumored that “as is” meant just that. As the new owner, Daniel Guggenheim didn’t have to change the “G” on the gate. Reportedly everything in the house was left behind for the Guggenheims to do with what they wanted, including the silver, the sheets, the towels all still marked with the letter “G” for Gould, which may or may not have been kept around, serving as “G” for Guggenheim. Maybe its just one of those stories. If so, its a good one.
This postcard below shows the building as Castle Gould, though Daniel Guggenheim later renamed it "Hempstead House”.
Hempstead House as it is still known, was built to be 228 feet wide, 60 feet tall. Allow me to quote our former Society President Joan Kent, who detailed the home beautifully in her book, Discovering Sands Point: Its History, Its People, Its Places: “The interior featured a high-ceilinged great hall about 100 feet deep by 30 feet wide, divided into three spaces: a palm court with fountain, a 30 foot by 50 foot living room with massive walk-in fireplace and a covered terrace overlooking Long Island Sound. The library, billiard and dining rooms all opened off a great hall foyer…The second floor, reached by an imposing staircase opposite the front entrance, held bedrooms and sitting rooms.”
Daniel Guggenheim (1856-1930), son of Meyer Guggenheim, helped expand the family’s business into mining and smelting. Two of his brothers, William and Isaac already had estates in Sands Point by the time Daniel arrived. According to John Davis’ book The Guggenheims, he “lived like the emperor he was, surrounded by a Rembrandt, two Rubens, a Van Dyck, herds of cattle, flocks of sheep, stables of horses, a golf course, peacocks and pheasants, servants, farmers and grounds keepers by the score”.
Daniel gifted 80 acres to his son Harry, friend and backer of aviation pioneer Charles Lindbergh, and Harry built Falaise, a beautiful Norman manor house overlooking Long Island Sound. Together with his wife, Alicia Patterson, they started Newsday in 1940.
Today the entire property is owned by Nassau County, and is thriving under the guidance and management of Friends of Sands Point Preserve. As their website reveals, “You are welcome to stroll, hike, jog and/or run on the six marked trails through the woods, around the pond, and along the beach”. It is a must-visit for anyone interested in visiting one of the last majestic estates on Long Island.
Here is your opportunity for a visit to the property today, from roughly the same vantage point as shown in the postcard above. This will give you a virtual taste, via our 360 degree virtual tour, allowing you to look completely around in all directions. Just sit back and watch, or click & drag the view wherever you like. Pulsing circles take you to other spots in Port Washington, though make sure you fully take in one of the last gems on the Gold Coast.
Visit the rose garden as it looks today,
at the Sands Point Park & Preserve
(formerly the Guggenheim and Gould estates)
[Originally posted September 2014]
Main Street School
Landmark on Main Street
How did this happen already? Where did the summer go? I have heard variation of these questions at least a half-dozen times this week, as we collectively head into August. The first signs are always the “Back-To-School” sales at most stores along with emailed promotions showing just what you must have to complete your fall wardrobe. I’ve always wondered if it was always that way. Did the average resident on the Port Washington peninsula, formerly named Cow Neck, get inundated with end-of-summer sales 114 years ago? I doubt it.
In the early 1900’s kids in Port Washington walked to a school overlooking the Mill Pond (the Down Neck School) or to another school where the present day Police Station is locatwd (the original Flower Hill School). But the town was growing rapidly. The coming of the Long Island Railroad in 1898 had allowed people to live in Port Washington and work in New York City, and new homes were being built and neighborhoods planned at a breakneck pace. The town needed a bigger, more centralized school, one that could offer students more.
Several locations were considered, but the Webb family farm provided the perfect location, at the intersection of Main Street (still named Flower Hill Avenue until 1912) and South Washington Avenue. Monies were raised, and in 1908 the Webb house was bought, split into sections, and moved to two side-by-side lots on nearby Jefferson Street. Local architect Frank Cornell designed the beautiful Beaux Arts building and local contractors Smull & Walsh were hired to build what became Main Street School.
Above is a shot taken by local photographer John Witmer, on May 11, 1909, during construction. Note the horses entering the frame on the right, and the piles of bricks. Those buildings on the left are on South Washington, with St. Stephens in the distance.
The opening day festivities on September 17, 1909, were the biggest celebration the towns people had ever witnessed. Take a look at the parade on lower Main Street. The roofline at the far left is Shish Kebab today.
Where on earth did they get bunting that huge, to hang from the gutters to cover almost two floors. It’s not like they could go to www.bunting.com. It was probably made by locals…
Here is a great view, from the school looking out at the crowd, who were watching the flag raising. Way down on the right side of this photo is the hill going down lower Main Street, about where Shields is today.
Had they really anticipated the town’s growth, perhaps they might have built a larger building, because just 7 years later, the demand out-paced capacity, and the size of the school needed to be doubled, which is how we experience Landmark on Main Street today. But that’s a story for another day.
Visit the rooftops of Landmark on Main Street today,
known as Main Street School for most of its rich life
[Originally posted June 2014]
Thomas Dodge Homestead
Picture yourself at the head of the Mill Pond,
with Diwan Restaurant (aka Winston’s / Guildo’s / Renwick / Grapevine)
on your left. You are looking up Mill Pond Road, with the pond on your
right. If you were walking up this road today, you’d pass the MIll Pond
Model Yacht Club boathouse at the back of the pond on your right. Then
you would pass the Thomas Dodge Homestead, then the Water Pollution
Control District, an old cemetery on a hill on the right (which we’ll
talk about another time), on past the Tennis Academy, past Harbor Homes,
and across Port Washington Blvd. Continuing down to Astor Lane, with
the Village Club on your left (IBM Golfcourse), you would eventually
reach Hempstead Harbor.
If you took this trip in the late 18th century you would have just traced the northern border of the Dodge family property, from Manhasset Bay all the way to Hempstead Harbor. From sea to shining sea, across the Cow Neck Peninsula, now known as Port Washington. That was quite a chunk of property.
Below is a popular hand-colored postcard of the Dodge House,
circa 1910-1920, at the back of the Mill Pond.
You can walk into this house this Saturday, June 7th, from 1-4 pm. There will be live music, tours, our bee-keeper (explaining what the bees are so busy doing all the time), Larry Chrapliwy of cowneckpainters.com doing live painting demonstrations, the Grassroots folks explaining organic farming methods, baked goods and more. Come learn a little slice of your town’s history. Back to the THEN...
The first structures were built on this property in the 1720’s...
Looking in the other direction, across the Mill Pond (which was their property, and which wasn’t always a pond, but rather an inlet), one would see this view 110 years ago. There is the Hotel Renwick (Diwan / Guildos) on the right with the easily recognized cross gambrel roofline:
OK, it’s time for the NOW portion of this trip. Here is your sneak peek 360 panotour of the Dodge Homestead. Start outside, look all around, and then travel into two of the rooms, getting a taste of what you can see this Saturday. Feel free to click over to the Sandminer’s Monument, or the Sousa Bandshell on a warm summer night, or the shoreline across from Diwan/Guildo’s.
Don’t forget to leave your Mill Pond area stories on our Facebook page.
The Sand Pits
Mining Sand all over Port Washington
There have always been many ways to make a living in Port Washington. Before the Long Island Railroad extended the line from Great Neck to Port Washington in 1898, there were fewer choices. Farming was broadly practiced all over America, and Port was no exception, from wheat to flax to vegetables to apple orchards, much of it for local consumption and some for sale in the big city nearby. Fisherman did what fisherman have done for countless generations and Cow Neck also did a strong trade in oysters, mussels and clams. All the normal trades and support services were represented including blacksmiths, carpenters, boat builders, hotel keepers, you name it.
Soon after the Civil War however, with New York City growing faster than any city in the country, it was soon discovered that the best sand, for making the best concrete came from little old Port Washington. By some calculations, 90% of the concrete that built the sidewalks, the skyscrapers, the subway tunnels, the building foundations of NYC came from Port. More than 100 million tons of sand, shipped by barge from Port Washington to Manhattan by extremely hard working individuals who came from Italy, Ireland, Gemany, Nova Scotia, Poland, Norway, and Russia. Here are three views of THEN:
"Someone should build those guys a monument!”
Someone did. Let’s visit it.
First, understand the importance: This is said to be the only monument to labor in the world. RIght here in Port Washington. Second, know that there are two wonderul sources of information, if you are interested in learning more about the sandmining industry in Port Washington. One place is actually visiting the memorial that we’re about to show you, across the road from Bar Beach. Inspired and led by the vision of one Leo Cimini, funded by the kind and generous donations of the Langone family, and brought to realization by artist/sculptor Edward Jonas (along with the help of the Town of North Hempstead and dozens of other individuals): This is a monument everyone in the area should visit. The other source of information to consult is the Port Washington Public Library, who captured the last days of local sand mining before it had completely vanished, in written and audio recordings that are a treasure for our community.
Second, please know that the upcoming 360 degree panoramic exploration is best explored on an actual computer, a desktop or laptop. It has slightly limited functionality on a tablet. There are many spots to “click on”, a great many panels that you can enlarge and read, including signage and memorial bricks. This is meant to be interactive, so take your time, click-hold-and drag your mouse around to virtually visit the Sandminers Monument. When you are done, you can click on the pulsing circles to go back to our previous locations, including the Sousa Bandshell on a warm summer’s evening, and the shoreline across from the Mill Pond.
And if you played in “the pits”, anywhere in town (and there were many)
send us your memories or put them on our Facebook page.
Sunset Park / Sousa Bandshell
Next to the Town Dock is a park that didn’t used to be there. In the very early years of the 1900’s, the land was filled in, creating what we now know as Sunset Park. For decades, it was owned and managed not as a park, per se, but as part of the Port Washington Sewerage Disposal Plant property, a story for another day. This was several decades before John Philip Sousa moved to Port Washington, and many more decades before the Sousa Bandshell was built in his honor, which took many years of dedicated work and fundraising by Gay Pearsall, Mr. Christopher, Floyd & June Mackey, and others. Now we have the beautiful Sunset Park, a Bandshell, and a shoreline walk stretching all the way to Stop ’n Shop in Port Washington North (so far), en route to Manorhaven in the coming years.
If you were standing in that general vicinity, back in the day, looking across The Cove, as it was called, toward the Grapevine Hotel, which became the Hotel Renwick, which became Guildo’s, which became Winstons, which eventually became Diwan (today), this is the view you would have seen (note the Guildo’s/Diwan roofline at the center, called a “cross gambrel” roof):
Here is the scene a bit magnified, in a postcard from the same era, 1910-1925. More information. You can still see the unique roofline of the Hotel Renwick (Guildo’s/Diwan) in the center. Over it is the conveyor belt structure of Crescent Sand & Gravel Company, whose property stretched all the way down to the present day Sousa School (there’s is John Philip Sousa's name again). A second conveyor belt is seen off to the far left, which ran OVER the road, loading barges with Cow Bay sand, bound for New York City, where our sand, from our town, built the concrete sidewalks and much of the concrete infrastructure of New York City.
That’s the “Then” in "Then & Now”. Now what if you were standing in Sunset Park last summer, July 2013. What would it look like? What would it sound like. It’s only nine months ago, after all. Someday it will be history, but now, its just last summer! Were you there when the incredibly talented high school band was playing? No? Would you like to visit for a few minutes?
When you click on the following link you will be transported to that spot on a warm summer evening in 2013, at the Sousa Bandshell, and your view will be slowly turning. Either let it turn or take control, by clicking your mouse, and while holding down the button, dragging in any direction, including up and down. For the full effect, this is best on your desktop or laptop computer with your speakers turned on. When you see a pulsing circle, point to it and a caption will appear telling you where else you can visit, just by clicking your mouse. Each month, this tour will expand!
Make sure you read the short text and follow the directions!
Near the Millpond, across from Diwan restaurant (aka Winston’s, Guildo’s etc) were several grist mills throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. The largest of these mills on the Cowneck peninsula is shown below, originally built by Adam Motts, then sold to the Cock’s family and usually known as Cocks' Mill. By about 1910 when this photograph was taken (and later hand colored) it was already long closed and in a dilapidated state, replaced by another mill directly across from the Mill Pond, where this photo is taken from.
Now look at the shape of that building, with that portion jutting our to the right. That’s the “Then” in "Then & Now”. Now imagine standing there today, across from Diwan. When you click on the following link you will be transported to that spot in 2014 and your view will be slowly turning. Either let it turn or take control, by clicking your mouse, and while holding down the button, dragging in any direction, including up and down.
You can always find this on our website, www.cowneck.org,
Copyright Christopher Bain / All RIghts Reserved