Past Then & Now columns

Then & Now
past month’s columns

August 2014


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.

Main Street School opening

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  It was probably made by locals…

Dr. Jas. S. Cooley making opening address at the dedication of new High School Port Washington Sept. 17 1909

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.

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.  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 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...

Dodge Homestead-03

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:

Mill Pond-04

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.

Click here to virtually visit the Dodge House 

Don’t forget to leave your Mill Pond area stories on our Facebook page.

It’s a Living

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:

striking sandminers

"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.

Click here to visit the “Now” in “Here and Now”

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!

Click here to visit the “Now” in “Here and Now”.

Mill Pond-Old Mill-02


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 as Motts' Mill and later 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.  Click here to visit the “Now” in “Here and Now”.

You can always find this on our website,

or on our Facebook page,


The Cow Neck Peninsula Historical Society
336 Port Washington Blvd., Port Washington, NY 11050-4530
(516) 365-9074  .