Being on the water, whether in a sailboat, motorboat or kayak, is always great, but it is especially wonderful in the evenings when the cool breeze and beautiful sunsets make for a perfect day’s end.
The members of The Port Washington Public Library’s Nautical Advisory Council (NAC) figured this out several years ago and teamed up with Matt Meyran’s Water Taxi. The council offers tours of Manhasset Bay and western Long Island Sound during the summer months. Port residents have the option of a weekend tour or a few Thursday night tours when the big boats are racing with the Cow Bay Cruising Association (aka, Thirsty Thursday). The boat tours are always completely booked on the day the library announces the sign-up date.
Thanks to a subcommittee on the NAC, the tour now includes a numbered map with areas of interest. The tour starts at the Town Dock and sails near the shore either going north toward the Sound or south toward Plandome and then over to the Great Neck side of Manhasset Bay. Other tours may go straight out to the Sound. Depending on time and group interest, the water taxi sails out to the Sound and goes east toward Execution Rock or west toward the city, with a view of Steppingstone Lighthouse.
This tour is taking readers from the Town Dock north. Passengers will see Sunset Park and the Sousa Bank Shell, named after John Philip Sousa (1854-1932), a local resident and “March King.” Sousa was the composer of many famous military marches that are played to this day. Summer concerts by the bay are held during the summer.
During the 17th and 18th centuries, local inhabitants constructed several mills on the shores of Manhasset Bay, reshaping its contour in the process. The Mill Pond, originally Dodge Inlet, was dammed in 1795 by Joseph Cornwell to serve his gristmill. That mill was demolished years ago, but Shore Road is built upon the mill dam. Mill Pond has a tidal exchange that mixes salt water entering the dam’s opening with fresh water gathered from streams and rain. Other dammed streams include Sheets Creek East, Leeds Pond, Baxter Pond and Whitney Pond. If you look really closely as you drive east on Mill Pond Road, you see a large three-story house (now apartments) with a very tiny road perpendicular to Mill Pond Road. The owner of the mill resided in this home and the small cottage-type houses behind were where his workers lived. There is an old postcard that clearly shows the mill owner’s home and the small street adjacent to it.
Many of the streets and sidewalks of NYC were built with sand from Port Washington. Sand mining operations from 1875 until 1927 leveled an area that was once described as “hilly and wooded.” Manhasset Isle was originally planned to be a gated community with channel canals similar to the ones found on the south shore. These grand plans were scrapped when the Great Depression hit. Much of Manorhaven was also mined at the same time. A late friend of mine used to summer in Manorhaven. She would describe the beautiful hills of Manorhaven and how, as a child, she would sit on a hill and see Manhasset Bay. The last area mined in the early 1960s was where Mill Pond Acres today.
The Bay Walk tour (1.7 miles) takes walkers through Sunset Park along the waterfront through Baxter Estates, Port North and Manorhaven. At the start of the Bay Walk is Pellegrino Park, which is named after Thomas J. Pelligrino, former mayor of Port North who served for 34 years, the longest-serving mayor in the state. The park, the former site of Ike Smith, was where the first 12 Star boats, the most successful one-design class in the world, were built (1911). Tourists will see a keel from one of the Star boats, thanks to the late Stretch Ryder, who spearheaded the drive to honor the long history of the Star boat and Port Washington. The Bay Walk is presently under construction, but walkers can still amble part of the way and enjoy the gardens and have a quiet moment to sit and enjoy the view.
Depending on the tides, the boat tour will include a ride into Sheets Creek North, which started life as a fresh water stream and was then dammed in 1941 to make a mill pond. Today, Sheet Creek is a far cry from a freshwater stream. More than 600 tons of debris has been removed from the area and there is still much work to be done. Next week, the tour goes south toward Plandome where yacht clubs, the Whitney Boat House and Purdy Boat Company provides us with rich nautical history.