“Letters, We Get Letters…”

December 8th, 2014 · · LHC, Post Office

   post office nowFrom a class trip to the Port Washington Post Office in the 1930s (pictured upper left) to the sleek operations of the Post Office of today, our ways of contacting each other have dramatically changed over time. In the current era of computers, email, and cell phones, communication is almost instantaneous. Sorting and delivering mail seems antiquated. But I for one still enjoy holding the physical book or letter or postcard in my hand.  It keeps me rooted in the past. Mail sack or cyberspace, we are on the cusp of new forms of connecting.

The original Port Washington Post Office (pictured above) opened in 1902. Sharing the premises with the Bank of North Hempstead, it was located at 324 Main Street and delivered letters and parcels weighing four pounds or less. Large packages were left to private express companies to deliver. Before that, dating back to the 1850s, mail came from the Roslyn station via horse and buggy. John Kilpatrick, a Roslyn baker, earned $50 a year for carting the mail to a location on Mill Pond and Shore Road.

After the economic growth of the early 20th century, the expansion of transportation and communication and the establishment of the United States Postal Service, the Post Office that we see today on Port Washington Blvd was built in 1935, during the Great Depression, funded by a PWA (Public Works Administration) project as part of the New Deal. To find out more about Port’s postal history, consult www.pwpl.org/localhistory/catalog and scroll down to the Port Washington Post Office Collection and the Post Master Account Books.

Come Fly Away!

September 2nd, 2014 · · Uncategorized


Adding to the themes of my previous posts on historic automobiles and yachting, I have chosen this time to focus on aviation, an important subject in the history of Port Washington. This photograph, taken in 1919, captures a young boy on Second Avenue in Port Washington playing with his toy airplane. Seen here at the age of 11, this boy, William Leiber Jr (“Willie”), developed a love of boating and of aviation. What young boy wouldn’t love airplanes at the time, especially in Port Washington? These were the early years of aviation in Port where bold and daring fliers could be seen testing planes on the bay and doing loop de loops. What a sight to see!

Despite the fact that Leiber was photographed here with an airplane, it was mostly boating that interested him as a child and later as an adult. He would eventually grow up to work for the Grumman Corporation, building ham radios, steam engines, and boats. “Willie” was also an avid boater and speedboat racer, belonging to a few yacht clubs in town. After a lifetime devoted to boating, at the age of 55, Leiber decided to pursue his love of airplanes and began flying on his own. For more information about the Leiber family and aviation history visit: http://www.pwpl.org/localhistory/collection-catalog/  and http://www.pwpl.org/localhistory/aviation/ Further reading: Flight of Memory: Long Island’s Aeronautical Past by Elly Shodell, available to order online or borrow or purchase at the library.

Yacht Clubs: Then and Now

July 1st, 2014 · · Mason Collection

pwpl.mason.r0129Summer is finally upon us. I was reminded of this fact when I stumbled upon this image from the library’s Mason Collection which captures a young woman’s graceful dive into a pool. On July 17th, 1960, photographer Stanely Mason ventured out from his studio on Main Street and photographed this woman at a swim meet at the Riviera Bath Club. The club was part of the Riviera Restaurant located on 43 Orchard Beach Blvd in Manorhaven. Built in 1925 and known originally as the North Hempstead Yacht Club, then later as the Columbia Yacht Club, it eventually became the Riviera. Famous crooners of the day, including Perry Como made appearances there, arriving by boat from the city. Unfortunately, the Riviera Restaurant and Bath Club burned down on January 9, 1974 in a fire whose cause is unknown.

Nowadays, clubs such as the Port Washington Yacht Club, Manhasset Bay Yacht Club, and the North Shore Yacht Club continue the long time tradition of creating social communities in Port Washington. Since the early 1900s, these clubs have marked the area as symbols of affluence where the wealthy have the opportunity to not only boat together but to swim in pools, play tennis, attend dinners, parties and lectures. From the early days to the present, these places come alive in the summertime providing their members an exclusive opportunity to relax, socialize and enjoy the great outdoors along the bay.

If you are interested in discovering more about this subject, the library has additional material on the various yacht clubs including old postcards which are available online. https://www.flickr.com/photos/pwpl/sets/72157621386835082/

Additionally, the library has inherited the records of the Knickerbocker Yacht Club, a 135 year old club located in Port, which shut down in 2009. View the digital collection at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/pwpl/collections/72157624969389409/

Crash Course: Mason Collection

May 6th, 2014 · · Mason Collection


As the archives assistant at the PWPL Local History Center, I have been digitally scanning photographs from one of our collections, the Mason Collection, which consists of nearly 20,000 images about Port Washington. Of all the images I have seen so far in the collection none has captured my attention more than this dramatic scene of a wrecked automobile from January 1, 1958. To the viewer today, more than 60 years after the crash, this image brings to mind several questions. How did such a beautiful looking car meet such an unfortunate fate? Was the snow and ice on the ground that day a factor in the collision? And what kind of car is this? An archivist looks for clues to answer questions such as these. As my knowledge of antiques is limited, I went to a friend with some knowledge of cars to find out the make and model. He took some guesses but ultimately brought a copy of the photo to his mechanic, who happens to be an antique car aficionado. The mechanic examined the front hood ornament and knew immediately that it was a Pontiac Chieftain. After matching the Mason photo with a few photos online, he determined that it was a 1951 model. The headlights, shape, and lines of the car confirmed this. I am looking forward to learning more from this project and will be selecting future favorites in the months to come.

Introducing: Captain Jack

January 18th, 2011 · · Famous Residents

John J. FlohertyJohn J. Floherty (known as “Captain Jack”) was a prolific author and Port Washington mainstay in the first half of the 20th century.  He wrote more than 40 career-oriented books for young people, including such titles as Sons of the Hurricane, Youth and the Sea, Our FBI: An Inside Story, Get That Story, Sentries of the Sea, and Five Alarm: The Story of Fire Fighting.  Floherty traveled widely and stayed with people he was researching. He spent time in lighthouses, and among FBI agents.

Floherty lived in Port Washington for over 50 years, at 9 Shoreview Road in Baxter Estates. He was a member of many local organizations including the Manhasset Bay Sportsmens Club, Manhasset Bay Yacht Club, and the volunteer fire company.  In 1917 he helped organize the Port Washington Home Guard, and in 1941 he was chairman of the Port Washington Committee for Community Mobilization and Defense.

Captain Jack was interviewed by Port’s Chief of Police James Salerno on March 6, 1964 for the Cow Neck Peninsula Historical Society .  He died on December 3 of the same year.  Following is the first in a series of audio clips taken from that interview.  Here, Floherty and his extremely proud wife Margaret discuss his writing.  Ubangi, for those who may be curious, is actually a group of 40 languages that are spoken in Central Africa.

[audio:http://www.pwpl.org/localhistory/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/Floherty-books.mp3|titles=John J. Floherty Oral History Excerpt 1]

“…as well as the usual languages one thinks of…”  Click the arrow to listen.  (1:12)

"Our FBI" Cover Image"Search and Rescue at Sea" Cover Image"Men Against Crime" Cover Image

Many of John J. Floherty’s handwritten manuscripts may be viewed at the PWPL Local History Center.

Biographical information by Francesca Pitaro.

John J. Floherty portrait from the Stanley Gerard Mason Collection, PWPL Local History Center.

The Help

May 4th, 2010 · · Gold Coast Estates

The Guggenheim Estate, Sands Point, NY, c. 1920

In the 1910s and 1920s, 325 country houses of over 25 rooms were built on Long Island, which became home to some of the wealthiest families in America.  Among them were the Guggenheims, Belmonts, Astors, Mackays, Vanderbilts, Goulds, Hearsts, Pratts, Coes, Phipps, Morgans, and Whitneys.

Behind the gates of these estates, the needs and desires of the owners were attended to by cadres of household maids, cooks, domestics, groundskeepers, superintendents, stablehands, chauffeurs, dairymen, and gardeners.  Some stayed on their jobs for a few years, others for a lifetime.  “Small” estates had 10-15 servants, while the largest had up to 400.  Estate workers shared a unique way of life that has long since disappeared.

Evan Williams & State-of-the-Art Lawnmower

Megan Rumbelow grew up around the Gold Coast Estates.   Her uncle, Evan Williams, worked as a chaffeur at the Guggenheim estate in Sands Point.  Her mother and aunt were also employed as servants.  In the following interview excerpt, she tells historian Elly Shodell about the realistic depiction of servant life in the British TV series Upstairs,Downstairs:

[audio:http://www.pwpl.org/localhistory/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/rumbelow12.mp3|titles=Megan Rumbelow Discussing Evan Williams]

“Don’t talk… stand straight…”  Click the arrow to listen.  (2:06)  Click here for a transcript.


Megan Rumbelow (as a child) with aunts and uncle Evan Williams

To hear more of this interview, read transcripts, and view more photos, please visit the Port Washington Public Library Local History Center.

Megan Rumbelow interview (excerpt) conducted by Elly Shodell.  © Port Washington Public Library, 1983.

Some text adapted from the PWPL publication “In the Service,” ed. Elly Shodell.  © Port Washington Public Library, 1991.

The Booze Cruise

April 20th, 2010 · · Gold Coast Estates

On January 16th, 1920, the 18th Amendment made drinking alcohol illegal.  “It was an era,” wrote Port Washington News editor Ernie Simon, “when the most popular guy in town was the one who knew where the best ‘speakeasy’ was.”  Police raids on transports and barrooms were frequent, such as this one at  Main Street’s Cove Inn:

It's a bust! The Cove Inn on Main Street.

Rum running, the smuggling of liquor over water, became a common activity along Long Island Sound.  According to Port resident Clarence “Chappie” Miller, even the kids had an idea of what was going on…

[audio:http://www.pwpl.org/localhistory/wp-content/uploads/2010/04/rum-running1.mp3|titles=Clarence Miller Discussing Rum Running]

“Get out of here you kids!!”  Click the arrow to listen. (0:42)

Roswell Valentine worked as a gardener at the Matheson estate in Lloyd’s Neck, a Gold Coast mansion similar to those in Port Washington and other towns along the North Shore.  Here he describes a Prohibition-era scenario:

[audio:http://www.pwpl.org/localhistory/wp-content/uploads/2010/04/rum-running-21.mp3|titles=Roswell Valentine Discussing Rum Running]

“They would hide their cases of liquor all through the woods…”  Click the arrow to listen. (1:13)

Quick, small boats were used for rum running.

To hear more of these interviews, read transcripts, and view more photos, please visit the Port Washington Public Library Local History Center.

Clarence Miller interview (excerpt) conducted by John Poland.  © Port Washington Public Library, 1983.
Roswell Valentine interview (excerpt) conducted by Prof.Richard Harmond and Tom Vincittorio, 1987.