Experience Port Washington

Gold Coast Estates

The Help

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:

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“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

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…

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“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:

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“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.