THE REMINISCENCES OF CATHERINE CHESTER

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PORT WASHINGTON COMMUNITY ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM

PORT WASHINGTON PUBLIC LIBRARY   

THE REMINISCENCES OF CATHERINE CHESTER

 
Catherine Chester (left)


PREFACE
The following interview is one of a series of tape-recorded memoirs in the Port Washington Public Library Community Oral History Program. This series was developed in order to systematically gather historical information about the important themes in Port Washington's history from before the turn of the century until the present time.

This interview focuses on sandmining in Port Washington, and was part of a New York Council for the Humanities Project, "Sands of Port", conducted by the Public Library in 1981-1982.

This interview was conducted for the Port Washington Public Library by Elly Shodell with Catherine Chester in Port Washington on March 12, 1982.

The reader is asked to bear in mind that he is reading a transcript of the spoken, rather than the written, word. Editorial corrections have been inserted by hand, when required, to help preserve the authenticity of the verbatim transcript. Permission to quote for publication must be obtained from the Port Washington Public Library or from the oral authors, their heirs or forebears.

Elly Shodell,Oral History Program Director
Port Washington Public Library

Funded by the New York Council for the Humanities

(c)PORT WASHINGTON PUBLIC LIBRARY

Catherine Chester(CC), interviewed by Elly Shodell(ES), March 12, 1982.

Click here for index

page 1

E.S.: When were you in the Gallagher home?

C.C.: I guess when I was about nine. There was a family that lived there, the Powers. As I remember it, it was just set back, there was a very long road that led up to it, it was very green and it was a big, white Victorian house. I just have vague recollections of it. I remember the inside of it being very pretty. It was really a mansion, I guess. It had things like bay windows and a seat in front of the window...the Powers were pretty much like all the families down there. They were renting. Because Mr. Powers worked for the sandbanks, too. He worked with my father at Metropolitan. And I guess they rented the same way that we did.

E.S.: They rented the Gallagher house?

C.C: Yes.

E.S.: What position did he have?

C.C.: He was a laborer. And they were a very big family. They had ten children. Then there was another family that rented the house that is still standing in the Bar Beach area. Where the offices are now...the tracks.

page 2

C.C.: They weren't involved with the sandbanks, but they had kids

E.S.: Did the Gallaghers just have one house?

C.C.: You know, Gallagher is just a name to me. When I was living there it was Colonial and Trap Rock and Metropolitan, so those were the the three sandbanks. And I remember my parents and my father talking about Goodwin- Gallagher. I don't know anything about the Gallaghers at all. If I remember, the Gallagher house was exactly where the hill is now...it had picnic tables. Kind of in that spot, but everything's changed so, it's hard to really... you couldn't really see it from the road. It was so far back in the woods. There was a long lane going up there, about a quarter of a mile.' The main road passed right through where the Nassau County beach is. Then they made that a beach and pushed the road way over. Most of the homes down there were not big, stately houses by any stretch. There were lots of makeshift houses, they weren't even cottages, actually. They were barracks type houses where a lot of the single, older men lived. And there was a house right in the middle of the sandbank, and you take a beaten path all the way up to Port Washington, it would lead you to the Beacon Hill area.

page 3

E.S.: Who lived in that house?

C.C.: It was a family called the Noccos. He lived here for a very long time with his brother-in-law who was a bachelor. And then, I guess around the late 40s, his wife came over with her two children and they lived there, probably, for about another ten years and then the children were married and Mr. and Mrs. Nocco retired to Sardinia.

E.S.: How many families would you say lived down there?

C.C.: I would say, at the most, a total of about seventy people when I was living there, counting all those men in the barracks. As far as families were concerned, there were few. There were families like the Sherlocks, who I don't remember as well as my sister would. I remember basically the Powers and the Derius, the Flacks.

E.S.: We're coming down Beacon Hill.

C.C.: Of course, this wasn't as mined out as it is. This is about where
the Noccos lived. And the left hasn't changed at all. The barges were always here. I recall the bins that held the sand. When I was living here, many of the homes were already gone. There were the Isoldes, they were here, too.

page 4

C.C.: I went through Catholic school with John Isolde. And this was a hill here. Some houses could be seen from the road. All of this that is flattened out was not flat. It was a hill. The houses were right near the water, across from the water. Our house was closer to Roslyn. And there's so little left. It's so changed. There weren't any houses down here at all, I can remember running down here and playing in all these trees that had great big leaves that we used as umbrellas. We played a lot differently from today. We spent a lot of time in the woods. My father worked at Metropolitan. Our house was right about here, cause I used to sit on the porch and sketch those homes across the street. That's the only way I can remember exactly where the house was. We had waterfront property! (laughter) There were three houses. There was old Mr. Johnson, he rented boats and he lived with Miss Ollie, we used to call her...Olivia. I don't know that I should put this on tape. She was a very interesting person. She was a mulatto. She had relatives that were part Hawaiian, and they would come out and visit on weekends during the summer and have a great time. One of her relatives would play Hawaiian guitar. And we sit out there and just listen to them singing, and that kind of thing. Mr. Johnson was a cranky old guy. He had a German shepherd, he didn't want us near his boats. We used to get back. We'd swim out and get handfuls of mud and throw them at his rowboats.

page 5

C.C.: Then in the summer, I told you about the Greeks that used to come out. They lived in the barrack-type places, then there was a great big yacht, and one family lived on that yacht and they would always have lots of friends that came out on weekends, the boat was on the beach. We were up a bit from the beach, but we were right on the water also.

E.S.: Were they wealthy?

C.C.: Oh, no, they weren't wealthy. He was in the sawdust business which was used for cleaning buildings, or something like that. Their friends would come out, some of them were florists, and they would go into the woods andspend half a day back there picking things to bring back to the city. There were bayberry bushes up here and they'd cut off branches of that and take them back. Then they would use wild grape leaves to make pretty dishes with chopped meat and rice, or whatever.

E.S.: We're near the incinerator.

C.C.: We lived right about in here.

E.S.: How did you find your house when you were living here?


page 6

C.C.: Oh, it was no problem. It was right on the road. See, there's a building. That's where old Mr. Johnson used to live. Oh, they've towed away old Mr. Joe's barge. Mr. Joe was a very interesting old man. He used to rent out rowboats, also, and he'd make everything himself. He'd make sinkers, with melting lead, and he'd go eeling and skin the eels right on the shore.

E.S.: Were these barges here?

C.C.: These barges were always here, although they've moved around a bit more from when we were kids. But they were always there.

E.S.: Who lived on the barges?

C.C.: Well, you really never got to know them too much. I told you about Langone's. It was close to Metropolitan. About an eighth of a mile from our house. It was on the other side of the road. And that was a big deal. We couldn't walk to Langones unless we had permission. It was very dangerous living here with the trucks. My mother didn't allow us to walk around. We were never allowed to have bikes, because it was so dangerous living down here. Eventually, each one of our dogs would get run over. One that we had lasted about eight years.

page 7

E.S.: Can you describe what the traffic was like?

C.C.: Well, from a little girl's eyes, the trucks were monsters and they were very noisy and very frightening and yet, as we got older, and started to notice the other sex, so to speak, they got more interested in the truck drivers, so they couldn't wait until 4:30 and wave to all the good looking ones that went by. One had blue eyes, and we used to sing, "Blue Skies..." It was really dumb. I was like four years younger than they were, so I was kind of a 10ner...Langone's was almost directly across from the barges heading toward Roslyn. We spent a lot of time in Roslyn. Then Marino's was closer to Colonial. Most of the scow captains were Scandinavian men, they weren't really hermit-like, but they really didn't get involved with the people of the area. For the most part, you would just see them coming into Langone's to pick up their food, which was probably ordered in advance, a week before. They always seemed to get the same things. And he did carry lots of food that they would eat, herring, flat Swedish bread, and that kind of thing. There was a time once, I remember cause it was such a rare thing, there was a family that lived on the scows. It was a mother, a father, and a young girl. And because of her, I was able to get into one of those little areas they lived in. The length of the scow would be about fifteen feet by about at the most six feet wide. And they had bunks in there, and a small little kitchen area


page 8

C.C.: that I was fascinated. Because we saw people coming and going, but never on a personal level. I don't remember too much about what she had to say about what here life was like, I was glad that I was able to see what
they looked like after years of seeing them out in the water. Knowing that these men lived on them. It was fixed up as much as it could be, for such a small little area.

E.S.: What did it look like inside?

C.C.: There were bunks. There's no such thing as rooms. It was all one room. And, as I recall, there were two bunks on either side of the room and there were curtains on it. It was terribly neat looking, and I guess it's kind of like a gypsy caravan type of thing.

E.S.: How was the Flack house different from the others (where the current beach administration building is)?

C.C.: It was different in one main respect. The other houses were made of wood. There weren't any houses that were stucco or brick down here. Size wise, they might have been about that size. And there were also many other little homes that were right on the water, and whenever there was a big storm they would flood and people would have to move out and put their furniture

page 9

C.C.: so it wouldn't get ruined. One big storm was in the late 40s and there was a man who went out to save his boat, Mr. Valentine, and he died. He was brought up and put on our porch, which caused a big trauma to my mother. He was dead and he was on our porch. All I can remember is he was on a bench with his big black boots and his raincoat.

E.S: Did he work for the sandbanks?

C.C.: I don't think he worked for the sandbanks, but he rented rowboats. He was from an old Roslyn family, the Valentines...this big building here (the washer), I can remember when I was really little and we may have been at some affair up in Port Washington, on the way home when it was lit up I can remember thinking that's what it must be like in the city, because we really didn't have anything around to see that was that tall and lit up. I can remember thinking that that was a very big thing.

E.S.: When Metropolitan owned that, was the machinery the same?

C.C.: Exactly. Those sand bins over there weren't there, but this building was always there, and it looked exactly as it does today.

E.S.:The washer?

page 10

C.C.: Is that what it's called. It's the only thing I can judge by. 'Cause most of the buildings that I can remember are gone, or if they're still around they've been covered over. I know there are one or two there, closer to the water. Since they changed the road, they pushed all the sand over, so you can't even really see them from the road. Most of the buildings across the Sound are exactly the way they were when I was growing up. The Long Island Lighting has grown a lot since then. My house was very close to the road, I think it was about ten feet from the road. And there were great big cement pillars in front of it, in case there was an accident. And we spent a lot of time sitting on those and chatting. They were poles, cement poles, to keep a truck or car from going off the road.

E.S.: The people who worked for Gallagher would not live in your area?

C.C.: It didn't really matter who you worked for. Metropolitan was the company my father worked for, and they owned the house in but I don't know that each sandbank provided a house.

E.S.: Did he walk to work?

page 11

C.C.: Yeah, he would walk to work every morning. I remember him coming home, and he would stop at Langone's to pick up a candy bar for us and we would run to meet him.

E.S.: What was the difference between Marino's and Langone's?

C.C.: I think Langone's had more to offer. Langone's had a butcher and you could get fresh meat from him. For some reason, Langone's was more of a meeting place, like at around 4:30 for the men who worked in the sandbanks, than Marino's was. Although Marinos were the only people in the area that had a TV and everybody would gather around, bring benches up, and they would put the TV in the window, and we'd all sit there and watch the wrestling matches on Friday nights. It was our weekly event. Going to Marino's.

E.S.: Was it a general store?

C.C.: It was a very small store, in fact. And I was young at the time, so it has to have been even smaller than I thought it was. You walked in.

page 12

C.C.: It had a wooden floor. It had very much the feeling of a general store. Theyhad penny candy, and bread, and some canned foods. I don't think Marino's had asmany fresh vegetables as Langone's. Langone's was high up, you had to go up three flights of stairs to get up there and there was a porch out front, it was a big square house, it was wood, too, and you'd walkin and it had wooden floors and to your left there was a dark, kind of mahogany candy place. And on the right was the fresh fruit and vegetables, usually left in the cartons they came in. Then behind that there were shelves that had canned goods on them. Everything seemed so tall and hard to get. We would walk to the store and ask for American bread and Italian bread, or Italian coffee or American coffee. There was really a decided difference between the two. I mean, we really didn't have that much American bread in the house.

E.S.: What was the difference?

C.C.: We only used American bread for sandwiches. And that was probably only after we protested that we didn't want those big Italian sandwiches, with eggplant, or whatever my mother used to make and can during the summer. You could see the difference. The size. That was the biggest thing.

page 13

C.C.: The butcher was a little room in the back and you would must tell him
what you wanted. Then, there was another thing which we used to do which was again, personal. My sisters used to have to go to the store round about four o'clock to pick up something for dinner. I was younger. They never wanted to take me along. They would take me if I promised not to sing, because, I guess, I used to love tomatoes, and they would put me up on a crate and I would sing "Mare's Eat Oats and Does Eat Oats" and they'd give me a tomato for it. It was a very simple life living here. I can't describe it any other way. Nothing that happened was that involved. It was a very earthy type of living. We didn't have anything plastic. We didn't play the normal games other kids played. We would play games like "Split the World", you probably never heard of it. It's played with a knife. You make a circle in the ground and you throw the knife into it...does that sound familiar to you? We would smoke the hollow weeds from the marshes, we called them straws.

E.S.: Did you feel it was a protected environment?

C.C.: Pretty much so. There were those older men we were always warned about. She'd tell us not to speak to them, and never to go near them and there was one old man who was threatening. And I can picture him. There was a barracks, each room was all lined up and each man had his own door and there was a chair sitting outside the door. They had back doors and front doors.


page 14

C.C.: These were one room places. They lived there. And I guess this one man, he had a fascination with children and he used to bribe us to come over to talk to him.

E.S.: Did you have a name for him?

C.C.: Not really. There were people who did have names. I do remember Patchnose. He always had a bandaid over his nose, he probably had skin cancer or something we wouldn't have known about at the time. Then there were other people who lived further down, closer to where the incinerator is now. They didn't work for the sandbanks but they had a life that was completely removed from our way of living. They had women friends, pretty much like the bag ladies in the city. They would get drunk and be found frozen to death on a cold night.

E.S.: Was that a community by the incinerator?

C.C.: This was not a community. They were isolated houses. There was nothing like a community type thing. You might find a house here and a house there. There was a very beautiful old home that sits down where the bypass is now. That was the only place I remember that had a green lawn,


page 15

C.C.: because we didn't have such a thing. And no one else did that I recall. My mother would walk down there in the spring and pick dandelions. With a big shopping bag. And there was a pond there and there were loads and loads of wild tiger lilies growing around there. I remember before the Roslyn Viaduct was built we used to roller skate on it. Then we walked to church from there. We used to go to Roslyn, St. Mary's.

E.S.: Did you feel isolated?

C.C.: Very much so. I always think of it as two different worlds. We were isolated insofar as I don't think anybody was aware of what life was like down here unless you lived it.

E.S.: Were you aware of what life was like up there?

C.C.: Vaguely, really vaguely. All I can remember is occasionally I would visit a friend who lived in a very nice house and had a canopy top bed, and all the things a little girl should be growing up with, so to speak. Actually, when I lived here I was a very happy kid. I had freedom that the average kid my age didn't have.

page 16

E.S.: Do you ever walk around here?

C.C.: I haven't, no. Not since the road was changed. It's kind of hard to get to.I've often, riding past, tried to picture exactly where the house was and I always look to see what's still there. Even just today I noticed that Old Mr. Joe's barge was gone. That's only recently been taken away. I would say, within the last year.

E.S.: How could you tell whose barge was whose?

C.C.: Well, there was only one barge and it was fixed up and it was always there. It was an isolated barge. It wasn't with other barges and it was beached also. Those barges were as rotten then as they are today. We never really went near them or paid any attention to them for that matter. It was just part of the scenery. When you live in a place like this, you didn't find anything to be offending to your eye. It was just part of living in an industrial area, not that we even thought of it as such. We just accepted what ever was there.

E.S.: Could you hear the noise from the machinery?

page 17

C.C.: Somewhat. I don't even have memories of it. I have memories of the trucks being very loud because they had chains at that time. They really were very, very loud. I think it was just part of the day, hearing the noise of the machinery. We didn't pay that much attention to it. It was just mainly, beside the industry, a place where people would come to rent a rowboat, spend the day out fishing, you never saw any really fancy boats going by, it wasn't that kind of a thing.

E.S.: Did you feel it would ever be built up around here?

C.C.: I really never thought of it being anything but the sandbanks. And that it would always be. And when it started changing, I really had kind of sad fee1in~about it. I don't know that I ever wanted it to be a community. I guess nobody wants to see progress where it's such big changes. But I really, I was ten when we left here, and I really didn't want to leave, I have to say that. I loved living here. It was such a nice childhood, I really had such a good time.

E.S.: Where did you move to?

C.C.: We really moved up in the world. To Twelfth Street.

page 18

E.S.: Do you remember what the men wore to work?

C.C.: For the most part, they all wore union suits. And then there was a shirt over that and they had either beige or green work pants. Most of them had lunch boxes, and would come home dusty and dirty, come in pretty tired and wash up and sit down for dinner. and accordingly, my father would usually go to sleep. Other men would just visit with each other and come back and go to sleep and start the day over. We talked about the heated arguments, about the jobs, or advancement, who was doing what. We always had company, I can remember that after work, men would stop in and chat for a few hours and then go on their merry way. My father used to make homemade wine so he always had plenty of wine to socialize with. That was a fun time, too.

E.S.: Where were your grapes from?

C.C.: There was a man who used to...when I told you about Mama Luca... There were many merchants who used to drive down here. It was part of their weekly thing. And there was this man called "Frenchie", I don't know what his real name was. And he was from Glen Cove. And he had an old green truck, it was mostly wood and it had canvas on both sides of it and

page 19

C.C.: it had fruit and vegetables on either side. I think when they got grapes they would order it from him and he would bring it out. That was in the early fall, I guess, they would start to make wine.

E.S.: Would he come door to door?

C.C.: He had a voice which you just couldn't (miss)...he didn't need a horn, his voice alone, you knew "Frenchie" was in the area. Which he literally used to yell out, "Frenchie", "Frenchie". All the women would come out and he would show them what he had to offer. We didn't have a local Good Humor man stopping by. We had another man who had a white wooden truck rather than a green one. He came from an old family up in Port Washington. His name was Mr. Sica. He had a grill. And we, of course, never bought any of his hot dogs, but he would grill hot dogs and sell them to the workers and we would buy creamsicles from him, that was about it.

E.S.: What would you like to see happen in this area?

C.C.: Well, I guess I'd like to see it cleaned up, some homes going up down here, I'd hate to see the sandbanks disappear completely. I guess

page 20

C.C.: that's why I was so excited about the fact they might be doing something with it with the Department of the Interior. It's just such a part of what Port Washington was all about and it would be nice to retain some of it. I'd like to see reproductions of older houses. I'd hate to see condominiums going up, kind of "glomming" up the whole view. It would be nice for everybody to enjoy it as they ride by. And if you were to put up replicas of the older homes, it would be beautiful. It would be more like my memory of some of the homes in here.

E.S.: You're starting at Metropolitan and going down that side of the road. What were some of the houses?

C.C.: There was an area where there were no homes, between Metropolitan,
and the first home you'd see was Langone's. And there was a cluster of four houses. Next door to Langone's was a small little cottage that the Trinchitellas lived in, and they were an old family and Mrs. Trinchitella used to bake bread every morning and we used to wait for the bus. And it was so cold. And she used to invite us in and you could smell the bread baking. It was a light green stove that she had, probably was a coal or wood-burning stove. And that was such a pleasure to go in there. And next

page 21

C.C.: to them, the Trinchitellas, was the Caruso house. That was a fairly large house that stood high on the hill. And then behind them, there was a brown clapboard house and there were people who lived in there, but I can't remember who they were. That's all I can remember on that side, of the street. As you went down a little further, not too much further, you'd come across Marino's store.

E.S.: Were there houses by Marino's?

C.C.: Those little red barracks were by Marino.

E.S.: How many would you say there were?

C.C.: It was one building, but it was a long, narrow building and it probably had eight doors on that building.

E.S.: If you kept going to Roslyn, you wouldn't see anything else on that side?

C.C.: No. 'Cause then you'd come across Colonial sandbanks and then the other houseswould have been on the other side of the street. Or on the water.

page 22

E.S.: Where was the farm?

C.C.: The farm was on the other end, where the Candies shoe place is. Where the skating rink is, up in that area. That was far away from us, really. We wouldn't have gone there often. It was a lot greener. Where we were, there were very few trees on our side of the street because we were right on the water. So every time we went on the other side of the road, if there was a road that went up, it usually was a lot greener. And then there were animals there. There were chickens and turkeys and there was an old couple that ran the farm and, I remember, the woman was very old-fashioned. She wore long dresses, she even wore a bonnet. I don't remember her name. There was another interesting couple that lived on Shore Road, between our house...there were other homes there, I just remembered. The Valentines. There were homes closer to Roslyn. There were loads of shacks that footed this area, that these men I was talking about, lived in. They mainly were all alcoholics from what I could remember, and there were things, like my father told us one day we couldn't go to church because there was a big disturbance up there. These two men evidently shared one of these shacks and they had a cat. One of the men wanted to put a hole through the dividing wall so the cat could come and go and he got into a terrible argument with

page 23

C.C.: the other man and was murdered, with an ice pick. Those are the kind of things we grew up with down here. In between, as I said, there were shacks and then there were other homes. Now coming toward us, there was the house that Nancy lived in, the Deriu house, which was a house which was painted blue. None of the houses had fresh paint around here. And all the houses had a porch. I always remember having such fun on the porches. And a lot of things were done outdoors. In between the Deriu house and our house I can't remember any houses. And then, oh yes, there was a little saltbox house that was closer to the water and that's where the Gaius' lived. They were Sardinians. Then we were right next door to the Gaius'. And then close to us, and down the hill, even closer to the water, there was another man named Frank Niedu(?) who was a bachelor. He lived in this long, narrow house. A lot of these places were one-room houses. These single people lived in. Directly across from his house was where Johnson's boathouse was. And that house was on stilts because at high tide the water would go right under it. And just behind that, was the great big boat, I told you, that was beached, that the Greeks, like squatters took over and moved in there. Beyond that, there were other houses on the water. The Valentines,

page 24

C.C.: ...the Nelsons, their house was also on stilts. I can picture these homes, but I can't really remember who the people were who lived there. The furthest north we ever walked was Bar Beach, but that was when we were older, because we really had our own beach.

E.S.: There could have been other communities up here, of people living.

C.C.: There were. On the other side of the street. But those are the people whose names I can't remember, like the Sherlocks. That was closer to where the Powers lived. And, I guess, you could say that there were separate little communities, if you look at it that way. You know who might know is Betty Santoli. And Govina would remember. She's 46.

INDEX
Return to page 1

Barges 6, 16

Candie 22
Colonial Sand Co. 2,7,21

Derius 3,23

Farm 22
Flacks 1,3,8
Frenchie 18-19

Gaius 23

Gallagher Bros. 1,2, 10

Goodwin 2
Greeks 5,23

Isolde 3-4

Johnson 4, 6,23

Langone 6,7,11-13, 20
Long Island Lighting Co. 10

Mama Luca 18
Marino 7, 11-12,21
Metropolitan Sand Co. 1,2,4,6,9, 10,20
Mr. Joe 6, 16

Nelson 24 Nocco 3

Olivia (Miss Ollie) 4

Patchnose 14
Powers 1,3, 24

St. Mary's Church (Roslyn) 15
Santoli, Betty 24
Scandinavians 7
Sherlock 3,24
Sica 19

Trap Rock 2
Trinchitella 20

Valentine 9, 22, 23