PORT WASHINGTON COMMUNITY ORAL
THE REMINISCENCES OF CATHERINE CHESTER
Catherine Chester (left)
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,
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
When were you in the Gallagher home?
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?
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.
C.C.: They weren't involved with the sandbanks,
but they had kids
E.S.: Did the Gallaghers just have one
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
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,
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.
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.
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?
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
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
E.S.: Can you describe what the traffic
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
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
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.
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?
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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,
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
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
E.S.: How could you tell whose barge was
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
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.
E.S.: Do you remember what the men wore
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,
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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,
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.
Return to page 1
Barges 6, 16
Colonial Sand Co. 2,7,21
Gallagher Bros. 1,2, 10
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
Powers 1,3, 24
St. Mary's Church (Roslyn) 15
Santoli, Betty 24
Trap Rock 2
Valentine 9, 22, 23