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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 1981-82.

This interview was conducted for the Port Washington Public Library by George Williams with Herb Mills in Port Washington on February 23, 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
Port Washington Public Library
Oral History Program Director

Funded by the New York Council for the Humanities


Interview of Herb Mills(HM) with Martin Garille by Dr. George Williams(GW), February 23, 1982. Tour of Sand Banks, West Shore Road.

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HM: The cretaceous, which is the white material there, was thrust in by the ice shift in frozen state. There were several of these large blocks of frozen sediment that were picked up in the northern part of Manhasset Bay along in front of the last ice advance, the end of the late Wisconsin, about 20,000 years ago. And it was shoved in like a huge boulder, and we’ll see several of these as we go down. The tan material at the base is glacial outwash, which is basically sand and gravel, which was washed in in front of the ice sheet. So that material washed in front of it from the meltwater coming off of the ice. Then the ice over-rode the area carrying in these large cretaceous blocks. And the topmost layer here is a very thick layer of glacial till, which is the actual debris which is deposited underneath the ice. From the ice itself. So you have water deposit, you have material that was picked up and shoved, and you have material that was dropped out of the bottom of the glacier.

GW: Is that a terminal moraine?

HM: The terminal moraine is down at the end of the harbor. That’s Harbor Hill, that’s a little bit south of here. The surface of this material would be considered ground moraine.

GW: Now, the cretaceous period is what?

HM: From about 120 to 65 million in this area. The cretaceous of Long Island is late cretaceous, which is around 65-70 million years old. It’s sand, clay, gravel. It was all frozen


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in a deep permafrost, and the last ice advance encountered resistance, probably in the area around the Sound. And tore off several large blocks of this, and carried it along for a couple of miles south with the advancing ice front. And then it just became lodged here in the glacial outwash sediments, basically. This material here is not natural. It’s settling basin material, which was... and they just used it for fill.

GM: Tell me the kind of underbrush that’s here.

HM: It’s called mudwater, artemisia; it’s a rank weed that typically grows in disturbed sites such as this one here.

GW: And the trees?

HM: Well, there’s also bigweed, or fragmites (?), which is a wet site species. The trees in here are mostly poplar. There’s a grey birch, it’s about 20 years old, it’s natural (native), and bigtooth. There’s also black locust. They’re all what we call pioneering type trees.

GW: Any kind of berries?

?: Yeah, there’s bayberry, bittersweet. That was all farms, up where we are.

GW: How did it used to look here? Like Sea Cliff, or the bluffs on the North Shore?


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HM: The land gradually sloped down towards the water, but it dropped off fairly steeply as it got to the edge.

GW: Are we still on county property?

HM: Yes. You’re getting a lot of this red sandstone, which may be a mixture of triassic sandstone from back to the Palisades mixed with some of the cretaceous. There are some blends of cretaceous sandstone in here, which contain the fossils. The reason you’re getting such a mixture of rocks in here is you have a till layer here that’s eroding, that carried down tremendous diversity of rocks from out of the Hudson Valley and further up New York State. A lot of crystal and quartz, granite gneiss, which are common in this area. You can really see the geology as well as the mining operation from here. The county park goes from the ridge along the wide diagonal. Colonial had a conveyor belt set up there, and it ran right along the county property line around 1977. The reason that they stopped mining in there is that the major sand that they were looking for is the glacial outwash. It’s basically sand and gravel, it’s been pre-washed, so to speak, by the ice. As they went back into the cliffs there, they ran into a very thick seam of that dark till, which has a very high clay content and is studded with small boulders and cobbles, and it’s not desirable for recovery. And the reason that it thickened is that this whole till unit, which you see here and squeezed on top of that huge cretaceous mass there, was all deformed by the glacial action. Now, if you look here, you have two tills. You have the lower one here, which is about 50' thick, but which thins out and completely disappears. So it pinches and swells. When the slopes were cleaner, you could trace it across there.


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It disappears under a huge downfold, which is filled with outwash. That tannish area is outwash, and it’s actually folded down in a big what’s called a sincline (?), a big U-shaped fold. And on the other arm of the fold, the till, which was deposited in a horizontal position when the ice first laid it down, has been deformed into an almost vertical seam. And not only is the seam about 40-50' thick now, but, as the mining exposed it, it got thicker as it went back. In other words, when I first saw the mining there in the early 70's, there was no evidence of a till layer there. It just thickened dramatically. So this is again the evidence of the pinching and the swelling of the till, the tremendous folding here. You can see the cretaceous had been thrown up into a huge fold, that light-colored area with the salmon-colored mottling has been thrown up into a huge fold. There’s a tremendous amount of disturbance in through here. There’s another one of those huge cretaceous thrust blocks in here. For a distance here of about 1000' is all a cretaceous unit which is resting on glacial material. So we have here, if you look back to the north, you have this other till, this much lower till. Now this lower till, which was disturbed during the last ice advance, was deposited from an earlier glaciation from the early Wisconsin period, and it’s about 50,000 years old. So it’s about 30,000 years roughly between the older glacial materials and the upper glacial materials. In that era, the ice retreat is substantially to the north. Just how far we don’t know, but it was a substantial retreat. In fact, water never returned into Long Island Sound.

GW: In other words, between the early and the late Wisconsin?

HM: Yes, the bottom is early, and the top is late. All of this deformation took place in the late


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Wisconsin advance, the last advance in this area. The extent and the exposure of the deformations here is what makes this area so interesting geologically. Because, not only do you see a tremendous complexity of glacial deformation, but it’s all right here. It’s all exposed. And it’s exposed in a scale which is quite impressive.

GW: What’s the grey?

HM: The grey matter is all part of the cretaceous. It all blobs up there. It sort of goes up on this side of the fold, and then disappears under the fold. Now, if you look out here, you can see what happened in the northern end of the sandpits. Because of the diversity of the materials in the cliffs, the mining here left a very irregular surface. Some of those white mounds out there are cretaceous which was never touched. They’re not piles that were dumped, because the original stratification would still exist there. It may have been part of a thrust sheet that was partially mined away. If you go down to a sea level of about 20-30', you get into cretaceous. But that’s undisturbed. If you drilled down into that, that’s just the underlying cretaceous. So all the glacial material being stripped off of it. But there are spots of cretaceous that were never mined. There are also these conical shaped piles, which are dump piles. They have a large percentage of till and rock material. What we’re standing on is a dump pile from this till. It was not economically recoverable, so they just left it behind. Now as you get farther down to the south, the deformations that you see in the cliffs here peters out. And you don’t get these big cretaceous masses. What you get instead is nice, even layers of horizontal till and outwash, so that the mining down there generally goes down to a nice flat surface where they just stripped


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off everything. Again, they dump the till that they don’t want. When they encounter till layers, they dump that, and they float some of the finer materials off into settling ponds. The cretaceous sand they mine. I think it depends on the clay content whether it's economical for them to recover it.

GW: Do you think that most of Beacon Hill would be cretaceous?

HM: Yes. It’s a mixture. The reason that Beacon Hill is at the elevation that it is is because you can see that these cretaceous blocks added about 75-100' to the elevation of this area. If you subtracted that, the cliffs at this end would be more at the elevation of the cliffs at the other end. And it’s only because you have these thrust blocks and all these deformations here that Beacon Hill is as prominent as it is. So it’s the difference in the geology here as opposed to the geology there that causes this to be a hill.

GW: But the sand throughout this area is more or less the same?

HM: The glacial sand continues to be more or less the same. But the cretaceous that you see high in the cliffs here, when you get down to the other end there, it’s low. It’s low here, but it’s also high. The normal sequence is cretaceous, outwash, till from the first advance, outwash, till from the second advance. So down there, you have a 5-layer type thing. You have cretaceous, outwash, till, outwash, till, which caps the cliffs.
GW: What kind of wildlife do you have here? I guess, basically, you have the same small


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mammal population that you would have up in the preserve, but more disturbed, which would mean raccoons, opossums, probably a lot of muskrats, rabbits, mice, ring-necked pheasants. There’s quite a lot of bird population. Lot of garter snakes, fowls (?), toads.

HM: They breed in the ponds. The drainage here... it doesn’t drain out. So you have a lot of localized little ponds, and so forth. The till is a very dense, impermeable layer, which would hold water on the surface. This is the farthest advance that we can see, clearly marked, in this area of Nassau County. In the east it went to the Ronkonkoma moraine. The two Wisconsin glaciers got here, we know that much. The Montauk till is the till that’s seen at Montauk Point. It’s presumably the same age as this lower till here, which is called the Montauk till. There’s a presumed correlation. There’s no till from an earlier glaciation. There is outwash in Queens County, in buried valleys, called “Jamico” (?) gravel, which may be outwash from an earlier glacier. But if there was earlier glaciation here, we don’t know. Another deposit, the Manetto gravel, which is described from being from an even earlier glacier, doesn’t seem to have any particular value.

GW: Is it the county’s intent to fill these pockets all in?

HM: The intent is to stay pretty much as they are, and use them as a landfill for non-garbage material. I work with the Department of Public Works. The Department of Public Works does the filling and the Health Department monitors it, and I check they’re not going in areas where we don’t want them. There were plans to make this a park ten years ago, when money was more available. They were going to make a golf course out of it, and side the slopes, and all this sort

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of grandiose... but I’m sure that will never pan out. There were plans to make a skeet range, and they went by the wayside. So, at the present time, with the lack of money, we hardly have enough to run our present parks. Sirkin (Les) and I did a field trip for the New York State Geological Association and we hit four places which are not visible anymore. They took down Goat Hill. What it showed very nicely was the undisturbed sequence, which is a great comparison to this. And there’s another good spot by that graded area. But down there it contains oyster shells and peat beds. It was picked up from the Sound area and carried along with these cretaceous blocks. But since that material is datable, Sirkin was able to date the peat and the pollen analysis. It came to mid-Wisconsin, about 34000 B.C. and about 23000. In the peat there is pollen. Now pollen grains are for dating purposes. The peat is datable because it contains carbon. The pollen contains a record of the environment, the trees and other plants at that time. So the pollen is used for environmental reconstruction, which shows a change from the cold to a moderate climate back to a cold, which is what you’d expect. The ice was retreating, and then the climate warmed, and then it became cold, and we had another glaciation.

GW: What kind of forestation was there?

HM: Off the top of my head, it would have been a fern spruce followed by a pine, and then I think it got up to the oak forest. And then it deteriorated back to a pine. It’s as if you were travelling north almost. Instead of travelling laterally on the land surface, you’re traveling up and down in time. The important thing was finding that deposit there determined that the mid-Wisconsin warming was significant, in as much as the water came all the way back into Long Island Sound, even into the western end of Long Island Sound, because at the maximum


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glaciation the shoreline was probably 70 miles south of the present shoreline. A 400 drop in sea level is what has been estimated for the maximum glaciation. There was no water on Long Island Sound during the maximum glaciation. There was a valley that connected it to the mainland. It was filled with ice at the maximum. Just prior to the maximum there was no water in the Sound. The Sound would have drained out. Not only was the Sound dry, but the coastal plain, which is the continental shelf, was exposed about another 75 miles south of where it is now. Off the present south shore. So although there was a lot of land covered by ice, there was a lot more land along the Atlantic and Gulf Coast which was exposed. With the dates in the peat, it gives you an idea of how fast these sequences occurred. Because everything was frozen, all the original stratification in the land is retained.

GW: Where did the cretaceous material come from?

HM: The cretaceous blocks that we see in here would have occurred somewhere up in the northern part of the neck... ‘Cause there is no cretaceous in Connecticut. It would have come not any further than off the northern part of the neck. It was likely when the ice moved over, there was an unusual amount of resistance to the ice floe. The ice was shifted upward, and this stuff actually froze to the bottom of the glacier. And it broke off along planes of weakness, which happened to be clay layers. Because you can actually see at the fault spots there are layers of clay. And the clay would have been a weak layer because the clay might not have been as thoroughly frozen as the sand, because it’s so impermeable. You might not have had the same permafrost. You might have had a sticky... So, when the frozen material started to stick to the bottom of the glacier, the clay started to slip, due to all of the overburdened pressure, and this is what broke away. Obviously, there was a lot of disturbance of all the earlier layers. The fact that you have this till here.

GW: Have you been to the Soundview area, the other side of the neck? Is it the same material?

HM: I’m trying to think. I don’t know if there's cretaceous over...


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HM: You get a lot of those concretions here, too, those Indian paint pots. Both the Indian paint pots and the fossil-bearing lands are areas where iron oxide during the cretaceous cemented little lenses or blobs of clay into the sand. And the leaves were already in those layers. Most of the fossils are leaves and plant material, indicating a somewhat milder climate than at present... more like the southeast. You get a lot of magnolia, fig trees sassafras... certainly a more southern flora.


Return to page 1

Beacon Hill 6

Colonial 3
Connecticut 9

Goat Hill 8

Harbor Hill 1
Health Department 7
Hudson Valley 3

Long Island Sound 8-9

Manhasset Bay 1
Montauk Point 7

Public Works, Dept. of 7

Queens County 7

Sea Cliff 2
Sirkin, Les 8
Soundview 10