THE REMINISCENCES OF HERB MILLS
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PORT WASHINGTON COMMUNITY ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM
PORT WASHINGTON PUBLIC LIBRARY
THE REMINISCENCES OF HERB MILLS
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.
Port Washington Public Library
Oral History Program Director
Funded by the New York Council for the Humanities
(c)PORT WASHINGTON PUBLIC LIBRARY
Interview of Herb Mills(HM) with Martin Garille
by Dr. George Williams(GW), February 23, 1982.
Tour of Sand Banks, West Shore Road.
Click here for index
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 well 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. Thats Harbor Hill, thats 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. Its sand, clay, gravel. It was all frozen
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. Its settling
basin material, which was... and they just used it for fill.
GM: Tell me the kind of underbrush thats here.
HM: Its called mudwater, artemisia;
its a rank weed that typically grows in disturbed sites such as
this one here.
GW: And the trees?
HM: Well, theres also bigweed, or fragmites
(?), which is a wet site species. The trees in here are mostly poplar.
Theres a grey birch, its about 20 years old, its natural
(native), and bigtooth. Theres also black locust. Theyre all
what we call pioneering type trees.
GW: Any kind of berries?
?: Yeah, theres 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?
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. Youre 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
youre getting such a mixture of rocks in here is you have a till
layer here thats 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. Its
basically sand and gravel, its 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 its 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.
It disappears under a huge downfold, which is filled with outwash. That
tannish area is outwash, and its actually folded down in a big whats
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.
Theres a tremendous amount of disturbance in through here. Theres
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 its about 50,000 years old.
So its 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 dont 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
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 its all right here. Its all exposed.
And its exposed in a scale which is quite impressive.
GW: Whats 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. Theyre 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 thats undisturbed. If
you drilled down into that, thats 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 were 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 dont 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
off everything. Again, they dump the till that they dont 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. Its 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 its only because
you have these thrust blocks and all these deformations here that Beacon
Hill is as prominent as it is. So its 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, its low. Its low
here, but its 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
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. Theres quite a lot of bird population.
Lot of garter snakes, fowls (?), toads.
HM: They breed in the ponds. The drainage
here... it doesnt 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 thats seen at Montauk
Point. Its presumably the same age as this lower till here, which
is called the Montauk till. Theres a presumed correlation. Theres
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 dont know. Another deposit, the Manetto gravel, which is described
from being from an even earlier glacier, doesnt seem to have any
GW: Is it the countys 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 theyre
not going in areas where we dont 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
of grandiose... but Im 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 theres 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 youd 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. Its as if you
were travelling north almost. Instead of travelling laterally on the land
surface, youre 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
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
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 its 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: Im trying to think. I dont
know if there's cretaceous over...
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
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Beacon Hill 6
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