THE REMINISCENCES OF NANCY PALEN

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PORT WASHINGTON COMMUNITY ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM

PORT WASHINGTON PUBLIC LIBRARY

THE REMINISCENCES OF NANCY PALEN


Nancy Palen


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 1981-82.

This interview was conducted for the Port Washington Public Library by George Williams with Nancy Palen in Port Washington on March 28, 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

(c)PORT WASHINGTON PUBLIC LIBRARY

Tour with Nancy Palen(NP), interviewed by Dr. George Williams(GW) on March 28, 1982

Click here for index

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NP: Right here where it has the sign where Bill’s boatyard is, right where that building is right now, they had a row of company-owned houses. And this was O’Brien’s, where this green one is. They were one, two rooms at the most, and they went all the way out to where the tugboat area is. There was a whole line of them there and in here, originally, there were Quonset huts. When they didn’t have enough room in the company houses, they had built Quonset huts over on that side. This is going back, oh 1930...late 30's, about 1937, and these were just afterwards. And on this side, there were homes right along this hill. When I was about a year old...

GW: We are right in front of Gotham Sand and Stone Company.

NP: On this side of the street, there were homes on this side of the street, right along the hills, which were company-owned, and we lived in one of them for a very short period of time.

GW: All owned by O’Brien?

NP: All owned by O’Brien. You’ve got to imagine, where the road is now, that was all filled in with sandbank. This was not the original road. The original road was just a two-lane highway and it ran down to where the entrance is now to Harbor Beach, further down. Where the entrance is to Harbor beach is where the old road was. It ran all along where the Harbor Park is now. You’ve got to imagine that that was all along the water. The road was a two-lane highway with sidewalks, and then they had the metal railings and it was a stone wall, and the water was

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right there. So if you had a high tide or bad weather, the water would come right across the road. Now this, where Harbor Park is now, this was all filled in. This was part of the original sandbank. At the end of the Park where the mound is, that was all homes, that was called Billy Goat Hill. There were homes up in there, and Gallagher’s, the big Gallagher mansion was where the mound is now, where the picnic grounds are now in Harbor Park. And there was a few homes before you got to the Gallagher home, heading south, there was a couple of houses right on the street and others were off the road. This was all little woods and all filled in. On the north side of the Gallagher home, there were a few homes, they were not company homes, they were rented and private owned. There was also an army base on this side, on the right hand side where the Italian society used to have picnics. Gallagher’s mansion was situated on the flatland. Where the parking lot is was a big mountain.

GW: Do you remember any homes on this side?

NP: There’s the entrance to Bar Beach. Directly across from Bar Beach there was the Powers, they had twelve children. Then there was a trestle, that went from here across, where they emptied out into the barges. Metropolitan had their machine shop about here, right across from the Powers’ house. Up in this area was where the schoolhouse was. Behind the schoolhouse, there were company houses also. They were two rooms. The schoolhouse, there were quite a few rooms in the schoolhouse, there was an upstairs and a downstairs in the schoolhouse. Right next to the schoolhouse, that was Metropolitan, the sand company.

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That is part of the original conveyor belt of Metropolitan. There was also, right about here was the hopper, where trucks used to pass under and they used to fill the trucks up. But that’s the conveyor belt of them, you know, digging up the sandpits and washing out the sand and filling it up. These are the original conveyor belts. The ones down there are new. By the green building over here there were four homes. I’m going back 1936- 1938, my mother lived in there ‘cause my brother was born when she lived there and across from the four homes that’s where Langone’s was. That was one of the grocery stores.

GW: Do you remember any of the people who lived in those four houses?

NP: No. I could show you pictures of them, but I can’t actually remember who lived there. We could check with Mrs. Chester or Mrs. Palawsky. Her mother would probably remember who lived in the four houses.

GW: And in the Langone’s store, was there anything around?

NP: Yes. Langone’s. Next door to Langone’s there was a little house and that’s where the Trinchitellas lived. Behind Langone’s he had a couple of little houses that he rented out to the workers. Next to Trinchitellas, up on the hill, was the Carusos. Behind the Carusos there were two other little homes that were rented out. Mainly they were summer. If they didn’t rent them out for the summer, then they were company rented out. Next to

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Carusos, on the right hand side, then we come to McCormack’s Sand Company, then next to McCormack’s was Marino’s grocery store.

GW: Do you know who originally owned McCormack’s? I believe it was originally Willets land.

NP: Yes, it was.

GW: How far away was Langone’s from Marino’s?

NP: Oh, it was about half a city block. And then Marino had little houses behind him which he rented out. And then in front of him he had the bocce courts and a little pavilion that was covered where they had tables and benches where the men used to sit and (watch) the bocce courts and that was right on the street. And then right behind the bocce courts, again on the street, were little one- room, company- owned, and then right alongside of it there were, I would say, ten or twelve one- rooms that they rented out for the company’s employees. And then there was a big space. And that was the last area anyone lived in because from there on it was all filled in and woods. Actually, up in here, as kids, we had a road that was just about in this area where it went up and there was a big farm. We used to go up and get goat milk and eggs. It was the only farm. We walked through the woods to get up to here.

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GW: It was “mama la cha cha?”

NP: I don’t know. It could have been. Then if you went further along the woods, we would come out at Port Washington Boulevard, St. Francis Hospital. So we used to walk it up and our mothers would go and pick the dandelions, the vegetables up there. If you were coming on this side of the road, from Roslyn, about where the incinerator is now, there was a home but it was down below, off the road, and there was a Polish family that lived down there. I remember the name was Schultz. And then it was all filled in and there was a two-lane road, it was black macadam. And that was all wooded area, all swamp. Then as you came down further there was three homes that were on that side.

GW: We are coming out of Harbor Park Drive and heading North.

NP: On the water side, there were three homes that were off the road. And we didn’t know the families too much ‘cause we didn’t associate with them but the first house, I can remember, had two children - the name was French. That was one of the biggest tragedies that happened down here on Shore Road. The little boy was left alone with his sister and they were playing and the sister locked the boy in a trunk and he died. You came further up and there was the house the Mazzones (?) lived in. But they didn’t live here too long. They moved to Mineola. And then my house came up. Now, my house was right on the road. I’ve gotta find the dock ‘cause my

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house was right by the dock. Behind us was the dock and the conveyor belt.

GW: Now, what company was there, across from there?

NP: Colonial. Before Colonial it was Trap Rock, New York Trap Rock, and before that there was digging in the back but I don’t know what company it was.

GW: And what was the name of the Chester family?

NP: Giagu.

GW: And they were all Sardinians?

NP: They were all Sardinians. My father was Sardinian and my mother was Calabrese.

GW: Were those barges that were left there to disintegrate, were they there when you were?

NP: Yes. But they were in use in those years. There were none of the pile-ups that they have now. There was some, but not as much as they have now, because when we were here, barges were the main use aside from the trucks. They used them to transport sand from here into the

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city. But most of those barges that are here now, as kids they weren’t here, because they were in use. There were families that lived on them.

GW: Anything that you remember in regards to buildings, people?

NP: Across from Marino’s, down in the lower part, we called it “down in the hole,” right in the water itself, there were homes down there. The Wallaces lived in one, they were known as the Wallaces, but actually their last name was the Olicknowskis (?) Al Marino’s brother, Fiore, he owned, he lived on a barge converted into a house, which was absolutely beautiful and there was a couple of other homes, across from Marino’s, but down in the valley, right on the water itself. As far as the other homes we had, there was next to the Giagus there was Mr. Johnson who had a boatyard. He was right on the water. His home was actually on stilts right on the water. And right in front of him, they had four little company homes that they had that they rented out to the men. Right on the beach itself. And right in front of our house there was a big shipyard and the boats would come in and it was one of the biggest shipyards we had. They called it a shipyard, actually it was a boatyard, where the people used to come and store their boats in the wintertime and launch them in the summertime. ‘Cause this was a big boating area, the way the Manhasset Bay is now. This was a big boating area when we were kids. We actually had two boat yards here.

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GW: You did not go to school at Hempstead Harbor?

NP: No. We were told it was a schoolyard, the old schoolhouse, but we never went to school in it because from the time I can remember, it was used as a, you know, people lived in it. It was no longer a schoolhouse.

GW: Then you do not remember how many pupils went there?

NP: No. Mrs. Nicoll could, because she taught there. The first thing I can remember about the schoolhouse is my mother used to go up there for the coupons with the rations and go up to the schoolhouse. But it was always known as the schoolhouse. That’s all you knew, you knew the Chessas lived there, it was known as the old schoolhouse. And the Santolis lived upstairs, they were the Grecos. That was another family that lived down here for a long time. They lived behind the schoolhouse. The Powers lived here, that was one of the biggest families we had, they had ten - eleven children.

GW: Did they have a large house?

NP: No, they had a small house. And it was funny because they moved from a smaller house to one of Gallagher-owned houses, a much larger house on the street. They rented it out to them.

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And that was right across from Bar Beach.

GW: Did you ever meet any of the Gallaghers?

NP: No, we didn’t. It was, the house was beautiful. The house was laid out on a flat piece of land, right across from the water, with these big stately trees in front of it. It actually looked like it should have been down South. It looked like a plantation. It had the floor to ceiling windows. It was white. The grass was immaculately kept in front, always mowed.

GW: Did you come to Bar Beach to swim?
NP: We didn’t have to come to Bar Beach because we lived right on the water. We didn’t come to Bar Beach until we were older and had actually moved out. There was no reason to come to Bar Beach because we had our own facilities. We had our own beaches, we went clamming, walking along the beach, we had our own little picnics, barbecues on the beach. As far as activities were concerned, there were only two families with the Giagus and us and they had the four kids and the three of us in our family and we played amongst ourselves. We did our own thing. We didn’t have bicycles. The first time I can remember a bicycle was about 1950. That was after my uncle had come from Italy and he wanted some sort of transportation to go back and forth to Roslyn. ‘Cause we had no cars and so he bought a bicycle, and it was the biggest thing for us to have a bicycle. But as far as entertaining ourselves, we found things around the

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house to do. We did things that we had, that were available to us. Playing, swimming, which was the water facilities which were our own, we had the boats, we could find a boat and go rowing, fishing and clamming. We were very resourceful. Our parents depended on us that we had to help out at home, with the cleaning, the cooking, the gardening. We didn’t have that much free time.

GW: How many Sardinian families were there living on Shore Road in the 1940's?

NP: Two.

GW: Just you and the next one.

NP: That’s right.

GW: Were there any particular customs that these families observed?

NP: The holidays were a big thing, of each one making whatever their traditional goodies were. The Giagus made the pappazinis (?), that’s the cookies, and my mother she used to make the braided bread, the holy bread at Easter time. My mother used to bake her own bread all the time. As far as traditions, the meals that were connected with the holidays, we followed those that were brought over from Europe. It was very closeness, I mean, between the two families.

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GW: Did you feel isolated living here, in terms of what was happening in town, going to school?

NP: There was a difference. It was like you were going out of town to go to school and then you had to come home again. There was a separation between we that lived down here and those that lived up on the hill. You felt a little rejected, you felt a little out of place, because of your dress. Most of our clothes were all homemade. I can remember my mother buying the feed for the chick- ens, and, at that time, the feed came in the cloth bags that were all printed. And my mother making our clothes, our dresses, and underwear, from the bags the seed came in. And so, you thought it was great what you had, but then you went up into school and you felt a little out of place.

GW: You did have chickens?

NP: Yes, we, had chickens. We had a big yard. My grandfather planted every vegetable conceivable. We planted in the yard. And my mother would can them so we would live off what we had grown in the summer.

GW: Did any of the other families have any particular pets or customs?

NP: Almost every family that lived in here had chickens. That was one of the main sources of eggs, fowl for eating. There were a few families that had goats for milk.

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GW: Were there goats on Billy Coat Hill?

NP: Yeah.

GW: Who maintained those goats?

NP: The families that lived there. Chickens and goats were about the only two that you, would find. They didn’t go into raising pigs or things like that. The milkman delivered the milk, the breadman delivered the bread, unless we made the bread. And the postman came down. That was about the only transition of coming through here.

GW: Do you remember anything about your father’s wages and anything about the length of his day?

NP: I couldn’t tell you too much about my father because my father passed away when I was two and a half.

GW: And then your mother remarried?

NP: My mother was married first to Tony Natale who was killed in the crane on the

sandbank.

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GW: Will you explain how he was killed?

NP: He was crushed. They were in, washing the stones and the gravel, and he fell over and was crushed in the crane.

GW: Do you know the year?

NP: Let’s see. My mother married my father in 192... I was born in ‘39, my brother was born in ‘38. I would say about ‘34, ‘35.

GW: Did she have any children with Natale?

NP: She had one but then he died.

GW: So you were not related to them at all?

NP: No. But it was like we were. They treated us as part of the family. And then she married my father and she had the three of us. There was my brother, the oldest, myself, and then I have a younger sister. And my sister was nine months old when my father died. And he died of cancer.

GW: And what was your last name?

NP: My last name was Deriu. And he worked in the sandbanks here...

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NP: The union organized down here, with Jim McCann and Tom McCann. And the men went on strike. Now this was about 1938, my brother was born in ‘38, between ‘38 and ‘39 when they went on strike and they tried to organize the engineers’ union down here and the men went on strike. All the women lined up on the side of the street and as the management people went out and they were working, the women were bombarding them with rocks and anything they could find. And the police came down and they sent the paddy wagon down. And they hauled everyone off to jail. But they had to release my mother because she was nursing my brother at the time. So someone had to put up the bail and they let my mother out of jail so she could go to the foundling home and pick up my brother because she was nursing him. And if you talk to Al Marino, his mother and my mother were one of the two women that were on the picket line. It was a close-knit group down here. They stuck together. If you had a problem, or if you were having trouble, you didn’t have to worry about that you were alone. Like even after my father had passed away, my mother was still, even though she wasn’t Sardinian, she was accepted as one of the group. They took care of their own. If you had a problem, there was no trouble about running to your neighbor and asking for help. They were always there. If you didn’t have too much money this week and you went to the grocery store, Langone and Marino always gave you credit until you were able to pay. You lived off the land, you had friends...

GW: Your mother was not thrown out? How did she exist after your father died?

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NP: My grandfather lived with us. And then my mother took in laundry, she went out and she cleaned. She did house cleaning for people in Roslyn. She walked to Roslyn. She would take laundry in at home and they would come and pick it up. And then my grandfather was working. He didn’t work in the sandbanks. This is my mother’s father. He worked for Lewis Valentine. He was a landscaper and then he worked for the town. But originally, when my grandfather came over from Italy, he worked in the mines in Pennsylvania. He also worked building the subways in New York and then he came out, when my mother came over from Italy. He wanted to bring my mother and his whole family but they wouldn’t let my grandmother and my other two uncles come over at the time. So he brought my mother over from Italy and they settled in Glen Head ‘cause he had friends and family here. And then he came out and worked for the town... and he worked for Lewis Valentine, the landscapers. And he lived with us. And my mother also took in boarders, which was the practice of almost every family that lived down here. If there weren’t enough rooms in the company-owned, you know, one or two rooms that they had, we had the houses. And the houses Tour with Nancy Palen that we had were big. They were company-owned houses but they were pretty big and what they did, we did, rent it out. We rented the rooms out to the workers. And you basically rented out to a Sardinian, didn’t rent out to an outsider. That was one of the main things. You rented out to an Italian, you know, that was part of the group.

GW: Do you know if there were any Swedish immigrants in this area?

NP: Yes. Let’s see. I’m trying to remember their names. There were a couple of them. And

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they lived up here. There were some that lived up here across from the Gallagher home. We used to call them “Patchnose” and “Scratchfeet.” They were either Swedish or Norwegian. Now the Powers were Irish. There was Polish, Alice Wallace, who was really Alice Olicknowski. (?) There were a few Polish families. But it was mainly Italian.

GW: Did any of these immigrant families who were workers live on barges?

NP: Across on the waterside from where the Giagus lived, there was a barge which had a barge which someone lived on it and he rented out boats. But that was the only other family that lived on the barges per se. The barges that came in, that were hauling the sand out of the sandbanks, they had families living on those. But those that were stationaried (sic) here--no.

GW: Can you think of any other accidents besides the one you mentioned, for your mother’s first husband, that you remember, either in the sandbanks or with the barges?
NP: With the barges, it was my godfather, who was Catherine Chester’s uncle, his name was Jimmy Picazolu. (?) He was Italian. That was Mrs. Chester’s mother’s brother. And he lost his leg on the dock, right down from our house. And I can remember that very vividly when it happened. They were down there filling up the barges. He got his leg caught in one of the ropes and pulled him over the side and he lost his leg. There was another accident up at the sandbanks.

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But I can’t remember it. I know that they talked about it. There were quite a few where you’d hear the whistle go off and you knew that something...you were waiting to find out what had happened. There were minor accidents, but there was another death in the sandbanks but I cant remember who it was.

GW: Was the Gallagher house on the water?

NP: No. It was across from the water. The Powers lived down there, the Isoldes, the Mingolas. The road separated them from the water.

GW: Did you know anyone who lived in the O’Brien houses, which are coming up on this side?

NP: There were a few houses there. But by the 1940's nobody lived in them. They were actually vacant. But behind them, way up in the back of the hill, the Noccos lived up in there. They had a home right across the street from the O’Briens. There’s one of the original company-owned houses that they had. And it was actually a long one. The Noccos were a Sardinian family. On the street itself, they were vacant. These were all little summer cottages that they had up there. We didn’t come up this far. We went as far as the schoolhouse. ‘Cause we had friends that lived there. And go right back. The only time we’d venture up this far was going to school.

GW: Did you ever play in the sandmining area?

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NP: Only after we moved up on top of the hill. Then we used to play in the sandbanks itself.

GW: Aha. Any particular kinds of games or activities?

NP: Oh, nothing really. Just climbing the mountain, you know, and just going up and down the sandbanks. Many times we’d come home all scratched up, because we’d slide down there. It was nothing but hard clay and you’d lose your grip and you’d fall. But we moved up in the year again after we left the Shore Road into a company-owned home that had...

GW: What company was this?

NP: Colonial.

GW: Now, the companies that you mentioned so far were: O’Brien, Colonial, Metropolitan, McCormack.

NP: New York Trap Rock...that’s about the only ones, they just kept changing owners. The ones that stayed were Colonial, Metropolitan, McCormack. The others were either bought out, they were smaller companies. But they were the three major ones down there. Colonial was one of the newer ones. Actually, I think it was either Metropolitan or McCormack was one of the original ones after Gallagher. You know Gallagher and O’Brien.

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GW: When did you move?

NP: I was in the sixth grade when we moved out of the “down on Shore Road” as we used to call it, and up on the hill. And then it was a complete change of life. You had to change your whole way. You were up in Port Washington, you were not, you wanna call it “from under the hill.” You were on top of the hill now. So I was about 11, 12 when we moved out, we moved up on top of the hill.

GW: Alright, I’ll just ask you one more question. Just any other pictures that you recall; you’ve given us a great many already.

NP: Down on Shore Road? There was one I wanted to tell you about. When we had the big snowstorm, how the bay used to freeze over, the harbor. And I can remember driving the cars across the bay, and I can also remember going out there and sitting there. The men used to cut big holes in the ice and we used to sit there and eel, go fishing in the ice. Like the Eskimos do. That was one of the biggest things in my life, to watch the cars drive across the frozen bay. Every Sunday we’d walk across to church. I can remember walking across the Roslyn by-pass before it was finished. To go across to church on Sunday morning. We walked. That was one of our main means of transportation, was walking, ‘cause no one had a car then down there. So if you had to get anywhere, you had to walk. We used to walk from our house up to Langones to

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get the school bus every morning. When Mrs. Giagu and my mother used to go shopping in
Hempstead, we used to have to walk to Roslyn and ride the bus. There was another big thing. We didn’t do much vacationing. We actually didn’t go on vacation like people do now. We utilized what we had. We had the water. So we didn’t have to go to the seashore. But it was happy. I wouldn’t have given it up for anything, I wouldn’t have given it up for anything. That’s it!


INDEX
Return to page 1

Bar Beach 2, 9
Bill’s Boatyard 1
Billy Goat Hill 2, 12

Caruso 3
Chessa 8
Chester, Mrs. 3, 6, 16
Colonial Co. 6, 18

Deriu 13

French 5

Gallagher 2, 8, 9, 16, 17, 18
Giagu 6, 7, 9, 10, 16, 20
Gotham Sand & Stone Co. 1
Greco 8

Harbor Beach/Park 1-2

Isolde 17
Italian Society 2

Johnson 7

Langone 3, 4, 14
Lewis Valentine Co. 15

Marino, Al 4, 7, 14
Marino, Fiore 7
Mazzone 5
McCann, Jim 14
McCann, Tom 14
McCormack Co. 4, 18
Metropolitan Co. 2-3, 18
Mingola 17

Natale, Tony 12, 13
Nicoll, (Gert) Mrs. 8
Nocco 17

O’Brien Co. 1, 17, 18

Palawsky, Mrs. 3
Picazolu (?), Jimmy 16
Powers 2, 8, 16, 17

Santoli 8
Schultz 5
Shore Road (PW) 5, 18, 19
St. Francis Hospital 5

Trap Rock Co. 6, 18
Trinchitella 3

Wallace, Alice 7, 16
Willets 4