Monday, August 8, 2011

On the Bay

Most photos may be enlarged by clicking on the photo.
On Tuesday August 23, 2011, the Seaford Historical Society hosted a fascinating, well-planned, and succinct talk by Nancy Solomon, author of two editions of On The Bay: Bay Houses and Maritime Culture. First published in 1992, the new revised edition is available from Long Island Traditions.  The book includes photographs, explanations, history, and personal narratives.
The Seaford Historical Society's museum had a capacity audience of about eighty, many of whom, it was obvius, knew of the bay shacks first-hand.  Their presence in Seaford goes back more than 120 years.
Below are some of my notes from the meeting, but the notes may contain errors.  I will be glad for corrections.

Seaford Historical Society meeting 8.23.2011.  Bay Houses.
Nancy Solomon spoke about bay houses or bay shacks .
She published a book in 1992,  "On the Bay: Bay houses and maritime culture on Long Island's marshlands."  A second, revised edition has just been published, available from
An audience of about eighty filled the museum.  Ms. Solomon presented her talk succinctly, with the help of a powerpoint projection.  Much of the presentation concerned the subject matter of the 1992 book and what has changed since then.  I noted that about half the audience knew much about the bay shacks, and some 25% or so may have been owners or family members.
There are about 35 bay shacks now left in the Town of Hempstead waters, and (if I heard correctly) about 35 more in Town of Islip waters.
Many shacks fall in the category of vernacular architecture, that is, structures built by the users themselves according to their own needs and often with found materials.  Example: one was built mostly of old wooden doors, some of the 1950's era from surplus crates from Grumman, another from a garage. 
Until the 1920's, most of the homes were owned by baymen, fellows who caught crabs, clams, scallops, killies (which often were then sold to fishermen as bait).  During Prohibition, there was trade with rum runners.
About 1950, there was a boom in people building bay shacks, until they numbered about two hundred.  Then the Town of Hempstead, mindful of environmental concerns and new movements about wetlands, began to insist that no shack be replaced.  Leases from the Town would expire with the passing of the owner.  Leases could not be transferred.  A date of 1993 was set for the destruction of all bay shacks, but a movement of interested parties (concerned about the loss of a local tradition) brought a changed attitude in the Town government.  Now, leases may be transferred within the family, particularly to the next generation.

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