Living in Nassau County’s bay houses is hard work, Dennis Carr said. Carr, who spent his childhood summers in one of the houses, had to hand-dig a well. It took him almost a year, “but we had the best well on the island,” he said.
Bay houses once filled the marshlands of the South Shore, used by duck hunters, rumrunners and those who would harvest salt hay from the marshes and sell it to farmers. Today, there are only 25 houses within the Town of Hempstead.
The most notable collection of the houses is Meadow Island, across from the Loop Parkway near Jones Beach, where five houses (one of which is being rebuilt) stnad. The island is privately owned, meaning one can’t exactly just drop in at any time.
But a lucky few were able to hop aboard Miss Freeport on June 23 to see the houses and hear stories from those who have lived inside them. The Port Washington-based historical preservation group Long Island Traditions hosted the tour, and Executive Director Nancy Solomon moderated the discussion as the boat made its way to Meadow Island.
Baymen Bob Doxsee, one of the participants, originally lived in Point Lookout but his family transported their house to Meadow Island when they moved their clamming business. Jack Combs, from Freeport, Baldwinite Frank “PJ” Passalaqua and Carr, joined him, as did Fred and Christina Deppart.
The group discussed their memories of growing up or living on the island, and the challenges they have faced. Many have faced difficulties rebuilding after big storms, like Superstorm Sandy, which damaged some homes and washed away others. On Meadow Island, people are still rebuilding from the storm. Passalaqua is just one resident who is battling to obtain permits to rebuild his property — a cease and desist order was slapped on his house after he refused to add the state government to the deed.
Solomon has spent years preserving the bay houses — in the 1980s, the Town of Hempstead tore down hundreds of them under the Clean Water Act. Solomon was able to convince the town to preserve the houses, citing their historical significance.