Saturday, March 3, 2012

Driving in and around Great Neck, Long Island, New York

After leaving Naomi’s former home in Great Neck (see my last post,) we drove about 2 miles to take a look at the Saddle Rock Grist Mill. It is open occasionally but it was closed that day. It is a working museum still grinding grain and corn.

As written on the sign above, the mill was constructed around 1700 (76 years before the USA became a country) and is one of the few remaining tidal mills left in the nation. It remained the property of the original owners from the 1700s until 1950. It is now owned by Nassau County and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. It was built from mill equipment brought over from England. Trading vessels would come and go in the small cove opening onto Little Neck Bay off Long Island Sound.

I tried to take some closer pictures of the mill but I could not go on the other side of the cove where it can best be seen. It was restored several times to its mid-19th century appearance. Below is a better view on an old postcard.

A park surrounds the mill and fronts the water. There was absolutely no one around. We walked and I took more pictures. A black walnut tree had lost most of its leaves but there were still some black walnuts hanging from the branches.

Click collage to enlarge then click on each pictures to see better
We left the mill and drove another mile and a half to Steppingstones Park. As we entered the park we could see the Bay in the distance and a profusion of flowers in the park. Again, there was no one around.

A sign explained the origins of Great Neck. It first was called Mad Nan’s Neck and was home to Native Americans.

I found out more about them later. The Natives of Long Island were people known as Algonquians. They lived in small bands or clans. One of the groups living in this part of the Bay was called the Matinecocks. The Bay provided a variety of fishing.

Martinecock Native Americans (courtesy the Garvies Point Museum)

In the mid-1600s English and Dutch settlers came into the Great Neck area and purchased land from Asharoken, Chief of the Matinecocks. A great part of the Matinecock land was sold in 1653 and the rest in 1656. The Native Americans did not grasp the idea of land ownership and easily sold all their land for some liquor, gun powder and clothes. Even though they were the largest group of people living on the island, after the settlers came the Matinecocks quickly vanished – they caught European diseases and fought with the white settlers over their land. By 1730 all the Matinecock villages were gone.

After the Long Island Rail Road started service on the Island in the late 1890s, development and growth followed. Because of its proximity to New York City many celebrities built homes in Great Neck. I found a long list of names but will just mention the following residents: the actors Maurice Chevalier, Joan Crawford and Groucho Marx.

There was also the writer of musicals Oscar Hammerstein II, and the writers P. G. Wodehouse and Edmund Wilson. One of the better known residents was F. Scott Fitzgerald who lived in Great Neck from October 1922 to May 1924. Here he is below (picture from the Web):

He lived at six Gateway Drive in a small house but close to great estates. The owner of Naomi’s former house told me that she knew the current owners of Fitzgerald’s old lodging and that the house had been renovated since he lived there. Fitzgerald modeled his fictional West Egg, in his novel The Great Gatsby, after his own Great Neck and East Egg after the mansion on the east. It can better be seen on the map below.

The Great Gatsby was published in 1925. It is an exquisitely crafted novel of the lavish lifestyles of rich Americans in the 1920s of what is also called “The Jazz Age.” It is Fitzgerald’s greatest novel and one of the best novels of the 20th century, a literary classic. It has been translated into many languages. In French it is called “Gatsby le Magnifique.”

A film was made from the novel in 1974 with Robert Redford and Mia Farrow in the leading roles. A new version is being filmed this year in 3D with Leonardo DiCaprio and Carey Mulligan in the leading roles. This new Great Gatsby film is scheduled to be released on 25 December 2012.

At first, when we drove to Steppingstones Park, we went to the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy which is also located in the Kings Point area of Great Neck. We were stopped by the guards. I later found out that this was originally the estate of Walter P. Chrysler, Jr. the auto magnate.

In 1941 the U.S. Government purchased a 12-acre waterfront parcel of land and the Chrysler mansion. Later it became the United States Merchant Marine Academy. The Chrysler mansion is now one of the academy’s halls (Wiley Hall.) There is a small museum on the property that we tried to visit but it was closed and the guard at the academy’s entrance gave us directions to the park. Here are some pictures of the USMMA from their sites.

Steppingstones Park was also purchased from the Chrysler estate and overlooks Long Island Sound as well. First, we visited the beautiful garden there. Again, no one was around but there were many empty chairs. The garden is beautifully maintained.

It was a joy to take pictures of flowers and the fountain even though it was quite overcast.

We walked in the grass toward the Bay and the Marina. There are nesting osprey – a threatened species – and wading birds in the marshes. (Osprey nest photo below courtesy of George DeCamp.)

Then we went all the way to the end of the Marina to look at the Bay.

There was a sign at the entrance indicating that it was prohibited to take any clams or shellfish from the area.

I thought crabs were considered a shellfish since they have a shell… I guess not as some people were catching them.

I tried to ask questions about the crabs to the lady catching them, but she did not understand English so I tried to speak French and she did not understand that either. She was Asian so I guess she could not understand the sign either. We then observed another person on the Bay – it looked like a senior gentlemen having fun, I guess, windsurfing. There was no wind though, so it was slow going… it even looked like for a while the sail was going to slip into the water but he was able to master it.

After following him for a while we went back closer to the shore to look at the birds. Some were wading in the mussel shells, which were plentiful.

It was fun watching the shore birds. I could have spent hours observing them and taking their photographs.

We had been in Steppingstones Marina for a while but could have lingered by the Long Island shore for much longer. It was a magical world of shorebirds, boats, crabs and osprey. The Marina was a good vantage point in front of the boundless water and the foggy air enveloping it all. But it was time to go. There will be more posts on our trip to the Gold Coast in the future.

To stand at the edge of the sea, to sense the ebb and flow of the tides, to feel the breath of a mist moving over a great salt marsh, to watch the flight of shore birds that have swept up and down the surf lines of the continents for untold thousands of year, to see the running of the old eel and the young shad to the sea, is to have knowledge of things that are as nearly eternal as any earthly life can be.
- Rachel Carson, American Marine Biologist and Conservationist (1907-1964.)


Rosaria Williams said...

What a wonderful guide you are! I learned a lot, in a passionate sort of way, from who was who, to how it all came together. That last quote by Ms. Carson will stick with me for a while, with the pictures of the sea birds on a shore full of mussel shells.
Besides, when I get to see the new Great Gatsby's movie, I'll be thinking of this post.


DJan said...

A lovely post, as usual. I enjoyed seeing all the sights and visiting this place. I think I will have to read that book, I somehow missed it. Thanks for the thoughtful and informative post! :-)

Sam Hoffer / My Carolina Kitchen said...

Such a beautiful part of the country. I love antiques so naturally I'm drawn to all of the old houses, especially the one with the weathered shingles.

French Girl in Seattle said...

Congratulations Vagabonde. A thoroughly researched and captivating travelogue of your time on the shore. What a magical place indeed. I have always wanted to visit Long Island, now more than ever. I can't wait to see the new version of Gatsby le Magnifique. Scott Fitzgerald knew all the good places (I tracked him in a recent post during his stays at the Ritz Paris...) I had no idea Maurice Chevalier had owned a house there for a while! Thank you for a fascinating story... Veronique (French Girl in Seattle)

The Broad said...

Wow! You have, as they say, 'done your homework'! Even though I come, more or less, from that part of the world, being a Yankee from Connecticut, I have not explored Long Island any further than JFK! The history lesson is just fascinating and it occurs to me that it just might be a worthwhile place to explore! Thanks, Vagabonde!

Jeanie said...

Everything about this post is fascinating. Always been a Fitzgerald fan and a Gatsby Girl so seeing the photos and hearing the background is clearly something that interests me, but I'm also intrigued by your bieautiful bird and shore photos. Love that one near the beginning -- almost fog-like. I may have to get a copy of Great Gatsby in French when I go to Paris -- not that I can read it, but that would be fun!

Jenny Woolf said...

What an interesting guide, and such a varied trip! I was really intrigued by the mussel shells, so many of them - wow! And I wondered if the grist mill still works. There are a few watermills here in the UK which have been restored and you can buy the flour that they grind.
I must say that Scott Fitzgerald looks quite the man from his photo! just like a character from the Great Gatsby actually! :D

Fennie said...

Lovely gentle and warming post. As others have said you make a magnificent guide and you have clearly missed your vocation. I love almost all the subjects you have treated on here - especially tidal mills and those old Chrysler cars. But there is sadness too, the Indians, having no concept of land ownership. (What would we say if someone asked if they could buy the sky above us?) It was a mean trick and their way of life wiped out in less than a 100 years. What are they thinking now? There must surely be novels written about this colonisation. Was there anywhere a true collaboration between immigrants and indigenous peoples?

FilipBlog said...

Nice pictures, a lot of work again on this article.


Pondside said...

That was a lovely tour. Your photos were the perfect accompaniment. I've only ever been to Long Island once and that was for a wedding. I remember the large houses and the private estates - a playground for the rich, indeed!

Pauline said...

That quote and the last image capture for me how you see and soak up the feel a place. I really enjoyed this post.

Sally Wessely said...

This post was just magical. I love the way you weave your travelogue with interesting facts about where you are visiting. They way you put the collages together enhances your presentation even more. Thanks for the sharing this with us.

snowwhite said...

Oh, what an interesting tour you introduced us! What I love about your blogs the best is I feel as if I travel these beautiful places with your guide.
Oh, Fitzgerald is a handsome guy! I enjoyed the movie "The Great Gatsby". I want to watch and compare a new and old versions, but probably I will like the Robert Redford version better than DiCaprio' one.
The water mill is so beautiful. It fits in the nostalgic scenery in harmony. Beautiful!
Have a nice weekend!

Elaine said...

What an interesting variety of things you saw that day! I love your photos of the shorebirds and can understand wanting to spend hours just watching them. I have done the same thing in various places.

Perpetua said...

Another fascinating, informative and beautifully illustrated account of your travels, Vagabonde. I love the way you take us to a place and explore so many aspects of it, including some unexpected ones at times. We're lucky to have a guide like you.

This is Belgium said...

your blog is really something else.. a lesson in history, in literature, in photography and life's wisdom.
And, on a different note, happy to see that Jacques brel is known all the way in GA!
un chaleureux bonjour,

Walk in New York said...

un beau reportage photo, avec de magnifiques proprietes

Publicity ;o) Every Friday (and the Weekend), The Challenge "Walk In The Street Photography"

Ginnie said...

I loved reading the sign about how Great Neck used to be called Mad Nan’s Neck and was home to Native Americans, Vagabonde. What a metamorphosis for her. HA!

Another very informative post, as always!

Pat said...

A wonderful post - beautiful photos with a variety of subjects and illustrious people - Fitzgerald has always been a favourite and what memorable words of Rachel Carson:
'to feel the breath of a mist moving over a great salt marsh.'
The smells that phrase conjures up. Sometimes an overcast day makes the subjects more foccussed.
Thank you:)

OldLady Of The Hills said...

What a fabulous Post, my dear....I LOVED seeing The Old Mill--I remember it well, and Steppingstone Park, too....It was quite a magical place to grow up in---the Beauty of the countryside and the water and ALL that 'water' brings---I have some wonderful memories of those early year, along with some other--not so lovely--But, Great Neck, when I was growing up there, was quite a diversified group of people---All religions---And the Schools were excellent and yet it was close to the City and ALL the cit had to offer....I remember whwen the Merchant Marine Academy opened....My, My, My...That was a long time ago....
BEAUTIFUL Pictures, as always, my dear Vagabonde---Such Nostalgia for me. I thank you for that, with all my heart.

You always manage to uncover ALL the Gold Nuggets of a place--Which I find AMAZING, and truly wonderful, too!

✿France✿ said...

Je viens te dire bonsoir et j'espère que tu vas bien
TU sais je la trouve si belle ta première photo
le rêve est chez toi je trouve
Passe une belle soirée

Anonymous said...

*** Coucou Chère Vagabonde !

Ce post est SUPERBE !!!!

Il me fait voyager ! Grâce à ton blog je m'envole hors de France, je m'envole hors du temps et je vagabonde avec toi ... que c'est agréable !!!!!


GROS BISOUS ! :) ***

claude said...

Bonjour Vagabonde
Après la période de grand froid, nous avons eu qq jours de répit croyant même que le printemps était arrivé. Que nenni !
Depuis 3 matins, il fait très froid, presque -3° ce matin, c'est tout blanc dehors. Les feuilles de mes palmiers vont encore souffrir, elles deviennent toute brunes.
Je repasserai demain lire ce nouveau post, j'aurais plus de temps.

Ruth said...

Always such a rich mix to come and read your posts. Your blog has to be one of the best sources for our cultural history, right here in the USA. I did not know Chrysler had an estate on Long Island. Well there is too much to list that I didn't know before reading your post!

I wonder if you remember these things you write about. I wish I had a mind that could remember all of it. One thing leads to another, and truly the interconnected stories become a universe.

Anonymous said...

De bien jolis décors pour inspirer un roman ou tourner un film!

Viola said...

Oh oh, so many pictures and an interesting post! What I liked most is the mill house- a beautiful old buildning, and what you wrote about it of course.. and I liked the Indians.. the birds, the bay- what a long bay! It's good fun to wacth the seagulls.. :) and sitting by the shore..! :)

Have a nice day! :)

Madelief said...

Dear Vagabonde,

Long Island is one of the places I hope to see in future! I enjoyed your post very much. Especially the part about F. Scott Fitzgerald and The Great Gatsby. Just watched the movie with Robert Redford and Mia Farrow with my daughter yesterday. Robert Redford is terribly handsome Jay Gatsby. I am not sure about Leonardi di Caprio yet....

Happy day!

Madelief x

Denise Covey said...

Vagabonde, this is magnificent! Aren't these old mills fantastic! They look so solid like they could be there for thousands of years! Real Gatsby country. Just talking about F Scott and GG yesterday!

(I hope you don't mind my emailing you...)


claude said...

Tu dois passer un tgemps fou à faire tes posts, entre les illustrations àchercher, le téléchargement de tes photos, de tes mosaïques et de tes longues explication écrites.
Je ne sais si un jour je verrai autre chose que l'ouest américain.
J'aime beaucoup les anciens moulins. Il y en a trois à la sortie de la ville
les moulins de Coemont
et un dans mon bourg dont je ne retrouve pas le post.

My name is Riet said...

What a beautiful place that is and you made so many beautiful photo. It is as if I was there. Thank you.

Diane said...

This is a great post of a place I have never been to and am never likely to go to now. I feel as if I did the tour with you and the dialogue is really interesting. Thanks for this. Diane

Barb said...

Since I'm land-locked in CO, I always enjoy reading and seeing photos of watery places. I like the mosaic of the shells with the seagull taking a stroll.

Dee Ready said...

A great contentment settled over me as I read this posting. You took me on a tour that spoke to my mind and my heart and my senses. Thank you. I so enjoy these postings of yours for Iearn so much. You have the gift of drawing me into that which has attracted you. I think you feel passionate about nature.


Dianne said...

rich interesting history and beautiful photos!

Vagabonde said...

Thanks for your comments – I wish we could all meet by the Long Island Sound as it is so beautiful but I am pleased that you enjoyed going there virtually. I appreciate your visit.

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