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
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.
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.)