With flowers and benches dotting its tree-lined thoroughfares and a wide variety of shops ranging from small boutiques to art galleries, Port Washington, on the northern shore of Long Island in Nassau County, is the epitome of a small town close to a big city.
It all began with the Matinecock Indians, who called the town “Sint Sink” or “place of many stones.”
In 1643, the land was “sold” to several English families from Stamford, Connecticut for a mix of kettles, wampum, lead, gun powder, cloth and clothing. The new owners called the land “Cow Neck,” after the common pasture they all used. Later, they changed the name to Cow Neck Village and established dairy farming and fishing ventures.
During the mid 1800s, shellfishing became an important industry, as did sand mining. A ferry began service to New Rochelle, NY in 1753, and a stagecoach began shuttling residents into New York City in 1830. By 1898, the Long Island Rail Road established a station here.
Today the hamlet of Port Washington includes the communities of Baxter Estates, Manorhaven, Port Washington North, Sands Point, Beacon Hill, Beacon Hill Colony, Manhasset Isle, New Salem and northern Flower Hill — all of which share the same zip code, school and library districts. It is located just 17 miles from New York City, and is easily accessible by car, train or boat and has a population of 15,215, according to the 2010 census.
Every year, residents are treated to the Memorial Day Parade, that marches down Main Street and straight on to John Philip Sousa Memorial Band Shell, where the towns chamber of commerce gives away flags to those watching the parade.
With a rich nautical history, Port Washington honors its waterfront and heritage annually with the HarborFest Dock Day. The day is full of family fun, with a pirate show, a children’s fun park, model boat regatta, farmers market, live music and cruises on Manhasset Bay.
Another event honoring Port Washington’s history is the annual Cow Neck Country Fair, held this month. Cow Neck being one of the area’s former names, the day includs pony rides, petting zoo, kids’ activities, a Civil War-era fife and drum, antiques, crafts, and live music.
Port Washington pride culminates in April with the annual “Cleen Green Main Street” — when residents come out to make a difference and take care of their main street by sweeping sidewalks, picking up litter and planting trees and flowers.
One of Long Island’s oldest and largest feasts is the Grande Festa Italiana — held in Septmeber — with rides, games, food live entertainment and a casino.
Shopping in Port Washington is always a pleasant experience with marketplaces, grocery stores, delis, clothing shops, florists, bookshops, toy stores and jewelry stores.
There are also a myriad of activities to do, including boat rentals and lessons, camps, exercise and fitness programs, golfing and country clubs, movie theaters, skating and tennis.
If you’re hungry, Port Washington has several delicatessens on Main Street, along with bagel shops, pizzerias and cafes. Sit-down restaurants cater to virtually every taste and budget. Some overlook Manhasset Bay and offer outdoor dining during warm weather.
Port Washington is served by several public elementary schools: John J. Daly Elementary School, Manorhaven Elementary School, Guggenheim Elementary School, South Salem Elementary School, and John Philip Sousa Elementary School.
Middle school students are served by Carrie Palmer Weber Middle School and high school students go to Paul D. Schreiber High School.
Private schools include St. Peter of Alcantara School (junior high) and Vincent Smith School (elementary starting at fourth grade, junior and high school).
Helpful for parents might be the Parent Resource Center (PRC), a parent CO-OP that offers members classes for pre-school aged children (with and without their parents), social gatherings and field trips for the whole family, workshops for parents, drop-in playtime (with parents), drop-off baby-sitting and a myriad of resources for the whole family.
Places of worship
Port Washington is home to many churches and synagogues.
Roman Catholic churches include Our Lady of Fatima, St. Mary Congregation, St. Peter of Alcantara and Bible Church Port Washington.
Other churches include St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, Lutheran Church of Our Savior, First Church of Christ Scientist Por Washington and United Methodist Church of Port Washington.
Synagogues include Temple Beth Israel (Conservative), The Community Synagogue (Reform), Port Jewish Center (Reform) and Chabad of Port Washington.
Today, history buffs can visit historic homes and browse through the local collections of the renowned Port Washington Public Library.
The Port Washington Public Library was started in 1892 and has 380,000 visitors annually. It also features a local history center with 48 special collections that include artifacts, manuscripts, pictures, and letters.
Also fun to explore is the Sands-Willets House, located in the Incorporated Village of Flower Hill, in the town of North Hempstead, Nassau County. The house is a typical historic Long Island farmhouse built in the 1700s. It is now a museum and educational center.
The Sands-Willets House is named for two distinguished Long Island families. The Sands family — merchants, farmers, and Patriot leaders — lived in the house from 1715 to 1845. The Willets family — prominent in Quaker affairs — owned the homestead from 1845 to 1967.
The oldest part of the house, the colonial kitchen, is believed to have been built by the Sands family around 1735. The Sands were among the original settlers of nearby Sands Point, seven of whom served in the Revolutionary War.
In 1845 Edmund Willets, a prominent Quaker and abolitionist, purchased the property and added the Greek-revival style to the house.
It is now maintained by the Cow Neck Peninsula Historic Society, which holds guided tours.
A great day out
Memorial Day Parade [Main Street and John Sousa Band Shell, (516) 944-9151]. May 31, annually. Free.
HarborFest Dock Day [Town Dock, Lower Main Street and Mill Pond, (516) 883-6566]. Annual in June. Free admission, fee for cruises.
Cow Neck Country Fair [336 Port Washington Blvd. (516) 365-9074]. Sept. 11, from 10 am to 5 pm. Rain date Sept. 12. Adults, $6, children ages 6 – 12 $3, free for children under 6.
Clean Green Main Street [Sign in at the Port Washington train station, (516) 767-9151]. Annual in April. Free. For info, visit www.pwresidents.org
Grande Festa Italiana [North Hempstead Beach Park, West Shore Road, (631) 767-3123]. Sept. 8–12 from 6 to 11 pm. Free. For more info, visit www.marinolodge.org/festival.html.
Sands-Willets House [336 Port Washington Blvd. in North Hempstead, (516) 365-9074]. Tours offered on the first and third Sunday of every month, through October, from 2 to 4 pm. For info, visit www.cowneck.org.