Stepping into Cold Spring Harbor's history

Gina Vanbell, part of the education team at

Gina Vanbell, part of the education team at The Whaling Museum leads a walking tour of historic Cold Spring Harbor, where participants will learn about the personalities and legends of the 1800s waterside village. (May 27, 2012) (Credit: Newsday/Audrey C. Tiernan)

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You could walk down Cold Spring Harbor's quaint Main Street Sunday and, with the help of a guide, return to a time when the thoroughfare was called Bedlam Street, its taverns teeming with seamen returned from whaling voyages and those looking to ship out.

The trip back in time came courtesy of the Cold Spring Harbor Whaling Museum, which organized a Memorial Day weekend walking tour. Museum educator Gina Van Bell invited the walkers to look beyond the bakeries and antique shops housed in the street's historic wooden buildings and see the whaling captains' and shipbuilders' homes of a past age.

Van Bell, of Hicksville, pointed to the Main Street home of Capt. Manuel Enos, a whaler thought to be of Azorean descent who went to sea and never returned. It's not known whether he died in a shipwreck, or as some believe, returned to his native island, abandoning his wife, she said.

She told the story of Helen Rogers, the daughter of a lawyer and accountant for the Cold Spring Harbor Whaling Company. Rogers dreamed of voyages and hunting whales, but did neither. Wives and daughters of whaling captains were the only women allowed on ships, Van Bell said.

Stuck in port, Rogers produced a detailed diary of town life that's valued by local historians.

The roughly 30 walkers passed buildings where merchants once sold hard tack, nearly imperishable biscuits of flour, water and salt, and the seaman's basic kit, which for a trip of three to five years could include one pair of pants, two shirts, a plate and a spoon.

Those on the stroll learned that whaling was a boom or bust enterprise that attracted youths with a thirst for adventure and, in some cases, limited options. Many were orphans. Among their rewards after getting a ship: cooks who would leave weevils and maggots in food as sources of protein.

After the tour, walker Carol Pine, of Huntington, said that when Van Bell told the story behind a Main Street building, she was able to see it as it was during its Bedlam Street days.

"It's just so awesome that Cold Spring has decided to cherish its history," Pine said.

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