Nancy Solomon, the recently retired director of Long Island Traditions,...

Nancy Solomon, the recently retired director of Long Island Traditions, at the office of the organization in Port Washington on March 11. She holds a print of a painting of a bay house, one of the projects that she worked on. Credit: Linda Rosier

For three decades, Nancy Solomon has been dedicated to documenting, preserving and encouraging Long Island’s culture — from its rich maritime history to its architecture and traditional arts and crafts.

But in January, Solomon, 67, retired from her position as founding director of the Port Washington-based Long Island Traditions, handing over the reins to folklorist and journalist Violet Baron, 31.

Her legacy includes saving dozens of South Shore bay houses from demolition, documenting the people and places of Great Neck Plaza and bringing traditional artists like decoy makers, beaders and quilters into schools to share their knowledge and skills.

Though rewarding, the job is better suited to a younger person, the Roslyn Heights resident said. “It takes a lot of energy to be out at all hours, clambering around marshes and boats and old buildings — and then you still have to drive home.”

Does she miss it? “No, but I’m glad I was able to do it,” she said.


Nancy Solomon, right, and former Great Neck Plaza mayor, Jean...

Nancy Solomon, right, and former Great Neck Plaza mayor, Jean Celender, walk in the village's historic district. Credit: Linda Rosier

Growing up in Mamaroneck in upstate Westchester County, Solomon said she lived across from a boatyard and spent her days learning from lobstermen and commercial fishermen. “It’s one of the key reasons I got into maritime culture,” she said.

In 1987, Solomon, who has a master’s degree in folklore and American Studies from George Washington University, was hired by the Long Island Arts Council in Freeport to document local maritime culture and present programs on it. She went on to help found Long Island Traditions, which incorporated in 1991.

Long Island has a complex cultural history, Solomon said, from its Indigenous beginnings to its agricultural history and now to today’s suburbia and pressures on traditional ways of life.

“We can learn something from everyone if you open your hearts and minds to them,” Solomon said. “We all learn from each other.”

Her passion for the past extends to buildings, downtowns and nature as well. She has worked as a historic preservation consultant to the villages of Great Neck Plaza and Rockville Centre, and as a maritime culture consultant to the South Shore Estuary Reserve Program, a state and local government partnership that works to help preserve and protect the health of the waterway.

“Nancy is a great resource,” said Jean Celender, former mayor of Great Neck Plaza village. “She led us in great directions and she’s passionate about historic preservation personally.”

The village created a historic preservation committee in 1998 and hired Solomon, who inventoried village buildings and developed a list that detailed their history and architectural styles. She identified 53 sites of significance in the village, from a 1961 example of suburban bank architecture to the 1924 Dutch Colonial Revival LIRR train station and the buildings within what would become the Bond Street Historic District. A walking tour guide developed from that survey is available on the village’s website, along with a map of the district, at

As part of the research, Solomon investigated the families of workers at the estates and mansions, who lived in the houses behind the village hall, Celender noted.

“Nancy loves to write about the people and folklore. She’s good at documenting people who were part of the area.

“There are very few Nancy Solomons. We appreciate everything she’s done for us,” Celender said.


Nancy Solomon with articles and scrapbooks she has put together...

Nancy Solomon with articles and scrapbooks she has put together over the years. Credit: Linda Rosier

Solomon is especially proud of her work to help halt the removal of bay houses “built by duck hunters and rum runners,” as she wrote in her book “On The Bay,” first published in 1992 then updated and reprinted in 2011.

Bay houses are small wooden buildings on the edges of marshes, some accessible only by boat at high tide. They got their start as places to store clamming, duck hunting and fishing gear, or equipment for fishermen who rowed out to cut salt hay for farmers to feed their cows, Solomon writes in her book.

She said her efforts to save the houses started when she went into the Town of Hempstead’s Conservation and Waterways Office in Point Lookout to inquire about them and was told they were being removed under court order from the state Department of Environmental Conservation because they were a source of water pollution. “I told them if they were doing that without first doing oral histories and taking photos, they’re violating the National Historic Preservation Act and the National Environmental Policy Act,” Solomon said.

It was her second day on the job.

“That’s how I fell in love with Long Island, through its maritime traditions and traditional architecture,” Solomon said. “And being able to help people preserve that. I did tours, school programs and took kids on fishing boats to see bay houses. The world opened up to a lot of people. It’s always about going back to the community and sharing with others.”  


About 70 bay houses remain on marshland in the towns of Hempstead and Islip.

Tours still take place each summer, with one leaving from Freeport and another from Long Beach. The bay house in Merrick Bay owned by Alison Muller, her sister Laura Kuehn and their father, Larry Muller, is often featured.

“It’s a great way to get people educated and exposed to what’s happening in the bay,” said Alison Muller, whose family runs Island Seafood Transportation in Farmingdale. The marshland is delicate, and waves from speeding boats are steadily eroding it, she said, estimating it has receded between 10 to 20 feet in her lifetime.

Muller said Solomon helped her family after their bay house was damaged during Superstorm Sandy.

The force of the waves floated the house off its stilts, taking it half a mile away across marshland, she said. It was down to the frame, but still structurally sound, so it could be towed back. “She was instrumental in getting that house back where it needed to be, helped us get it approved and named a historic landmark,” Muller said of Solomon.

She said the family plans to continue to maintain and improve the house, and to keep enjoying the sense of community they share with other bay house owners.

In addition to the tours and book, Solomon also created an exhibit, “On the Bay,” based on the oral histories and photographs of baymen at work, showing how the bay houses were built and maintained, as well as gear used by the duck hunters and their boats. The show “traveled to every library on Long Island,” she recalled.

She has organized maritime film festivals as well, including a 2022 event held at Cinema Arts Centre in Huntington and Plaza Cinema and Media Arts Center in Patchogue, and a 2008 program at Stony Brook University.  


For Solomon, it’s that chance to share knowledge that she said led her to be a public sector folklorist. Over the years she’s also become adept at researching and writing grant applications, since much of Long Island Traditions’ $150,000-$200,000 annual budget comes from state and federal funding for artists and arts and cultural projects.

Solomon said she has gotten funding for apprenticeship grants to help artists complete specific projects, and from the state Council on the Arts “Arts in Education” program for school curriculum projects in maritime and ethnic folk arts and traditional architecture. One grant resulted in a teacher’s resource guide for grades 6-12 about Long Island traditional architecture from 1600-1870, with sections covering Native American, African American slave and freedmen housing; English and Dutch farm and barn design; and the design of windmills and grist mills.

Solomon was also co-curator, along with Joshua Ruff at the Long Island Museum, of the 2017 exhibit, In Harm’s Way, which was displayed at the Stony Brook museum. It explored the impact of weather on Long Island — including the 1938 hurricane known as the Long Island Express, which killed about 60 people on the Island; Superstorm Sandy; and hurricanes Irene and Lee — with archival photos and video interviews with those affected by the storms.   


In her retirement, Solomon plans to keep her hand in with occasional small projects. She said she is currently reviewing transcripts of oral interviews with Connecticut lobstermen done by University of Connecticut students and checking their maritime and fishing terminology.

Long Island Traditions, meanwhile, is continuing under Baron, its new executive director. Baron, a folklorist and journalist who specializes in community engagement and storytelling with a cultural context, is leading the organization forward with assistance from cultural ethnographer and folklorist Naomi Sturm as a consultant, Solomon said.

“We all have traditions,” Solomon said. “I encourage people to cherish their traditions — arts, crafts, music, food, occupations and places where their family has lived.”

She added, “We’re part of a community. I hope people will be generous with their neighbors and people they don’t know and will preserve places that remind us of our own heritage. That’s what I hope we’ve been able to do, and Violet will continue to engage people in that effort.”

There are about 70 bay houses in the towns of Hempstead and Islip. The number was incorrect in an earlier version of this story.


As director of Long Island Traditions, part of Nancy Solomon’s mission was to educate residents about the resources available to them to document historical sites and customs. On the nonprofit’s website, south-shore-surveys, for example, residents can find tips on taking architectural photographs and conducting field interviews.

Solomon estimates she and her staff recorded close to 1,000 interviews. Copies are housed at the Long Island Studies Institute at Hofstra University’s Axinn Library, which serves as a center for the study of Long Island local and regional history. Those interviews can be found at

There also are 100 interviews with fishermen and baymen, known as Voices From the Fisheries, that can be found at

 — Kay Blough

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