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Local: How Port Washington's sand helped build Manhattan

Chris Bain, 57, a professional photographer and president

Chris Bain, 57, a professional photographer and president of the Cow Neck Peninsula Historical Society, stands inside the Sands-Willet House, an 18th century home that serves as the society's headquarters and a local history museum. (April 28, 2013) Credit: Tara Conry

Chris Bain, 57, a professional photographer and president of Cow Neck Peninsula Historical Society, grew up in Port Washington and is now raising his three children here. When he’s not taking photos of his hometown or studying its history, he enjoys boating on Manhasset Bay.

What do you like about living in Port Washington?

I like the fact that it's surrounded by water. Every day you drive past the water, so you see the boats and magnificent sunsets. There's a lot of really good people. It’s the single best commute on Long Island to New York City, because it’s the end of the line. When you're coming home at night you can't miss your stop and in the morning, the train is waiting for you. There's also movie theaters, sports teams .?.?. and a lot of boating.

Do you own a boat?

I've always had friends with boats, which is a much more reasonable way to approach it. Every summer, I'm out on someone's sailboat or motorboat for a few afternoons. I had a best friend in high school who had a motorboat, so we'd go water skiing in the morning and then go to school.

You lived in Los Angeles at one point. Why did you decide to move back to Port Washington?

I moved back here because I was starting a family and wanted a good school system.

Why is your organization called the Cow Neck Peninsula Historical Society?

The original name of the town was Cow Neck. The name Port Washington didn't come till about 1850. Before that it was just a peninsula of land that was gated off from the rest of the island around where 25A is. It was used as pasture land for cows.

What would you say really shaped Port Washington?

Originally, the town was a seafaring town; shellfish, mostly oysters, was the largest employer. It didn't turn into a commuter town until 1898, when the train got here. If you wanted to go into the city before 1898 you had to hire a horse and buggy to take you to Great Neck and then take the train. It was an all-day affair .?.?. When the town started, everything was down by the water, but .?.?. the center of town shifted from the water up to the train station when it was built and the demand for all those types of services that support a community developed rapidly.

How did sand play a big part in Port Washington’s history?

In the 1870s, they started mining sand, and this ended up being the best sand in the country. It was the largest sand mine east of the Mississippi and that's the sand that went into building Manhattan .?.?. of the concrete in Manhattan came from Cow Neck sand. It was great, great sand. There were sand-mining operations all over town. It was a huge employer .?.?. They mined all the way till 1970. When I was a kid there were still barges going to Manhattan from Bar Beach.

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