Grantee Spotlight: Long Island Traditions Celebrates Maritime and Farming Culture
Long Island Traditions, located in Port Washington, New York, plays a central role in preserving and celebrating the diverse culture and history of the region. In this spotlight we learn more about its work from the organization’s visionary Executive Director, Nancy Solomon.
In the early 1990s, Long Island Traditions helped rescue a colony of small Bay Houses, the last of the summer shacks built by bay men, fishermen, and duck hunters in the town of Hempstead starting in the early 1700s.
The Bay Houses were notoriously used by rum runners during Prohibition, and recreational fisherman and sportsmen built more of them in the 1950s and ’60s, recreating the historic design. But the structures were gradually demolished, and by the late 1980s there were only 45 Bay Houses left. Long Island Traditions took up the fight early on to rescue them from extinction.
“We said, ‘Assess the cultural values of these kinds of structures before you remove them. We have to preserve them’,” explained Nancy Solomon, folklorist and Executive Director of Long Island Traditions. “They were shacks but had an important element of building a community and a shared tradition.”
Long Island Traditions was instrumental in working with Hempstead over the years to save the remaining bungalows. The Bay House Tour was one of its first NYSCA-supported projects in 1994, a few years after the organization launched. It’s been a core supporter ever since. “What makes Long Island Traditions a unique folk arts organization is we have a background and network of people who work on preserving local traditional architecture that’s ignored by more mainstream groups,” said Solomon.
Thanks to prodding by Long Island Traditions, a small beach bungalow community in Far Rockaways was recognized as a state historic landmark. Another, in Stony Brook, one of the last remaining and best-preserved summer bungalow communities in the region, didn’t survive. But it was not lost. Long Island Traditions documented the community and published a book about it.
The idea is that as fishermen and farmers disappear, the group is fighting to preserve Long Island's contemporary maritime and farming culture — from beach bungalows and bay houses to garden apartments and farm buildings.
The organization and its museum partners also create traveling exhibits like “In Harm’s Way,” on storms and hurricanes, “Waterfront Heroes,” about important preservationists, and “From Shore to Shore: Boat Builders and Boatyards of Long Island and Westchester.” Long Island Traditions also has ethnic folk arts programs that bring traditional artists, musicians, and dancers to area schools to recognize and pay tribute to Long Island's diverse ethnic cultures, supporting everything from Irish stepdance, to African American quilting, gospel and blues music, Jewish klezmer music, Native American stories and crafts, and the traditions of recent immigrants from Central and South America, India, and Asia.
The group wants to break down barriers. “It’s about the living cultural heritage of a community. Our hope is to bring people together,” said Solomon.
Cover photo: The Brice Boatyard in Amityville, New York is one of the working traditional boatyards in this south shore village. Photo by Nancy Solomon