Woodcleft Canal

Freeport, Long Island. It’s in Nassau Country, the closest county on Long Island to New York city. I grew up in the city … in Queens, which is a borough of New York. Each of New York’s boroughs has its own character and in many ways, is a city in its own right. Certainly people who grow up in Brooklyn identify themselves as Brooklyn-ites and if you come from the Queens, Staten Island, or the Bronx, you will always identify that as your “home ground” rather than just “New York.”

Colorized postcard of Woodcleft canal with houses visible on the right side of the photo. Postmark: “” Merrick, N.Y, September 3, 1907″ Addressee and Address: “M.A. Hansen, 791 59th Street, Brooklyn” Message [on front]: “” Sept. 1, 07. Have a good time. May” – From the Freeport Historical Society Postcard Collection

Between the picture postcard and our visit lay almost exactly a century.

People from Manhattan have a strong sense of superiority because they come from The City. For reasons that are hard to explain, but perfectly obvious to anyone who has lived there or even visited for any length of time, Manhattan is the heart of New York in ways that cannot be simply explained. It’s not just because it’s the center of business. In fact, that really has little to do with it. It just is what it is. Even when I was a kid growing up in Queens, when we said we were going “into the city,” we  meant Manhattan. If we were going anywhere else in the five boroughs, we said we were going to Brooklyn or the Bronx or some specific neighborhood … but the city was Manhattan and no doubt still is.

I moved to Long Island in 1963 when I was 16 and had just started college. I never moved back to the city, though for many years, we went there for shows, museums, all the things available in a city and not in suburbs or other outlying areas. And of course, work.

A few years of my childhood, before I was 5 and moved to Holliswood, we lived in an apartment house — really, a tenement — on Rose Street in Freeport, near Woodcleft Canal.

In the late 1940s and early 1950s, the area near the canal was decrepit. Living “near the docks” was not a good thing, certainly nothing to brag about. My family was going through hard times and it was the best we could afford.

My mother hated it. It was the middle of nowhere and she didn’t drive. For her, born in Manhattan, a lifelong resident of New York, what was Freeport? Long Island? That was farm country where you went to buy vegetables at farm stands. My mother, an urbanite to her core, understood poverty but being poor in the country was her version of Hell.

My memories are limited but I see in my mind a big white stucco building with no architectural features. A large white box that didn’t fit into the neighborhood. It stuck out so that even by the less stringent standards of 60 years ago, it was an eyesore. It hasn’t lost that quality. It is still an ugly building, but I expect the rent is higher.

We drove down Rose Street to look at it. I was curious if I would recognize it, but I did. Instantly. I think early memories are deeply embedded in our psyches. Then, having satisfied curiosity, we found out way to the canal.

Reflections in the canal.

I shouldn’t have been surprised to find the canal lined with marinas and yachts. The road along the canal has the usual expensive restaurants featuring faux nautical decor. It was a trifle weird.

There were many huge Victorian houses in Freeport back in the 1970s that you could buy for almost nothing. A great deal if you had a lot of money with which to fix one of them up. Those grand old houses … there are still a few around there and here too, but restoring one is big bucks and maintaining them, even if you can afford the initial restoration, out of the range of most people. I’m glad that some have survived. They are magnificent, though even thinking about the cost of heating one is frightening.

Everything changes.

You can’t go back in time except in your memory. Sometimes, if you treasure the way it was, how you remember it, it’s better not to revisit places. Keep your memories intact because then, the places you remember will always be the way they were.



Categories: History, Photography, Travel

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

11 replies

  1. More like this! I love it!
    I worked in Freeport at an old AM station, WGBB, and frequently I would grab a giant hero sandwich and a Pepsi at the local deli on Grove Street, and drive over to the “Canal.” I would spend half an hour or so chomping on my sandwich, slurping down my Pepsi, and watching the boats: being worked on, or sat on, or just neglected in the afternoon sun. It was glorious! A few years later, Grove street as I knew it was gone, the radio station had moved, the deli was gone and memories are all that remain. Yes, and the wedding rings,. I bought the pair for forty bucks at a jeweler there near the radio station,. We still have them, almost 50 years later. And each other.

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    • Going back was so odd. I wouldn’t really have recognized the canal. It’s so … clean. Freeport has changed less than the canal area. The houses are the same, but they’ve been fixed up and now, what was a falling apart old neighborhood is a very expensive neighborhood. That’s probably true of all the places we lived on Long Island. It’s become very high end. It’s just that we haven’t gone high end, just gotten older.

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  2. Well you know what I went through with my house on Long Beach Ave in Freeport. It was, at least, 100 years old, and the attic was bigger than the house I now live in. Mitch K. used it for a photo studio at times and i desparately wanted to build a studio there. The house was huge and the upkeep overwhelming and keeping a job became the most important thing so I could pay for heating in the winter. To this day I wish I had kept that place somehow as all similar homes in that neighborhood are worth in excess of $500,000+ last I checked…., Ahh Well.

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    • I know a few people besides you who had such houses and were defeated by them. You can rent the movie “The Money Pit” for a reminder and a good laugh. You need a LOT of money to restore those beautiful old homes. I do know two couples who succeeded in restoring them … but in both cases they had money. It cost each of them well over $100,000 and it was more than 10 years ago. It would probably cost twice that now. You had a great house. It was gorgeous, but it needed so much work. Sometimes, you have to choose between having the house and having a life. I think you chose rightly.

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      • ……I dunno…, Almost everything these days is some kind of money pit. I own two houses and not by choice, but I had to take advantage of an opportunity to buy a cheaper (but actually better) house for my retirement. And so, due to the economy, I’m stuck for the time being until I can put it on the market.

        Those Freeport photos really brought back memories. My house was less than a mile from the canals and docks. I bought fish there many times.., and went fishing in the marshy sections to the west of there. I could do that at the drop of a hat then. Many times, while fishing, I’d meet some very interesting people…, or some kid using a tin can and string, with a bunch of fish. This, compared to the rest of us, me included, with our fancy poles and reels, who hadn’t had a bite in hours. Do you suppose the fish knew this and were laughing at us? Of course from the looks of that kid he usually appeared to need those fish a lot more than we did. It was still some of the best, mentally rewarding and restful times spent. As I write this I can almost smell the sea

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  3. That is a great picture of you and Gary.

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  4. You are right. You cannot go back in time — or shouldn’t try. Williamsburg is Exhibit A from our recent road trip. Still it was nice returning to the North Shore with you on another, shorter road trip. It was too ritzy for our family when I was growing up.

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