Historical Background of Manhasset Bay
Early Settlement to the Early 1900s
Until the 1600s, the land around the Bay was inhabited
by the Matinecock tribe of the Algonquin Indians who used the Bay
for fishing and shellfishing. The tribe had a fishing village in
what is now the "miracle mile" along Northern Boulevard. At the
time, this area, which was known as Sint Sink, was traversed by an
old trail that was used for travel from Queens to eastern Suffolk.
courtesy of the Garvies Point Museum
In the 1600s, the Dutch and then the English settled
around the Bay and made fishing a major industry. The Bay was first
called Schout's Bay by the Dutch settlers and then Howe's Bay by the
English settlers. Because the early settlers farmed and grazed on
the thousands of acres around the Bay, it later came to be called
Cow Bay while the Port Washington peninsula was called Cow Neck. In
the 1600s and 1700s, patents granted the Town of North Hempstead
ownership and underwater rights in the portions of the Bay
encompassing the area south of Barkers Point to Toms Point.
In 1895, the Long Island Rail Road began service to
Manhasset and with this came an increase in growth and development
in the surrounding area. Then in 1907, Manhasset was designated as
the Town of North Hempstead seat and about this time the Bay's name
was changed again, to Manhasset Bay.
By the early 1900s, the Bay had become known as the
"shellfish garden of New York City" because of large areas with clam
and oyster beds. However, while fishing and shellfishing continued
as important economic activities, the growth and development around
the Bay also resulted in a growing commercial and recreational
The 1920s to 1940s
Beginning in the 1920s and up to the 1940s, there was a
shift in the economic activities on the Bay from fishing and
shellfishing to commercial and recreational boating. The commercial
boating activity in the late 1920s was fairly substantial. For
example, in 1927, over 700,000 tons of materials and supplies were
moved into and out of the Bay. Of this, approximately 80 percent
involved outgoing shipments of sand and gravel from Port Washington
to New York City in support of massive construction projects there.
The other 20 percent of shipments involved incoming
supplies delivered by barges mostly to the Manhasset/Great Neck area
of the Bay in support of the growing population and associated
development. These incoming supplies included brick, asphalt,
lumber, coal, fuel and other construction materials needed to
satisfy the rapid growth and development that was taking place along
the north shore of Nassau County. These materials were off-loaded in
Manhasset and Great Neck and trucked along Northern Boulevard.
During this time, other important economic activities on the Bay
included recreational boating and yachting at a number of marinas
and yacht clubs, as well as the Navy testing PT boats and torpedoes
in the Bay just prior to World War II.
Post World War II Development
Following the end of World War II to around 1970, there
was even more growth on the two peninsulas, as well as most of the
Town of North Hempstead and the rest of Nassau County. During this
three‑decade period, the Town's population nearly tripled from
83,385 in 1940 to 235,007 in 1970 (LI Almanac, 1998). During this
time boating activities increased with the increases in population,
but the nature of the boating changed with less commercial and more
recreational. This change was in large part due to shift in sand
mining activities from Manhasset Bay to the Hempstead Harbor area.
One important commercial use of the Bay that continued during this
time, was the seaplane flights in and out of the Bay area. Little is
known about swimming in the Bay during this time, but it is known
that a number of beach clubs, and homeowner associations and yacht
clubs provided bathing opportunities to their members. Therefore,
this was obviously also an important activity on the Bay.
The 1970s to the Present
After population growth and development peaked around
the Bay in the early 1970s, (it decreased 10% between 1970 and 1990)
the Bay became one of the busiest embayments in the region with the
Bay accounting for approximately 16 percent of all the marinas, boat
yards and yacht clubs in the entire Long Island Sound region.
Eventually, in 1994, due in large part to this extensive boating
activity and associated economic importance, the State of New York
designated Port Washington as a historic center of marine activity
and Manorhaven as an area for concentrated development in its
Coastal Management Program. In addition, the New York State
Legislature approved the Historic Centers of Maritime Activity Act
which designated Port Washington and 16 other communities on Long
Island as a Historic Center of Maritime Activity.