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Exploring Centre Island

Long time Centre Island resident Deborah Munson Smith has authored a charming book describing the plants and flowers of Centre Island. A Centre Island Botanica is not meant as a field guide, rather, it provides folklore and anecdotal comments about the more than 90 species of plants which the author was able to identify. Smith grew up on Centre Island and loved to explore the wild places.  She lived in Carmel, CA for 20 years, and after returning to Centre Island in

1981, decided to write a book about the beautiful plants she encountered during her walks around the island.  


The Oyster Bay Historical Society hosted a book signing event which became an extraordinary opportunity to learn not only about local plants but also some local history and authors.  The foreword of Botanica discusses some of the estates which have been demolished or subdivided in recent years. Further back in history, Centre Island was used as a brickyard. The people who worked at the brickyard lived on Shore Road, and used to row across the harbor to Brickyard Point.

Eventually the clay supplies ran out, and the brickyard was closed.  Centre Island was also known for its asparagus farms and hog farms. Hog Island Asparagus was on the menu for the opening of the Waldorf Astoria.  Although not a part of Centre Island, Smith mentioned Oscar Summer’s  short lived ski slope, which was off of Lake Avenue in Oyster Bay. Although the slope was closed by the early 1960s, she reports that it is still listed by New York state as a ski slope.  


A very pleasant surprise was meeting Cornelia Read.  Read is a daughter of Deborah Smith, and a successful author of the Madeline Dare mystery series (Field of Darkness, Crazy School, Invisible Boy and Valley of Ashes).  Madeline Dare is a run away socialite, with a smart mouth and sarcastic wit. For anyone who knows Oyster Bay, they are a treat to read, especially Field of Darkness, since much of the action takes place in and around Oyster Bay.  Read’s journey into becoming an author was an interesting story in itself. She was doing editing work for a firm, and was laid off during the crash. She joined a writing group and met a mystery author who challenged her to write a few pages. Read took her love of noir mysteries, and her experience of living in Centre Island and Syracuse, and wrote the first seven pages of what would become Field of Darkness. Her group liked the premise, and encouraged her to keep writing.  Read attended a writer’s conference, and paid extra to have some time with a faculty member. The faculty member she met turned out to be Lee Child, author of the Jack Reacher mystery series. Field of Darkness was going to be published at this time and he wrote a blurb for the book, and invited her to go on tour with him. 


Smith is also the author of a series of cookbooks.  Greg Druhak, another long time Centre Island resident, brought a copy of her very first one, Cows, Poets and Other Loves:  A Food Book By and About Authors. This was written while she lived in Carmel. One of the highlights of the book is a very witty description detailing “How to Boil Water in a Microwave” by famed photographer Ansel Adams.  She also wrote a series of cooking columns for the Oyster Bay Guardian, which were compiled in “Apron Strings:  Recipes from the Oyster Bay Guardian.” Copies of Botanica are available for sale in the gift shop of the Oyster Bay Historical Society.