On Monday, Aug. 11, a gathering of political and community leaders broke ground for a monument and piazza to honor the workers who labored in the sand mines of Port Washington. County Executive Thomas Suozzi and North Hempstead Town Supervisor Jon Kaiman led the ceremonies, which were held in front of one of the last remaining mine shafts on West Shore Road, south of Fairway Drive at the Harbor Links Golf Complex. From this shaft sand and gravel were washed and transferred to barges in Hempstead Harbor, where they proceeded to various building sites in New York City.
County Executive Thomas Souzzi personally greeted the several surviving sand miners who attended the ceremony. Supervisor John Kaiman pledged to continue support for the project by the town. Additional speakers included State Senator Craig Johnson, Nassau County Legislator Wayne Wink, and the president of Sandminers Monument, Inc., Mr. Leo Cimini. Mr. Cimini spoke of the determination of the public officials present to go forward with the project and praised the work of his board of directors and the volunteers.
Port Washington Councilman Fred Pollack praised Cimini's perseverance in pursuing the project over the past 10 years. In his remarks, Pollack commented that the sand miners of Port Washington were not only responsible for building a major portion of the infrastructure in New York City but also for being the backbone of the budding Port Washington community over the years.
Mr. Stephen Meehan, the architect of the project, explained in detail the future plans, which include an open view from West Shore Road. Additional plans are under way for a display area, landscaping and a refurbished entranceway. The shaft entranceway will be improved to enable visitors to the center to gain an appreciation of what sand mining was like in Port years ago.
The sandbanks of Port Washington are more than 20,000 years old, originating when the final glacier left behind mounds of glacial sand and gravel. Since the 1880s, it has been estimated that over 140 million yards of sand were delivered from Port Washington to New York City; enough sand to cover the Empire State Building with sand extending from the East River to the Hudson River and from 14th Street to 59th Street. The sand, known as Cow Bay sand, was of particularly fine quality and used to construct the sidewalks, skyscrapers, water tunnels and infrastructure of New York City. It is estimated that 90 percent of the concrete used in the city was from Port Washington sand. Port Washington, with the largest sandbank east of the Mississippi River and easy barge access to New York City, New Jersey and Connecticut, was the center of the sand business. For many years sand mining was the largest employer on Long Island.
Sand mining sprung up in Port Washington in the 1870s, when New York City's subways, skyscrapers, highways and bridges were first being built. The concrete of New York's infrastructure and buildings, including the Chrysler Building, the Empire State Building, the World Trade Center, the Queensborough Bridge, the F.D.R. Drive and the West Side Highway, contain some of the 140 million cubic yards of Port Washington sand mined over the years.
During the 20th century at least 50 barges in Hempstead Harbor would carry thousands of yards of sand and gravel daily. The remains of some 70 barges were removed in the 1990s. The last sand mining company that operated these sandbanks ceased operation in 1989.
Funding for the Sandminers Monument project for the past four years has come primarily from large private donations and individual contributions by the community. Additional fundraisers are planned for spring 2009, which will include personalized family and memorial plaques and bricks. Anyone interested in contributing may contact Leo Cimini at 883-3826 or go to www.sandminers.com. Sandminers Monument Inc. is a tax-exempt organization under section 501 (c) (3) of the Internal Revenue Code. As such, qualified to receive tax-deductible bequests, devises, transfers or gifts under section 2055, 2106 or 2522 of the Code.
(Note: the historical portions of this article were drawn from the website of Sand Miners Monument Inc.)