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Port Washington’s Stannard’s Brook Park Today and Yesterday

Have you been to Stannard’s Brook Park in Port Washington lately? No? Well, there are some big changes happening right on the corner of Carlton and Charles streets. If you would like to catch the park in the midst of its major renovation, then you need to stop and visit before the end of September 2011. Due to reconstruction, you cannot get into the park but there is more than enough opportunity to view it from its perimeter. According to Claude O’Neill, the spokesman for Nassau County from the Lira group, the transformation should be done by then. At that time you can stroll through and view it in all its finished glory.

The Stannard’s Brook Park area has a long history. Once part of a larger tract of land owned by John Mitchell, it came into the hands of Captain Stannard as parcels were being sold off. The original Mitchell Homestead, or “Manhasset Hall,” built and owned by John Mitchell in 1760, could be found on Main Street and Third Avenue. Mitchell became known as an ardent patriot after signing a document requesting the separation of North Hempstead from South Hempstead, where many loyalists were known to reside. It was here that his 17-year-old son Benjamin was brutally killed, and his family members were beaten, by ruthless robbers known as the Whaleboatmen in 1783. They were later caught and hung. John Mitchell’s great-granddaughter Wilhelmina helped to organize the building of the first Port Washington library, and summarily became its first librarian. Wilhelmina’s portrait still hangs today in the Reference room at the Port Washington Public Library.

In 1887, what became known as the “Anchorage,” and the parcel now known as Stannard’s Brook Park, were purchased by Captain Elbert Stannard, a retired Naval officer hailed as an outstanding commander. He was also what we might call in this day and age an “eco-warrior.” Stannard engaged in the business of taking old war vessels and other ships and converting them into freight and passenger carriers, or breaking them down and selling off the iron and copper fittings.

In 1907, Captain Stannard passed away, and the “Anchorage” was then rented to Mrs. R. A. Haskell, who ran it as a summer and boarding house for 20 years. After this period, the house lay fallow for over twenty years. It was finally torn down in 1956 to make way for a housing development. In 1944, Stannard’s Brook (Park) was acquired by the county for drainage purposes. It also became part of the New York State Significant Fish and Wildlife Habitat in Manhasset Bay, as well as an important bird sanctuary.

Stannard’s Brook Park is currently being returned to its original grandeur with some really wonderful improvements. In October 2009, Nassau County had announced the $840,000 renovation of this park, which was secured in an effort spearheaded by The Port Washington Parks Conservancy (PWPC). Today, you can see the park in the throes of being a “teenager” – a broken down graffiti covered wild-child transforming into a beautiful and culturally well-adjusted adult. Culverts have been modified and replaced, and the old brook has been realigned and its banks fortified. Old bridges have been razed, and the construction of new ones has already begun. A new retaining wall has been built at the head of the park, and a badly needed sidewalk is now in place. Workers are in the process of removing old, non-indigenous, plants like knot-weed, and the integration of truly indigenous wetland and upland plant species will start in August. When completed, it will provide a safe, open space for children to play and enjoy the wonders of a woodland garden. Pergolas, walkways, lighting, fencing, guard rails, bridges, pathways, benches will all be added before the crew finishes their job around the end of September (and there is even talk of adding a dog-walk). To round the project out, educational features will be made available for the visiting public.

Looking for more information? Drop by Port Washington Public Library Reference Department, have a look at the prospectus, delve into the local history, and see just how historically rich the community really is.