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Port Washington Portrayed in Pictures

Local resident Elly Shodell, director of the Local History Center at the Port Washington Public Library, has authored a collection of images that depict the rich and diverse history of Port Washington. The book, part of Arcadia Publishing’s “Images of America” series, is entitled, simply, Port Washington. It is available at the library, as well as at Dolphin Books, Alper’s Hardware and other local retail outlets, from Arcadia Publishing (www.arcadiapublishing.com) and, of course, from on-line booksellers. All author royalties from the sale of this book will be donated to the Port Washington Public Library Local History Center.

The book is, in a sense, a culmination of all of the previous work of the Oral History Project. Shodell and her two archivists–Janet Schneider and Francesca Pitar, with help from other library staff, went through more than 30,000 photographs to select the ones that were finally included. “Choosing was very difficult,” said Shodell. “We really had to look at what makes a good photo.” She added, “We also had to learn a lot of technical stuff.” Specific collections and publications that Shodell mentioned as providing background for Port Washington are the sandminers’ legacy: Particles of the Past: Sandmining on Long Island 1870s-1980s, the community’s African-American history: It Looks Like Yesterday to me: Port Washington’s Afro-American Heritage, and the stories of the workers on the great estates: In the Service: Workers on the Grand Estates of Long Island 1890s to 1940s.

It is clear that Shodell thoroughly enjoyed putting this collection together for publication. She said, “Port Washington has such a deep and diverse history. There is so much depth to the subject. Each reader will find something meaningful.” She added, “I learned that the more you learn the more there is to find out. It is the opposite of peeling an onion. We came in in the middle and there was more and more to find out.” As she wrote the captions, she found that each detail in the picture had its own story. She advised the reader. “You really have to read the captions.”

What struck her most, Shodell said, is the tremendous diversity in Port Washington: socially, culturally, ethnically, economically, and in so many other ways. “We have immigrants, sandminers, professionals, and more.” She opined, “Diversity still works here. We continue to absorb a mix of different cultures, although sometimes the process is painful and long.”

Another phenomenon that Shodell has found interesting is the large number of multi-generation families in Port Washington. She said, “You can still see businesses on Main Street that are owned by third and fourth generation Port Washingtonians.” Other features Shodell mentioned about the community that she has lived in and loved and studied for 33 years are its strength, community activism, and generosity. She said, “There has been a seamless development from then until now. There is something intangible that makes it work.”

Port Washington includes a wide variety of subject matter depicting all aspects of the community’s history and everyday life, including the sandminers, the yachtsmen, local businesses and institutions, our aviation history, local politicians and celebrities, and much, much more.

When the Port News asked how long it took to put the book together, Shodell responded, “The book was a year or so in the making, but 33 years if you take the long view.” Thoroughly immersed in her subject, Shodell said, “I went to bed at night thinking about these people [in the photographs].”

Shodell has worked with the Port Washington library since 1983, first as a consultant and later as director of the Local History Center. Her current position, which she carries out with passion, combines her studies in history (BA from CCNY and master’s from UC Berkeley), as well as Library Science (Master’s from LIU.) “It is as if my life is coming together,” she said.

Shodell hopes this work will bring back memories for Port Washington residents, inspire the telling of more stories, and lead to the contribution of more photographs and archival collections to the Local History Center. She regards the book as a reminder of the importance of preserving the written word and original photographs in the age of digital information.

The Local History Center has the most amazing collection of photographs and other archival materials, and has been responsible for a number of publications in addition to those already mentioned. It is open to the public on Monday and Tuesday from 9 to 5, Wednesday from 11 to 5, and by appointment. Visit the web site at www.pwpl.org to learn more, to view samples of the collection, to link to the “Sand & City” website, to read the new aviation blog, and more.

Port Washington owes a deep debt of gratitude to Elly Shodell, the library staff, and to all who work to preserve our community’s rich history, as well as others who contributed to this volume. Port Washington residents are also indebted to those individuals, families and organizations who have contributed to the collections.

(All photos from the Port Washington Public Library Local History Center and Ansell Horn for the author photograph.)