Permanent exhibit preserves Freeport’s maritime traditions

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Freeport’s maritime traditions is immortalized in a permanent outdoor exhibit along the Nautical Mile, thanks to Long Island Traditions, with the support of the Village of Freeport. The exhibit opened Saturday, Sept. 24, at a dedication ceremony at Sea Breeze Park at 11 a.m. It features historic and contemporary photographs, web links to videos and an artistic design at different locations or installations along the famed Nautical Mile. Topics examined include Bay Houses, Rum Runners, Boat Building and Freeport Legends.

The exhibit is designed to engage visitors through video links, historic and contemporary images culled from L.I. Traditions’ archives, the Freeport Historical Society collections, and artifacts donated by families of those interviewed for the exhibit. The architecture of the installations evokes motifs connected with each theme, designed by architect Paul Bentel and fabricated by Forest Iron Works of Locust Valley.

“This exhibit has been a long time in the making,” said Nancy Solomon, executive director of Long Island Traditions and the exhibit’s curator. “I’ve been mulling this over for many years – since the late 1980s when there were still a lot of fisherman and boats here.” Back some 30 years ago, Solomon had the opportunity to meet many of the baymen, fishermen and boat builders who made Freeport a maritime center. “They told me all kinds of stories,” Solomon explained. “I thought that I shouldn’t be the only one with this knowledge – other people should know about these traditions.”

By the turn of the century, many of the individuals with the first hand knowledge of these maritime trades and traditions were dying off. Superstorm Sandy also helped to “change the cultural landscape,” Solomon said.

She worked collaboratively with Bentel as well as with City Lore, a New York City non-profit with the mission of fostering America’s living cultural heritage through education and public programs, to conceive the installations. “It was City Lore’s suggestion to have the installations on the Nautical Mile,” Solomon said. “There are thousands who stroll the Nautical Mile. It’s a perfect opportunity to educate people.”

There are four installations along the Nautical Mile – Bay Houses, Rum Runner, Boat Building and Freeport Legends. The Bay House installation examines the history of bay houses, their design and construction, and traditional uses of the houses, and their fate after Superstorm Sandy.  Accompanying videos include interviews with Brian Warasila, Laura Smith, Wendy Jankoski and other bay house owners.  Historic photos were donated by bay house owners, and contemporary photographs were shot by documentary photographer Martha Cooper, and by Solomon. 

“I love the story about the Muller bayhouse featured on the panel and in the video,” Solomon said. “It floated to a different part of the bay and they brought it back, working tirelessly to restore it.” The installation is located at Sea Breeze Park, at the south end of Woodcleft Avenue.

The Rum Runners installation examines the history of booze smuggling during the Prohibition era of 1918 – 30s.  Freeport was a major center due to its proximity to the offshore rum-running ships and its active boat building industry. Accompanying videos include stories about the infamous Bill McCoy, and bay house owner Captain Jack Combs, as told by George Combs and the late Captain Carmine Marinaccio. It is located on 28 Woodcleft Avenue near the Captain Lou fleet docks. The wood barrels were provided by East Coast Wood Barrel Works of Medford.

“Freeport Legends” examines legendary figures associated with the village’s maritime heritage. The panel features orchestra leader Guy Lombardo, charter boat captain Carmine Marinaccio, bayman Cory Weyant and lifeguard Reggie Jones. The installation will feature hat types known to be worn by those featured in the exhibit.  Solomon said Freeport Legends has many interesting stories but one of her favorites is a story about Guy Lombardo, known to be a “very sympathetic human being,” Solomon said. “There’s this story about how one 10-year-old boy’s boat conked out at Guy Lombardo’s [dock]. The boy left the boat there and went for help but Guy Lombardo found him a rebuilt motor, put it on the boat and took it to the boy.” The exhibit is adjacent to the Two Cousins Fish Market at 255 Woodcleft Avenue.

The Boat Builders installation examines the history of boat building in Freeport. Featured are Al Grover, the Scopinich family, the Maresca Boatyard and garvey builder John Remsen. Connected to the exhibit is an original bow sprint crafted by Chris Hale and Weeks Boatyard in Patchogue. Accompanying videos include interviews with Fred Scopinich, John Remsen and Jerry Maresca, and historic footage from Al Grover’s transatlantic voyage of 1985. A propeller donated by SPLASH is also part of the installation.  The exhibit is located in front of Rachel’s Waterside Restaurant at 281 Woodcleft Avenue.

Solomon hopes that the exhibit will help people appreciate Freeport’s rich history and contributions to maritime culture.  Eventually she would like to add another installation to the exhibit on commercial and recreational fishing. “Maybe we can find a sponsor in the future,” Solomon said.

Project funding was provided by the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Park Service, the N.Y. State Council on the Arts and the N.Y. Council for the Humanities. The exhibit was curated by L.I. Traditions’ director Nancy Solomon in association with City Lore. The multi-media pieces were curated by Anna Mule and Emily Charlaff.  The graphic designer was Paul Orselli of Paul Orselli Workshop. Fossil Graphics of Deer Park produced the panels. Installation is made possible by the Village of Freeport.