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History

The history of Baxter Estates dates back to the days before the arrival of the first settlers when the Matinecock Indians lived on the entire Port Washington peninsula. The Indians were hunters and fishermen and being of a peaceful nature, caused the early settlers little difficulty. Eventually, many were employed by the Cow Neck seafarers as sailors.

By the mid 17th century the permanent settlement of Cow Neck was established. The area was so named because the land was enclosed as common pasture for cattle belonging to farmers owning large tracts of land. Its growth was very slow in pre-Revolutionary days.

One of the earliest homesteads on Cow Neck was built in 1673 by John Betts and Robert Hutchings and still stands on its original site at the corner of Central Drive and Shore Road, overlooking Manhasset Bay. In 1741 or 1743, the home was purchased by Oliver Baxter. An early survey of the Baxter land shows an Indian wigwam located near Baxter’s Pond, evidence that an entire wigwam village probably existed on the very site of this house.

The Baxters, who were shipbuilders, sea captains, whalers, and blacksmiths, retained ownership of the house until the end of the 19th century. During the Revolutionary War, Hessian troops, engaged by the British, were quartered in the house.

In 1895 the first library of Port Washington met in the parlor of the Baxter house on Shore Road. The Baxter family was, and the house is, a proud part of the history of our Village. The house is now designated a Historic Building.

It was estimated that fewer than 200 people lived on the entire peninsula before 1840. Small as it was, the farming community needed a general store. The first such store was opened by Thomas McKee on the corner of Harbor Road and Shore Road; it was torn down in the Mid 1900s. This corner was also the location of Port’s first post office which officially opened on July 12, 1859. Thomas McKee was the first postmaster and among his successors were Alfred Bayles and Ida Baxter, both prominent in Village history. The mail was brought by horse cart twice a day from Great Neck, which at the time was the easterly terminus of the railroad that connected the area to New York City.

Sand mining was common in the Port area, yet few realize that approximately one fifth of Baxter Estates was once used for sand mining. At the beginning of the 20th century the land behind McKee’s store was a sandbank as was the entire Village shorefront. A small dock, constructed over what is now the Village owned private beach, ran from the head of the excavation out to the station where the sand barges were moored, waiting to transport the sand. Travel on that section of Shore Road was slow, dusty, and very noisy. A.C. Bayles, one of Port’s large land owners in its early days, once said of the sand bank in Baxter estates, “This property, from long before my coming in 1869, presented an appearance as rough as one could imagine, being bounded from the north and south side of the Mill Pond… with a high bluff of loam and gravel covered with scrub oak, cedars and briars, some 50 feet or more high upon which no buildings could be erected. The entire farm was of little value, hardly able to pay taxes which, at the time, were small.” Mr. Bayles firmly believed that the sand mining operation made the development of Baxter Estates possible.

Today one of Baxter Estates’ biggest assets is the beautiful, hilly nature of the Village that was partially carved from a sandbank. In 1910, Charles (Buck) Hyde, one of the leading realtors of Baxter Estates’ home sites, described the Village as “… a private estate divided into home sites of exceptional desirability…in natural beauty, in location, this property is extremely fortunate.” The residents today would agree with those words from that early Hyde and Baxter promotion pamphlet. The pamphlet went on to describe Baxter Estates as “…an all year round home place, delightful in summer – yet the winter season holds much charm…the long rolling grades afford fine coasting, the lakes excellent skating.” Those were the days of sleighing down Central Drive and north onto Shore Road right to the Mill Pond. Local highways were not sanded, of course, so sleighing was a winter pastime for all ages. Skating on Baxter’s Pond was great fun, provided the skaters were willing to clear the ice first. Bonfires burned along the pond’s shoreline, illuminating the skaters by night. Unfortunately, skating on Baxter’s Pond was discontinued in the mid 1970’s.

After the Long Island Rail Road was extended from Great Neck to Port Washington in 1898, newcomers began settling around lower Main Street, quickly making this area the new hub of the community. Their arrival added a new class of people to the town; the original residents were known humorously as “clam diggers” and the new arrivals were called “commuters”. Lower Main Street, as we know it today, was quite different around the turn of the 20th century. The dirt road known as Flower Hill Avenue ran straight to the town dock, the curve being added in 1850. In 1912 the entire street was renamed Main Street.

Main Street also comprised a segment of the trolley line, made famous by Fontaine Fox in his comic strip, “The Toonerville Trolley”. The line opened in 1908 and ran from Port Washington to Mineola. Although the local terminal was near the Manhasset Bay Yacht Club, it often made a stop at the Cove Inn, on the corner of Main Street and Shore Road. The trolley stopped running after a blizzard in February, 1920.

Today many of the turn-of-the-century and older buildings still exist on the northern, or "Village side" of lower Main Street, and many owners have maintained the charm and character of these structures by preserving their original facades as much as possible. The history of Baxter Estates is linked to many of these historic structures and locations. In 2003, the Board of Trustees enacted a Landmark Preservation Law to enable the Village to ensure that worthy structures are preserved.

The Village of Baxter Estates was incorporated in 1931. In 1930, the nearby Village of Manorhaven was formed after it became dissatisfied with the Zoning Code of the Town. The residents of Baxter Estates feared being annexed by Manorhaven, and so incorporated to avoid substantial taxes that would have been incurred if annexation had been allowed.

The growth of the Village over the many years since its incorporation has been carefully monitored through strict zoning and other ordinances. Preserving our distinctive residential area and the historical charm of the small business district are primary concerns of the Boards of Trustees and Zoning Appeals, as well as the majority of the residents living here.

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315 Main Street
Port Washington, NY 11050
Tel: (516) 767-0096
Fax: (516) 767-0058
staff@baxterestates.org
 


Although information contained on this website has been reviewed for accuracy,
the user is advised to rely exclusively upon the original records available at the Village Hall.