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  • Writer's pictureLocal History Collection

Memories of Summer at Bar Beach

The sights and sounds of Bar Beach are common mentions in the Local History Collection’s assortment of news items, reminiscences, and literary works. Stewart Donaldson (1907-1994), the son of Clarence Mackay’s chauffeur at Harbor Hill estate, was an early donor to the Collection and recorded many of his memories growing up in Roslyn. In one recollection he writes of Bar Beach in 1922 when his family joined many others from the surrounding area in a community of pavilions and tents that were set up along the shoreline for the entire summer:

During the summer of 1922, from Decoration Day on May 30th, the Donaldsons and Weeks [families] had a tent in tent city at Bar Beach. Each year folks would apply to the Town Hall at Manhasset for permits to put up a tent on the east end of Bar Beach. The rows started on the north side of the beach, about even with the old pavilion, and ran towards the east or towards the “gut.” W.A. Craft, the butcher in Roslyn, always had position #1. We had a 9 ½’ x 12’ tent with a flap put up over a wooden frame, or skeleton, and were right behind the Crafts. We were #1 in the second row. Uncle Art Speedling was caretaker at Bar Beach at the time, so he saw to it that we had a good spot.

There was running water available, also garbage collection and two privies over behind the pavilion. A great many people lived there all summer. There must have been approximately 45 tents and some 20 or 25 of these lived there all summer, until Labor Day. We had 2 folding cots, a small table, several folding camp chairs, kerosene lights and a small kerosene stove to cook on. Uncle Art and Aunt May Speedling lived in a small caretaker’s cottage at the entrance to Bar Beach, so I ate there most of the time. I spent most of the summer that year at Bar Beach.

I’ll never forget George, “the Greek,” who had a small white truck and sold ice cream, soda and hot dogs. He used to come down to the beach every afternoon for several hours to satisfy the folks’ thirst and parched throats. When he drove in, he would honk the horn in front of the cottage and Aunt May would run out with the largest dish she had in the house. Poor George would fill it heaping-- hand it back to Aunt May and laugh as he put his hand up and say, “no money please, just enjoy you’self.” You see, Uncle Art used to let George in and chase the other vendors out. Boy, we really ate ice cream.

For more details on these images visit the Bar Beach, 1918-1924 gallery.


Another resident who wrote of Bar Beach in the 1920s was author Christopher Morley who lived in Roslyn Estates with his wife and four children. In his whimsical novel, I Know a Secret, Morley paints a world where humans and animals enjoy a common society with varying degrees of anthropomorphism. The vignettes that form the chapters of the book contain many personal anecdotes about his life and family, some more fictionalized than others. One of the chapters, “A Story About Bar Beach” makes mention of the same “bungalows and bathing pavilions” described by Donaldson, but with the complaint that they prevent the ability to “bathe quite privately.” The chapter begins with a delightful discussion of Long Island geography, likening it to a “Japanese goldfish with a long streamy tail.” After recounting an experience involving a starfish in the dark, Morley ends on a wistful note:

Bar Beach will never again be a lonely little bathing place. Along that shore the gravel barges and bath houses and hot dogs and ice cream cones will soon outnumber the clams and the crabs. But as long as the water of Hempstead Harbour stays clean and untainted, there will be star-fish there for children to find, among the wet pebbles when the tide goes down.

Read the full text of “A Story About Bar Beach” from I Know a Secret complete with several spot illustrations in this digitized chapter:


Do you have memories of summertime at Bar Beach? The Local History Collection is always seeking information about the personal experiences of Roslyn residents and reminiscences from those who remember its past. Visit our contact page to get in touch or email us at to share your history!


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