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Rebuilding after Sandy.

During the past three years, Long Island Traditions has been documenting the changes to the bay house community after Superstorm Sandy, when over 30 bay houses were destroyed. We're glad to tell you that several have been rebuilt or are being rebuilt. Yet the journey has not been an easy one. As some of you know, bay house owners generally live on or near the bay and suffered damage to their primary homes. Between waiting for insurance adjusters, submitting claims to FEMA, and trying to work with private contractors, most bay house owners had their hands full trying to negotiate the maze of agencies out there. As for the bay houses, the Town of Hempstead and the NY State Department of Environmental Conservation must approve the plans submitted by the bay house owners. The process can be very challenging. It is thus gratifying to see that progress is being made. Here is one example of a success story: the Muller Family.

Larry Muller was born in Freeport, and his family has owned a bay house on the nearby marshlands since the 1950s. Larry went killeying as a boy, using horseshoe crabs as bait to catch the killeys. They had a horseshoe pen where they could store the crabs until they used them, and returned the leftovers to the bay at the end of the season. "You only needed 10 traps to get 60 quarts of killeys, if the tide was running right back then." Like most baymen, Larry and his family made their own traps. They also went clamming, something Larry did until he and Mary were married; he continued to harvest mussels, which had more monetary value than clams, using tongs. Unlike clams, baymen could harvest mussels during high and low tides because mussels were found in deeper water than clams. Today Larry works with his daughters, Alison and Laura, running Island Seafood, which buys fish from fishermen, primarily in New England and Eastern Long Island, and ships the fish worldwide. Alison started working in the business when she was young, writing up bills for her father's customers, as they journeyed to New Bedford, MA, and other ports of call. "They used to go with me for 18 hours to all these places."

In 2011, just before Superstorm Sandy struck, Alison returned to Long Island and began working for Island Seafood alongside her father. Her sister Laura also works for the company. When Sandy struck Long Island, Larry's home was severely damaged, and eventually he had to replace it with a new home. Fortunately, they moved their company facilities before Sandy to an industrial park in Farmingdale and were safe. They were, therefore, able to assist their customers who suffered damages. A year later they moved into their daughter Laura's home in Freeport while their own home was replaced.

Prior to Sandy, the Mullers had invested more time and money in restoring their bay house, originally built in 1910 by George Arata. Just days after Sandy, the Mullers remember that the bay "looked like a war zone--there were boats, propellers, junk, and crap all over the place. You couldn't go fast because you would hit something." The first reports were that the bay house wasn't there. Larry went out and not seeing his or any other bay houses, said, "That's it, we're done." However, as he was returning home, he made a turn--and lo and behold, "There's my house, right up against the causeway. It was fully intact, all four walls, all the windows and all the doors, but the whole inside was ripped clean. So right away, we knew we were going to save it." A year later they found someone, Chris Stebner, who also owned a bay house, who could lift the house and return it to a safer spot. "He picked it up, put it on a barge, brought it over and put it in its place."


Traditionally, the bay houses were built on mudsills, which rested on the marshland and allowed owners to move their bay houses when the marshland eroded. However, in recent years the marshlands have eroded rapidly. As a result, some bay house owners like the Mullers have decided to use pilings for their platforms. As Alison explains, "With the poles, the house is sturdy, and we won't have to move it. We can't make a boat slow down, and the boats are getting bigger and bigger. I don't think everyone knows the water and respects how it should be. We lost over 50 feet of marshland since the 1970s."



Work remains for the Mullers. Although they put on a new roof and deck, they need to install a water tank for washing dishes and rinsing off after clamming or swimming. In addition, the interior of the house needs walls, a bathroom, and other essentials. They'll be at the house because "that's where we always are." They still go clamming and fishing for their personal use, rather than as commercial fishermen. Larry says, "Everybody likes to put their feet in the mud once in a while."

Nancy Solomon is executive director of Long Island Traditions, located in Port Washington, New York. She can be reached at 516/767-8803 or
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Author:Solomon, Nancy
Publication:Voices: The Journal of New York Folklore
Date:Mar 22, 2016
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