History of the Watershed

(from State of the Watershed Report prepared for Friends of the Bay, Fuss & O’Neill, November 2009)

The area including the Oyster Bay/Cold Spring Harbor Complex watershed was purchased by colonists from the Native Americans in 1653, with the exception of Lloyd Neck and Centre Island, which were not purchased until 1664 and 1665, respectively. The Oyster Bay/Cold Spring Harbor waterways have attracted merchants and colonization throughout the centuries. During the 17th century, common occupations were related to maritime activities, such as boat builders, carpenters, innkeepers, shipwrights and surveyors. The clay deposits on Centre Island began to be used for brick-making. Commerce and populations increased through the 18th century. By the mid-19th century and the invention of the steamboat, Long Island Sound became a popular summer vacation resort destination (McGee, 1997).

Scientific exploration of Cold Spring Harbor and Oyster Bay began in the early 20th century with the development of a biological laboratory to study the freshwater rivers, springs, tidal flats, and saltwater harbor. The Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory of Quantitative Biology is still in operation more than 100 years later, conducting world-renowned research. The laboratory boasts seven Nobel Prize winners (McGee, 1997).

In the time following World War II, prominent people continued to commute to Oyster Bay from New York City. Business and shopping increased in the area. Current waterfront commerce and activities include: Petro-Commander Oil Corporation, Oyster Bay Marine Center, Frank M. Flower and Sons, three yacht clubs (Seawanhaka Corinthian, Sagamore, and Oak Cliff), and various beaches and a sport club. Commercial oystering remains a prominent industry in Oyster Bay which began in the second half of the 19th century, with underwater shellfish lands leased by the Town of Oyster Bay. The harbor bottom and Mill Neck Creek are important oystering grounds. Prior to World War II, the shellfish in Oyster Bay were plentiful and supported four major oyster harvesting companies and independent baymen. By 1960, the oyster populations began to dwindle and the Flower and Sons Company began a shellfish hatchery to replenish the harbor stock. Today, the Frank M. Flower & Sons, Inc. shellfish company, along with more than 80 independent commercial baymen, annually harvests up to 90% of New York’s oyster crop and up to 33% of hard clams from the Oyster Bay/Cold Spring Harbor estuary. The continued success of commercial shellfishing in Oyster Bay remains a concern for town and village government due to threatened water quality from development and other activities in the harbor and its watershed (McGee, 1997).