Long Island, NY: Sightseeing with the Locals

When you have lived in a place your whole life, you begin to take it for granted. I write this hoping that my family and friends in Long Island are safe and warm tonight after Hurricane Sandy ripped through their towns.

Traveling from southeastern Connecticut to Long Island, New York, by way of the Orient Point Ferry is something I’ve been doing since I was 5 years old. The boat I always want to take is called The John H. It’s large, has a movie room, game room, kitchen and bar. It’s comfortable, and I’ve experienced a lot less turbulence because of its size — even on really stormy trips. As you leave and enter the ports from New London, CT to Orient Point, NY, you see several lighthouses ranging in age from 50 to 200+ years old. The Plum Island Lighthouse was established in 1827 and built in 1870. It is visible from New London, while the Orient Point Lighthouse is on the Long Island side and built a short while later in 1899.

Several of my family members live on Long Island, so most of the time I go to visit them. But, on my recent trip, Todd and I wanted to see the island from a tourist’s eyes and visit with family. We had a few things on our list to do and hoped my cousins, who were picking us up, would be into making the stops too. You might assume that they had seen some of the sights we wanted to see, but I was surprised to learn they had only heard of them. It became an adventure for us all.

Alline and her sister Liz were locals to the South Shore of Long Island, but getting to our first stop was a little off their normal route. They were thrilled with the farm stand stops to buy locally-made breads, jellies, pies, and spicy beets. Just south of the North Fork of Long Island is Flanders, and our first official stop, The Big Duck.

The Big Duck is a ferrocement building in the shape of a duck located in Flanders, New York, on Long Island. It was originally built in 1931 by duck farmer Martin Maurer in nearby Riverhead, and used as a shop to sell ducks and duck eggs. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1997.

Owner Martin Maurer had The Big Duck building constructed in 1930 and 1931 on a prime spot on the busy Main Street in the town of Riverhead on Long Island, New York. The builders Smith and Yeager completed the concrete finish work on the Big Duck which was featured in Atlas Cement’s 1931 calendar. Merlin Yeager noted that most of the duck is actually finished with Portland Cement, but they ran out and finished with Atlas Cement. The Big Duck was also featured in Popular Mechanics magazine.

In 1937, Martin Maurer moved the building four miles (6 km) southeast to Flanders, where it occupied a prominent location near the duck barns and marshes of Maurer’s new duck ranch. The entire area, including Flanders and Riverhead, was the center of Long Island’s well-known duck-farming industry. By 1939 there were about 90 duck farms in Suffolk County.

We all really enjoyed talking with the shop manager. She was full of great stories and very helpful. After a few photographs in front of the duck, we were on our way to the next stop, Fire Island National Seashore. I love the National Parks and can’t help but do whatever it takes to get a stamp in my “National Park Passport”, a scrapbook for park stamps and stickers.

We walked the beach, toured the tiny visitor center, and I got a stamp in my book. The beaches in Long Island are made of soft white sand. There are facilities, snack shacks, and lifeguards. The dunes are covered in a thick green grass and seagulls are everywhere. The staff in the visitor center showed off the live seahorses on display and told us about the animals in the region.

It was just about lunchtime, and Todd had a couple places he wanted to try, but Liz mentioned a burger place she really loved, so we gave The Burger Shack a shot. They had two different burger sizes, 4oz and 8oz, and tons of great combinations and toppings. I had a small mushroom Swiss burger that really hit the spot. Their fries were perfectly cooked: hot ‘n’ crisp. The others said their burgers were good, but when I Todd and I were alone he said he was disappointed in his because it was a dry burger with none of the usual toppings like lettuce, tomato, mayo or catsup. He ordered the Juicy Lucy, an “inside out” burger with cheddar and bacon hidden between two patties. If they had loaded it with the norm, it would have been better.

Our food stop was quick. We were off to tour one of Long Island’s super mansions, known as the Bourne Mansion. Several are found on the North Shore, but the one we were after was on the South Shore in Oakdale. The mansion can be rented for parties and weddings, but its history and mysticism were what drew us to see it.

Quietly set on 205 acres, overlooking the Great South Bay, lies the ever-so-grand Bourne Mansion. More than 10,000 lush trees and shrubs adorn this impeccably-manicured property. The expansive great lawn with its views of the Great South Bay, the lakes, and the many canals create an enchanting backdrop.

As we drove up the long drive, we came to the fountain and front entry where we stopped and parked the car. There was no one in sight, but the doors were unlocked. We quietly entered and each of us wandered around in and out of every room. The Bourne Mansion was originally built at the turn of the century for Frederick G. Bourne, president of the Singer Sewing Machine Co. The mansion looked as if it needed some TLC, but was in pretty good shape considering its age. The view of the bay from the back of the house was lovely and it was nice to be able to explore the place without being stopped by anyone of authority. We snuck out just the way we snuck in.

As the sun went down, we finished our tour of the South Shore of Long Island and drove to our final destination, the family gathering spot. We took the last ferry off the Island back to our home base in Connecticut the next day. The sunset ferry ride was a spectacular end to our island journey.

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