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When Less is More - The Bay House Way of Life

The average size of single family houses in the United States has grown significantly in recent times. Our McMansion lifestyle, created out of a need for prestige, was slowed down by changing economic times in 2008 and Hurricane Katrina’s wide-ranging housing damage in the Gulf area. There was suddenly a need for inexpensive housing that could be assembled quickly for the storm survivors. Inexpensive and quick assembly are terms that describe building the houses we’ve seen on the islands out in the bays from Nassau County to the Hamptons out east. These bay houses are how our ancestors who were commercial fishermen were able to work the waters and still see their families before bridges and ferries made the islands more accessible

The Town of Islip dates back to the late 1600s and has lease records for islands in the Great South Bay dating back to the 1700s. The first leaseholders may have been the baymen who rowed to the islands to harvest salt hay for the farmers to feed their livestock in the winter. Rowing to the islands, cutting the salt hay and rowing back took a lot of time and energy and the solution was to spend the night on the island, reducing the travel time and energy expended to one trip. Commercial fishermen and shellfishermen were probably the first to put up permanent structures on the islands. The towns leased the land and the leaseholders put up the buildings. The annual cost of leases in the Town of Hempstead ranged from $5 in 1890 to $1,050 in 1991. Currently, the Town of Islip lease fees are around $1,000 a year for a ten year lease. At one time there were hundreds of bay houses or bay shacks of varying sizes and designs. These were not houses built by builders or designed by architects. Most started out as minimal shelters and were added to and improved over the years. They were built by owners and friends of salvaged wood, old garages, sheds and doors. Most of the houses had a porch and a deck and were usually built to face south to take advantage of the sunlight and prevailing breezes.


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