Port Washington, a hamlet within Long Island's town of North Hempstead, has been shaped by its location on a peninsula jutting into the Long Island Sound.
More than a century ago, shellfishing was a major industry. In the 1930s, Port Washington was a base for some of Pan American Airways' earliest overseas flights using seaplanes. And in the mid-1800s and 1900s, locally mined sand was shipped to New York City and used to help pave Manhattan's streets and build its skyscrapers.
Today residents enjoy public beach access, boating and expansive water views. Yet despite the fact that the community is bounded by water on three sides, Port Washington is well connected to the wider world.
Commuters enjoy a no-transfer, approximately 40-minute ride to Penn Station via the Long Island Rail Road's Port Washington line-the only one of the railroad's lines that doesn't pass through Jamaica, Queens. Residents also have the benefit of riding from the train's first or final stop, since the line originates in Port Washington.
"You can fall asleep and never miss your stop," says Ginny Pergola, a broker and the manager of Point to Port Realty. "It's a wonderful commuting town."
Port Washington's water access and smooth commute come at a cost, with house prices tending to range from the mid-$400,000s to more than $10 million for large estates in the area's most affluent neighborhood, Sands Point. According to Zillow.com, the median sales price in August was $735,200, a 12.5% increase from the median sales price of $654,000 in July 2010. For Sands Point, the median listing price was $2.7 million in August, a 15% increase from a year earlier.
There is a wide range of housing stock, from 1930s Colonials and Capes in the older neighborhood of Baxter Estates, to 1970s split-levels and ranches in the newer community of Soundview. Condominiums and cooperatives, including senior-citizen developments, are available, as well as a relatively large stock of rentals compared with neighboring areas. Port Washington is also one of the few remaining places in the region with year-round houseboat communities.
Port Washington, known locally simply as "Port," has a pedestrian-friendly downtown, including a picturesque Main Street dotted with antiques stores, restaurants and ice-cream shops. Residents make the most of their extensive waterfront access, brokers say, with marinas, restaurants, parks and town beaches along the shoreline.
"Not too many places on Long Island have their own water taxi," says Richard Brody, of Port Washington Properties. "So from that standpoint, it is quite unique."