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Time, Weather Taking A Toll On Historic Long Island Marsh Houses

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HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — You’ve probably seen them in the waters off of Long Island and were not sure what they were. Bay houses, some of them over a hundred years old, are seeing their numbers dwindle.

From the busy parkways in the distance the structures look like weather-beaten shacks, impossibly floating on the marshes.

As CBS 2’s Carolyn Gusoff reported, the artifacts of history are approachable only by boat.

“This is a way of life. It’s not just a house on a marsh land, you’re talking about generations of fishermen and duck hunters that have called these marsh lands part of our regional identity,” L.I. Traditions executive director, Nancy Solomon said.

The houses are part of maritime history that folklorist Nancy Solomon is trying to save.

There were once 300 houses dotting Long Island’s south shore, but time and mother nature have claimed most of them. Fewer than 20 remain.

Since the 1700s fishermen have used the houses as a base camp.

“We do our fishing, our socializing, but even in a storm, in a hail storm, anyone on a boat you’re waving them in,” house owner Joe Byrne said.

The houses sit on boards settled into the marsh, they come equipped with trap doors that let water in and out.

Superstorm Sandy claimed more than half of the bay houses. The Town of Hempstead, which owns the land and leases the houses, is relaxing permits to encourage rebuilding.

“We are just working with all of our lease holders to make sure that we preserve this very important unique part of the Town of Hempstead’s history,” Hempstead Town Supervisor Kate Murray said.

This rare view of Long Island will soon be available to the public. As more and more houses are restored, Long Island Traditions will offer tours by boat.

They occupy a small footprint of Nassau’s wetlands, but pack the history of a fading way of life.

Before Sandy there were 31 bay houses in the Town of Hempstead, but now about 15 to 20 remain.

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