, by the Town Dock in Port Washington, is a great place to enjoy sunsets, count seagulls, look for big bridges and skyscrapers on the horizon and watch people tie up small boats. Free concerts, under the aegis of the , are presented most Friday nights in the summer at the Sousa Band Shell, the Park’s main attraction. If you’re not into music, you can always come back another time and watch a movie when the park turns into an outdoor movie house, thanks to the sponsorships from organizations that include the Town of North Hempstead and the Residents for More Beautiful Port Washington.
Most people are unaware that one of Port Washington’s special districts owns Sunset Park. The , known familiarly as the sewer district, was established in 1915. It built a treatment plant on that property the following year. Back then, the shorefront consisted of marshes and sand bars and some tumbling-down shacks with assorted oyster and clam boats at anchor. Nobody cared much about how the shoreline looked.
The district also owns the property used as the adjacent Port Washington Police Athletic League field, the Community Chest office and the Bird House (named for people, not birds), at 315 Main Street. John J. Bird and his widowed mother built the handsome stucco house now, leased by as a Village Hall, in 1913. (The was a Bird House tenant in the early 1960s. That was before it took over the Sands-Willets House on Port Washington Boulevard. The Girl Scouts of American also leased the house at one time.)
As the area grew from a rough and tumble waterfront to a more genteel business and residential area, the sewage treatment plant became a community eyesore, especially to patrons of Bradley’s famous hotel across the street. The plant was closed in 1951 but the Water Pollution Control Board held on to the property. A new sewage treatment plant was built on a 33.4-acre site at 70 Harbor Road, next to the Dodge House at number 58.
The came about because School District Supervisor of Music George Christopher and Port resident Gay Pearsall got together in the 1960s to raise funds to provide a facility for summer band concerts, especially by students. Pearsall, who appeared at benefits and marched in parades dressed as an American Revolution drummer boy to call attention to her cause, proved an apt fund raiser and soon involved the American Legion, the Port Washington school alumni association, her daughter and son-in-law Jean and Floyd Mackay and many other local citizens in raising money for the Sousa Memorial Band Shell. Dressed as the Town Crier she also rang a bell and called out the “news” at crowd-catching events.
John Philip Sousa, composer and famous Marine Corps bandleader, and his family, lived in Sands Point for nearly 50 years. An active participant in community life including school events, Sousa served as entertainment committee chairman at the Manhasset Bay Yacht Club for many years. It seemed right to name the space designed for playing military band music after him. Gay Pearsall had the pleasure of seeing her dream come true on June 11, 1967, when, according to George Williams author of Lower Main Street, she joined Helen Sousa Abert listening to Sousa marches played by the Third Naval District Band at the dedication of the Band Shell. The March King’s home is still extant, located on Hicks Lane in Sands Point.
There is a lot to enjoy in and about Sunset Park. Bring your own folding chairs, sandwiches and filled thermos bottles or pick something up at a nearby deli and come on down. Don’t worry about parking –there is usually plenty of it at the nearby Town Dock.