The Long Life Of Nellie H

By Ann Dermody
Published: August/September 2013

A century may have passed, but the boat still sails, and a family still treasures the memories that held four generations together .

Photo of two young ladies, one in a swimming costume from the era, pose on Nellie H
Two young ladies, one in a swimming costume from the era, pose on Nellie H.

Nellie H had been built in 1903 by Erastus Hart, and named for the owner's daughter. It was bought in 1910 by A.J. Sammis from Brooklyn, who made his fortune in the textile industry in New York City, and who created a summer retreat, and later permanent home, for his family on what were then the farmlands of Huntington, Long Island. There, the boat became a social center for the families and friends who left the stifling streets of Brooklyn en masse in the summer. "It would be packed on weekends," says Ken Cotter of Ellicott City, Maryland, great grandson of A.J. Sammis, who recently donated Nellie H to be restored. "My mother tells me they once had up to 21 people aboard."

Photo of two ladies posing on the Nellie H in the 1940s

But 110 years after she was built, and after several reprieves, Nellie H has somehow endured. During the Great New England Hurricane of 1938, which killed between 700 and 800 people, she landed on another boat, but made it through. After A.J. Sammis passed away in the 1940s, she went to a cousin, Kenneth Johnson, a New York City harbor pilot later lost at sea during a transfer in 1974. After that, the boat left the family for a few years, before Ken Cotter bought back his great-grandfather's, grandmother's, and mother's beloved boat. Now, more than a century after A.J. Sammis first bought Nellie H, and after 30 years of sitting in Ken Cotter's backyard, she's gone to Maine to be restored.

But for the eight faces smiling at the camera in 1914, that would all happen several unborn generations into the future. For them, the Roaring Twenties and The Great Gatsby are still a decade away. The four young women in the photo will have to wait another six years to win the right to vote. This generation, one that will live through the Great Depression and World War II (when Nellie H won't run because of gas shortages), has no inclination yet of what is on the horizon. For now their days, for this summer at least, are packed only with long sails through the sound, and the echoes of young people splashing off a dock on Long Island.End of story marker

For more on the Nellie H visit the Wooden Boat Rescue Foundation.

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Every picture tells a story: Thanks to Ken Cotter for sending in this photo of his grandmother, her sisters, and their friends for our Photo Contest earlier this year. Do you have a great photo that also tells a story? Email it to us with an explanation to


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