Not often do we hear about single-family businesses spanning five generations and 113 years, let alone by two sisters in the boating industry. But on the east coast of Lake Ontario sits a 95-slip marina that is just such a legacy. The sisters who run the operation today are more than happy to tell you all about it.
“Cathy and I are the great-grandchildren of Captain Lindsey Greene and Faith Christine Greene,” Cheryl starts. “The land, in fact, was in our family long before that as Stephan Lindsey was one of the first settlers here. But it was really our great-grandfather who put the marina together in 1905.”
Captain Lindsey Greene was, as the sisters like to say, the Barnum Bailey of the sea life. He and his crew had four ships and traveled up and down the Intracoastal waterways, collecting rare animals and artifacts. In the late 1800s, traveling showmen were not too uncommon and Captain Greene made enough of a living by charging a small fee to board the ship and see the strange collections from his travels.
“Cathy and I were in Pigeon Key, once,” Cheryl says, “where we found a picture of the Captain Greene and his whale shark – the famous deep sea monster that was 44 feet long and weighed 55 tons.”
Captain Greene and Faith Christine had two daughters, but that didn’t mean settling down. In fact, the sisters state emphatically, if they hadn’t been traveling all around the world their grandmother would never have met their grandfather. He was a runaway and the two crossed paths in Miami, Fla., but the Greene family summered in the chestnut groves of Sandy Bay.
“Grandma,” Cheryl laughs, “ran back down there and forced the man to marry her! So grandpa came back up here and with my great-grandfather they created the three main camps in 1905 that serve as the base for the marina today. They built the museum, too, where they took all the artifacts of the boats and put them on display.”
Summer tourists would come to Whale City, which is right next door, to see the famous museum at Greene Point. Again, charging an entry fee, the family made their living. Captain Greene’s ship eventually sank, but he was knee-deep into building a stationary family business by then. You can still see the hull of the pirate ship – so dubbed in the family lore – at the bottom of Sodis Bay when the water is low.
“When grandpa was in Miami,” Cheryl says, “he went to places like Islamorada where there were these canals. People had their homes, trailers or camps on one side and would dock their boat right beside it. So grandpa fashioned Greene Point after places he had seen down south. He dug all these canals and did a beautiful job with the small space we have here.”
Because Greene Point sits on a peninsula in the protected waters of Sandy Pond, off the east coast of Lake Ontario, it’s an ideal spot for fishermen and beachcombers.
“We have a beautiful 17-mile-long white sand beach,” Cathy boasts, “one of the best beaches around that’s only accessible by boat. You can walk, but it’s a couple miles. We have pontoon boat rental and trailer rentals that are right on the water.”
Grandpa and Grandma – Robert and Christine Sawyer, respectively – next built the three main cottages and catered to fishermen. Coming into town via the train at Lacona, Robert would pick them up at the train station and bring them down to Greene Point.
“We had a lot of people from Utica and the city,” Cheryl says, “just like they would go to the Adirondacks, but they came here and our great-grandmother would cook for them. It’s a great fishing spot. It’s kind of comical for people to come in now and see our mother sitting at the table – who turned 82 years old in May – and realize they knew each other as kids.”
With that atmosphere of everybody is an old family friend, the sisters keep the store at the marina stocked with a little bit of everything. From food – Cheryl’s fish fry is a must-eat – to groceries, ice, beer, beach stuff, and even parts and accessories. Greene Point is also an official BRP parts and accessories dealer.
“Grandpa sold Evinrudes for years,” Cheryl says. “We had a family member – Jack Scranton – who worked for Ralph Evinrude and his wife Francis Langford, the silent movie star actress. They lived in Ft. Pierce, Fla., and ran the famous Outrigger restaurant there. In fact we’ve amassed a great deal of older, hard-to-find parts for OMC and Evinrude motors.”
Behind Every Successful Man
“After our great-grandfather died,” Cheryl picks up the family history, “Faith took it over and ran it with her two daughters – one of which was our grandmother Christine Sawyer. Now mom has it and is running it with her two daughters. We think that’s a great parallel!”
Speaking with the sisters, you get the sense they know exactly what they’re doing and what this business is all about. They are straightforward, to the point, and always up for a good laugh.
“I don’t ever remember not operating a boat,” Cathy recollects, “to tell you the truth. Or working behind the counter. There are eight years between us. I was working the snack bar for the longest time and eventually graduated to the marina. We’ve pretty much been taking care of the public since we were very young. I started when I was 11! You couldn’t do that now.”
When asked about the challenges facing them as women in what seems to be a male-dominated pastime, Cathy chimes in with a knowing smile, “We used to receive a lot of comments like ‘I want to talk to someone who knows something.’ But, I tell them that we’ve been looking up parts and operating equipment and doing things around here for years, so it comes second nature to us. There are still a few men who aren’t sure we know what we’re talking about, but then there are a lot of men who will come in and ask us to launch their boat for them without hesitation.”
For More Information:
Greene Point Marina
Sandy Creek, NY History Center