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Kenneth Brady

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Runners tackle the lung-bursting grade on Port Jefferson’s Main Street during the Cross-Island Marathon. Photo from the Swenk Collection

The Cross-Island Marathon was a former Port Jefferson to Patchogue road race. Attracting a record 1,175 runners in 1979, the annual event originated a decade earlier with a field of only 18 competitors.

In 1969, the Patchogue Jaycees and the Cavalier Athletic Club co-sponsored a “Marathon Run” from Broadway Avenue in Holbrook to the ferry dock at the Patchogue Sandspit. Not a true marathon of 26 miles and 385 yards, the June 21 race was to cover slightly over seven miles but was shortened to a 5.5-mile event to avoid major thoroughfares.

The co-sponsors extended the 1970 “Marathon Run” to 14 miles, starting the June 20 race at Nesconset Highway (Route 347) in Port Jefferson Station and finishing at the Rider Avenue entrance to Shorefront Park in Patchogue.

The 14-mile distance remained the same in June 1971 and 1972, but the race was renamed the “Cross-Island Marathon.” In addition, the Village of Patchogue’s Recreation and Parks Department joined in sponsoring the event, later becoming the key organizer of the run.

In June 1973 and 1974, the marathon’s course was stretched to 15.5 miles. The race still finished at Shorefront Park in Patchogue but began near the waterfront at the intersection of Broadway and Main in lower Port Jefferson. With this change, the run lived up to its name, became a true “Cross-Island” event, increased in popularity and drew more competitors.

Sandra Swenk was Port Jefferson’s mayor when the marathon was brought to the village’s downtown. As she fired the starter pistol signaling the beginning of the race, the runners charged up Port Jefferson’s Main Street passing a number of businesses that have been lost to the passage of time — the Elk Hotel and Restaurant, Grammas Sweets, Woodfield’s Men’s Wear, Cooper’s Office Supplies, Mac Snyder’s Army and Navy Store, Gristedes Supermarket, Cappy’s Carpets, Ringen’s Luncheonette and many more. 

Runners set out from Port Jefferson’s Main Street at the start of the marathon. Photo from the Swenk Collection

Seasoned runners easily handled the climb from the village’s waterfront up the hill to the LIRR crossing where the course finally leveled off, but the lung-bursting grade often proved quite challenging for first-timers unfamiliar with the terrain.

Over the years, the run’s start in Port Jefferson and end in Patchogue was a constant, but the length of the race was not: 15.6 miles, 1975-1977; 20.8 miles, 1978; 19.6 miles, 1979; and 20 miles, 1980.

In 1981, the Cross-Island Marathon was scrapped and replaced with the 13.1-mile Patchogue Half Marathon, prompted in part by a desire among some in greater Patchogue to have a strictly South Shore event and growing concerns about the race’s impact on road traffic.

Although the Cross-Island Marathon underwent frequent changes throughout its history, one outstanding athlete dominated the run despite the disruptions. From 1969-1980, Justin Gubbins won each race, often with blistering times, except for 1972 when he was away for Olympic Trials and in 1977 when he ran second to Louis Calvano.

Local residents also performed well in the Cross-Island Marathon. Steve Heinbockel of Belle Terre placed third in 1976 and 1977. His father, William, a math teacher zat Port Jefferson High School, won the age 41-50 division in 1978, a year with 924 finishers.

Among Long Island’s original road races, the bygone Cross Island Marathon was a unique run, linking Port Jefferson Harbor on the North Shore with Patchogue Bay on the South.

Kenneth Brady has served as the Port Jefferson Village Historian and president of the Port Jefferson Conservancy, as well as on the boards of the Suffolk County Historical Society, Greater Port Jefferson Arts Council and Port Jefferson Historical Society. He is a longtime resident of Port Jefferson.

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A prohibitionist drives a water wagon down Port Jefferson’s Myrtle Avenue. Temperance crusaders urged villagers to forego demon rum and drink nature’s bountiful gift, cold water. Photo from Kenneth C. Brady Digital Archive

By Kenneth Brady

The campaign for a bone-dry Port Jefferson began during the 19th century. At the forefront of the movement, the Sons of Temperance was established in the village in 1848 and composed of members who pledged to abstain from drinking alcoholic beverages.

After the Sons disbanded in 1877, the Independent Order of Good Templars, Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), Young Men’s League and Prohibition Club were organized in Port Jefferson and continued the crusade against John Barleycorn.

The reformers sponsored debates, opened a mission on the village’s East Broadway and reported violations of the Sunday liquor laws. They also marched in parades, ran a temperance column in the Port Jefferson Echo, endorsed dry political candidates and organized rallies at Protestant churches.

The local activists joined lobbyists from the powerful Anti-Saloon League in supporting legislation that reduced the number of taverns in New York State. Retired sea captain Carman Howell of Port Jefferson served on Brookhaven Town’s 1917 Saloon Eliminating Committee that dramatically cut the number of taprooms in the area from 83 to 39. 

In Port Jefferson, the committee members gave the prized liquor licenses to barkeeps William Thompson, Annie Russell, Arthur Decker, Catherine Barker, Thomas O’Rourke and Arthur Feltman, but not to Frederick Reep, Walter Davis and Martha Henschel.

Following the ratification of the 18th Amendment to the Constitution in 1919 and the passage of the Volstead Act later that year, Port Jefferson’s victorious drys turned their attention to enforcing the new laws against the manufacture, sale or transportation of intoxicating beverages.

Barker’s Hotel was located on the east side of Main Street in Port Jefferson. During Prohibition, its proprietor was arrested for violating the Volstead Act. Photo from Kenneth C. Brady Digital Archive

In 1920, villagers organized a local chapter of the Allied Citizens of America. Arthur Loper, president, and Julia Bonelli, vice president, both prominent residents of Port Jefferson, led the newly formed division that worked for a bone-dry Northern Brookhaven and cooperated with law enforcement agencies in achieving that goal. 

Thirty citizens, including respected villagers Ralph Dayton, Thaddeus Oettinger, George Darling and Roscoe Craft organized a Public Safety Committee, charged with investigating and correcting any of Port Jefferson’s moral or social ills.

Rev. John J. Macdonald, pastor of the Port Jefferson Presbyterian Church, was elected president of the Citizens’ League of Suffolk County, a vigilance committee comprised of ministers and laymen. They promised a relentless war against the bootleggers and rumrunners operating along the north shore of Long Island from Orient Point to Port Jefferson.

William Anderson, former superintendent of the Anti-Saloon League, addressed the congregation of the Port Jefferson Methodist Church. Well known throughout New York as the “bartender’s nightmare,” Anderson discussed “A Patriotic Protestant Protective Alliance Necessary for the Preservation of Prohibition.”

Dr. Oscar Haywood, a lecturer for the Ku Klux Klan, spoke at the Port Jefferson Baptist Church in 1924 and Athena Hall (Theatre Three) in 1925. Among its goals, the Suffolk County Klan called for strict enforcement of the 18th Amendment. 

Although facing considerable pressure to obey the dry laws, some villagers still flouted the Volstead Act. The proprietors of Barker’s Hotel (Main Street), the American House (East Broadway), and Bennett’s Restaurant (Main Street) were all arrested for serving hooch.

William Thompson, who ran the Ardencraig Bowling Alleys and Billiard Parlor (Arden Place), was twice convicted and fined for selling whiskey to shell-shocked veterans from the Vocational Training Institute at the Plant Hotel, now the site of Port Jefferson High School.

The authorities raided the Sundodgers, a private social club on upper Thompson Street, and dumped 16 cases of home-brew in the backyard. Federal agents also nabbed a man for distributing moonshine from his house on Liberty Avenue.

Customs inspectors boarded the Dragon when it docked in Port Jefferson, took the yacht’s cargo of gin and arrested the crew. Following a high-speed chase off Port Jefferson, a government patrol boat captured the Porpoise and seized its stash of contraband whiskey. The notorious Artemis was discovered in a Port Jefferson shipyard where she had been secretly towed for repairs. The rumrunner had been hit by gunfire in a furious battle with a Coast Guard cutter off Orient Point.

The majority of Port Jefferson’s residents soon tired of Prohibition and the problems that the dry crusade had engendered. Although the Prohibition Emergency Committee campaigned in the village to keep the Eighteenth Amendment intact, it was repealed by the states on Dec. 5, 1933. In each of the three election districts that then formed Port Jefferson, voters opposed to Prohibition prevailed. 

As wets celebrated their victory, dry’s met in the Port Jefferson Baptist Church and bemoaned their defeat. Bars and package stores quickly reopened in the village. The “noble experiment” had ended.  

Kenneth Brady has served as the Port Jefferson Village Historian and president of the Port Jefferson Conservancy, as well as on the boards of the Suffolk County Historical Society, Greater Port Jefferson Arts Council and Port Jefferson Historical Society. He is a longtime resident of Port Jefferson.

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Clifton “Kip” Lee, who served as Port Jefferson’s mayor from 1965 to 1971, is shown on the village’s Main Street. During his administration, Project Rejuvenation brought a “new look” to Port Jefferson and helped revive the village’s ailing downtown commercial center. Photo from the Michael F. Lee Collection

By Kenneth Brady

Gene Marvey could not stop thinking about the magazine article that he had just read. The story described how communities across America were reviving their failing business districts by following a simple plan. The same approach, thought Marvey, might succeed in rejuvenating the commercial area of Port Jefferson where he had a store.

“Old Towns Come Alive,” the article that had caught Marvey’s imagination, appeared in the March 1965 issue of the Rotarian and featured the work of Dr. Milton S. Osborne who had revitalized 42 communities in the United States.

Known as the “village restorer,” Osborne showed shop owners easy ways to dress up the facades of their establishments. The face lifting did not involve any structural changes or major expenditures, guaranteed local control over the project and maintained the architectural integrity of the subject area.

Marvey shared Osborne’s ideas with Port Jefferson’s mayor, Clifton “Kip” Lee and the village trustees, who voted unanimously to invite Osborne to Port Jefferson for a consultation and to underwrite the attendant fees.

Osborne’s method was simple: each merchant submitted a photo of his storefront. Osborne then prepared a sketch of the shop’s remodeled façade which served as a guide for the suggested renovations.

For $500 to $1,000 per building, estimated Osborne, a typical Port Jefferson merchant could reface his store by merely replacing shutters, hanging flower boxes, adding wrought iron railings, installing mullions and painting the shop’s exterior in harmonious colors.

The button was used to publicize Project Rejuvenation. The numbers refer to the July 4, 1967 weekend when Port Jefferson staged a summer festival to showcase its “new look.”
Photo from the Michael F. Lee Collection

These actions, explained Osborne, would preserve and enhance what he deemed was the semi-colonial character of the village. Osborne cautioned, however, that the effort would only succeed if there was cooperation between government and the business community.

The Greater Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce enthusiastically endorsed Osborne’s plan and formed a committee charged with implementing what became known as Project Rejuvenation.

With a target date of July 4, 1967 set for the plan’s completion, work on remodeling Port Jefferson’s storefronts began in earnest. Davis Comfort Corporation, fuel oil dealers on East Broadway, was the first firm to reface its building. Frank Hocker and Son, real estate and insurance agents on Main Street, was the second and Kella’s Steak House, located on Main Street a stone’s throw from the railroad station, was the third.

Opening in 1903, the Port Jefferson railroad station was in need of a face lift. The LIRR embraced the Osborne Plan and renovated the terminal’s stark interior and landscaped its dreary grounds. A sign at the depot celebrated the effort and proclaimed that the modernization of the station would create a “new look” at the “doorway” to the village.

As summer 1967 approached, merchants rushed to dress up their shops by Project Rejuvenation’s rollout on July 4. Along the village’s streets, residents joked they were unable to enter the very stores that were clamoring for customers because their paths were often blocked by the dozens of contractors laboring in Port Jefferson’s commercial center.

With the remodeling finally over, the Chamber reported that about 85% of the village’s shops had renewed their facades. The “unveiling” occurred during the July Fourth Rejuvenation Festival, which featured a parade, soap box derby, fireworks display, and other activities.

Measured by the Chamber’s goal of drawing crowds to Port Jefferson to show off the village’s spruced up shops, the event scored a hit. An estimated 25,000 people visited Port Jefferson during the festival weekend, but aside from its immediate effect, Project Rejuvenation had a lasting impact on the village.

Port Jefferson’s “new look” caught the public eye, put the historic seaport village on the map and sparked Port Jefferson’s commercial renewal by recapturing the tourist market that the village had once enjoyed but had lost to the ravages of time.

Despite this rosy picture, Project Rejuvenation had its detractors. According to critics, the Osborne Plan was to supplement Port Jefferson’s 1965 Master Plan, not became its substitute. Rather than tackling thorny problems that demanded long-range planning, some argued that Port Jefferson went with a short-term solution and kicked the can down the road.

Project Rejuvenation dealt with the village’s shops, not with its waterfront industries. While the Osborne Plan improved Port Jefferson’s storefronts, overburdened trucks still rumbled through the village’s downtown, driving potential customers away.

Although the architecture in Port Jefferson’s business district was eclectic, Project Rejuvenation prescribed an early American style. The results may have been pleasant, but they hardly reflected the village’s history. 

Upper Port Jefferson took a back seat during Project Rejuvenation. While the railroad station and some nearby buildings were refaced, most of the work occurred in the village’s downtown. Even the July Fourth Rejuvenation Festival was geared to lower Port Jefferson.

As with any innovation, the Osborne Plan had its drawbacks, but in recognition of its overall success, in 1968 Project Rejuvenation received the Long Island Association’s coveted Community Betterment Award. In addition, Marvey and Lee were honored in 1967 and 1968, respectively, with the Chamber’s prestigious “Man of the Year Award,” given for their outstanding contributions to the community, particularly their roles in Project Rejuvenation.

Over 50 years since the launch of the Osborne Plan, Port Jefferson remains committed to village improvement, continuing the mission of Project Rejuvenation in the revitalization initiatives of today.

Kenneth Brady has served as the Port Jefferson Village Historian and president of the Port Jefferson Conservancy, as well as on the boards of the Suffolk County Historical Society, Greater Port Jefferson Arts Council and Port Jefferson Historical Society. He is a longtime resident of Port Jefferson.

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This photo by John M. Brown shows what is now the village’s East Main Street and captures the Port Jefferson Hotel on the left. The view is toward the Baptist Church and the intersection with Prospect Street. Photo from the Kenneth C. Brady Digital Archive

By Kenneth Brady

Two boys are shown sitting on a dock. The west shore of Port Jefferson Harbor is pictured in the background. Photo by John M. Brown. Photo from the Kenneth C. Brady Digital Archive

Amateur photographer John M. Brown recorded life in Port Jefferson, his images conveying what it looked like and felt like to live in the village at the beginning of the 20th century.

Simple cameras, then for sale in Port Jefferson, had democratized photography, once largely the realm of professionals, enabling Brown and other laymen to take pictures of their surroundings.

Brown’s work contributes to our understanding of Port Jefferson’s past, but is unique in offering the unvarnished perspective of a common man, not the stylized view of a commercial photographer.

His straightforward snapshots of the village capture a variety of people, places, objects and events including bathers at the East Beach, Petty’s Confectionery, an American flag and sailboat races, respectively.

Brown’s direct photographs also include views of Port Jefferson’s yacht basin, Methodist Church, post office, ferry Victor, Athena Hall, residents, Parker’s Pond, school, Overton’s Agricultural Implements, and bank, all combining to create a shutterbug’s portrait of the village during the early 1900s.

Opening in 1900, the First National Bank was located on the corner of Main and East Main streets. This image by John M. Brown shows the building without its 1922 addition. Photo from the Kenneth C. Brady Digital Archive.

Described in the Port Jefferson Times as “an enthusiastic photographer,” three of Brown’s one-of-a-kind shots of the Aug. 2, 1902 launching of the schooner Martha E. Wallace at the village’s Mather and Wood Shipyard were even made into printed post cards and then sold by local stationers.

Brown was appointed Port Jefferson’s postmaster in 1900 and served in that capacity until 1916. During his tenure, the village’s post office was upgraded to second class and its employees were required to take civil service examinations, a Postal Savings Bank was established, and Parcel Post was introduced. In 1911, the Port Jefferson Post Office opened at its new address, 202 Main Street.

Brown’s house in Port Jefferson, often the subject of his photographs, was moved to 105 Tuthill Street in 1929 from its former location on the northeast corner of Main and Tuthill streets where the New York Telephone Company subsequently built an office on the choice site.

Brown resided at his new address until March 1940, dying there at the age of 86. He was buried in Port Jefferson’s Cedar Hill Cemetery where his wife, Evelyn, had been interred in May 1930.

Kenneth Brady has served as the Port Jefferson Village Historian and president of the Port Jefferson Conservancy, as well as on the boards of the Suffolk County Historical Society, Greater Port Jefferson Arts Council and Port Jefferson Historical Society. He is a longtime resident of Port Jefferson.

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Athena Hall, now Theatre Three, is shown in 1909 on the west side of Port Jefferson’s Main Street. The building has been remodeled extensively during its 133-year history and used for a variety of purposes. Photograph by Waters, photo from Kenneth C. Brady Digital Archive

By Kenneth Brady

In an 1873 column appearing in the weekly Long Island Leader, the newspaper’s publishers bemoaned that Port Jefferson lacked a suitable public hall for lectures, exhibitions, shows and parties.

Lamenting that the village did not have a meeting place to accommodate a sizeable audience, the Leader called upon an investor to build a “creditable” hall in Port Jefferson for assemblies and performances.While waiting for a public-spirited person to construct a large hall in the village, its residents got together at some of Port Jefferson’s smaller venues.

Typical of these settings, Lee’s Hall occupied the top floor of John S. Lee’s tin shop on what is now Port Jefferson’s East Broadway. Dances, suppers, cake walks and sociable’s were held in the building.

Bayles Hall, located in rooms above the second Bayles Chandlery on today’s East Broadway, was another popular gathering place. During one evening, the audience enjoyed a play based on Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

Though horribly cramped, Henry Hallock’s Hall on Main Street featured vocal groups, magicians and outside speakers.

Athena Hall, now Theatre Three, is shown in 1909 on the west side of Port Jefferson’s Main Street. The building has been remodeled extensively during its 133-year history and used for a variety of purposes. Photograph by Waters, photo from Kenneth C. Brady Digital Archive

Besides these three halls, other meeting places in Port Jefferson were important to the village’s cultural and social life. Tom Thumb performed at Smith’s Hotel, exhibits were displayed at the local schoolhouse and, in a unique use of the space, concerts were held in John R. Mather’s lumber shed.

Port Jefferson’s houses of worship also hosted a variety of events. Swiss bell ringers played at the Baptist Church, minstrels entertained at the Presbyterian Church and temperance lecturers held forth at the Methodist Church.

Villagers continued to get along without a large hall until 1888 when construction on a spacious meeting house finally began. Fifteen years had passed since the Leader claimed that the demand for a public hall was “growing rapidly” in Port Jefferson. What could explain the delay?

The financial Panic of 1873 and its aftermath brought tight money, sluggish sales and hard times to Port Jefferson, perhaps dampening any enthusiasm for the venture.

The cast of the H.M.S. Pinafore is pictured in 1897 on the stage at Port Jefferson’s Athena Hall. Photograph by Arthur S. Greene, photo from Kenneth C. Brady Digital Archive

As the economy improved, there was renewed interest in the project. L. Beecher Homan, publisher of the Port Jefferson Times, grocer D. Oliver Petty, who’s building also housed the Times, and insurance agent Albert T. Norton were among the investors who financed the hall’s construction. 

Their timing could not have been better. During the 1880s, Port Jefferson began transitioning from a shipbuilding center to a vacationland. With the influx of tourists, businessmen could turn a profit in entertaining visitors on top of the money to be made in satisfying the needs of villagers.

The New Hall, later named Athena Hall, was located on the west side of Main Street and opened on Thursday evening, Sept. 20, 1888, following a parade. The night’s playbill featured local talent.

The public entered the New Hall using a broad staircase leading up to a wide veranda. The frame building, which purportedly could seat 1,000 people, had two levels.

The upper floor included the main hall, a U-shaped balcony, the stage, a space for the orchestra, dressing and property rooms and a committee room. The lower floor contained a coal room and a hot air furnace, pantry, dining room and lower hall.

Remodeled extensively throughout its storied history, what was once Athena Hall has been used as a playhouse, graduation site, movie theater, community center, polling place, machine shop, steam laundry, roller skating rink, radio and television sales store, dance hall and cabaret.

Known today as Theatre Three, the 133-year-old building is a Port Jefferson treasure.

Kenneth Brady has served as the Port Jefferson Village Historian and president of the Port Jefferson Conservancy, as well as on the boards of the Suffolk County Historical Society, Greater Port Jefferson Arts Council and Port Jefferson Historical Society. He is a longtime resident of Port Jefferson.

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The Schooner Restaurant was once a familiar sight on West Broadway in Port Jefferson. Formerly the yacht Ilikamo, the vessel was brought to the village in 1946, placed on land and converted into a distinctive eatery. The restaurant was razed in April 1968. Photo from Kenneth C. Brady Digital Archive

By Kenneth Brady

The Schooner, once advertised as Long Island’s most novel restaurant, was a waterfront landmark in Port Jefferson from 1946 through 1968.

Located on the south side of West Broadway (Route 25A), the eatery was the brainchild of brothers Charles and Elmer Mapp who had found the schooner yacht Ilikamo languishing in a Riverhead, New York, boatyard.

Taken with the Ilikamo’s graceful lines, the Mapps purchased the 44-ton ship, which they had towed to the west side of Port Jefferson Harbor and brought ashore for remodeling.

Transformed into a distinctive restaurant, the Ilikamo was then moved to a site on West Broadway and placed on a concrete foundation.

Sitting on land, her days on the seas over, the Ilikamo had reached her final destination, but surprisingly the ship’s last voyage was not her first to Port Jefferson.

Built in 1899 at Rice Brothers in East Boothbay, Maine, the Ilikamo was formerly the yawl Regina. In 1901, the 61-foot Regina was converted into a schooner yacht at Port Jefferson’s Bayles Shipyard, just one of the pleasure craft’s many ties with the village.

Later renamed Sita and ultimately Ilikamo, the luxurious schooner yacht regularly visited Port Jefferson during the early twentieth century, often returning to Bayles Shipyard where she was hauled out for repairs and laid up for the winter.

Over the years, sailing under her different names, the ship cruised along the east coast of North America, never straying too far from Long Island’s waters.

By summer 1940, the Ilikamo was under the command of William J. Marshall of Greenport, anchored in Southold Bay and being used as a training ship for Sea Scouts, the maritime branch of the Boy Scouts.

Marshall enlisted in the Royal Canadian Naval Volunteer Reserve (RCNVR) before America’s entry into World War II and died of natural causes in 1944 while serving as a lieutenant. He was the Ilikamo’s last documented owner before the Mapps brought the ship to Port Jefferson.

Sensitive to the yacht’s rich and varied history, the Mapps were careful to preserve many of the craft’s original features while preparing the ship for its new life as a landlocked restaurant. With the yacht’s character intact, the Schooner opened on Oct. 26, 1946.

The entrance to the dining room, as well as a service counter for takeout, were located on the port side of the restaurant. The menu featured standard fare with the emphasis on short-order selections with nautical names, such as “Sea-Pups (small meatballs).”

Adding to its curb appeal, the sides of the Schooner were painted in gleaming white. Two masts towered over the restaurant; their “sails” outlined at night by strings of electric lights that could be seen by ships passing in Long Island Sound.

In 1949, the Mapps sold the Schooner to Rose Ceperano of Poquott, who over time made several changes at the eatery. Among the improvements, she expanded the menu, enlarged the kitchen, added a covered patio for outdoor dining and constructed small outbuildings on the grounds. Ceperano also closed the restaurant during the winter months, reopening in the spring.

Although she initially ran the Schooner as a family business, Ceperano subsequently leased the establishment. Called “Tom’s Schooner,” the eatery broadened its menu to include Italian cuisine.

Wer-Kay Realty Corporation purchased the Schooner from Ceperano in January 1968. After the eatery was razed that April, the New Schooner Restaurant was built on the cleared land. The site is now home to SāGhar Indian Fusion Restaurant.

Kenneth Brady has served as the Port Jefferson Village Historian and president of the Port Jefferson Conservancy, as well as on the boards of the Suffolk County Historical Society, Greater Port Jefferson Arts Council and Port Jefferson Historical Society. He is a longtime resident of Port Jefferson.

Flames shoot out from the O.B. Davis furniture store on Port Jefferson’s East Main Street. The building was fully involved when volunteers from the Port Jefferson Fire Department arrived at the scene. PJFD Collection

By Kenneth Brady

A ferocious fire erupted at the O.B. Davis furniture store on Port Jefferson’s East Main Street at 6:20 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 26, 1960.

Erwin McMullen, whose East Main Street grocery was across from the furniture store, heard the sound of shattering glass hitting the sidewalk as windows in O.B. Davis were blown out by the intense heat.

Irving Lee, chief of the Port Jefferson Fire Department, and his wife Laura were driving on the village’s Main Street heading toward the Elk Restaurant when he saw the mass of flames. Not wasting a second in turning his car around, Lee quickly shifted into reverse, backed all the way to the firehouse on Maple Place and took command of the situation.

“The store was fully involved when units arrived at the scene,” recalled Mike Lee, who witnessed the blaze as a teenager and would later become chief of the PJFD. “Flames were shooting out of the upper floors of the building.”

The volunteer firemen spent hours battling the fire and protecting exposures at the Presbyterian Church, Port Hardware and nearby homes before bringing the roaring blaze under control.

Despite the best efforts of the PJFD, plus mutual aid from neighboring fire departments, the building was completely destroyed in the inferno.

Volunteer firemen battle the roaring blaze at the O.B. Davis furniture store on Port Jefferson’s East Main Street. The ferocious fire claimed one life and destroyed a village landmark. PJFD Collection

The savage fire also claimed the life of Clifford Ivines, the store’s watchman and an over 50-year employee of O.B. Davis, whose body was later found in the building’s ruins.

“Not only did Port Jefferson lose a life and a landmark building in the devastating fire,” said longtime villager Barbara Schroeder who owns a prized desk bought at the O.B. Davis furniture store, “but also part of Port Jefferson’s history.”

O.B. Davis traces the firm’s origins back to 1858 when Elbert A. Raynor bought the late Ambrose T. King’s funeral parlor/furniture shop. The building was located approximately across from today’s Bridgeport-Port Jefferson ferry landing on East Broadway.

Raynor moved the firm in 1898 to East Main Street at Hotel Square. Upon Raynor’s death in 1914, Orlando B. Davis took over the business.

The company’s furniture and funeral divisions separated in 1935. The former continued its activities at Hotel Square while the latter began operations in a new home at 218 East Main Street.

In 1939, the existing furniture store was remodeled, and an addition was constructed to the west of the original quarters.

Built of steel frame and cinder block with stucco on the outside, the three-story addition provided elevator service, 15 model rooms and 17,000 square-feet of floor space. The front was faced with black porcelain and featured three show windows.

“At the time of the fire, one of the show windows at the furniture store included a beautiful canopied bed with white ruffles that I thought of buying for our newborn daughter Brenda,” remembered former Port Jefferson Mayor Sandra Swenk, “but the flames reduced everything to ruins.”

The twisted wreckage of what was once the largest retail furniture store in Suffolk County was hauled away after the fire. The Sil-Flo Building at 407 East Main Street, which houses the local United States Post Office, now occupies the site of the blaze.

Kenneth Brady has served as the Port Jefferson Village Historian and president of the Port Jefferson Conservancy, as well as on the boards of the Suffolk County Historical Society, Greater Port Jefferson Arts Council and Port Jefferson Historical Society. He is a longtime resident of Port Jefferson.

Middle Street was renamed Arden Place after the Ardencraig Inn, shown on the northeast corner of Port Jefferson’s Main Street and Arden Place. The Inn was destroyed in a March 2, 1920 fire. Photo by Robert S. Feather. Kenneth C. Brady Digital Archive.

By Kenneth Brady

Port Jefferson’s rich and varied history is reflected in the stories of many of the village’s street names. 

Alice Street — Winfield Darling (1877-1965) built summer bungalows on what is today Alice Street, named for his daughter Alice.

Arden Place  Middle Street was renamed Arden Place after the Ardencraig Inn, which once stood on the northeast corner of Main Street and Arden Place. The Inn was destroyed in a March 2, 1920 fire.

Barnum Avenue — The celebrated showman P.T. Barnum (1810-1891) purchased land in the “Brick Hill” section of Port Jefferson where he developed the acreage for housing. Today’s Barnum Avenue is the main thoroughfare in the subdivision.

Belle Terre Road — Port Jefferson’s current railroad station opened in July 1903. Belle Terre Road was a route between the new depot and Belle Terre, whose developers had donated the land on which the railroad station was constructed.

Hallett Avenue — Charles Hallett (1833-1894) was a prosperous businessman from Riverhead, and one of P.T. Barnum’s agents in developing the “Brick Hill” section of Port Jefferson. Today’s Hallett Avenue, formerly Summit Street, is one of the arteries in Barnum’s subdivision.

Hawkins Street — Originally Mittyville Street, Hawkins Street takes its name from Zachariah F. Hawkins. He was appointed Port Jefferson’s first postmaster when the village was called Drowned Meadow.

Hoyt Lane — Harry V. Hoyt (1879-1969) developed “Hoyt Heights” on the west side of Port Jefferson Harbor. Today’s Hoyt Lane is one of the roads in the subdivision.

Liberty Avenue — During World War I, some defense plant workers at Bayles Shipyard were housed along Cemetery Avenue. Saddled with negative connotations, Cemetery Avenue was changed in 1918 to an upbeat Liberty Avenue, a name which reflected the patriotic fervor of the times.

Linden Place — Shipbuilder C. Lloyd Bayles (1811-1903) planted linden trees behind his house on the south side of today’s Linden Place.

Mill Creek Road — A flour mill once stood on the south side of West Broadway beside the creek that empties into Port Jefferson Harbor. Signs along the Old Mill Creek Walkway highlight the history of the area.

Nadia Court — Countess Nadia de Navarro Farber (1916-2014), a former Bulgarian musical-comedy star, was the wife of Sid Farber (1913-1985), a builder of homes, shopping centers, offices and industrial parks.

Nicholas Street — Nicholas Shelow (1889-1941) was a Port Jefferson merchant who developed today’s Nicholas Street.

Oakes Street — Mary Eliza Oakes (1850-1934) married Charles P. Randall (1848-1932), a prominent Port Jefferson businessman. The couple’s home was located on the corner of Oakes Street and Randall Avenue, named after the bride and groom, respectively.

Perry Street — Marvin B. Perry (1919-2001) operated a plumbing supply store on Perry Street, formerly Chestnut Street.

Prospect Street — North Street was renamed Prospect Street because of the “fine prospective view” from William L. Hunt’s 20-acre property which ran between upper North and South streets. The Hunt homestead, later known as the Biddle Mansion, burned to the ground in August 1931.

Quintin Court — Active in community affairs, Quintin A. Lerch (1881-1963) served as Brookhaven Town’s Tax Receiver, president of the board of directors at Mather Memorial Hospital, vice president of the Bank of Northern Brookhaven and treasurer of the local Rotary Club.

Roessner Lane — George N. Roessner (1925-1981) was a beloved business teacher, guidance counselor, football coach, and club advisor at Port Jefferson’s Earl L. Vandermeulen High School.

Rosita Lane — Rosita Winston (1904-1979) was the wife of real estate mogul and philanthropist Norman K. Winston (1899-1977), who developed Port Jefferson’s Harbor Hills Country Club and Harbor Hills Estates.

Sheldrake Avenue — Sea captain Richard W. Sheldrake (1865-1945) once lived on the corner of today’s Sheldrake Avenue and Bayview Terrace.

Texaco Avenue — Texaco Oils formerly operated a gasoline storage facility along the Long Island Rail Road tracks on the west side of Bowers Avenue, today’s Texaco Avenue.

Thompson Street  — John Thompson was a blacksmith who was deeded land in Port Jefferson by Brookhaven Town. The property included today’s Thompson Street.

Thorne Lane — LIRR locomotive engineer George R. Thorne (1902-1997) and his family lived for years on today’s Thorne Lane, formerly Tuthill Avenue.

William Street — William Fordham (1826-1907) was a realtor who developed today’s William Street.

Wynn Lane — Albert L. Wynne (1856-1942) was a liveryman. His stables were located on what was once called Private Lane, today’s Wynn [sic] Lane.

Port Jefferson’s street names not only identify locations, but many serve as historical markers by providing a record of the village’s past.

Kenneth Brady has served as the Port Jefferson Village Historian and president of the Port Jefferson Conservancy, as well as on the boards of the Suffolk County Historical Society, Greater Port Jefferson Arts Council and Port Jefferson Historical Society. He is a longtime resident of Port Jefferson.