Authors Posts by Kenneth Brady

Kenneth Brady


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Prohibition agents examine barrels of booze found on a rumrunner seized by a Coast Guard cutter. Photo from the Library of Congress

On Saturday afternoon, Aug. 22, 1931, William Fillbach was sitting in his car, which was parked on the ferry dock at Port Jefferson, waiting to serve a warrant on a man due there at 5:30 p.m.

An investigator for the Suffolk County District Attorney, Fillbach was turning the pages of a newspaper when he caught a glimpse of a boat being hauled out of the water and on to the ways of the Port Jefferson (aka Long Island) Shipyard at the foot of Main Street.

The rumrunner Artemis was hauled out of the water and on to the ways of the Port Jefferson Shipyard shown at the foot of the village’s Main Street. Photo from the Kenneth C. Brady Digital Archive

All Fillbach could read on the vessel were the letters “Art,” but they were enough for him to identify the boat as the notorious Artemis, a rumrunner that had disappeared following her heated battle with a Coast Guard cutter.

Fillbach climbed aboard the now high and dry craft, which had been moved into a shed, and carefully observed the scene. There was no contraband on the battered booze boat, but the bullet-riddled vessel was strewn with broken glass and three planks on her port side were smashed inward.

Fillbach learned that the crippled Artemis had been towed to Port Jefferson by the swordfisher Evangeline, but workers at the Port Jefferson Shipyard claimed not to know who owned the disabled craft, which bore no registration numbers, or who gave the orders to make her seaworthy.

Fearing that the mysterious smugglers might attempt to spirit the stranded Artemis out of Port Jefferson, Fillbach and five deputy sheriffs guarded the fugitive vessel until Sunday, Aug. 23, when a Coast Guard cutter took over the watch.

Just days before, on Thursday evening, Aug. 20, CG-808 was patrolling Long Island Sound, searching for suspected rumrunners. The cutter had sighted the 53-foot Artemis about two miles east of the Cornfield Point Lightship and commanded her to stop.

Although loaded down with illicit liquor, the speedy rumrunner answered by racing off into the darkness, propelled by her powerful Liberty aircraft engines that had been converted for marine use.

The Coasties gave chase and fired hundreds of shots at the fleeing craft, many hitting the mark. During the thick of the running battle, the agile Artemis suddenly turned about and rammed the 45-foot CG-808, forcing the severely damaged cutter to stop the pursuit and limp back to the Operating Base in New London, Connecticut.

Known as a ‘Six Bitter,’ a 75-foot Coast Guard patrol boat is docked at Port Jefferson’s Bayles Landing. During Prohibition, the government’s patrol boats waged a relentless war against rumrunners operating in local waters. Photo from the Michael F. Lee Collection

The rumrunners then landed on the beach three miles west of Orient Point, where two badly wounded men were taken off the speedboat and driven to Eastern Long Island Hospital in Greenport while the vessel’s prized cargo was quickly unloaded by swarms of willing local residents. 

Angered by the attack on CG-808, and miffed by the escape of the Artemis, Coast Guard officials brought in a private airplane and dispatched two patrol boats to locate the infamous rumrunner. Despite their best efforts, the Artemis was secreted away, stopping briefly in Mattituck Harbor for some patchwork before moving on to Port Jefferson for major repairs.

In the aftermath of the incident, the two crewmen who were aboard the Artemis and severely injured by gunfire from CG-808 were discharged from the hospital, both refusing to talk with the authorities.

The Artemis was seized by the United States Marshal, who claimed that her owners had an outstanding debt at the Gaffga Engine Works in Greenport. After the dispute was settled, the Artemis posted bond and quietly left Port Jefferson, much to the dismay of the Coast Guard.

Over the ensuing years, the Artemis changed hands and home ports several times, but never lost her reputation as a lawbreaker. In May 1935, the Coast Guard captured the Artemis off Chesapeake Bay and brought her to New York Harbor on suspicion of rumrunning, but without any evidence of illegality, the speedboat and her crew were released by the government.

Cases of Scotch Whisky fill the hold of a rumrunner captured by the Coast Guard. Photo from the Library of Congress

With the end of prohibition, the Artemis began a new, but less exciting career, running as a ferry between Bay Shore and Fire Island.

In Port Jefferson, however, the Artemis will always be remembered for bringing the rum war directly to the village.

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 steamship Nonowantuc, which ran from Bridgeport to Port Jefferson, 1884-1902, is shown underway in Port Jefferson harbor. Photo from the Kenneth C. Brady Digital Archive

On July 4, 1840, the diarist George T. Strong arrived in Port Jefferson for the holiday, not on a packet or other sailing ship, but on the Sun, the first in a succession of steamboats to make regular runs between New York City and the village.

In his account of the trip, Strong wrote that the Sun had left Manhattan at 8 a.m., stopped at Cow Harbor (Northport) and arrived in Drowned Meadow (Port Jefferson) at 2:30 p.m., all in all “a comfortable voyage.”

Excursion ticket for the steamer Favorite which sailed the Bridgeport-Port Jefferson route. Photo from the Kenneth C. Brady Digital Archive

The vessel had carried about 100 passengers who were entertained by a “cotillion band” that, according to Strong, had “squeaked, twanged, and tooted Hail Columbia.”

The Sun, which began serving Port Jefferson in spring 1840, was replaced during the ensuing years by a series of steamers including the Mt. Pleasant, Suffolk, Island Belle, Golden Gate and John Faron.

The steamships typically ran for three seasons but discontinued service during the winter months. Over time, Huntington and Stony Brook were added to the ports of call. Stages were made available in Port Jefferson to convey travelers to Old Mans (Mount Sinai), Miller Place and other locations. The Mt. Pleasant charged 50 cents for passage from New York City to Port Jefferson while the Suffolk priced tickets at 75 cents and the John Faron at $1.00. 

Long at the mercy of outsiders who had monopolized steam navigation on the sound, a group of prominent businessmen from Port Jefferson and the vicinity began talks in 1858 to incorporate the Long Island Steamboat Company as a way to exercise more local control over routes, schedules and fares.

Engraving of the steamship Ocean Wave from an 1860 stock certificate issued by the Long Island Steamboat Company. Photo from the Kenneth C. Brady Digital Archive

Led by investors Thomas Ritch, Reuben Wilson and Thomas Strong, the company purchased the sidewheeler Ocean Wave which started its trips between New York City and Port Jefferson in summer 1859.

In July 1860, the Ocean Wave struck a rock off Crane Neck, beached but safely landed her passengers. Although the steamer was repaired and returned to service the following month, low ridership led to the company’s bankruptcy and the sale of the Ocean Wave in a December 1861 auction.

Beginning with the Pioneer, a succession of steamboats followed the Ocean Wave. Often cited in the diary of Azariah H. Davis, the Sunbeam made the New York City run from 1867-1868 and the Mattano from 1868-1869, both sidewheelers stopping at Stony Brook. 

With the coming of the Long Island Rail Road to Port Jefferson in 1873, the public had a convenient means of traveling between the village and New York City other than on a steamboat. As business opportunities in one market came to an end, attention shifted to developing a steam ferry link between Port Jefferson and Bridgeport, Connecticut.

The June 1860 schedule for the sidewheeler Ocean Wave which ran from New York City to Port Jefferson with a stop at Stony Brook. Photo from the Kenneth C. Brady Digital Archive

The steamer Brookhaven, known locally as the “Little Bedbug,” ran the Port Jefferson to Bridgeport route from 1872-1881 except for 1873-1874 when it was covered by the Spitfire. Besides carrying passengers, the steamships transported strawberries and other produce from then agricultural Long Island to industrial New England. 

Succeeding the Brookhaven, the 115-foot Favorite crossed the Sound from 1882-1883 and became well known for her special excursions to visit P.T. Barnum’s circus in Bridgeport and to see Jumbo the Elephant. 

The incorporation of the Bridgeport & Port Jefferson Steamboat Company in 1883, followed by the beginning of ferry operations on the 120-foot steamer Nonowantuc in 1884, brought order, consistency and dependability to cross-Sound travel, a tradition of service which continues 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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A trolley from the Suffolk Traction Company is shown in Patchogue. Although track was laid along Port Jefferson’s Main Street, Suffolk Traction never ran a streetcar in the village. Photo from the Kenneth C. Brady Digital Archive

Port Jefferson was not immune to the trolley fever that swept the United States during the late 19th century.

Orange T. Fanning, Thomas O’Donnell, Charles E. Tooker and other prominent village businessmen met in 1895 and called for the construction of an electric trolley line that would cross Long Island from Port Jefferson on the Sound to Patchogue on the Great South Bay.

According to its supporters, the proposed trolley would provide a connection with the Port Jefferson ferry that sailed to Bridgeport, Connecticut; increase tourism among day-trippers; and carry passengers from the Sound to the Bay in less than one hour.

The project’s cheerleaders also claimed the trolley would enrich property owners along the line and improve transportation by intersecting with the LIRR’s stations at Patchogue, Waverly (Holtsville) and Port Jefferson.

Note the trolley tracks. A procession leaves Athena Hall, crosses Port Jefferson’s Main Street and marches up Spring Street for the 1914 cornerstone laying ceremonies at Port Jefferson High School. Photo from the Kenneth C. Brady Digital Archive

Seeing enormous profits in the trolley venture, parties from Long Island, New York City and Bridgeport organized the Patchogue and Port Jefferson Traction Company on Jan. 29, 1896.

Port Jefferson Traction announced that its 14-mile trolley road would be finished and in operation by April 1, 1903, but several factors kept the project from moving ahead.

Confronted by the high costs of equipment and materials, the corporation delayed work waiting for prices to fall. Word that New Haven, Connecticut, might run a steamboat to Port Jefferson and link with the trolley worried investors in Bridgeport who had backed Port Jefferson Traction’s scheme. 

Arguments also arose over the trolley’s hours of operation, rate of speed, type of roadbed and method of power. The streetcar’s proponents quarreled over whether the line should be built from Patchogue to Port Jefferson or vice versa. 

Mired in endless trolley talk, Port Jefferson Traction was acquired by the Central Long Island Electric Light and Railroad Company. Chartered on Dec. 17, 1903, the new corporation amended the proposed Patchogue-Port Jefferson route to include a Setauket-Stony Brook branch line. The organization also sought to build a power plant in Port Jefferson and develop land in an envisioned “Jefferson Manor” section of Echo.

Notwithstanding its glowing prospectus, Central Long Island never ran a streetcar in Port Jefferson, opening the door for the Suffolk Traction Company and its plans for a Cross Island trolley road.

Incorporated on June 27, 1906, Suffolk Traction soon became embroiled in legal disputes with its competitors over franchises, the LIRR over grade crossings and property owners over condemnation proceedings.

When the court battles finally ended and construction actually began, Suffolk Traction diverted resources that had been earmarked for Port Jefferson to expanding service on the South Shore. As a result, track was not laid along Port Jefferson’s Main Street (Route 25A) until 1909-13, but by then it was too late. Even discounting the years lost to inactivity and sporadic work, the trolley plan was already doomed in the village.

A self-propelled crane enters Port Jefferson’s Bayles Shipyard, East Broadway, April 1918. The crane arrived by the LIRR and then steamed down to the waterfront traveling on the Suffolk Traction Company’s trolley rails and temporary tracks. Photo by Arthur S. Greene; Photo from the Kenneth C. Brady Digital Archive

Automobiles were revolutionizing travel, giving Long Islanders the freedom to explore the open road and making them less dependent on public transit. In addition, Suffolk Traction was facing competition from faster buses that carried passengers between Port Jefferson and Patchogue on the “Auto Trolley Line.”

While managing to run a battery-powered streetcar between Patchogue and Holtsville, a bankrupt Suffolk Traction ceased operations in 1919.

Although the trolley never ran in Port Jefferson, the existing tracks were supplemented by temporary rails and used during World War I to move a self-propelled crane downhill from Port Jefferson’s LIRR station to Bayles Shipyard on the village’s waterfront. 

The rusting trolley tracks, viewed as a nuisance by Port Jefferson’s motorists and pedestrians, were torn up as improvements were made along Route 25A, although rails were still visible at the foot of the village’s Main Street as late as September 1956.

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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On Spring Street, the 1944 Hurricane brought down a tree which crashed against the Methodist Church. Kenneth C. Brady Digital Archive

Port Jefferson is no stranger to hurricanes, having been pummeled by the big blows several times in its past. But while most villagers are familiar with named storms such as Carol and Donna, few are aware of the powerful Great Atlantic Hurricane of September 1944 and its impact locally.

At the Port Jefferson Shipyard, yachts were driven ashore by the 1944 Hurricane and a building demolished. Kenneth C. Brady Digital Archive

World War II was the news in 1944, not the weather, relegating stories about an otherwise major storm to the back pages. In addition, the United States was sensitive about releasing information that could benefit the enemy, such as revealing that a defense plant had been battered by wind and wave. With little or no media coverage, the Great Atlantic Hurricane became a forgotten storm, but not by those in Port Jefferson who had experienced its fury.

The hurricane arrived in the village on Thursday, Sept. 14, about 5 p.m., beginning with torrential rains, but did not become a full force storm until about 10:30 p.m. when wind velocities ranged from 75 to 85 mph.

The gusts, combined with a normal flood tide, drove whitecaps from Long Island Sound into Port Jefferson Harbor and over the village’s shorefront, inundating some areas with more than two feet of seawater.

The 1944 Hurricane destroyed the Long Island Ice Company’s refrigeration plant on Port Jefferson’s East Broadway. Kenneth C. Brady Digital Archive

Surf Avenue (East Broadway) was particularly hard hit. The hurricane wrecked the lunchroom and gift shop at Bayles Landing, destroyed the Long Island Ice Company’s refrigeration plant, tore off the back of the Keystone Coal Company’s building, blew away the planking at the Standard Oil Company’s dock, and lashed what was once Wilson’s Sail Loft.

The bulkhead was undermined, plantings were washed away and the pavilion was damaged at Brookhaven Town’s new waterfront park, now Mary Bayles Park, which had been completed just days before the storm.

Seawater entered the Harborview Hotel, covering the ground floor, and the Vandall Building, bringing muck and mud into the Port Jefferson Service Club, a hospitality center for America’s uniformed military personnel.

But Surf Avenue was not the only area in Port Jefferson to feel the hurricane’s savage force. On West Broadway, the storm hammered the South Bay Water Company’s pumping station, the Tydol Oil Company’s pier and the Bridgeport and Port Jefferson Steamboat Company’s freight office. Six yachts stored at the Port Jefferson Shipyard were driven ashore and a building was demolished.

The proprietor of Teddy’s Hotel at the foot of Main Street reported that 36 to 40 inches of water had flooded his cocktail lounge and dining room. In nearby stores, basements were submerged, the deluge spreading up to the police station on Arden Place. At Bishop’s Garage on the corner of Main Street and West Broadway, cars were ruined as seawater fouled their engines.

The 1944 Hurricane hammered the South Bay Water Company’s pumping station along Port Jefferson’s West Broadway. Kenneth C. Brady Digital Archive

On the west side of the village, a large oil storage tank was toppled at the Swezey Coal and Feed Company’s property on Beach Street. Numerous boats sank in the yacht basin and small craft were later found along area beaches and in the salt meadow off West Broadway, blown far from their original locations.

Trees and utility poles were downed by the hurricane, taking out electric and telephone lines throughout Port Jefferson. On the corner of Main and Spring streets, one old tree cut wires as it crashed against the Methodist Church, but miraculously spared the building from serious damage. Two weeks after the storm, the village was still without full electric service.

The Port Jefferson Fire Department performed tirelessly throughout the emergency, pumping out flooded cellars in the village’s homes and businesses. The dedicated volunteers also provided electric generators at lightless Mather Memorial and St. Charles hospitals.

With so many draft-age men serving in the armed forces, younger citizens assisted police and highway departments in the days following the hurricane. The Minute Men Cadets, a unit of the Suffolk County Sheriff’s office, patrolled downtown Port Jefferson’s darkened streets, protecting property from looters and vandals. Members of the Junior Auxiliary Brookhaven Town Police Department directed traffic in the village and cleared debris from its clogged roads.

The 1944 Hurricane blocked Port Jefferson’s East Broadway with downed utility poles, toppled trees and storm wreckage. Kenneth C. Brady Digital Archive

Although it would be tempting to compare the 1944 storm with other hurricanes that have walloped Port Jefferson, the effect of World War II on the village must be considered, making ranking difficult. For example, was power restored slowly in Port Jefferson because of the widespread damage resulting from the 1944 storm, wartime labor shortages, or both? Regardless, the Great Atlantic Hurricane was hardly a “forgotten storm” among villagers who had lived through the harrowing event.

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 Townsend House was located in Port Jefferson at the southeast corner of today’s Main and East Main streets. Photo by George B. Brainerd, photo from the Kenneth C. Brady Digital Archive

Members of the Tile Club, a group of New York City artists, arrived in Port Jefferson on Oct. 26, 1881 and spent a week in the village sketching the local scene.

The Century Magazine chronicled the artists’ Port Jefferson sojourn in “The Tile Club Ashore (February 1882),” a lighthearted narrative featuring 20 drawings.

During the Tile Club’s sojourn in Port Jefferson, they stayed at this hotel, which bears a striking resemblance to the Townsend House. Sketch by F. Hopkinson Smith, sketch from The Century Magazine

The article is actually a composite account of the cosmopolitan Tilers’ two trips to Long Island, one by tugboat in summer 1880 to an undisclosed location on the North Shore and the other by train in fall 1881 to Port Jefferson.

Blurring time and place, the story was written by Tile Club member William Laffan as if there had been a single excursion. 

Besides recounting the adventures of the Tile Club in The Century Magazine, Laffan also promoted Nassau and Suffolk as vacationlands in travel guides he had written while a passenger agent for the Long Island Rail Road.

Laffan had lauded Port Jefferson for “its sandy shore, its still woods, and its placid bay” in The New Long Island, an 1879 LIRR handbook, and continued to extoll its appeal in The Century Magazine, describing the village as a “conservative, steady-going, sensible settlement,” “rich in historical interest” and “a delightful place.”

After deboarding the train at Port Jefferson’s railroad station, the Tilers walked down a path to an inn where the kindly landlord assigned the artists “to neat and comfortable bedrooms,” charged them “astonishingly low” rates and encouraged the Tilers to make as much noise as they liked.

Although the hotel is not identified in Laffan’s article, F. Hopkinson Smith’s sketch of the establishment, The House of the Reckless Landlord, bears a striking resemblance to a vintage photograph of the Townsend House which was located on the southeast corner of today’s Main and East Main streets.

Seeking artistic inspiration in picturesque Port Jefferson, the Tilers “invaded the town in every part” and found “there were no closed doors to them.” Unearthing a “bewildering wealth of material” in the surroundings, they drew the village’s orchards, hills and valleys, sail loft, pebbly beach, shipwrecks, and residents, including “a great jovial sea-dog with a skin of leather.”

Arthur Quartley sketched A Corner by the Harbor which shows one of the shipyards that graced Port Jefferson’s waterfront during the late 19th century and Alfred Parsons portrayed one of the village’s quaint cottages in A Sea-Side Homestead.

Sketch by Arthur Quartley of a shipyard that once graced Port Jefferson’s waterfront; sketch from The Century Magazine

While the Tilers were so-named for their painted ceramic tiles, they did not limit themselves to this medium, evident in J. Alden Weir’s vibrant Port Jefferson, 1881, a pencil and watercolor on paper.

Before leaving Port Jefferson, the Tilers honored the genre painter William S. Mount by visiting his Stony Brook house, sketched by Smith in Home of the Artist, a charcoal on paper.

Published at a time when Port Jefferson was transitioning from a shipbuilding center to a vacation spot, Laffan’s article depicted the unspoiled village as a haven for artists but also as a tourist destination.

His story in the mass-circulation Century Magazine put Port Jefferson on the map and introduced its readers to the village’s beautiful countryside and harbor, inexpensive accommodations, and rail connections, but most important, to Port Jefferson’s welcoming residents.

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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Montfort, pictured on cribbing, was moved from the south side of Myrtle Avenue to make way for the construction of Infant Jesus School. Photo from the Peter Colen Collection

It was once common in Port Jefferson to see a house or other structure being moved from one location in the village to another.

Buildings were relocated to avoid flooding, preserve a historic property, clear the site for redevelopment, escape bad neighbors, profit from a land sale, improve the view and numerous other reasons. 

The high costs of labor and materials generally made it less expensive to move a structure than to build anew. There was less concern with auto traffic, overhead utility lines, tree branches, and other obstacles that would impede a move in today’s Port Jefferson.

Using a wooden carriage system and the energy provided by a team of horses or oxen, early house movers — known as “machinists” — plied their trade. With the advent of modern technology, hydraulic jacking systems and dollies replaced the primitive equipment of yesteryear.

Montfort, pictured on cribbing, was moved from the south side of Myrtle Avenue to make way for the construction of Infant Jesus School. Photo from the Peter Colen Collection

There are several references to the work of the village’s past house movers in the diary of Azariah H. Davis who chronicled life in nineteenth-century Port Jefferson. In May 1868, he recounted how the Townsend House on the southeast corner of the village’s Main and East Main streets was split in two halves and a new structure was erected in the center.   

In a July 1868 entry, Davis noted that Port Jefferson tin merchant Tuthill Corwin had his “old shanty” moved from the village’s beach and in March 1870 that machinist John Marvin had moved “the old store which formerly belonged to James M. Bayles” of shipbuilding fame.

Francis A. Hawkins, a civil engineer and surveyor, was another of Port Jefferson’s original house movers. Among his many and varied contracts, he moved a boat shop from one side of Water Street (East Broadway) to the other and a shuttered jewelry store from East Main to West Broadway. Hawkins also turned around a house so that it would front on Myrtle Avenue.

Port Jefferson’s residents not only hired local house movers, but also their counterparts from outside of the village. In 1893, Napoleon Bonaparte Overton of Patchogue, who advertised himself as the “Great American House Mover,” was tasked with transporting a “wing” of the Townsend House to Echo (Port Jefferson Station).

Among other notable buildings that were relocated in Port Jefferson, in 1873 the Methodist Church was moved from Thompson to Spring Street. The chapel was sold at auction in 1893, moved to Main Street and remodeled as a storehouse, only to be destroyed in a 1904 fire.

The Custom House, which squatted in front of the Baptist Church at the intersection of East Main and Prospect streets, was moved in 1898 to 417 Myrtle Avenue and converted into a private residence.

The former home of Zachariah Hawkins, Port Jefferson’s first postmaster, stood near the southeast corner of Myrtle Avenue and Main Street. The house was moved to 204 Chestnut Street, allowing for the construction of Infant Jesus Roman Catholic Church, which opened in 1912. 

The Point House was moved along Main Street to its new location at 125 South Street. Photo from the Kenneth C. Brady Digital Archive

The Point House, which once backed on the salt marsh in downtown Port Jefferson, was moved in 1922 from the west side of Main Street to its present location at 125 South Street.

In 1929, the home of village postmaster John M. Brown was moved to 105 Tuthill Street from its prior location on the northeast corner of Main and Tuthill streets where the New York Telephone Company subsequently built an office on the choice site.

Montfort, a Catholic home for handicapped children, was moved from the south side of Myrtle Avenue to make way for the building of Infant Jesus School, which was dedicated in 1938.

For the early residents of Port Jefferson, moving buildings was not only routine, but it also demonstrated their commitment to preservation, so often absent in the throwaway society 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

Stock certificate issued by the American Mining and Milling Company. Note the signature of Thomas Girvan, Silas B. Dutcher’s successor as the corporation’s president. Photo from the Kenneth C. Brady Digital Archive

What was happening at the entrance to Port Jefferson Harbor?

Between 1887-88, the American Mining and Milling Company had built some kind of a plant on the beach adjoining the harbor’s east jetty, but the secretive corporation had not told villagers what it planned to do at the factory.

Located on land in what is now McAllister County Park, the complex included three frame structures containing engines and machines, a track for railcars, stables, a dock and housing for laborers. Pipes brought fresh water to the works from an offsite well.

This chart, prepared by the United States Army, Corps of Engineers, June 30, 1884, shows the beach adjoining the Port Jefferson Harbor East Jetty where the plant was built. Photo from the Kenneth C. Brady Digital Archive

Led by its president, prominent Brooklyn financier and politician Silas B. Dutcher, the AMMC had cobbled together the property by leasing shorefront on the east side of Port Jefferson Harbor from Brookhaven Town and the 1200-acre Oakwood estate from the Strong family. 

Thomas Girvan, the superintendent of the plant and Dutcher’s successor as the AMMC’s president, was pressed by Port Jefferson’s residents and local newspapers to reveal the corporation’s intentions, but Girvan was not forthcoming. In addition, the AMMC’s employees were sworn to secrecy and worked behind barricaded doors.

The mystery only fueled wild rumors in Port Jefferson where villagers speculated that the AMMC was digging for Captain Kidd’s treasure, extracting aluminum, manufacturing roofing materials or making fine glass.

The AMMC was actually experimenting with a new method for grinding stone and sand. Seeing enormous profits in the venture, management was guarding the process from potential competitors.

The finished product, as fine as flour, was sold for filtering purposes, while byproducts, such as bird gravel, were marketed as well.

Not enjoying much commercial success, the plant closed in summer 1892, its income insufficient to meet the AMMC’s significant outlay of capital and labor. Lawsuits quickly followed, creditors demanding monies due and employees back wages.

After the works was sold at a sheriff’s sale, limited operations at the plant resumed in Dec. 1892, but attempts at reviving the flagging business were dashed on Sunday, Jan. 15, 1893, when a spectacular fire of undetermined origin destroyed most of the complex.

The American Mining and Milling Company’s factory was located on land in what is now McAllister County Park. A rare 1890 photo by Elmer P. Smith. Photo from the Kenneth C. Brady Digital Archive

Without insurance on the plant, the new owners removed what could be salvaged from the ruins of the blaze and closed shop in Port Jefferson.

In the years following the fire, there were reports that some of the former employees at the AMMC’s complex had contracted a fatal lung disease, perhaps brought on by continually inhaling stone dust, marking a deadly end to the plant’s operations in Port Jefferson.

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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Members of the Port Jefferson Fire Department are pictured in front of the original firehouse on the east side of Main Street. Photo by Arthur S. Greene, June 1907; Photo from the Kenneth C. Brady Digital Archive

The Suffolk County Volunteer Firemen’s Tournament, held in Port Jefferson on Wednesday, Sept. 11, 1901, was a bellwether event in the history of the village.

In tournaments of yesteryear, fire departments typically competed in a series of contests such as maneuvering hand-drawn equipment, laying hose, climbing ladders, and passing buckets of water.

Tournaments not only showcased the firefighting skills and physical fitness of the participants but also brought large crowds to the host village, publicizing its attractions and stimulating its economy.

Although the Port Jefferson Fire Department (PJFD) had never run a tournament and the Port Jefferson of 1901 was “terra incognita” to most Long Islanders, a committee of Port Jefferson’s residents and firefighters made such a strong case that Port Jefferson was selected as the event’s venue.

The village’s cheerleaders touted Port Jefferson as an undiscovered gem blessed with a beautiful village and harbor and easily reached by land and sea.

The event’s backers also contended that the village’s hotels and restaurants were fully prepared to entertain the throngs expected to descend on Port Jefferson and that villagers had raised earnest money to demonstrate their strong financial support of the tournament.

Port Jefferson’s champions also pointed out that the village had a straightaway on West Broadway between Jones (Main) Street and Barnum Avenue on which the contests could be run, and that nearby hydrants provided steady water pressure.

Once the PJFD received the go ahead to hold the tournament, work began on decorating downtown Port Jefferson with flags and bunting while Loper Brothers built a 2000-seat, covered grandstand along West Broadway as well as a judges’ stand.

The cover of the sheet music for the ‘Port Jefferson March — Two Step’ features a photograph of W. Kintzing Post, president of the Suffolk County Volunteer Firemen’s Association, and a view of Port Jefferson Harbor from the west side. Photo from the Kenneth C. Brady Digital Archive

On Tournament Day, special excursion trains and steamboats brough2firefighters and their guests to Port Jefferson to enjoy the festivities, including a parade that began near Myrtle and Main and wound its way through the village. 

The impressive line of march featured over 1,000 Suffolk County firemen accompanied by their respective engines, trucks and carts. The procession also included delegations from Connecticut, including the Konomoc Hose Company of New London which brought its renowned band famous for playing the rhythmic “Port Jefferson March — Two Step.”

In the afternoon following the parade, various hook and ladder, steam engine and hose contests were held, and prizes awarded. Fire departments were also honored in “Best Dressed,” “Best Equipped” and other special categories.

By all measures, the one-day tournament was a resounding success. A record 5000 people reportedly attended the event, earning Port Jefferson a reputation for its hospitality.

The tournament was extensively covered in local and metropolitan newspapers, the articles depicting the village as the “Naples of Long Island” and bringing favorable notice to Port Jefferson and its businesses. 

Merchants saw dramatic increases in patronage. Liveryman John “Billy” Brown could barely keep up shuttling visitors from Port Jefferson’s railroad station to the village’s downtown.  

The fledgling PJFD, only organized in 1887, demonstrated it was as capable as well-established departments, such as acclaimed Greenport, in running a large-scale event.

Most important, the tournament contributed to popularizing Port Jefferson as a vacationland, presaging its entry into the lucrative tourist market and predating the village’s storied homecomings, concerts, festivals, regattas and other crowd-drawing events by years. 

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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View of Port Jefferson village and harbor from Cedar Hill Cemetery from a colorized post card. Photo from the Kenneth C. Brady Digital Archive

There is a rich selection of non-fiction books about Port Jefferson’s early years, but perhaps because they are mostly novels and magazine articles, L. Frank Tooker’s literary works are not often found on Port Jefferson’s local history bookshelf.

This omission is unfortunate since Tooker’s writings transport us back to nineteenth-century Port Jefferson, letting readers feel the village’s past as formal history cannot, making a bygone age live again.

Tooker was born in Port Jefferson on Dec. 18, 1854 and came from a seafaring lot. He was raised in a house at 108 High Street, a short walk from the village’s harbor and shipyards where he spent much of his spare time.

While still a youth, Tooker sailed aboard his family’s ships and traveled to exotic ports, including one memorable voyage during the Civil War to Christiansted on Santa Cruz Island in the West Indies.

After graduating from Yale, Tooker served as the Suffolk County deputy clerk before joining the editorial staff of The Century Magazine where he worked from 1885-1925 and first recognized the talents of “unknown” author Joseph Conrad.

Tooker and his wife Violette (nee Swezey) resided in various communities including Brooklyn and Riverside, Connecticut, but frequently returned to Port Jefferson where they summered with their children, Lewis and Helen.

L. Frank Tooker, while on the editorial staff of The Century Magazine. Photo from the Kenneth C. Brady Digital Archive

In Tooker’s first novel, “Under Rocking Skies,” we sail on a brig bound for Santa Cruz Island along with Tom Medbury, the vessel’s mate, and Hetty March, the captain’s daughter, a couple destined to fall in love.

The plot is typical of many romances, but it is the author’s depiction of “Blackwater,” the homeport where the story begins, that holds the reader’s attention.

Tooker peppers his tale with references to Blackwater, a thinly veiled Port Jefferson, with descriptions of its streets, churches, shoreline, cherry trees, shops, and wharves, capturing life during the village’s shipbuilding heyday.

“The Middle Passage,” Tooker’s second novel, recounts the adventures of David Lunt, a native of Blackwater, who sails on a number of ships, one chartered to transport a “cargo” of enslaved Africans to the New World, another to carry arms for South American revolutionaries.

Returning to Blackwater between each of his hair-raising voyages, the high-spirited Lunt woos Lydia Wade, but is prohibited from seeing the young woman because of his wild ways.

After a penitent Lunt publicly acknowledges his reckless behavior, Lydia’s father relents and allows the courtship to continue.

Through Lunt, we also discover there is a dark side of Blackwater, where a two-faced “Captain Joe” pretends to be an upright citizen, but secretly profits from the illegal slave trade, suggesting the complicity of some from Port Jefferson in fitting out the slaver Wanderer in 1858.

Besides historical fiction, Port Jefferson is central again in “A Boyhood Alongshore,” one of the scores of features penned by Tooker and published in The Century Magazine.

In the story, Tooker reminisces about growing up in the 1860s during Port Jefferson’s “cherished past,” a time for him of flying kites, playing marbles, fishing, swimming, boating, and gathering beach plums.

But Tooker is at his best when writing about the “smells of the shipyards,” especially in the article’s excellent account of the launching of the bark Carib at Port Jefferson’s Bayles Shipyard in 1868.

“As long as life lasts,” Tooker concludes the piece, “I shall go to the high, green hill back of our village where lie our dead” and the view over land and water is “always beautiful.”

Seemingly drawn to Port Jefferson’s Cedar Hill Cemetery, Tooker was buried there following his death on Sept. 17, 1925, marking the return of a native son to his beloved village.

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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Crowds gather at Port Jefferson’s Bayles Landing awaiting the departure of Franklin D. Roosevelt and the yawl Myth II. Photo from the Kenneth C. Brady Digital Archive

Franklin D. Roosevelt launched his 1932 campaign for president of the United States by sailing from Port Jefferson across Long Island Sound into New England coastal waters.

Roosevelt had accepted the Democratic presidential nomination on July 2, 1932, at the party’s convention in Chicago.

Returning to New York where he was governor, FDR announced he would be going on a week’s cruise with his sons and departing from a secret Long Island location, later revealed as Port Jefferson.

Escorted by state troopers, Roosevelt motored from his home in Manhattan to Port Jefferson, arriving in the village around noon on July 11, 1932.

As seaplanes roared overhead, FDR was greeted by the tooting of boat whistles, screeching of car horns and the cheers of the hundreds who had lined Water Street (East Broadway).

Roosevelt made his way to Bayles Landing and boarded the Myth II, a 37-foot yawl rented for the trip from Prescott B. Huntington of St. James, New York.

Offering sleeping accommodations for six and a galley with a two-burner range, the unpretentious vessel had a black hull, orange deck and white cabin. With no auxiliary engine, the Myth II was solely dependent on her three sails for power.

Before casting off, FDR chatted with two local boys, Randall Woodard and Gilbert Kinner, who would become instant celebrities in Port Jefferson when they appeared in dockside photos and newsreels with the presidential nominee.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, New York State Governor and Democratic presidential nominee, is pictured aboard the yawl Myth II as he prepares to leave Port Jefferson on a vacation cruise with three of his sons.
Photo from the Kenneth C. Brady Digital Archive

Getting underway, a launch captained by E. Post Bayles pulled the Myth II into the choppy waters of Long Island Sound where the tow was parted, and the yawl caught the wind.

At the helm, Roosevelt laid a course for Connecticut, backed by a crew of three of his four sons, as well as friend George Briggs, who kept the ship’s log.

The luxury yacht Ambassadress, chartered by FDR’s supporters and advisers, and the motor yacht Marcon, packed with newspapermen covering Roosevelt’s voyage, followed in the Myth II’s wake.

Ostensibly, the vacation cruise was to provide FDR with rest and relaxation before beginning his campaign for president, but the trip was more about politics than recreation.

Roosevelt anchored at several ports during his “holiday” including New Haven, Connecticut; Marblehead, Massachusetts; and Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

At these locations, FDR worked to bring dissident Democrats into the fold, meeting with political leaders from New England who had supported former New York State Governor Alfred E. Smith as the party’s presidential nominee.

During each stop, political heavyweights attended strategy sessions aboard the Ambassadress and Roosevelt held daily press conferences with the reporters tagging along on the Marcon.

A victory for the Democrats, the extensively photographed cruise showed Roosevelt as a vigorous leader who was prepared to command the “Ship of State” as well as he captained the Myth II, countering claims that FDR was a helpless invalid crippled by polio.

Roosevelt would go on to defeat Republican candidate and incumbent President Herbert Hoover in the Nov. 8, 1932 election, marking the end of a campaign that began on a summer day aboard a sailboat in Port Jefferson Harbor.

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.