Hometown History: The Port Jefferson Lockup
Alarmed by Port Jefferson’s growing descent into lawlessness, a group of concerned residents met in 1886 to consider building a lockup within the village.
Port Jefferson’s citizens were troubled by the rise in vagrancy, burglaries and vandalism in their community and disgusted with the increasing numbers of drunks on the village’s streets.
At the same time, Port Jefferson’s constables were hampered from carrying out their duties because there was no place in the village to detain persons pending their court appearance.
An attempt to fund the lockup’s construction by private subscription failed, but in 1891 Brookhaven Town appropriated money to finance the project.
Completed in 1893, the spartan Port Jefferson lockup was situated in the “salt meadow land” off what is now the village’s Wynne Lane, comprised of two cells and provided with heat, water, light and basic furnishings.
In the years following the lockup’s opening, most of the arrests in Port Jefferson were for public intoxication, although at times the village’s jail held those charged with more serious offenses including arson, fraud, murder and assault.
While the overwhelming majority of the accused were men, two females broke the pattern and were taken into custody in 1895 for being prostitutes at a notorious “disorderly house” on West Tuthill Street, today’s Maple Place.
By 1909, the lockup was in such poor condition, once even toppling on its side when high tides undermined the structure’s foundation, that Brookhaven Town appropriated $1,000 to purchase land and build a new “cooler” on the property.
Located within what is now Port Jefferson’s Resident Parking Lot on the north side of Arden Place, the four-cell lockup opened in 1910 and from the outset was plagued by escapes and repeatedly criticized by the Department of Correction, Prison Commission and other State agencies for being unfit for human habitation.
The situation had so deteriorated by 1933 that the village lockup was closed but remained opened as a “hoboes hotel” for the homeless, while persons arrested in Port Jefferson were transferred to either the Riverhead jail or Patchogue lockup.
With the creation of the Brookhaven Town Police Department, the former Arden Place lockup was refurbished and served from 1937-1949 as a combination jail and station house for the 2nd Precinct.
The precinct moved briefly to the Odd Fellows Building on East Main Street near the foot of Thompson Street before finally settling at another East Main Street site.
Beginning in 1950, officers from the Second Precinct were based in a one-story building on East Main Street constructed adjacent to Port Jefferson’s former First National Bank and operated out of this place until Jan. 1, 1960 when the Suffolk County Police absorbed the Brookhaven Town Police.
Afterwards, the space was occupied by the Brookhaven Town Tax Receiver and has housed retail stores in recent times.
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.