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History

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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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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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.     

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The photo shown here of the 1910 hill climb are from the Lazarnick collection, Detroit Public Library, credited to Spooner & Wells, a New York City photography company

By Robert Laravie 

A 1907 two-day endurance tour by the Long Island Auto Club may have planted the seed of a hill climb event in Port Jefferson. The 1907 tour had a stop in Port Jefferson for lunch at Mrs. Smith’s house, then went on to Greenport and back to Brooklyn. 

A June 30, 1910, article in The Automobile indicated that a well-known promoter and local “live wire,” W.J. Fallon, organized a hill climb which was held June 25. Sixty-seven cars were entered.

The hill climb was sponsored by the Port Jefferson Auto Club and run on West Broadway, a course of about 2,000-feet in length, with an average grade of 10% and a peak of about 15%, ending at the Belle Terre Gatehouse. The local club contact was listed as G.E. Darling.

The hill climb was divided into 16 events by cost of auto, cubic inches of engine displacement as well as a “free for all” and a few events for cars owned by local club members and residents of Port Jefferson. 

The fastest time was 20.48 seconds (about 68 mph) in a Fiat owned by E.W.C. Arnold and driven by Ralph DePalma. The slowest car, 1 minute, 36.58 seconds (about 14 mph), in a Knox driven by E.B. Hawkins.

Two other clubs participated in the events, the Crescent Athletic Club and the Long Island Auto Club. Knox cars won the most events totaling five wins and the results were widely used in advertising for the cars. 

Various manufacturers entered their cars in the event including  Oakland, Buick, the Only Motor Car Co. (a Port Jefferson-built car), Houpt-Rockwell, Pope-Hartford, Zust and Berkshire Automobiles.

Two cars entered were owned by women, Mrs. J.N. Cuneo entered her Knox and Mrs. J.A. Ferguson entered her Lancia.

The photoshown here of the 1910 hill climb are from the Lazarnick collection, Detroit Public Library, credited to Spooner & Wells, a New York City photography company

Hawkins, the postmaster of Huntington, protested one event, claiming that the car driven by Fallon was not in fact owned for the required 30 days prior to the event.

A second protest was entered by J. Bell claiming the Knox entered by Fred Belcher in the stock events was in fact not in “stock” condition. 

The hill climb was rerun on Sept. 9, 1911, and a commemorative event was staged in 1925. That event was won by a locally built car, the F.R.P. — Finley Robertson Porter. 

A F.R.P. now resides in the Seal Cove Auto Museum in Mount Desert Island, Maine.

Reenactments of the hill climb took place in 2010 and 2015. There will be another event Saturday, Aug. 14, starting 10 a.m. at the Village Center. A rain date is set for the following day. For more info visit the website: portjeff.com/events/hillclimb.

Robert Laravie grew up in East Greenbush. He is a retired landscape architect, and worked for the New York State Department of Transportation on Long Island, New York City and on the Tappan Zee Bridge project in Tarrytown. He is currently a resident of Port Jefferson and has been a local conservancy member for the past six years. 

Mather House Museum

The Mather House Museum reopens for the season on Saturday, July 3. The museum, located at 115 Prospect St., Port Jefferson, will be open on Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 4 p.m. through Oct. 10. Come see the new exhibit, Salute to Essential Workers, and visit the consignment shop loaded with treasures. A docent guided tour is available for the main museum and all of the complex buildings. Donation requested. For more information, call 631-473-2665.

The Old Homestead stood near the corner of what is now Port Jefferson’s Winston Drive and Crystal Brook Hollow Road. Photo by Arthur S. Greene; Photo from Kenneth C. Brady Digital Archive

What is now Belle Terre, coupled with an area in today’s Port Jefferson, once comprised the 1200-acre Oakwood estate.

Surrounded on three sides by water, the property featured a country house, tilled land, woodlots, a hothouse, fruit and nut trees, sheepfolds, springs, an icehouse, a dairy, pigpens, barns and outbuildings.

The estate even included a private cemetery, the Sugar Loaf Burying Grounds, where some of Oakwood’s workers and their family members had been interred.

Mary B. Strong, known as “Lady Strong,” presided over the estate. In 1880, she was considered the wealthiest woman in Brookhaven Town, where she numbered among its largest taxpayers.

Oakwood is depicted on this portion of J. Chace’s 1858 Map of Suffolk County, L.I., New York. Photo from Kenneth C. Brady Digital Archive

William A. Hopkins and Charles A. Davis, Miss Strong’s trusted overseers, supervised day-to-day operations at Oakwood, everything from milking cows to cutting cordwood.

Lady Strong and her servants lived at the estate’s Old Homestead which stood near the corner of what is now Port Jefferson’s Winston Drive and Crystal Brook Hollow Road.

A short walk from tranquil Mount Sinai Harbor, the country house was the scene of elegant parties hosted by Miss Strong and surrounded by grounds lovingly tended by a gardener.

Responsible outdoorsmen were welcomed at Oakwood, where they hiked its shaded paths, hunted, trapped and gathered berries. Vacationers from Bridgeport, Connecticut sailed across Long Island Sound and pitched tents on the property at Camp Woodbine, while day-trippers picnicked on the estate at Saints Orchard.

After Lady Strong’s death on April 9, 1885, Oakwood reverted to her nephews, but through neglect, the once well-maintained estate went to ruin.

In spring 1901, surveyors were seen marking Oakwood’s boundaries and that winter advertisements had appeared in the New York Times announcing the property’s sale.

The Old Homestead stood near the corner of what is now Port Jefferson’s Winston Drive and Crystal Brook Hollow Road. 
Photo by Arthur S. Greene; Photo from Kenneth C. Brady Digital Archive

Clinton L. Rossiter, vice president of the Long Island Loan and Trust Company, purchased Oakwood from Mary B. Strong’s heirs in 1902. Rossiter represented a group of investors who planned to build a “private residence park,” known today as Belle Terre, on the land.

Over the ensuing years, the site was developed, and the Old Homestead was destroyed in a suspicious fire, leaving only street names such as Oakwood Road as reminders of Lady Strong and her vast estate.

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.

Amongst the Middle Country Public Library’s many historical artifacts are a few that explain just how far the area has come from its pastoral roots. The picture and story below comes courtesy of a collaborative effort among the librarian staff.

This beautifully embroidered map was gifted to Middle Country Public Library, and is part of the Heritage Collection, the library’s local history archives. 

It shows a detailed and unique view of Centereach as it stood in 1937. Oriented in a west to east view from top to bottom, we can see the landmarks and homesteads that residents would visit and pass by daily. 

Near the top right of the image, we can see the New Village First Congregational Church prominently featured in white, just south of the Fairgrounds. It was such a major landmark that it needed no caption. The steeple, front door and footpath are skillfully embroidered in. Homes of many residents (Overton, Emery, Olsen, Ulrich, Duffield, Campbell, Moen, Scudder and Alvin Smith, Bertram, to name a few) are painstakingly labeled along with many prominent businesses. 

William Tobin’s “Ontheway” Rest, located on the northwest corner of Middle Country Road and Stony Brook Road served as a gasoline station and featured a lunch stand that Mrs. Tobin ran on the adjoining property. 

Other establishments depicted include the barbershop, the grocery store, Homeside Nursery, the lumber yard and Carl’s Tavern, along with the Wilkinson, Williams, Moller and Murray farms. 

If you look closely, a hen and her chicks are carefully stitched in, foraging about the Wilkinson’s farmyard. The fire house, fair grounds, and schools (both the existing and proposed new school sites), the Parsonage and Parish Hall are all here. 

Streets are not labeled, but we know that Middle Country Road runs from top to bottom down the center of the panel and we can see where paving is incomplete on the right margin (the north side of the map). The New Village Congregational Church which stands today on Middle Country Road just west of Elliot Avenue and residences such as the Henry house help us determine the location of other streets. 

We know that the Henry homestead was located at the corner of Middle Country Road and North Washington Avenue. We can also see William Wortley’s gas station which was situated on the south side of Middle Country Road opposite Wood Road, where the barbershop stands embroidered with the traditional red and white pole. 

For an entertaining treasure hunt, take a look to discover what other family names and landmarks you can find. More names and places can be found on this map than we could list here. Have fun!

 

Our national remembrance of Memorial Day had its roots after this nation fought the Civil War that ended in April of 1865.  

Former veterans remembered their comrades after the terrible fighting of this four-year war in Waterloo, New York, in 1866.  

Almost, a year after the fighting came to an end, the residents of this upstate town used flowers and flags to pay tribute to those citizens that were impacted by this war. 

In 1868, General John A. Logan called for the nation to show unity in honoring the soldiers from both regions, as he stated that the battle scars and losses were felt within every American town.  

“Decoration Day” was loosely recognized by most states until 1971, when “Memorial Day” was established by the government as a federal holiday. Through a three-day weekend, the blooming of flowers paid tribute to those men and women that served to protect this proud nation.  

On this day, Americans take a moment to understand the historic examples of military service that has strengthened this country since the creation of our republic. 

From May 18 to July 4, 1863, General Ulysses S. Grant was in position to drive a decisive wedge against the Confederate ability to carry out this war. At this time, Grant was in the midst of a 47-day siege against the mighty fortifications and gun emplacements that hindered the Union transportation on the Mississippi River. 

Since December of 1862, Grant struggled to overtake this southern post that was called the “Gibraltar of the Confederacy.”  

For several months, Grant sought one scheme after another that failed within his goals of taking control of these powerful guns that proved impossible to overcome. The press turned against Grant, whom they wrote was heavily drinking on duty and should be replaced by Lincoln. Even this president who appreciated the fighting devotion of Grant believed that he was the only friend that Grant had within the government.  

On April 16 and 17, Grant gambled perhaps the entire war, by moving his forces under all of the guns at Vicksburg to operate south of these enemy forces. Even as the Confederates opened fire, Grant who was accompanied by his wife and son, observed that his entire flotilla of ships that held men and materials were practically unscathed by this assault. 

Now, Grant was within the interior of the state of Mississippi, where he successfully fought several battles, took over the capital of Jackson, and pushed General John C. Pemberton back to the gates of Vicksburg. Lincoln was ecstatic over the fighting exploits of Grant, and this was shown when he was visited by several congressional leaders. 

They were alarmed at reports that this general was drinking too much alcohol while he led this massive army. The President listened to the complaints against Grant and firmly stated that whiskey should be allocated to his other generals that have yet to fight and win any significant battles. 

By June of 1863, he established a siege of Vicksburg, where these heavy artillery guns were useless to the southerners, and it was only a matter of time before this position was captured by Grant on Independence Day of 1863. 

Grant was at the cusp of the largest victory of the war, where he proved that Lincoln was correct to stick with this general that was widely criticized after the Battle of Shiloh and during the earliest attempts to take Vicksburg.

Closer to home during World War I, Camp Upton that is now known as Brookhaven Laboratory, played a pivotal role in preparing American soldiers for the rigors of this conflict. 

Once President Woodrow Wilson finally declared war on Germany and the Central Powers on April 2, 1917, the United States compared to the European powers, had a small force of 127,000 soldiers, with 181,000 National Guardsmen. 

While Wilson kept “our boys out of the war” before he was re-elected in 1916, the President was now responsible to prepare our soldiers that were mostly drafted into service to fight against the battle-hardened strength of Germany. 

At once, the government invested three billion dollars to raise, equip, and modernize the armed forces within an extremely brief period of time. Eventually 40,000 soldiers from mostly New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut received their earliest instruction at Camp Upton. 

They were comprised of more than twenty-five national backgrounds that came from different walks of American life. There was musical composer Irvin Berlin and one of the most decorated veterans of this war, Sergeant Alvin York, briefly called this part of Yaphank their home.

This army base that was established at Camp Upton played a vital role in establishing the training that was necessary to fight an experienced German military on the Western Front. 

At this moment, the local towns of Rocky Point, Miller Place, Ridge, Middle Island, Wading River, and Yaphank, watched a huge influx of civilians from around this nation walked into the confines of Camp Upton.  As we remember Memorial Day, it was some-105 years ago, that these soldiers were trained how to march, shine their boots, make a bed, follow orders, fire a weapon and handle explosives at this local base.  

While Camp Upton was across the vast Atlantic Ocean, it provided a vital morale booster for our country that American soldiers that were trained at this installation were sent overseas to help win this war.  General John J. 

Pershing the Expeditionary Commander of all-American forces in France counted on the soldiers that were from Camp Upton that later aided the British and French in finally defeating the Germany Empire.  

Reinforcements from the United States were desperately needed, as the casualty rate for both sides was excessive with an average of 230 soldiers that died during every hour of fighting between these fighting nations.

About 81 years later, General Dwight D. Eisenhower was preparing for the D-Day invasion of France that took place on June 6, 1944.  

Like that of Grant, he was a mid-western officer, that was an easy officer to like, and a figure that believed in his duty to help win the war. Eisenhower was chosen over General George C. Marshall the great “Organizer of Victory,” due to the unwillingness of President Franklin D. Roosevelt to allow his most trusted general to leave the nation.  

And with this massive buildup of men and materials, Eisenhower with his trademark smile and ability to get along with the other senior leaders of the allies, was determined to establish the best possible plan to pierce Hitler’s “Atlantic Wall” in Normandy.  

For several months leading up to this invasion, there were 73,000 American soldiers, and 83,000 British and Canadian men that were preparing to land on five beaches that spanned over fifty miles.  

To support this massive operation that was the beginning of the end for Nazi Germany, over 7,000,000 tons of resources were shipped from the United States, that included 450,000 tons of ammunition.  Citizens from every part of America prepared for their role in the “Great Crusade” to defeat one of the worst tyrannical leaders in world history.  

While the British were in their fifth year of the war, they were pleased to see American soldiers and to befriend young men that were from places like New York City, Boston, Duluth, Galveston, Phoenix and Seattle.  It was common to read the British slogan about the American presence of being “overpaid, oversexed, and over-here.” 

As the Yanks were never shy to show their wild side, many of these soldiers were barely out of high school, and they were ultimately used to defeat the 50,000 German soldiers that defended these beaches that rested on the English Channel. As one of the most accomplished generals that this nation ever produced, Eisenhower was a simple officer that cared about his men.  

Eisenhower had much in common with the average private, sergeant and officer that was expected to carry out this complex operation. He was from a poor background, that was fortunate to gain an admission for a college education at the United States Military Academy at West Point, was a talented football player and later coach, and he played minor league baseball under an assumed name.  

When meeting with American soldiers, Eisenhower looked for army personnel that was from his hometown of Abilene, Kansas.  

Although he was devoted to win the war, he accepted that casualties were going to be high, Eisenhower identified with some of the parents that were praying for their children that were in uniform.  At the very moment that he prepared to issue the Operation Overlord orders, his son John prepared to graduate from West Point as a second lieutenant. 

By the end of the war, both father and son were serving together within the European Theater to see the collapse of the Third Reich. Over the important history of the United States, Americans have always sacrificed and served for this nation. 

May we always remember the examples of military service by our men and women that have proudly defined the strength and character of this country.

Rocky Point High School students Madelynn Zarzychi and Rosario Orantes helped write this article.

Rich Acritelli is a social studies teacher at Rocky Point High School and an adjunct professor of American history at Suffolk County Community College.