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Hometown History

Port Jefferson’s temporary village hall was located in leased facilities on the west side of Main Street. Photo from author's collection

After Port Jefferson incorporated in 1963, the village Board of Trustees established a temporary village hall in leased facilities on the west side of Main Street.

Since the easily forgotten storefront location was hardly impressive and the small space soon proved inadequate, a plan for a permanent village hall was advanced in 1964 by Port Jefferson’s first mayor, Robert L. Robertson.

He proposed the construction of an elegant and capacious million-dollar village center that would house both government offices and recreational facilities, including a community swimming pool.

The multipurpose complex would be built on West Broadway, facing Port Jefferson Harbor, on land acquired by the village and once occupied by Loper Brothers Lumber Yard.

While The Port Jefferson Record applauded Robertson’s “visionary” proposal, the Board of Trustees decided not to proceed with the project, pending the completion of a village master plan by consultants Raymond & May.

The master plan, released in July 1965 during the administration of Port Jefferson’s second mayor, Clifton H. Lee, provided a guide for the future development of the village and recommended that the West Broadway tract be used exclusively for Port Jefferson’s seat of government.

Village of Port Jefferson founding mayors Clifton H. Lee, left, and Robert L. Robertson, right, both worked to establish a village hall. Photo from the Lee Family collection

Milton S. Osborne, who had directed the Penn State School of Architecture, also conferred on the project, and supported using the West Broadway site strictly for village hall while building public parks and recreation areas at other locations throughout Port Jefferson.

With a clear goal in mind, the Board of Trustees formed the Architectural Selection Committee which reviewed sketches and interviewed architects before recommending Anthony J. Lorio (1928-2013) as their choice to design village hall.

Lorio proposed the construction of a 7,000-square-foot, two-story, Georgian-style brick building, on a raised podium. Preliminary renderings were displayed throughout Port Jefferson, and residents were invited to offer their opinions.

While most reviews were positive, there were some who called for softening the village hall’s facade. After making minor modifications in his design, and with the trustees’ support, Lorio began preparing working plans for the building.

In April 1966, construction of village hall went out to bid, but all 19 proposals were rejected as too expensive. The Board of Trustees, which had wanted to keep total costs under $200,000, went out to bid a second time in winter 1967 but was frustrated again with the high numbers.

Today’s Port Jefferson village hall, located at 121 W. Broadway. File photo

After considerable discussion, the trustees agreed that construction costs were likely to increase because of the Vietnam War’s inflationary impact and it was best to accept a $264,000 bid before prices rose even more.

Port Jefferson broke ground for village hall in April 1967, but nationwide strikes in various industries so delayed progress locally that the building was not ready for business until May 1968.

Over the years, village hall has become more than just a municipal building and is now a seaside landmark, evoking that sense of place that makes Port Jefferson so special.

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 the village.

Kris Kringle and the St. John's Ophan Asylum Band from Brooklyn lead Cheese Club down Port Jefferson's Main Street toward Infant Jesus Roman Catholic Church; charitable organization; gifts for children at St. Charles

The Cheese Club was a charitable organization formed in 1915 and comprised of members of Brooklyn’s Knights of Columbus.

Considered among the leading citizens of Brooklyn, each a “big cheese,” the group’s influential founders self-mockingly referred to themselves as the Cheese Club, though other stories about the name’s origin abound.

The Cheese Club is best known in Port Jefferson for its Christmas pilgrimage to the village, which it made without interruption from 1916-58 despite stormy weather, world wars and the Great Depression.

During each annual holiday visit, the club members gave yuletide gifts to the youngsters at the Brooklyn Home for Blind, Crippled and Defective Children, known today as St. Charles Hospital, and donated money for the year-round comfort of the handicapped boys and girls and their caregivers.

The club members and their entourage typically traveled from Flatbush to Port Jefferson on a specially chartered LIRR train, the Santa Claus Express, made up of coaches and a freight car filled with Christmas presents.

After disembarking at the Port Jefferson railroad station, Kris Kringle and the St. John’s Orphan Asylum Band from Brooklyn led the group as it marched to Infant Jesus R.C. Church at Myrtle and Main to attend Mass.

Christmas postcard. Photo courtesy the Kenneth C. Brady Digital Archive

Numbering 400 strong during peak years, the procession then continued to St. Charles Hospital, where the sisters of the Daughters of Wisdom, who operated the hospital and looked after its disabled charges, served a welcoming luncheon.

Following the reception, children at the hospital provided two hours of entertainment, performing as singers, dancers, musicians and actors.

When the talent show ended, Santa Claus and his helpers took the stage and gave each boy and girl a Christmas stocking stuffed with toys, candy, games, clothing and fruit.

The Daughters of Wisdom also received a check to fund various projects at the hospital and on its grounds. Over the years, the money was used to purchase radios, movie projectors and physical therapy equipment for the children, build a sun shelter, defray the costs of a memorial organ, improve the sisters’ living quarters and maintain outdoor Stations of the Cross. 

Following the establishment of the Diocese of Rockville Centre in 1957 out of territory once within the Diocese of Brooklyn, the Cheese Club phased out its holiday visits to Port Jefferson and concentrated on charitable work closer to home.

The Cheese Club was a pioneer in bringing Christmas cheer to the handicapped children hospitalized in Port Jefferson and spurring other religious and nonsectarian organizations to support the disabled youngsters at St. Charles — not just at the holidays but throughout the year.

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 the village.

Above, Celebrated local artist Louise Brett, left, and Theresa Emery, right, are pictured on the bridge that crosses over the LIRR tracks at Sheep Pasture Road, February 1948. Note the sign for McDonald turkeys. Photo courtesy Kenneth C. Brady Digital Archive

McDonald Farms, once the largest turkey breeding farm in New York state, was located south of Sheep Pasture Road and the LIRR tracks in Port Jefferson Station.

Established in 1939 by the William P. McDonald Construction Company, the farm was tucked away in the woods nearby McDonald’s sand mine on Sheep Pasture Road.

In 1944, Ledkote Products Company, the corporate predecessor of now-shuttered Lawrence Aviation, purchased McDonald Farms and continued raising turkeys on the property.

Retaining the name McDonald Farms, the business flourished after World War II, creating a demand for poultrymen who were offered $30 per week and lodging as compensation.

In 1947, the farm had 5,000 breeders and raised over 20,000 Broad Breasted Bronze and White Holland turkeys, advertised as the “undisputed monarchs of the entire turkey kingdom.” 

Above a Thanksgiving postcard. Photo courtesy Kenneth C. Brady Digital Archive

The business boasted everything necessary to ready birds for the market, including incubators, nurseries, floor brooders, houses for the hens and toms, ranges planted in clover and dressing rooms.

A leader in the poultry trade, McDonald Farms hosted the regional Northeastern Turkey Growers Convention in July 1947. The two-day event featured a tour of the farm, a banquet at Teddy’s Hotel and Restaurant at the intersection of Main and East Broadway in Port Jefferson, and agricultural programs at Port Jefferson High School.

McDonald Farms generously donated turkeys to needy individuals and charitable organizations, not only on Thanksgiving but throughout the year. 

The business also welcomed field trips from students in all age groups, reaching youngsters in the lower grades as well as upperclassmen in John E. Berney’s vocational agriculture class at the high school.

A roaring fire destroyed a four-story feed hopper at McDonald Farms in April 1955, but fortunately no fatalities or serious injuries resulted from the blaze.

Beginning in 1959, Lawrence Aviation began manufacturing titanium sheeting at what was formerly the McDonald Farms property, marking the site’s transformation from agricultural to industrial use.

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 the village.

In 1916, Joseph Vandall opened his own meat market on East Broadway at what was previously Lester Davis’ store. Photo from the Kenneth C. Brady Digital Archive

Joseph Vandall was a well-known resident of Port Jefferson and one of the village’s prominent businessmen.

In 1892, he was hired as a butcher at Lester Davis’ Meat Market, which was located on today’s East Broadway. After purchasing Davis’ shop in 1916, Vandall found that he needed more space for his growing business.

Vandall bought land to construct a modern store in 1923 and broke ground the next year. The building was situated on the south side of East Broadway between the Harbor View Hotel and Smith’s Plumbing.

The brick and concrete structure, known locally as the Vandall Building, provided room for three shops on the first floor. A large meeting area, Vandall’s Hall, filled the entire second floor.

The Vandall Building opened in 1925 and was occupied on the ground level by Vandall’s Meats and Groceries, Lerch’s Music Shop and Azenaro’s Fruits and Vegetables.

While these establishments were important to the local economy, Vandall’s Hall quickly gave the building its identity. Soon a landmark in Port Jefferson, the hall became “the” place for a variety of events including dances, fundraisers, recitals, musicals and wedding receptions.

Among the booths and exhibits at Vandall’s Hall during the Second Industrial Show, March 1930. The event promoted local businesses, their products and services. Photo from the Kenneth C. Brady Digital Archive

In February 1929, local businessmen exhibited their products and services at Vandall’s Hall during the village’s first Industrial Show. Sponsored by the Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce, the event proved so popular that another show was held in March 1930. 

In one of the more unusual uses of the Vandall Building, a miniature golf course, requiring all of the space on the second floor, opened at the hall in November 1930 but closed the following year.

In 1932, the Port Jefferson Moose Lodge leased the hall and, in turn, rented the venue to other groups, reducing Vandall’s active involvement in the business.

Following Vandall’s retirement in 1940, the South Bay Consolidated Water Company moved its Port Jefferson office into what had been Vandall’s Meats and Groceries. The Suffolk County Highway Department rented the entire second floor for its quarters, ending the hall’s days as a place for social gatherings.

After Vandall’s death in July 1945, the Vandall Building was sold and rented to various tenants with one redefining the East Broadway property. 

Max “Mac” Snyder opened an Army & Navy Store in the Vandall Building on Sept. 3, 1954, days after Hurricane Carol wreaked havoc in Port Jefferson.

Born in Pennsylvania in 1912, Snyder had moved to Brooklyn in 1932 with his wife Florence. The couple and their children later relocated to Valley Stream before being drawn to Port Jefferson.

Snyder saw the village’s downtown near the waterfront as an ideal location for his store, believing that harbor improvements, suburbanization, population growth, road construction and cultural tourism would bring potential buyers to Port Jefferson.

The Vandall Building was located on the south side of East Broadway. (Left to right) Lerch’s Music Shop, Azenaro’s Fruits and Vegetables, and Vandall’s Meats and Groceries. Photo by Arthur S. Greene. Kenneth C. Brady Digital Archive.

These customers found a variety of merchandise in Snyder’s store, which was stocked with clothing, footwear, fishing rods, camping gear, marine supplies and military items.

Snyder also developed a niche market, advertising his store as a skin-diving center where sportsmen could purchase scuba equipment, wet suits, masks, fins and snorkels.

Snyder became so well known in Port Jefferson that the Vandall Building was soon called “Mac Snyder’s,” supplanting the original owner’s name in the local vocabulary. 

By 1968, Snyder’s Army & Navy Store was still on the ground level of his building, but the first floor was also occupied by a laundromat. The Mary Beth dress manufacturing company, which specialized in piecework, filled all of the second floor.

While the Vandall/Snyder Building had survived hurricanes, a fire on Jan. 21, 1968, left the property in ruins. What remained was later demolished.

The blaze brought an end to a building but not to one business. Just months after the fire, Snyder opened a new Army & Navy Center in Port Jefferson at 214 Main St., opposite what was then the Brookhaven Town Tax Office.

The approximate site of the former Vandall/Snyder Building is now occupied by what was formerly Ecolin Jewelers, across from Brookhaven Town’s Mary Bayles Park.

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.

The Bayles Shipyard Band is pictured on the steps of Port Jefferson’s Plant Hotel, June 10, 1919. The band performed at ship launchings, Friday night dances, receptions, and costume parties. Source: National Archives

Following America’s entry into World War I, the number of employees at the Bayles Shipyard in Port Jefferson jumped from 250 in November 1917 to 1,022 in January 1919. 

Since many of these workers could not find housing in the village, the United States Shipping Board campaigned to persuade the area’s homeowners to rent rooms to Port Jefferson’s shipbuilders.

A painting by commercial artist Rolf Armstrong was offered as a prize to the villager who did the most to alleviate the housing shortage. Since this and other efforts did not meet much success, the USSB retained architect Alfred C. Bossom to design cottages and dormitories in Port Jefferson for the burgeoning population.

Bossom recognized the urgent need to provide accommodations for the wartime labor force, his numerous commissions including the Remington Apartments high-rise complex built for workers at the Remington Arms munitions factory in Bridgeport, Connecticut.

To secure a site for Port Jefferson’s housing development, the Bayles Shipyard purchased almost 16 acres of land just west of Barnum Avenue from Catherine Campbell in July 1918. 

Nine detached, one-family homes were designed by Bossom to reflect the character of “old Long Island fishing villages” and erected along Cemetery Avenue, later renamed Liberty Avenue.

Between 1921-23, Port Jefferson’s Plant Hotel served as a United States Veterans Training Center. Source: Kenneth C. Brady Digital Archive

Bossom also designed a dormitory unit called the Plant Hotel since it accommodated employees at the Bayles plant. The Mark C. Tredennick Company, which had constructed buildings at the Army’s Camp Upton in Yaphank, was named the general contractor.

Now the site of Earl L. Vandermeulen High School, the Plant Hotel included 206 rooms, a cafeteria, powerhouse, athletic field and water purification facilities. A porch connected the three major wings of the complex.

Completed in December 1918 just after the Armistice on Nov. 11, the hotel soon became the center of social life for shipyard workers. A band was formed, a baseball team was organized and dances were held on Friday evenings. 

In April 1919, the Emergency Fleet Corporation commandeered the Bayles Shipyard because of the unsatisfactory progress at the facility. The seized property, which included the Plant Hotel, was then sold to the New York Harbor Dry Dock Corporation.

When the new owners fired hundreds of shipyard workers, the number of boarders at the Plant Hotel dropped dramatically. To compensate for this loss, the hotel began offering rooms to transients by the day or week.

The Port Jefferson Times scolded the hotel’s new clientele for destroying electric bulbs, smashing wash basins, spitting on the floors and generally behaving as if they were hoodlums. 

In December 1920, the NYHDDC shut down the Bayles Shipyard, dismissing all of its workers except for a skeleton crew. Confronted with a virtually empty Plant Hotel, the NYHDDC leased the complex to the Federal Board for Vocational Education, later renamed the United States Veterans Bureau. 

The Plant Hotel, which had been extensively damaged by some departing boarders, was refurbished as a training center charged with teaching disabled soldiers and sailors.

The initial group of 125 veterans arrived at the Plant Hotel in October 1921. During a typical three-month stay, the men prepared for new careers and received medical care. For recreation, they were entertained by theatrical troupes, went on field trips and enjoyed Friday night concerts. 

Port Jefferson’s Plant Hotel was still under construction on October 15, 1918. Photograph by Arthur S. Greene, National Archives

Despite pressure from local business groups and politicians, in June 1923 the Veterans Bureau left Port Jefferson as part of a nationwide plan to consolidate its rehabilitation facilities. 

As demobilization continued, local businessman Jacob S. Dreyer purchased the Liberty Avenue cottages, which have changed hands several times over the years and are still standing. In July 1929, taxpayers in the Port Jefferson school district voted to purchase the Plant Hotel itself and the remaining 13 acres.

In subsequent elections, the citizens authorized the board of education to sell some of the hotel’s furnishings, grade the grounds and construct an athletic field on the site. In June 1934, the taxpayers voted to build a high school on the property.

The board of education quickly sold the Plant Hotel to a high bidder for $250. Workers then demolished the building and hauled away the wreckage. 


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 Hotel Echo was located immediately north of the LIRR tracks; Photo from the Kenneth C. Brady Digital Archive

For some of the residents of Comsewogue, now Port Jefferson Station, getting the mail once meant traveling from three to five miles to the post office in downtown Port Jefferson.

Tired of the inconvenience, a group of Comsewogue’s citizens petitioned the government in 1888 to establish a post office within their community.

The Echo Building on the west side of Main Street housed the Charles A. Squires Real Estate Agency, Port Jefferson Echo newspaper and Port Jefferson Station Post Office. Photo by Arthur S. Greene; Photo from the Kenneth C. Brady Digital Archive

The Postmaster General responded that so many places in the State ended in “ogue” that to avoid confusion Comsewogue would have to be renamed if a post office was to be considered for the area.

The name Comsewogue and its many variants was an Algonkian term meaning “a walking place,” had appeared in Brookhaven Town records as early as 1805 and was rich in etymology and history.  

Nevertheless, the petitioners acquiesced and submitted several names as Comsewogue’s replacement: South Port Jefferson, Port Jefferson South, Maple Hill, Enterprise, Cedar Grove, and Jefferson Heights. Each was rejected, either for being too common or too long.

In the next round of proposals, William I. Wyckoff suggested Echo, the same name as a famous racehorse once owned by Comsewogue’s Nathaniel Dickerson. Echo — only four letters long — was accepted by the postal authorities and Charles A. Squires appointed as the office’s first postmaster.

A native of Good Ground (Hampton Bays), Squires had begun work as the depot agent at the Port Jefferson Railroad Station in 1886 and soon earned a reputation in Comsewogue for his competence and geniality.

Under Squires’ able leadership, the Echo Post Office opened in a building on the west side of today’s Main Street (Route 25A), immediately north of the LIRR tracks.  

Charles A. Squires, the “father of Port Jefferson Station.” Photo by Arthur S. Greene; Photo from the Kenneth C. Brady Digital Archive

Squires also championed his bailiwick in the Port Jefferson Echo, a newspaper that he had founded with G. Frederick Hallock in 1892. The “Republican journal” helped establish the uniqueness of Echo and operated out of the same building as the Echo Post Office.

Following A. Jay Tefft’s purchase of the Echo in 1899, Squires devoted his considerable energies to buying and selling real estate, developing several subdivisions in the area including Belle Croft, Norton Park, Fairview Place, and Bergen Estates.

In 1904, Echo’s post office and newspaper, along with Squires’ Real Estate Agency, resettled a few steps north on Main Street in the new Echo Building. Hugo Kreitzberg then transformed the unoccupied property resulting from the move into the Hotel Echo.

The Echo Post Office was renamed the Port Jefferson Station Post Office in 1910. Squires had led a popular petition drive in support of the change and later became known as the “father of Port Jefferson Station.”

Key among the reasons for the switch, it was argued that Echo was a “meaningless place name” and that the presence of the Port Jefferson Railroad Station best defined the area.

After being called home for 22 years, Echo just faded away.

Kenneth Brady has served as the Port Jefferson Village Historian and president of the Port Jefferson Conservancy, as s 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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Pictured in 1911 during Old Home Week, Griswold’s Garage was built of Unit Brick and located on the west side of Port Jefferson’s Main Street. Photo from the Kenneth C. Brady Digital Archive

Incorporated in 1910, the Unit Brick and Tile Company was located on Hallock Avenue, just south of the LIRR tracks, in today’s Port Jefferson Station.

Employing 20 workers on an 11-acre site, the plant manufactured standard brick, roofing and flooring tile, and hollow block, but was best known for producing Unit brick.

Made from sand, gravel and cement, Unit brick had a distinctive U-shape and could be finished in a variety of shades thus eliminating the need for interior painting.

According to its boosters, Unit brick was 33-66% cheaper than common brick, impervious to dampness and as strong as conventional building materials. 

Fanning’s Garage, West Broadway, Port Jefferson, and Chris Henningsen’s residence, Hallock Avenue, Port Jefferson Station, were among the first buildings in the area to be constructed of Unit brick. It was later used in building projects in Belle Terre, St. James, Patchogue, Old Field, Smithtown and Wading River.

Unit brick was also shipped by schooner, such as the Emma Southard, to destinations in New York as varied as Hastings-on-Hudson, Staten Island and Lloyd Neck.

To popularize Unit brick, the company exhibited its signature product in a store on Port Jefferson’s East Main Street. The showroom opened in August 1911 during Old Home Week, an event that brought thousands of visitors to the village.

The Unit Brick and Tile Company was situated on Hallock Avenue, just south of the LIRR tracks, in today’s Port Jefferson Station. Photo by Arthur S. Greene; Photo from the Kenneth C. Brady Digital Archive

In addition, the corporation was promoted by members of the Port Jefferson Business Men’s Association, especially Jacob S. Dreyer, publisher of the Port Jefferson Times, and advertised in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle and Port Jefferson Echo. In August 1912, newspapermen from the Long Island Press Association toured Unit Brick’s factory.

The company received glowing testimonials from customers such as Belle Terre’s William Wadsworth who wrote in 1913 that Unit brick was “the best all-around building material on the market.”

Prominent Port Jefferson lawyer Thomas J. Ritch, Jr. and physician Luther H. Chambers, both of whom served on Unit Brick’s Board of Directors, lent their respected names to the venture.

Unit Brick enjoyed a meteoric rise marked by encouraging sales and good publicity, but much like a shooting star soon burned out, several factors contributing to the corporation’s early demise.

Unit Brick faced competition from another local startup, the Dyett Sand-Lime Brick Company on the west side of Port Jefferson Harbor, as well as from the established Port Jefferson Cement Block Company on High Street. 

Court proceedings followed allegations that Unit brick was an inferior product and being delivered “damp.” 

The company expanded too rapidly, opening subsidiaries in Connecticut and Rhode Island, where demand for its goods was not as strong as anticipated. 

Perhaps most important, the building trades had a long tradition of using red clay brick and simply balked at trying a new product.

After Unit Brick dissolved in 1917, a receiver was appointed. The corporation’s machinery and equipment were sold at public auction in 1918 and bought by the Port Jefferson Junk Company for $2,150. In 1920, Unit Brick’s former property in Port Jefferson Station was purchased by the LIRR which built a yard for its locomotives and cars on the acreage.

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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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

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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.