By Kenneth Brady
Amateur photographer John M. Brown recorded life in Port Jefferson, his images conveying what it looked like and felt like to live in the village at the beginning of the 20th century.
Simple cameras, then for sale in Port Jefferson, had democratized photography, once largely the realm of professionals, enabling Brown and other laymen to take pictures of their surroundings.
Brown’s work contributes to our understanding of Port Jefferson’s past, but is unique in offering the unvarnished perspective of a common man, not the stylized view of a commercial photographer.
His straightforward snapshots of the village capture a variety of people, places, objects and events including bathers at the East Beach, Petty’s Confectionery, an American flag and sailboat races, respectively.
Brown’s direct photographs also include views of Port Jefferson’s yacht basin, Methodist Church, post office, ferry Victor, Athena Hall, residents, Parker’s Pond, school, Overton’s Agricultural Implements, and bank, all combining to create a shutterbug’s portrait of the village during the early 1900s.
Described in the Port Jefferson Times as “an enthusiastic photographer,” three of Brown’s one-of-a-kind shots of the Aug. 2, 1902 launching of the schooner Martha E. Wallace at the village’s Mather and Wood Shipyard were even made into printed post cards and then sold by local stationers.
Brown was appointed Port Jefferson’s postmaster in 1900 and served in that capacity until 1916. During his tenure, the village’s post office was upgraded to second class and its employees were required to take civil service examinations, a Postal Savings Bank was established, and Parcel Post was introduced. In 1911, the Port Jefferson Post Office opened at its new address, 202 Main Street.
Brown’s house in Port Jefferson, often the subject of his photographs, was moved to 105 Tuthill Street in 1929 from its former location on the northeast corner of Main and Tuthill streets where the New York Telephone Company subsequently built an office on the choice site.
Brown resided at his new address until March 1940, dying there at the age of 86. He was buried in Port Jefferson’s Cedar Hill Cemetery where his wife, Evelyn, had been interred in May 1930.
Kenneth Brady has served as the Port Jefferson Village Historian and president of the Port Jefferson Conservancy, as well as on the boards of the Suffolk County Historical Society, Greater Port Jefferson Arts Council and Port Jefferson Historical Society. He is a longtime resident of Port Jefferson.