For the last 180 years, it’s been Port Jefferson. But before that, the village had a peculiar name given that shipbuilding was its main industry.
When John Roe, an Irish shoemaker, became the first permanent European settler to make his home there in 1682, “the settlement was called Drowned Meadow because the area that now comprises most of the commercial district was a marsh that flooded every high tide.” That’s according to the book “Images of America: Port Jefferson,” written by Port Jefferson library staffers Robert Maggio and Earlene O’Hare. They said, “That flooding, and the steep hills and deep ravines that surrounded the marsh, made farming difficult, and the village grew slowly. In fact, by 1800, there were only a handful of houses.”
But the village did grow. It became home to several shipbuilding families, to the point where the name “no longer seemed to fit [the village’s] progressive image,” the book said.
It was Elisha Bayles, the head of the Bayles shipbuilding family, who got the ball rolling. According to an account by the late George Moraitis, a local cemetery historian, the Bayles patriarch came to Drowned Meadow in 1809 from Mount Sinai and “was a strong [Thomas] Jefferson Democrat.” He “urged the renaming” to Port Jefferson.
A vote on the matter took place at a schoolhouse on March 7, 1836. According to “Images of America: Port Jefferson,” the residents “voted overwhelmingly” in support of the name change.
The Long-Island Democrat newspaper published a notice of the change later that month, describing the vote as occurring “at a large and respectable meeting of the inhabitants” chaired by Daniel Tooker.
From there, the village became more and more of what residents know today. The “Images of America” book noted that the year after the renaming vote, William L. Jones, of another prominent shipbuilding family, “began filling in the ‘drowned meadow’ by building an 18-foot-wide elevated road across its center. … This was the beginning of today’s Main Street.”