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Throwback Thursday

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This 1797 map by surveyor Isaac Hulse shows ‘Drown Meadow Bay,’ which is now called Port Jefferson Harbor. Image from the Port Jefferson Village historical archive

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.”

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Before Terryville residents dropped off their mail in Port Jefferson Station, they had the Terryville Post Office. Pictured above, that latter post office during the early 20th century. Photo from the Port Jefferson Village historical archive

Terryville residents now get their mail service from the Port Jefferson Station post office, but they used to go to their own little outpost at the home of the postmaster.

Before Terryville residents dropped off their mail in Port Jefferson Station, they had the Terryville Post Office. Pictured above, that latter post office during the early 20th century. Photo from the Port Jefferson Village historical archive
Before Terryville residents dropped off their mail in Port Jefferson Station, they had the Terryville Post Office. Pictured above, that latter post office during the early 20th century. Photo from the Port Jefferson Village historical archive

The Port Jefferson Village historical archive puts the operation dates of the Terryville Post Office as 1888 to 1918 and from 1924 to 1958. That first stretch of years coincided with a time when the eponymous Terry family was flourishing in the area.

The four Terry brothers moved in from Farmingville to farm around Old Town Road, Jayne Boulevard and the street that would later become Terryville Road, and built homes in what was once a wooded area, according to George Moraitis.

Members of the Terry family are buried at Cedar Hill Cemetery, and the late Moraitis, formerly the cemetery’s historian, included biographical information on them in his written history “Forevermore on Cedar Hill.” Moraitis noted that the third-born brother, Thomas R. Terry, helped start a local school district in 1874 and served as its first board president before offering his home on Terryville Road — by Viceroy Place, near what is now Comsewogue’s Terryville Road Elementary School — to serve as a post office. His cousin’s son, Preston Terry, was the first postmaster.

The Terryville Union Hall had been erected just a year before, in 1887.

Though the post office had that brief stint between 1918 and 1924 when it was not in operation, it stayed in the family when it reopened. According to Moraitis, Ruth Terry, the daughter-in-law of Thomas R. Terry through son Harry, was its final postmaster. She was once a teacher in the school system her father-in-law had started decades earlier and had grown up in one of the original homes on Terryville Road’s southern end.

Before Terryville residents dropped off their mail in Port Jefferson Station, they had the Terryville Post Office. Pictured above, that latter post office during the early 20th century. Photo from the Port Jefferson Village historical archive
Before Terryville residents dropped off their mail in Port Jefferson Station, they had the Terryville Post Office. Pictured above, that latter post office during the early 20th century. Photo from the Port Jefferson Village historical archive

Harry and Ruth Terry, who also served as Comsewogue School District treasurers, hosted the post office from the early 1950s until 1957, when it merged with the one in Port Jefferson Station.

According to a history of the area included in Brookhaven Town’s 2008 Comsewogue hamlet study, the couple’s residence was on the southeast corner of Terryville Road and Whitman Avenue, which would put it across the street from the post office’s original home, at Thomas R. Terry’s house.

The study history quotes neighbor Audrey Agnew, who describes someone named Mr. Jersey who lived up the street and would “transport Terryville’s mail from [the] Port Jefferson train station to Ms. Terry.”

“When the post office was eliminated, we were promised that we could keep ‘Terryville’ as our address,” Agnew said.

Abraham Van Wycke’s letter spoke of the love he and Mary shared, contrary to what she said. Photo from The Huntington Town Clerk’s Archives

Huntington was once the setting of a stone-cold rejection.

Abraham Van Wycke, now long buried in his family plot in the cemetery behind the Huntington Town historian’s office, once had his then-beating heart broken when he received a brutal note reminiscent of a Dear John letter in 1819 from a woman named Mary.

Van Wycke, age 21 at the time, was taken with Mary, last name unknown, describing her “electric kisses” and “nectarious lips.” But she wrote him out of her future in one short, blunt letter and he, in response, drafted a letter he never sent back.

Huntington Town Archivist Antonia S. Mattheou discovered the letters — which are now in Huntington Town Hall’s historical archives — years ago, but she was unable to discover any more information about the elusive Mary or her relatives who disapproved of Van Wycke.

“I have for a long time suspected that my mother, from the coldness of her manner toward you, would not be pleased with you as her son-in-law,” Mary wrote. “This suspicion is now confirmed. Your visits at our house have been frequent this winter; they have been remarked by mother and uncle … that they would not sanction any such attachment. This is a good reason and the best I have to offer to justify the resolution which I have seriously and solemnly taken never to look upon you as my future husband.”

Van Wycke found this hard to believe, and said she once told him she would no longer care about what her mother and friends thought, that she would let them “think what they pleased of it.” He used her own words against her, after she described her previous declaration of love for him as an “unthinking confession.”

“Did you not immediately, after your unthinking confession, present me with your hand and an electric kiss from your nectarious lips, as a pledge of your engagement and constancy? Yes, and what did you say? That you [were] satisfied and happy and would have made the confession before, but fearing the displeasure of your mother had acted the reverse of your inclinations, but had decidedly come to the conclusion to make the confession? … Does this prove that the confession was unthinking or inconsiderate?”

Mary listed other reasons she thought Van Wycke was not suitable for marriage, including his health and financial stature.

The tombstone in Huntington where Abraham Van Wycke is buried. Photo by Victoria Espinoza
The tombstone in Huntington where Abraham Van Wycke is buried. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

“You are not in a situation to marry and support me in the style of ease and comfort in which I am at present living under the roof,” she said. “You are not in good health, your constitution has been impaired by that most dreadful of all maladies, the consumption, from which I fear you are not entirely recovered.”

Mary pleaded to “be forgotten” or only seen as a friend and accused him of assuming too much of their relationship. She said her utterances of attachment did not equal “a promise to be your wife.”

Van Wycke found flaws in that reasoning, asking when he would have reasonably inferred that she was not interested.

“Sure it was not when you were caressing me with repeated anticipations of future felicity! Which inspired me with enthusiasm,” he said. “Nor was it at those times when you were placing electric kisses on my lips and face which are … never to be wiped away by a female! Was this unthinking? Was it not voluntarily granted? The unthinking confession, how was it?”

Van Wycke talked of conversations in which Mary had supposedly given full acknowledgement of desiring a life with him.

“We were talking of domestic happiness, to which I remarked that I never expected to know domestic happiness, to which you readily replied that it was and had been your wish to make me happy. Was this unthinking or involuntary on your part? Ask your conscience!”

Mary begged Van Wycke not to respond to her letter, as she felt there was no point: “Let me desire you also never to renew the subject of this letter you have before you now, the candid and full expression of my sentiments and feelings which makes it wholly unnecessary to discuss in private conversation,” she said.

Mary signed the letter “With due respect, your well-wisher,” and thus ended the last contact she ever had with Van Wycke.

Although Van Wycke ultimately did not send his response, he had originally intended to ignore her request for silence.

“Willingly would I comply with your requests in not answering your epistle, but my feelings prompt me to this act, and moreover … to present (together with your conscience) a memorial of your conduct to me,” he wrote.

Van Wycke died an unmarried man at age 51, on June 24, 1849. He foreshadowed his fate in his letter when he said, “This disappointment leads me to form a new system for my future life.”

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The house at 401 Beach Street was the site of a brutal double murder. Photo from Port Jefferson Village historical archive

“Silent but smiling, Henry hit William again and again, leaving the young man lying senseless on the carpeted floor.”

It’s a story that unfolds like a dark novel. A member of a prominent family in a quiet, seaside village snaps one day and beats his relatives to death at the home they shared, splattering blood everywhere, before hanging himself in the backyard barn. A child who narrowly escapes the massacre grows up to be a successful businessman but will remain forever haunted by his memories.

The 1857 murder-suicide on Beach Street shocked the Port Jefferson community and would likely still shock residents today.

It could have all started with the reportedly turbulent relationship between Henry Walters and his wife of three years, Elizabeth Darling-Walters. Or perhaps it was the feud between Walters and his wife’s son-in-law William Sturtevant that was boiling into legal action despite the two living under the same roof.

According to a narrative written by former Port Jefferson historian Ken Brady and published in the Port Times Record 10 years ago, the gossip around the village was that Walters, 57, and Darling-Walters, 46, fought frequently, with things so bad that they did not share a bed. The husband, a carpenter and a farmer, felt ignored and was “worried that his wife would leave her substantial estate to Martha Jane and Emmet,” her children from her first marriage to the late Matthew Darling, one of the founders of the nearby Darling Shipyard on the west side of the harbor.

The Darling family was originally from Smithtown but built their Port Jefferson shipyard in 1832 and quickly became prolific, building 13 ships during that decade alone.

A house at 401 Beach Street was the site of a brutal double murder. Above, a view of the home in the distance, overlooking a frozen Port Jefferson Harbor. Photo from Port Jefferson Village historical archive
A house at 401 Beach Street was the site of a brutal double murder. Above, a view of the home in the distance, overlooking a frozen Port Jefferson Harbor. Photo from Port Jefferson Village historical archive

If the chatter is true, Walters showed warning signs of a violent outburst. Brady wrote, “In a creepy attempt to win back his wife’s affections, Henry bought a shroud from local coffin maker Ambrose King. Walters often wore the white burial sheet about the homestead, threatening to commit suicide if Elizabeth did not return his love.”

At the same time, the farmer’s feud with Sturtevant and his father, fellow ship carpenter Amasa Sturtevant, who also lived on Beach Street, had reached a climax the day before the son-in-law’s murder — according to Brady, Walters received a letter from William Sturtevant’s attorney, Thomas Strong, warning him to “retract statements he had made about young Sturtevant” by Nov. 21, the day of the bloodshed, “or to expect a slander suit.”

That Saturday morning in the white, one-and-a-half-story home, Darling-Walters was eating breakfast with the young Sturtevant couple when Walters, finished feeding the horses, grabbed an iron bar and rushed into the dining room. According to Brady, the son-in-law was bludgeoned to death first with blows to the head, “splattering brain matter on the walls and furniture.” Then Walters went after his wife and 20-year-old stepdaughter, who both fled outside.

“Elizabeth tried to shield herself from the savage blows, but soon fell to the ground mortally wounded, her skull fractured and dress soaked with blood.”

Martha Jane Sturtevant was spared when Matthew Darling’s younger brother, Beach Street resident John E. Darling, heard his seriously injured niece’s screams. Brady said when Walters caught sight of the man, he went back inside and looked for 11-year-old Emmet Brewster Darling. But the boy was hiding under a bed in the attic and, while his stepfather was in another room, ran down the stairs and escaped Walters’ pursuit.

“Her barn was haunted by the ghost of Henry Walters, whose terrifying screams supposedly echoed over the harbor.”

That’s when Walters went into the barn, put a white handkerchief over his face and hanged himself. According to Brady, the murderer had neatly folded his coat and vest and placed them on a bench.

Despite his traumatic experience, Emmet Darling, who also went by E.B. Darling and whose first name has sometimes been misspelled as “Emmett,” grew into a productive adult. According to former Cedar Hill Cemetery historian George Moraitis, Darling took over his family’s shipyard and married twice before his death almost 30 years after the murders.

His elder sister moved on to a degree — in his written history “Forevermore on Cedar Hill,” Moraitis noted that Martha Jane later remarried, to Capt. Oliver Davis. But Brady said the woman lived in the same house where her mother and first husband were murdered until her own death in 1906, “despite claims from some villagers that her barn was haunted by the ghost of Henry Walters, whose terrifying screams supposedly echoed over the harbor.”

No one else will live in the murder house, however — both the home and the shipyard property have been torn down and rebuilt. The Port Jefferson Village historical photo archive notes that the Port Jefferson Fire Department burned down the home during a drill 60 years ago, on Jan. 22, 1956, and a Suffolk County sewer facility took its place. The Darling shipyard, on the other hand, eventually became a power plant.

Darling-Walters is buried at Cedar Hill with her first husband and daughter, and William Sturtevant at his own family’s grave site there. Emmet Darling rests at Oak Hill Cemetery in Stony Brook with his second wife, Julia A. Oakes.

According to Moraitis, the killer’s burial place is unknown.

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Firefighters tackle a blaze at the post office building on Main Street, which also housed the Port Jefferson Record. Photo from Port Jefferson Village archive

A post office and a newsroom went up in flames 68 years ago, in a fire that gutted a prominent three-story brick building in downtown Port Jefferson.

Firefighters tackle a blaze at the post office building on Main Street, which also housed the Port Jefferson Record. Photo from Port Jefferson Village archive
Firefighters tackle a blaze at the post office building on Main Street, which also housed the Port Jefferson Record. Photo from Port Jefferson Village archive

According to the village’s historical photo archive, the fire at 202 Main Street broke out on the Tuesday morning of Jan. 20, 1948, and engulfed the U.S. Post Office, the Port Jefferson Record newspaper office, a tailor shop, a law firm, the office of the Suffolk County Council of the Boy Scouts of America, the Brookhaven Town Special Sessions Court and five families’ apartments.

Before it burned in the blaze, the building, located on the west side of the street, had been in the village for more than three decades. Construction began in 1911, according to the village archive, and it was finished the following year. The three-story structure was made of brick from the Dyett Sand-Lime Brick Company.

The Port Jefferson Fire Department got help from two neighboring departments to put out the fire, which took into the afternoon.

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Members of the American Legion Wilson Ritch Post 432 stand at attenion in front of their headquarters on Port Jefferson’s East Main Street in the mid-20th century. The post is now based on Hallock Avenue in Port Jefferson Station. Photo from the Port Jefferson Village historical archive

Port Jefferson area residents have a history of serving their country, from the Civil War to more recent conflicts. The community also has a history of honoring veterans and military personnel.

The crew of the N-5 poses aboard the submarine. Photo from the Port Jefferson Village historical archive
The crew of the N-5 poses aboard the submarine. Photo from the Port Jefferson Village historical archive

Veterans Day has been celebrated since Nov. 11, 1919, when it was known as Armistice Day and marked the anniversary of the end of fighting in World War I.

It was expanded to honor all American war veterans in 1954, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Although the fighting in World War I was overseas, there was an impact close to home. Port Jefferson saw action through sailors aboard the U.S. Navy’s coastal defense submarine N-5, also known as the SS-57. According to the village’s historical archive, that submarine conducted engine trials nearby and later patrolled the Long Island Sound, keeping watch for German U-boats.

Other Navy ships from the Atlantic Fleet passed through during that time as well, including the battleships USS New York and USS Louisiana, both of which maneuvered on the Long Island Sound and anchored just outside Port Jefferson.