In the beginning (1640), there was only Southold Town. (Or was it Southwold, as in its Suffolk County, England, namesake?)
Then, on March 13, 1792, the New York State Legislature created two townships out of one, with Southold to the east and “River Head” to the west, because inhabitants “represented to the Legislature that their town is so long that it is very inconvenient for them to attend at [sic] town meetings, and also to transact the other necessary business of the said town,” according to “River Head: A History of Long Island: From its Earliest Settlement to the Present Time.”
Precisely when the two townships were lumped together as “the North Fork” remains a question of some speculation, but all you need to do is look at a map of eastern Long Island to appreciate the logic of it. To this day, the two townships continue to be marketed together as “the North Fork,” thanks in no small part to entities like Times/Review Newspapers, which find it advantageous to think of the region as unified.
But is it really?
Short answers: no, maybe and yes, based on the following Very Informal (Anonymous, For Obvious Reasons) Survey of opinion makers from both sides of the town line.
First, the nos:
“Jamesport and Aquebogue are in Riverhead and are very North-Forkey. The rest of Riverhead could be North-Forkey, too, if the pols didn’t have their mojos wired to the ridiculous thought of seeing eight themed resorts (or a Shinnecock casino) built there.
“As far as I’m concerned, the problem with Riverhead is that it’s all for sale to the sleaziest, most Neanderthal-brained investors …
“But I’m not opinionated. I only live here.”
“That horse is already out the barn door. Riverhead has become Smithtown. They’ve traded agriculture for development and Main Street has been cannibalized by Route 58. It seems like Town Board members have never met a developer they didn’t like.”
Then the maybes:
“Part of Riverhead was never thought of as part of the North Fork, I think, and that is the western part from Calverton/Baiting Hollow to Wading River, including the Grumman industrial park. It now has grown to include the Route 58 corridor. The eastern part, starting at the intersection of Routes 25 and 105, and including Aquebogue and Jamesport, are definitely part of the North Fork, physically and otherwise. The zoning here will not permit the extension of what happened on Route 58.
“The only question that remains is downtown. It is a very pretty place, and if we could have [former Greenport mayor] David Kapell elected as Riverhead’s supervisor, the beauty of its waterfront definitely will qualify it as the starting point of the North Fork. David or someone like him may do more in Riverhead than he did in Greenport. But should it continue to deteriorate, then I will hold back my enthusiasm.”
“I always heard any area east of Route 105 is officially the North Fork.
“The rural North Fork feels like it starts much farther west, though — at the very beginning of Sound Avenue in Wading River.”
And, finally, a yes:
“I think Riverhead should be considered part of the North Fork because of the crossover of people who live in Riverhead and work in Southold or vice versa. There are so many connections and ties between the two neighboring towns that it seems to me that it would be an artificial separation to say that Riverhead is not part of the North Fork.”
This columnist’s personal opinion tends to fall into the “maybe” category, insofar as the hamlets east of Route 105 do seem legitimately “North Forkey,” to borrow a phrase, and the area west of that pretty much lost forevermore. Maybe it’s time to petition the state Legislature one more time.
So, are there any votes out there for Aquebogue, Jamesport and Laurel seceding from Riverhead to join forces with Southold, a township that still can legitimately claim to be — by virtue of its commitment to limiting development and preserving agriculture and open space — the essence of Long Island’s North Fork?
To cast your vote or share your opinion on this subject, please send an e-mail to [email protected] Salient responses will be aired in this space in the coming weeks.
Mr. Gustavson is the former publisher of Times/Review Newspapers.