Greenport at 175: A look at village’s varied ethnic makeup

06/16/2013 10:00 AM |

COURTESY PHOTO | The booming fishing industry lured many working class families of various ethnicities to Greenport.

At one square mile, Greenport Village is a small community, but it’s Southold Town’s most diverse. Reflected in its people, religion and economy, the village is unique to the town and home to 2,197 people from a variety of socioeconomic backgrounds.

Like other American whaling ports, Greenport’s prosperous whaling trade brought in a tremendous amount of immigrants from Europe and Africa during the mid-1800s.

The village played a vital role in the “Triangle Trade” that ferried cash crops, manufactured goods and slaves between West Africa, the Caribbean, Europe and the Americas. The promise of employment in Greenport’s booming harbor lured many sailors from the boats to settle in the village, village historian Gail Horton said.

The opening of the Long Island Rail Road line to Greenport in June 1844 also helped foster diversity within the village.

When the railroad arrived, so did Irish immigrants, many of them rail workers who settled in Greenport. Along with Italian immigrants, the Irish were skilled brick makers. By the end of the 19th century, the Irish and Italians had become a vital part of the business community, but they weren’t alone. Manuel Claudio, who emigrated from Portugal and founded Claudio’s Restaurant, is perhaps the best example of a new resident’s impact on the village’s downtown commercial district.

Employment opportunities have long attracted people to the Greenport. Fish processing plants, where a type of herring called menhaden was converted into fertilizer and oil, attracted ethnically diverse workers from the South, many of them black, from the mid-1800s until its decline in the 1960s, according to Ms. Horton.

The village has historically been home to upper, middle and working class people, Ms. Horton said. But it also has the lowest household income in Southold Town. In 2010, according to census data, the average household income among Greenport Village residents was roughly $76,000 — far below the next lowest average in Southold Town — roughly $100,000 in Mattituck.

On average, villagers also earn less on average than residents of Riverhead Town. Greenport’s average household income is lower than that of Riverhead’s lowest earning hamlet, Flanders, where the average household income is about $81,000, according to census data.

Compared to Sag Harbor, another former whaling port on Long Island, Greenport Village residents average $98,000 less in annual income. Sag Harbor is much less diverse than Greenport with whites residents comprising nearly 87 percent of the population, according to census data.

Today, the North Fork’s robust agricultural industry continues to draw immigrants to Greenport, many of them from Central and South America.

From 2000 to 2010 Greenport saw a shift in its racial demographic. In that decade, the white population declined by 10 percent while the number of Hispanic residents doubled. Hispanics now represent a third of the village’s total population, according to the 2012 census.

No other local community is as diverse. Census date shows that East Marion comes in second, but has a Hispanic population of just 4 percent.

Greenport was traditionally Protestant, reflecting the religious roots of Southold Town founder Rev. John Youngs. The Rev. Youngs got his start as a Puritan preacher in Hingham, England. According to published reports, he envisioned Southold as a parochial community that placed biblical law over civil rule. Under his order, those who were not members of the Church of England were not eligible for citizenship.

As immigrants came by boat and train, however, they brought other religions with them. The Irish and Italians established Catholic churches, German immigrants built the Lutheran church and a group of enterprising Jewish vendors, traveling east on the LIRR to seek new markets, built Congregation Tifereth Israel on Fourth Street in 1903. There are also Baptist, Methodist and Greek Orthodox houses of worship in the village. One of oldest is Greenport United Methodist Church, which celebrated its 185th anniversary this year.

“Our diversity is very important,” Ms. Horton said. “It’s a great infusion of attitudes.”

[email protected]

PART 1: A look back at the village start

PART 2: A look at business here

PART 3: A village develops its structure