In 1923, Alvah Goldsmith Sr., who lived on a farm in Peconic and worked in a car dealership, began a side business of selling Evinrude outboard motors from the front porch of the farmhouse.
“He liked engines and I think it was more of a hobby than anything else,” said his son, Alvah Goldsmith Jr.
Well, Mr. Goldsmith Sr.’s hobby has certainly worked out.
This year, the Goldsmiths’ family boat business, on Main Road in Southold along the shoreline of Mill Creek, is celebrating its 100th year in business. It is recognized in the industry as the oldest continuously run marine dealership in the country.
Asked how the same family has run the business for a century — through the Depression and World War II and all the ups and downs in the American economy over the years — Mr. Goldsmith Jr. summed it up in one word: perseverance.
“And having a very strong family connection,” added his son, Glenn Goldsmith.
The family’s history began on the North Fork in the 17th century. Goldsmith Inlet in Peconic is named after an early Southold resident with that surname. The family’s farm was east of the inlet and ran from what is today the North Road all the way to Long Island Sound.
Mr. Goldsmith Sr.’s side business selling Evinrude outboard motors was strong enough that, by 1930, he bought land at Founders Landing in Southold and set up a marina and boat-building business. Many of his early customers were owners of fishing stations in the town.
A decade later, when World War II broke out, Mr. Goldsmith Sr. took regular trips into New York City to meet officials with the U.S. Navy to promote his business as a place where boats for the war effort could be constructed.
“My father went from the porch in Peconic, to a new business at Founders Landing,” Mr. Goldsmith Jr. said. “The family moved to houses there. We were the first to have a boat business on that location.”
In an office at the Goldsmith Boat Shop in Southold, just east of Port of Egypt, Mr. Goldsmith Jr. sat with his sons, Glenn and Craig, talking about family history and showing a remarkable set of early boatyard photographs that line a hallway. They show boats that were built on the site; several show Goldsmith Sr. at the location.
“They built 150 ships for the Navy at Founders Landing,” Glenn Goldsmith said. “These boats held torpedoes that could be transported out on the water to waiting seaplanes.”
“We had about 40 to 60 employees then, working seven days a week,” said Mr. Goldsmith Jr. “The first order was for 10 boats. They were all built there, tested in the bay, and then delivered to the Navy on trains from Southold.
“We had security at the site, too, because of all the rumors of German spies in the area,” he added.
The end of the war in 1945 meant the end of the Navy contracts. Mr. Goldsmith Sr. had to find a way to grow the business. To that end, in 1947, he bought land on Mill Creek in Southold that had been the site of a long-running brick yard. The tall chimney from that 19th-century brickyard still stands and is in the process of being restored.
At the Mill Creek location, a new business was started: recreational boating. “Most of those early customers came out from the city or New Jersey,” said Mr. Goldsmith Jr.
His father died in 1980, and the son, who had worked in the family business since he was 14, took over. Today, Glenn and Craig Goldsmith run the business.
“When my father began selling Evinrudes on the porch, his father couldn’t believe anyone would buy them,” said Mr. Goldsmith Jr. “But it took off, as a lot of other marinas in the area got their start buying the motors.”
A century later, Mr. Goldsmith Sr.’s entrepreneurial spirit is still very much alive at the Mill Creek site. A warehouse holds many outboard motors, some dating to the early 20th century. Outside, with summer approaching, the yard was all business as boat owners began putting their boats put back in the water.
“This is a busy time for us,” Glenn Goldsmith said.