06/24/15 5:59am
06/24/2015 5:59 AM
Greenport Elementary School's fifth-graders demonstrated Tuesday how their videos on local history are attached to QR codes. (Credit: Chris Lisinski)

Greenport Elementary School fifth-graders demonstrated Tuesday how their videos on local history are attached to QR codes. (Credit: Chris Lisinski)

You could call a class project completed by fifth-graders at Greenport Elementary School a win-win: the kids got to enjoy a creative project that took them out of the classroom and into Greenport Village, and the teachers still managed to impart crucial lessons on history, technology and teamwork. (more…)

07/28/14 10:00am
07/28/2014 10:00 AM
Zachary Studenroth, president of the Cutchogue New Suffolk Historical Council, notes that the settlers in the 1600's were quite a bi shorter than now. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch photo)

Zachary Studenroth, president of the Cutchogue New Suffolk Historical Council, notes that the settlers in the 1600’s were quite a bi shorter than now. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch photo)

As you can walk near the library on Main Road in Cutchogue, it’s easy to overlook the collection of buildings scattered, almost haphazardly, on a gentle hill at the nearby Village Green.

But three structures on the green — the old schoolhouse, the Wickham farmhouse and the “Old House” — are much more historic than they seem, offering a glimpse of centuries of North Fork living. (more…)

05/25/14 8:00am
05/25/2014 8:00 AM
A modern painting depicting the October 1814 military engagement off Northville. (Credit: U.S. Coast Guard Academy Collection)

A modern painting depicting the October 1814 military engagement off Northville. (Credit: U.S. Coast Guard Academy Collection)

It’s 1814, and the United States is at war.

British frigates and brigs clog the East Coast’s trade routes, preying on merchant vessels and shutting down commerce.

On an October morning, an American cutter called the Eagle finds itself face-to-face with a Royal Navy brig nearly twice its size off Northville.

Below is a detailed account of the encounter that followed.  (more…)

06/02/13 10:32am
06/02/2013 10:32 AM

COURTESY PHOTO | Fishing and fish markets once dominated Greenport’s waterfront.

This is the second in a series of articles looking back at Greenport’s government, business community, architecture — and its people’s independent spirit over its 175 year history.

As harbors go, Greenport’s is not very large, but from 1795 to 1859 the little village by the sea was a gateway to ocean waters far across the world and became a major whaling port with 24 ships, rivaling Sag Harbor as the busiest on Long Island.

While whaling often conjures images of a bustling downtown port, Greenport’s whaling industry can trace its beginnings to a time long before the first Europeans set foot on the North Fork. The Manhassets, one of Long Island’s Native American groups, were here long before the colonists arrived and hunted whales without tall ships or years-long voyages. Using small rowboats, spears and netting, the Manhassets taught the settlers, who perfected the skills needed to provide oil for lamps and machines before petroleum replaced whale oil.


The rise of the industry marked a turning point in Greenport’s history. The success of whaling ushered in an era of prosperity for the village.

Even after whaling declined, commercial fishing continued to fl ourish. By 1881, 5,350 ships were moored in Greenport harbor. Cargo vessels, personal boats and dozens of commercial fishing boats kept the harbor full. The focus, however, shifted to processing menhaden, also known as bunker, an oily, bony fish converted into fertilizer and oil. During the first half of the 20th century, oystering was also a lucrative industry in Greenport. At one time, there were as many as 14 oyster-processing companies in the village.

With such a heavy emphasis on maritime trade, it comes as no surprise that during this time shipbuilding flourished. So did construction of commercial buildings for suppliers and outfitters and residences for ship captains and ship owners.

Greenport’s harbor was an attraction for visitors as well as fishermen. George Washington and Benjamin Franklin both toured Greenport; American poet Walt Whitman called the village home for some time and was even said to have taught one semester at Greenport High School.

Everyday folk were also drawn to the village as hotels cropped up in response to an influx of tourists. Boarding houses also were a staple in the village. It wasn’t uncommon for businesses to house and feed their workers in multi-story homes, many of which still stand in the historic district.

Residents worked hard, but played hard, too. Eateries like Claudio’s and Flavors Ice Cream, on Front Street, catered to the village’s middle class and tourists. Manuel Claudio opened his saloon near the Main Street Wharf and later moved to the present location and added the restaurant and a hotel. Claudio’s is said to be the oldest family-owned restaurant in the nation. The village was also home to an opera house, a theater and three bowling alleys.

Bowling was a particularly popular pastime. Fishermen formed leagues and enjoyed friendly competition. Schiavoni’s Bowling Ally was just west of Mr. Robert’s at the corner of Third Street. A second bowling alley was located on Front Street where Aldo’s coffee shop is now. Later, in the ’60s, a third bowling alley called King’s (also called Falcaro’s) was located on Moores Lane.

The financial success spawned by the maritime industry served as a catalyst for the village’s independence. In 1898, Greenport became the first municipality in Suffolk County to own a light and power plant. The village purchased the property, along with the Greenport Water Company, for $70,000. The Moores Lane facility, which remains in operation today, is the oldest municipal utility on Long Island.

During Prohibition, between 1920 and 1934, bootlegging also became a profitable endeavor. Greenport became a stop on the illegal booze run from the Caribbean to New York City. Shipyards and docking facilities became known as “Rum Row” and served as a key component of the illegal trade. In 1924 bootlegging was a $40 million industry in the United States, according to the Department of Commerce.

While there was a lot of money to be made during that time, it came at a high cost. Murders and shoot-outs related to bootlegging were rampant in Greenport, according to village historian Carlos DeJesus. Infamous crime boss Frank Costello headed up the operation in New York.

FLOYD MEMORIAL LIBRARY COURTESY PHOTO | Mitchell's Restaurant was a mainstay on Front Street until it was destroyed by fire in the late 1970s.

FLOYD MEMORIAL LIBRARY COURTESY PHOTO | Mitchell’s Restaurant was a mainstay on Front Street until it was destroyed by fire in the late 1970s.

Local businesses got in on the action as well, and Claudio’s was among the most notable speakeasies. The iconic eatery was a fi ne, family-friendly French restaurant downstairs. But upstairs was where locals sought a different type of pleasure and illegal spirits flowed freely. Under cover of night, bootleggers ran smuggling operations and Claudio’s, which sat on stilts over the water, was a popular and convenient drop-off location. A trap door still exists behind the bar.

Long after the days of sail, ship building was going strong in Green-port. During World War II, Brigham’s Shipyard, now the site of Greenport Yacht & Shipbuilding, built PT boats and landing craft for the Navy. The village also turned out minesweepers for the war effort.

After World War II, the tide turned on Greenport’s once booming oystering and menhaden industries. A major storm, overfishing and biological factors are believed to have caused a decline in the local fish population, leading many companies to declare bankruptcy. Jobs became increasingly difficult to find and many left the village for the prospect of life in the suburbs and employment in New York City.

Social changes were also beginning to take place. The introduction of cars and shopping malls left Greenport struggling to find its identity.

“Life changed, the world changed,” said village historian Gail Horton.

As the fishing industry began to shrink, the village turned its attention to tourism. Restaurants like Mitchell’s were popular attractions. Mitchell’s, now the site of Mitchell Park on Front Street, was the place to be seen and featured a lounge and a Tiffany glass canopy. It was also a regular meeting spot for local civic groups like the Greenport Rotary before it burned down in the late 1970s.

Today, Mitchell Park is considered the jewel of the village.

In 2011, Forbes magazine declared Greenport “One of America’s Prettiest Towns.”

In the past two decades the village has welcomed dozens of new businesses that have breathed new life into to the community. Front and Main streets offer clothing, antique and jewelry shops that appeal to both tourists and locals.

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05/26/13 8:00am
05/26/2013 8:00 AM

FLOYD MEMORIAL LIBRARY COURTESY PHOTO | Local businesses boomed on lower Main Street in downtown Greenport during the 1800s, when the port was a major hub for shipping and commerce.

It’s had several different names over several centuries, but for the last 175 years the North Fork community with the only deepwater port tied to the region’s rich maritime history has been known as Greenport.

At one square mile it’s a small community, but arguably the North Fork’s most diverse. Some there live lives of plenty; others know only poverty. Tall ships of the kind that once filled the harbor are now rare visitors and fishing no longer dominates the economy. Greenport has known hard times, but has enjoyed a relatively recent renaissance fed in no small measure by restaurants of high renown.

Greenport is home to about 2,200 people, but a destination for many thousands more. This Memorial Day weekend it will welcome the traditional start of the busy summer season, but beyond that this year the community will celebrate its status as the North Fork’s only incorporated village, a designation held since 1838.

This is the first in a series of articles looking back at Greenport’s government, business community, architecture and its people’s independent spirit.

In 1638, 13 men and their families sailed from England to the New World, eventually arriving in New Haven, Conn., where they remained until 1640.

In search of new land, the colonists, led by the Rev. John Youngs, settled in what would later become Southold Town in 1640.

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.

FLOYD MEMORIAL LIBRARY COURTESY PHOTO | Parades were a big tradition during Greenport’s early years. Impromptu parades, conceived by the fire department on the spur of the moment, were not uncommon.

Farming, not fishing, was Green-port’s mainstay when colonists first put down roots there. Corn, beans and squash were grown by the Manhassets, one of the Long Island Native American tribes that were here before the settlers arrived, and those crops became the settlers’ primary source of food.

The area that comprises modern day Greenport was controlled by the reverend’s oldest son, Capt. John Youngs, in the early 1680s.

In 1687, Capt. Youngs sold the land for less than 300 pounds to William Booth, and it became known as Winter Harbor. The Booth family held the land for several generations before it was divided into smaller plots and sold to early home builders.

By 1750, Greenport had becoming a bustling port, drawing the likes of American revolutionaries George Washington and Benjamin Franklin. Some Eastern Long Islanders, however, did not rebel against the crown when the Revolutionary War erupted.

“Those who stayed here felt sure the war would be short and the patriots would not win,” Elise and Frederick Corwin wrote in their 1972 book “Greenport: Yesterday and Today.”

After the Revolutionary War, the village was called Stirling and later Green Hill, a name that came from expansive marshland and a hill located near present-day Greenport Yacht and Ship Building. The hill was leveled at the turn of the century to fill in the ground that would become the village’s commercial district.

With the hill no longer in existence, residents decided on the name Green-port during a public meeting in 1831. That, they believed, was more representative of the village’s growing seaport.

By the early 1800s, trade with the West Indies had transformed the village in a booming seaside community with 700 residents, 100 dwellings and numerous businesses. It was around this time that villagers began considering incorporating Greenport. Similarly to cars today, that during that time nearly every family had a least one boat, according to published reports.

After 1810 the ports along Peconic Bay established a thriving fishing industry. “Aside from Sag Harbor, Green-port was the hub of shipping and commerce on Long Island,” village historian Carlos DeJesus said.

The Village of Greenport was incorporated by an act of the state Senate in April 1838. The act called for the election of five trustees, five assessors, one treasurer and one police constable. Rather than mayor, one trustees was designated as president of the village. The act established Greenport the only incorporated village in Southold Town.

While it’s unclear what finally motivate villagers to incorporate, local historians speculate that the it could have had something to do with the anticipated arrival of the Long Island Railroad in 1844.

“It must be more than a coincidence the village was incorporated around the same time,” said Anne Clark, who maintains the historic records at Floyd Memorial Library. Trains provided a means of smooth travel and shipping, but were resented by many farmers, who protested the rails that bisected every farm between Riverhead and the village.

Nonetheless, when the first train rolled into Greenport in June 1844 it was cause for a grand celebration.

As the book “Greenport” by Antonia Booth and Thomas Monsell reported, “People came from all over and there were many toasts with French champagne.”

When the railroad arrived so did Irish immigrants, many of them rail workers who settled in the village. Poor at first, the Irish later became a vital part of the business community, according to the writings of Ms. Booth.

In 1870 there was a boarding house in the village filled with single Irish brickmakers, many of whom went on to marry. One of those bachelors was Thomas Burns, a successful businessman who ran a grocery store and was treasurer of the village’s athletic club.

By the end of the 19th century the Irish were a well-integrated element of Greenport society, along with other immigrants such as Manuel Claudio from Portugal, who went on to open Claudio’s Restaurant.

At the turn of the 20th century, civic-minded villagers recognized the need for a hospital in the area. At that time, the nearest hospital was 80 miles west in Mineola.

Greenport’s Eastern Long Island Hospital opened its doors in 1905, becoming Suffolk County’s very first hospital.

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03/10/13 12:00pm
03/10/2013 12:00 PM

CARRIE MILLER PHOTO | Linda Burke of Mattituck (left) and Sheila Thomes of Southold browse through items on a table in the basement during a tag sale held this weekend at the Orient home of the late Gertrude Vail Rich.

The estate sale at the home of the late Gertrude Vail Rich, a longtime Orient resident whose mother was a founder of the Oysterponds Historical Society, opened last weekend, giving buyers the chance to own a piece of North Fork history.

Ms. Rich had the Youngs Road estate built in 1972, according to family. She acquired a vast collection of valuables over her lifetime. Items on sale, some of which had belonged to her mother, born Alma Jane Miller, dated back to the 18th century.

CARRIE MILLER PHOTO | The most notable painting in the collection, painted by an unknown artist around 1848, shows Daniel Shotweil Vail and his dog.

Robert Barker and Sherron Francis of the Long Island Tag Sale Company spent seven days preparing and pricing items, Within the first 90 minutes of the sale, which ran Friday through Sunday, over 250 people combed through the collection.

“It’s like a wonderfully full treasure chest,” said Linda Burke of Mattituck. “There is such a history of people’s lives here.”

That history connects back to the 17th century, when the Vail family helped settle Orient, which was then known as Oysterponds.

Vail family heirlooms were sprinkled throughout the three-story home; even Ms. Rich’s school report cards from East Marion and Friends Academy were for sale.

“This is the best thing in the whole house,” said Mr. Barker, pointing to a large portrait prominently displayed over a sofa in the living room. The painting, of young Daniel Shotwell Vail playing with his dog, dates back to approximately 1848. A view of boats sailing the Hudson River at sunset is seen off to his right. The boy was born in 1843 and is about 5 years old in the painting, Mr. Barker said. The artist is unknown. It sold within the first hour of the sale.

“I saw it online, but I didn’t know it was a Vail,” said Jeff Hoffman, who bought the painting with his wife, Sue. “When we turned it around and saw it was of a Vail, we got excited.” The couple is from the mid-Hudson Valley but also has a home in Greenport. They found out about the estate sale through a Suffolk Times classified ad.

“Sales like this are rare,” Ms. Hoffman said. “It is interesting to find Hudson Valley stuff out here.”

CARRIE MILLER PHOTO | An array of family photos.

Mr. Hoffman said the Vails also spent a lot of time in the Hudson Valley. They declined to say how much they paid for the painting.

A 1930s Charak-brand secretary desk, priced at $895, stood in the corner of the living room. It was filled with books; titles like “Napoleon’s Letters to Josephine” and “Shakespeare’s Works” were held up by brass bookends of former U.S. presidents George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.

Book collectors like Dennis Massa of Peconic took their time perusing the collection. Mr. Massa said he also sells books, and decided to purchase a few for resale.

A marble bust, dating to 1910 and priced at $950, sat in another living room corner. It was signed by its Italian sculptor. The family had purchased it while on a tour of Europe, Mr. Barker said.

A seascape by local Orient artist William Steeple Davis hung in the dining room, while multiple smaller seascapes by local artist Elliot A. Brooks hung elsewhere around the house.

Fine china filled cabinets in the dining room, with dishes and crystal displayed across the dining room table. Silver cutlery, cut glass candleholders and lace tablecloths were abundant.

Hung above the front door was an antique mirror with a cornucopia inlay, circa 1800. It was priced at $750.

“It certainly is a beautiful collection,” said Janet Zenk of West Islip, standing next to several boxes filled with items. “I’d like to stay longer, but I ran out of money,” she joked.

Members of the Oysterponds and Southold historical societies visited the house prior to the public sale and acquired a number of paintings and photographs for their collections, ensuring that some Vail family history will remain on the North Fork.

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