green port, long island history
In 1640, colonists from New Haven led by the Rev. John Youngs, a Puritan preacher from Hingham, England, found the first permanent European settlement in New York, coming ashore at what is now founder’s Landing at Peconic Bay in the hamlet of Southold. Under Youngs, Southold was to be a Puritan settlement ruled by biblical, not civil law, and only church members could be freeholders. Farming, not fishing, was Greenport’s industry. In the 1680’s, the first homes were built in Winter Harbor (Greenport’s original name.) This name was later changed to Stirling after Lord Stirling, but then dropped for the more descriptive name Greenhill, and then to Greenport in 1838 when the village incorporated.
Before European settlers arrived, Greenport was inhabited by the Manhasets, one of the thirteen tribes of Native Americans on Long Island. They grew corn, beans and squash, using bunker fish as a fertilizer. Bunker fish (also called menhaden) are small, oily, bony fish prevalent in the waters off Greenport. The Manhassets were accomplished whalers and hunters.
Because of a deep harbor and plentiful supply of whales, Greenport became a major whaling port with two dozen whaling ships sailing to the North Atlantic, South Atlantic, and the Pacific. Whaling stopped as a financial venture around 1859, and the village switched its economy. Shipbuilding became an important industry. During World War II, 51 minesweepers and 403 landing barges were built and launched from our shipyards.
Industrious Greenport fishermen copied the Native Americans and brought in large catches of bunker fish, especially from the mid-1800’s to the mid 1900’s. The fish were harvested in nets in the Peconic Bay in-season, and processed for oil used in lamps as well as animal foods and crop fertilizer. Because of the unfortunate odor emitted from the processing plants many were relocated to the South Fork to a place between Amagansett and Montauk called the Promised Land.
Oystering, also a major Greenport industry until the early 1960’s, had at one time fourteen oyster processing companies located here.
In 1844, the Long Island railroad built a track from New York to Greenport as part of the New York City to Boston rail/ferry/rail connection. At that time there was no overland rail route through southern Connecticut. Greenport, always important as a commercial port, became a hub for travelers going from Long Island to New England. Steam side-wheel ferries docked in Greenport and carried passengers and freight to Stonington, Connecticut. Hotels built in Greenport and Stonington catered to the travelers and the commercial traffic.
In 1850, a rail route built through Connecticut brought an end to the rail/ferry/rail connection. The railroad went bankrupt, and Greenport’s role as a hub for Boston Commerce ended. Later, Greenport became the major port of call for steam side-wheelers leaving New York and arriving in Greenport with connections to Block, Shelter Island, Sag Harbor, Providence RI, New London CT, and Boston, MA.
With fertile soil and moderate temperatures the North Fork of Long Island was always known for fresh farm produce, with most of the land under cultivation by small family farms.
In the 1970s, an extraordinary revolution took place in farming The Hargrave family converted farmland to vineyards. The North Fork’s climate and soil is also well situated for growing grapes. The wine industry took off, and today with over 50 wine producers on the North Fork, many of the old farmlands are now vineyards. But not all; roadside farm stands still sell locally grown fruits and vegetables.
Greenport today is a vibrant village with close ties to the sea. Old houses, beautifully restored, line the streets. Shops, restaurants and galleries thrive on Front Street and Main Street. The Greenport Maritime Museum puts on events and tours throughout the year, with the Greenport Maritime Festival in September drawing thousands of visitors to our beautiful village. Whatever time of year, Greenport is a great place to visit.