Industries in Old Setauket

Footnotes to Long Island History

Industries in Old Setauket


Thomas R. Bayles

       Setauket the original settlement in Brookhaven town lies in the northwest corner of the town. It comprises two villages, Setauket and East Setauket. The "Green" an open field beside which stand the ancient landmarks the churches and burial grounds, lies between the two centers.

      Conscience Bay and Setauket harbor, opening westward from Port Jefferson harbor, approach these villages at different points.

        Shipbuilding was an important industry on the shores of these waters for many years and it is impossible to say just when the business was begun. As early as 1662 the records tell us that a man by the name of Richard Bullock purchased timber and planks of John Ketcham and built a boat here. During the colonial times the business was carried on by Benjamin Floyd, a representative of the prominent family of that name.

         The scale upon which it was conducted was in later years enlarged. During the early 1800's the building of sloops was extensively carried on. David Cleaves was engaged in it in 1820 and continued until about 1835. From 1832 to 1873 Nehemiah Hand built many ships. He and his son George, who took over after his father retired in 1873 built 44 vessels many of them of considerable size.

         The largest ship ever built here was the Adorna, of 1,700 tons, which was constructed under the supervision of David Bayles in 1870.

        The villages contained two schools one on the "Green" built about 1872 and a larger one in the eastern part of the village built in 1866.

         The first settlers of the town found great difficulty in  getting their grain ground into flour as there were no mills here and they had to send their grain to Connecticut by boat to be ground.

           In order to get relief from this undesirable condition of affairs they were ready to offer every inducement or the erection of mills at home. The towns people accordingly granted to Daniel Lane in 1664 the right to establish a mill on the stream,  which then ran into the head of Setauket Harbor. The townspeople built the dam and the mill was established prior to 1667. It was probably the same mill that was owned by Henry Perring in 1671, who in a will dated December 17 of that year gave it to his son-in-laws Joseph and Jacob Longbottom. For over 150 years the site has been abandoned and where once the mill pond was is now the highway and business section of East Setauket.

         Another mill was built by John Wade on a stream in the western part of the village, under a grant of the town dated March 31 of that year. Under this grant the town was to keep the dam in repair.

         About 100 years later this mill was supposed to have been in the possession of Richard Woodhull, to whom the town in 1784 granted he privilege of moving the dam downstream on certain conditions. In 1824 the mill was owned by Isaac Satterly who then released the town from its obligations to keep the dam in repair.

         The manufacture of pianos was begun here about 1857 by Robert Nunns and for a while promised to be successful, but the confusion resulting from the Civil War period brought disaster to the business and it was closed. In 1876 the large building was made into a rubber factory and conducted by the L. B. Smith Rubber company. In 1882 there were 200 employees and about 2,500 pairs of shoes and 150 pairs of boots were manufactured daily. The industry was under the personal supervision of J. W. and Edwin Elberson.

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