You can’t tell the history of Patchogue without touching on the importance of the Patchogue River.
And the latest local historical exhibit, called A River Runs To It, which runs through Sept. 27 on weekends at the Patchogue-Watch Hill Ferry Terminal, focuses entirely on the river.
For it was the river that powered the 18th century cotton mill that became the huge lace mill complex on Montauk Highway.
It was the river that allowed raw materials and finished goods to be carried back and forth between Bailey Lumber Mill, where the terminal and Bowl Long Island now stand, to the freighters out at sea.
“You either worked at the lumber mill or you worked for the lace mill,” explained local historian Steve Lucas. “Or, you had your own business, or you were a farmer. That was it; those were your only options.
“Or, you moved away.”
The exhibit, a collection of about 40 historical photographs and other artifacts, is a joint collaboration of the Greater Patchogue Historical Society, where Lucas serves as treasurer, and the Fire Island National Seashore.
The exhibit focuses on the river’s history, as well as its connection to Fire Island.
Despite the importance of the mills, as well as boat building along the river, Lucas said most of the historic photos depict people having fun — not unlike today when it comes to Patchogue River.
“The oldest photos date from around 1905, 1910, and they show the river and the surrounding beach on the bay,” he said. “There’s a lot of recreational activities, like hotels and summer bungalows and beach cottages.”
A section of the exhibit is also dedicated to renowned boat builder Gill Smith.
“He was probably one of the foremost boat builders at the time, up and down the East Coast,” Lucas said. “He was world famous in his time” in the mid 19th century.
“He was building boats into his 90s, all sailboats,” he added.
Today, Fire Island National Seashore uses Smith’s former boat shed for its maintenance facility
“He used to live right here on Amity Street and walk to the boatyard,” Lucas said.
Photos by Michael White. Click to enlarge.