In 1640, colonists from New Haven formed the first European settlement on the North Shore. Now called Greenport, it was originally Winter Harbor. The name was later changed to Stirling, after Lord Stirling, but then dropped for the more descriptive name Greenhill. Greenhill was dropped after the town leveled the hill and fixed the name to Greenport in 1838 when the village incorporated.
Before European settlers arrived, Greenport was inhabited by the Manhassets, 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 also hunted the plentiful supply of deer, foxes, raccoons, rabbits and birds.
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 Pacific. Whaling stopped as a financial venture around 1859, and the village switched its economy. Shipbuilding became an important industry, and from then on through World War II more than 500 ships were built and launched from our shipyards.
Commercial fishing began sometime around 1790 when
industrious settlers followed the Native American’s lead
and began catching menhaden fish for fertilizer.
By 1881, there were more than 350 vessels supplying menhaden to 97 fish factories in an industry that employed more than 2,800 men. Whaling was also a prevalent industry in Greenport until around 1859. By this time, Greenport's shipbuilding industry had flourished and became the driving force of the village's economy. From the early 1800's through WWII, more than 550 ships were constructed and launched right here in Greenport
Long Island Rail Road
In 1844, Greenport became a transportation hub when the Long Island Railroad built a track from New York to the village, as part of the New York City to Boston rail/ferry/rail connection. Steam side-wheel ferries would dock in the village and take passengers and freight to Stonington CT.
Greenport had now become an important port for travelers and the early days of Greenport's tourism industry were well underway. Even before the railway came to the village, several large hotels had been constructed in and around the area.
The railway went bankrupt in 1850 when a main rail route was built through Connecticut. However, Greenport remained an important port for steam side-wheelers leaving New York with connections to Block Island, Shelter Island, Sag Harbor, Providence, RI, New London, CT, and Boston, MA.
Also famous for quite a bit of rum-running during the prohibition era, the Coast Guard set up a small base of operations here in 1924 to fight the illegal trade.
Greenport Long Island Tourism
As other industries died out, Greenport relied upon its charm and independent spirit. Throughout the second half of the 20th Century, Greenport became a port of call for tourists looking for a summer retreat close to the water in this unique little village. Restaurants, shops, marinas, and hotels helped keep the economy going, even in the worst of times.
The North Fork's farming industry also made it a popular destination, but an extraordinary turning point in the 1970s helped to create the North Fork that we know today. The Hargrave family converted local farmland into vineyards. Because the North Fork's climate and soil are well situated for growing grapes, the wine industry took off and today, there are more than 30 wine producers. But the farming industry is still alive and well. Many roadside farm stands sell locally-grown fruits and vegetables throughout the North Fork. There is no denying, however, the positive effect the wine industry has had on Greenport's existence.
Today, Greenport is alive with activity as thousands flock to the village year-round to immerse themselves in its beautifully restored homes and quaint bed & breakfasts that line the streets surrounding a vibrant downtown filled with shops, restaurants and galleries.
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