Sunday, October 31, 2010

Belleville Bay

Interestingly, today's Bellport, NY was once "Belleport" on "Belleville Bay" (US Coast Survey, 1835 today's "Carman's River" then "Great River") said so named by ship salvors hired to remove a wreck from the "inlet" through the barrier island, Fire Island. There's some confusion as to where the first steamship to cross the Atlantic, the "SS Savannah" sank, "off Fireplace", where there's another "Fireplace" opposite the early settled Gardiners Island. However, "Fire Place Neck" is just east of Bellport, NY (Bellport Bay, 1944 Army Map Service). The US Coast Survey perhaps did not record "Fireplace" as their depictions covered some of the land seen from the coast. The day it left Savannah, Georgia, May 22, 1819, is celebrated as U.S. National Maritime Day. The ship and steam-works were built in New York and New Jersey. The re-fitted for sailing ship that once sailed across the Atlantic in part under steam is said to have sunk in a storm off Fire Island and "Old Inlet" near Fireplace in Brookhaven, NY. Its ship remains might be in today's Fire Island National Seashore, which contains the only Federal Wilderness in New York State.

Photograph of a painting of the SS Savannah, 1819 by Hunter Wood, LT USMS.
It has since closed up, perhaps, in the known east-to-west sand travel along the coast and after one ship ran into another already aground in the "Old Inlet". Before both could be removed, the inlet closed up so much it was no longer then mechanically possible to remove them (Johanneman, pers. comm., ca. 1980) and perhaps filled. Up to 100 ships at one time used to sail through it carrying the harvested produce from around Brookhaven Town's "truck farms" for New York City. This was before the railroads, though they at first were a shorter way, via Greenport, to Boston, avoiding the numerous ferries one would take overland through southern Connecticut. There was a clamor for more local usage, and Bellport was once the “end of the line” and many important people vacationed there before “the Hamptons”.

A ball bearing patent was also issued for an inventor in Bellport just after the Civil War, a small monument there just off the sidewalk in a backyard where it was designed. Nearby was the successful marketer of dry instant coffee, a Brazilian named George Washington, whose brand was challenged in Federal court and later marketed as "G. Washington". His small estate was in use by an alternative elementary school to which I was asked to help with an archaeology class. It had also once been a sleep-away camp, "Camp Rockaway" but that was in ruins and the Catholic order of Marists owned the circa 1880's manse which they used two weeks out of the year. The kids found an 1880s date carved in the top of a wooden door frame moulding upstairs.

When salvors hired to remove an earlier wreck in the inlet, and did so, they liked the area, named it "Belle Port" or "good port" today‘s Bellport, NY and settled it, according to a real estate agent online. The closing of "Old Inlet" has caused an increasing deposit of sediments around the area, and there is some worry about the depth which used to move to elsewhere, piling up in the eastern end of the Great South Bay.

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