Port Jefferson Historical Shipbuilding Town Of New York

Text & Photos by Farah S. Kamal

The whiff of samosa was too irresistible for anyone to refuse so I thought of handing a plate of goodies to a couple sitting close by at the beautiful Harborfront Park of Port Jefferson. They graciously accepted and struck a casual conversation regarding the summer activities held at the park. This was specifically the summer when I was a student at an institute in New York City, studying photojournalism and documentary-making. I wanted to shoot around this vintage town for an assignment and my family planned to take a picnic with me. Observing the world – places, people and culture – are a significant part of the documentary work, and my all-time favourite, travel photography, falls in this category, too.

The Incorporated Village of Port Jefferson fondly known as Port Jeff is located in the town of Brookhaven in Suffolk County, New York on the North Shore of Long Island. Port Jefferson has a natural deep water harbour named after the American President, Thomas Jefferson. This small town in the 18th century grew into a small shipbuilding community by the 19th century comprising of 7,837 people, 2,985 households, and 1,982 families residing in the village.

I remember my first time here that was a detailed visit to the Mather House Museum; the house of John Mather, a major ship builder from 1840. On display are the furnishings, shipbuilding artefacts, tools and maps. Embedded in American history and known for its rich maritime past, the present day Port Jeff is an oasis of old-fashioned shops, vintage-looking yet luxurious inns and fine restaurants. The classic architecture and breath-taking harbour views make it a perfect setting for times I need to take a break from my busy life or indulge in some street photography. The town is well-preserved and full of interesting sights, and people giving me great vantage point for writing and photography.

Living 20 minutes away from Port Jeff, this is a frequent hang-out for me every time I visit Long Island. It is always a pleasant experience, be it enjoying a cup of frozen yogurt or devouring a lovely seafood lunch at one of the several restaurants here. Breakfast at Toast Coffeehouse is my favourite. They serve herbs and spinach omelettes and freshly baked delicious waffles. Once done with devouring some good picnic treats, I started photographing some of the architecture and street life. As night approached, the crowd started gathering for a concert in the park by a local band playing beautiful music. Unlike the overcrowded tourist spots I have been to, this gig was much intimate and had a peaceful ambience, being enjoyed by a small laid-back crowd. No fee, no line up, everyone sitting around the band in open air on grass, and the air is filled with vocalists singing romantic and melancholic songs, against electric guitar, banjo, violin and harmonica. Open air concerts like these are regular summer events during weekends or holidays at the park for public entertainment.

A good number of tourists and visitors from around the world and from NY and other U.S. states come here, as well. The beautiful Harborfront Park, music venues, the Maritime Explorium, art galleries, pristine beaches, marinas and an array of activities for families and individuals are available throughout. A family from NYC told me that during long weekends they often take Bridgeport and Port Jefferson Ferry to come to the town and stay in a hotel for a peaceful break from their hectic and congested city life. People also come here sailing in their own boats and the harbour provides a great place for docking personal boats and enjoying water sports.

My favourite activity after a long stroll on boardwalk is to watch the sunset from one of the benches by the harbour, listening to the boats break the calm surface of water as they sail. A travelogue on Port Jeff was long due – this evening, holding a cup of coffee, sunk deep in thoughts, and my fingers tapping keys on my notebook, I thoroughly enjoyed sharing this travel story. •