Yaphank’s “Iron Horse” (part 3)

Footnotes to Long Island History

Yaphank’s ‘Iron Horse’

January 3, 1957

Thomas R. Bayles


                     (This is the last in a series of three articles directly concerned with the Yaphank area.)


            The site of Yaphank’s first “iron horse,” the first schoolhouse and how the community got its name, provide interesting gems in the historical notes of Yaphank.

            When the railroad first came through Yaphank in 1844 to Greenport, it was an exciting time.  The long-looked-for “iron horse” had finally come.  It made the trip from Brooklyn to Greenport in three hours.  Before this, it was a long trip of three days by stage coach to make the trip to the east end of the Island.

            A historian of that time records the coming of the railroad in these words: “But, until the people beheld with their own eyes, the cumbrous train of cars drawn by the iron horse, spouting forth smoke and steam, passing like a steed of lightning through their forests and field with such speed that the people could not tell whether the faces of the passengers were human, celestial or infernal, they would not believe that a railroad had the power to annihilate both time and space.”

            The first schoolhouse was probably built shortly after the Town of Brookhaven was divided into school districts in 1813, and was located on the road to Middle Island, opposite the old Hamners Saloon, a quarter-of-a-mile north of the corner.

            It was a typical building of those days, about 20 feet square, with a wood- burning stove in one end and desks running around the sides of the room.  Seats were made of planks from the local saw mill and had wooden legs.

            The school took in part of the Middle Island district until 1835 when the district lines were changed.  In 1818 there were 71 pupils attending this school which was taught about three months in the year.  The older boys and girls went to school during the winter when the farm work was slack, and the younger children during the good weather.  Eleven had to walk, some of them a couple of miles, to get to school.

            About the year 1854 the site for a new school was purchased, consisting of two acres.  A building, octagonal in shape, was built with a cupola in the center for light and ventilation.  This was used until 1926 when the present school was built on the same site in front of the old one.  The old building was moved down the street and used for a fire house.

            The name Yaphank was given about 1846 when application was made to the Post Office department to establish a post office there.  The old name, Millville, didn’t suit the authorities, as there were 13 towns by that name in the United States, and one other in New York State.

            In 1875, Yaphank was a busy town and had a number of business places, including a dry goods and hardware store and post office, two grist mills, two lumber mills, two blacksmith shops, a printing office, and upholstering shop, and express and stage line, two doctors, a shoe shop, a lumber yard, two wheelwright shops, a meat market, a veterinary doctor, and a dressmaking place. 

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