THE EARLY PERIOD TO 1900

THE EARLY PERIOD TO 1900

Gatehouse in Winter

Gatehouse in Winter

A French-inspired gatehouse at the top of Port Jefferson’s East Broadway marks the entrance to Belle Terre.  Architecture like this catches the eye and usually indicates a past full of history.  So it is with Belle Terre.

Prior to the 1600’s Belle Terre’s 1300 acres bordered on the west by Port Jefferson Harbor and on the north by Long Island Sound were inhabited by the Indians.  They called the land Nonowantuc, “the stream that dries up.”   In 1689 they deeded their land to three Englishmen (Smith, Floyd, and Woodhull) who called it Mt. Misery, probably because of shipwrecks.    Today, a collection of arrowheads, a road named Nonowantuc, and a copy of this deed which bears seven Indian thumbprints as signatures are all that remains of the Indians’ passage in Belle Terre.

1609 Indian Deed with Finger Prints

1609 Indian Deed with Finger Prints

In the 1700’s Mt. Misery passed into the Strong family of Strong’s Neck in whose possession it remained for over a hundred years.  The ladies of the Strong family were not fond of the name Mt. Misery and changed it to Oakwood, owing to the abundance of giant oak trees.  Near the east end of Old Homestead Road, one member of the Strong family built a house and actually resided in Oakwood.  When his house burned, it was rebuilt by his grandson and stood until consumed by fire in the 1960’s.  In the old days the main thoroughfare between Port Jefferson Harbor and Mt. Sinai Harbor began at Saint’s Orchard Road (There was indeed a man named Saint who had an orchard.) and ran into a path that led to Mount Sinai harbor. When the path became a road, it was named Old Homestead in memory of the long-standing Strong residence.

Old Homestead

Old Homestead

Other than a driftwood shack on the harbor built in the 1800’s by a black man affectionately known as Uncle Mott, no other dwellings are known to have existed. Uncle Mott’s cabin was located, of course, at the end of Mott’s Hollow Road.

 

Uncle Motts House

Uncle Mott was immortalized in the poem and paintings of local artist William Davis (1829-1920). Here is Davis’s charming poem about Uncle Mott:

 UNCLE MOTT

By William M. Davis

If along the sandy shore,
By Saint’s Orchard you explore,
In a garden on the hill side
You will find a little cot.
Drift and clam shells there abound.
Near a skiff-boat lies aground,
And there bides the ancient bayman
Whom the folks call Uncle Mott.
If his basket and his store,
Waxes low and he wants more,
If he needs some qipuant extras,
For a savory dinner pot;
Fish or fowl ’tis all the same,
He brings to Port his little game,
Always sure of findings patorns
Who will buy of  Uncle Mott.
As to age he looks three score,
But maybe he’s nearer four,
And his handsome face in color
Is inclined to Hottentot:
He is neither short nor tall,
Rather soft of speech withal,
And as tranquil as a salt-pond
Is the mind of Uncle Mott.
When his daily toil is o’er,
There’s a “smile” behind the door,
But he’s never by a jug full,
Seen “how-came-you-so” nor hot;
No carousal, dance nor fight,
Making hideous the night,
Nor over S’tauket jamboree
Degraded Uncle Mott.
And his cottage, furthermore,
Toward the sun, and eke the shore,
Has a high front elevation;
On the rear a humble squat,
Two extensions on the west,
Gives a look of quaint unrest
To a long and broken skyline –
All designed by Uncle Mott.
Oft Boreas chill and hoar,
Pipes and makes the gray sea roar,
And the mad waves lash the clam-flats
Where the bayman ventures not;
Yet kind Providence each day,
Somehow keeps the wolf at bay;
E’en Mount Misery Looms a bulwork,
Bound to shelter Uncle Mott.
Here Sol doth evermore
His genial rays outpour,
To brighten all and fructify
The fertile garden plot;
And the tidy, faithful spouse,
Toils and orders well her house –
Ah! what scribe could inventory
All the joys of Uncle Mott.
Ever since the days of yore,
He has dwelt here by the shore,
Seeking luck upon the water,
Quite contented with his lot;
Knowing as the tides endure,
His supplies are always sure –
Many poor rich men might envy
Unobtrusive Uncle Mott.
From the bay before his door,
He scoops in enough and more,
Of every sort of shell-fish –
And he knows them to a dot;
How he fools the finny tribe,
Isak Walton don’t describe,
And aquatic birds all tumble
‘Fore the gun of Uncle Mott.

·William Davis’s home, still standing, is across from the Mt. Sinai Congregational Church. His grave is in the church cemetery.

Next: Dean Alvord and the Glorious Years