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Celebrating The Working Waterfront

As the Village of Greenport prepares to honor its working waterfront and support the East End Seaport Museum and Marine Foundation for the 29th annual Maritime Festival, we are reminded daily of its history that is still prevalent today. It has known many names since the township of Southold was settled in the mid-1600s, including Winter Harbor, Stirling, and Green Hill, though it was not until 1831 when the name Greenport was officially adopted. From 1795 through 1859, it was a major whaling port thanks to its deep and protected harbor, and was also home to a thriving shipbuilding industry. The menhaden fishing industry also flourished, and the arrival of the Long Island Railroad in 1844 served as a driving force to local agriculture. Though the days of whaling are long gone, history lives on through tall tales and books, and of course the local museum which aims to move the maritime lifestyle forward.

The East End Seaport Museum explores the rich maritime heritage of the East End. There is a 750-gallon saltwater aquarium that serves a curated collection of flora and fauna extracted from Peconic Bay, offering a better understanding of the fragile ecosystem of the Peconic Estuary. Two Fresnel lenses, which were first used in the 1800s to focus the beam in lighthouse lamps, are on display, while exhibits paying homage to baymen, the oyster industry, the history of hurricanes and tropical storms, and more provide insight into today’s local culture.

“The annual Maritime festival benefits the East End Seaport Museum and Marine Foundation,” says Maritime Chair Linda Kessler. “The proceeds from the festival weekend support the museum’s programs, aquarium and the maintenance of Long Beach Bar Lighthouse, known as ‘Bug Light.’”

Long Beach Bar “Bug” Lighthouse, located in Orient, is a staple attraction on the North Fork. It was originally built in 1870 on screw piles that left an opening beneath the structure. When the rocks were covered at high tide the lighthouse looked like a giant water bug, thus inspiring the name “Bug Light.” The lighthouse was tragically destroyed on the evening of July 4, 1963 by arsonists, becoming a lost icon for a quarter century. The East End Seaport Museum and Marine Foundation was established to reconstruct the beloved lighthouse.

Hundreds of local residents from 1989 to 1990 contributed financial support, materials, equipment, and labor to rebuild and the restoration project only took 60 days from inception to completion. Today, Bug Light serves as a symbol of the community’s dedication to keeping its maritime heritage alive. Aboard the Peconic Star II, guests can take a roundtrip cruise to visit the lighthouse with a tour guide sharing its history and lore. The experience also includes time to explore inside, enjoying panoramic views from the wraparound deck and even ring the lighthouse bell.

The festival itself takes place on Saturday, September 22 and Sunday, September 23 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. All weekend visitors can enjoy the American Schooner Association exhibit, classic and ice boat exhibit, cruises to tour Bug Lighthouse, and shop vendors, try food from local restaurants, check out demonstrations, and take part in special programs. The museum and the Village Blacksmith Shop will also be open to visitors. New this year is the first annual Five Alarm Chili Challenge with local fire departments, something many are looking forward to.

Starting the weekend festivities will be the parade along Main and Front Streets. “The festival has been a staple to the East End for 29 years and is a family driven event,” says acting chair David Abatelli. “The festival parade includes the JROTC, ROTC, the Merry Merfolk contestants, local fire trucks, vintage cars and much more.”

The Land and Sea Gala serves as the museum’s largest fundraising effort of the year and kicks off the festival on Friday, September 21. It takes place in the Greenport Yacht and Shipbuilding Co. yard where active wooden boat builders have hangars, a perfect tie to past and present. In a true showcase of community, many local businesses and restaurants come together to support the event each year as well.

“Every year I look forward to the spirit of coming together,” says Sarah Phillips Loth, event co-chair and owner of First and South. “All of our local businesses, residents, baymen (and women), farmers and yachties under one tent in such a unique and special space. The transformation of Greenport Yacht and Shipbuilding Co. is so grand and yet so rooted in the working waterfront. Sharing that with others is super special.”

Local vendors and sponsors this year include Greenport Harbor Brewing Co., Good Libations, Croteaux Vineyards, PORT Waterfront Bar and Grill, 1943 Pizza Bar, First and South, American Beech, Lucharitos, Noah’s, Stirling Sake, Clarke’s Garden and Home, The Times Vintage, The North Fork Art Collective, Custom Lighting of Suffolk, and McBurnie Tent, just to name a few.

“Getting to reach out to our friends, neighbors and businesses after a busy summer is grounding,” Loth shares. “It reminds me each year why I live here, what I love to share and learn from our surroundings. The East End Seaport Museum has been here through generations of North Forkers and has plenty to look forward to in the years to come with this level of involvement from everyone.”

From shellfisheries to wooden boat builders, shipyards and waterfront restaurants, Greenport calls people to its harbor by both land and sea. The annual Maritime Festival expects to draw its usual crowd with thousands of visitors passing through the weekend, enjoying all the village has to offer and more. Take the time to visit the museum to see why this community, family-driven event is about much more than simple entertainment. It’s the perfect summer ending. Happy Maritime!