The History of the Three Villages and St. James: With a Modern Chronicle of the Long Island Rail Road’s Eastern Port Jefferson Branch

Stony Brook Harbor, Stony Brook Beach (July 9, 2014)
Stony Brook Harbor, Stony Brook Beach (July 9, 2014)

The first settlement in Brookhaven township was at Setauket in the seventeenth century.  Today, the surrounding area is composed of two hamlets and an incorporated village: Setauket, Stony Brook, and Old Field village.  Collectively, they are known as the three villages.  With a New England flare, they feature old steepled-churches, quaint inns, village greens, grist mills, mill ponds, and quaint shops.  A state university is also located within Stony Brook.  The growth of the three villages, and the adjacent hamlet of St. James in the town of Smithtown, was aided by the arrival of the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) in the nineteenth century.  As the communities grew so did the service of the railroad.  By the mid-to-late twentieth century, service to the area was at a premium, with three railroad stations.  The following is a history of the three villages, with an analysis of how the growth in population affected the future of the LIRR.

Early History of the Three Villages

When the first American Indians arrived in Suffolk County about 10,000 years ago, the area of Long Island Sound was low-lying meadow and marshland, with a river dividing Connecticut and Long Island.  The Indians were nomadic hunters who followed the caribou herds to the area.  By 5,000 years ago, they were living in mobile settlements, shifting location seasonally similar to current migrations to the shore.  In the winter, they remained inland, housed in wigwams of wood and bark.  Over summer, they settled near the shore for fishing.  Indians developed a taste for shellfish such as clams, scallops, and oysters.  The shells were converted to white and purple beads called wampum and utilized as a ceremonial token at all major events.  When the Dutch and English colonists arrived on Long Island, wampum was turned into a monetary system and used as a standard for trade transactions.[1]

The first English settlement in what is now the town of Brookhaven was at Setauket in 1655.  The area was inhabited by the Setalcott tribe, who claimed land from Stony Brook to Wading River.  They were one of the most powerful tribes in what is now Suffolk County, with a royal residence upon Little Neck, now called Strongs Neck.[2]  Setauket is an adaption of the Indian word Setalcott, which means “land on the mouth of the creek.”[3]  The entire township later acquired the name Brookhaven because of the number of considerable streams.[4]  In a purchase agreement dated April 14, 1655, six pioneers bought land from what is now Stony Brook on the west to Belle Terre on the east.  These men were John Scudder, John Swezey, Jonathan Porter, Roger Cheston, Thomas Harlow, and Thomas Mapes.[5]  Two more land acquisitions followed.  About 1659, Old Field neck was acquired, and in 1662, Strongs Neck.[6]

Development of the village of Setauket progressed slowly.  The immediate area had no mills and grain was shipped to Connecticut to be made into flour.  The first mill grant was recorded in 1659 to John Chacum (Ketcham).  While agriculture was the common business, fishing and whaling were important in the economic life of the settlement.  The total number of Europeans settlers who first arrived is not exactly known.  Most, if not all, were Puritans who came from other areas of Long Island or New England.  One early settler was Richard Woodhull who, at the age of twenty-eight, crossed the Atlantic Ocean in 1648 with the followers of Oliver Cromwell.  Woodhull was a prominent citizen who became a town official.  Another early settler was the Puritan Reverend Nathaniel Brewster.  A member of the first Harvard College graduating class, Brewster was the first ordained minister to serve in Setauket.[7]

Stony Brook Grist Mill (July 9, 2014)
Stony Brook Grist Mill (July 9, 2014)

Following two years of negotiations, Setauket became a part of the Hartford, Connecticut colony on May 16, 1661.  Subsequent to the English victory over the Dutch in 1664, Setauket and all of Long Island became part of the New York colony.  In 1666 Governor Nichols authorized a patent confirmation for the previous purchases from the Indians, which included the upper Brookhaven area.[8]  The Nichols Patent also changed the name of Setauket to Brookhaven.  However, the village was always identified as Setauket.  Additionally, Setauket Harbor was for a time called Cromwell Bay, in honor of Oliver Cromwell.  To the west, Stony Brook was called Wopowog by the Indians, meaning “at the narrows” or “a crossing place.”  In fact, the creek in the area, or stony brook, was easily crossed and a bridge was soon built.[9]  To the north, the large neck now called Old Field was once Indian farming land and was utilized for this purpose well into the 1700s.  It was originally called Cataconacke by the Indians, which means “great neck.”  The present name is in one of original deeds as “ye Old field.”  In 1661 the Old Field farming area was divided into six-acre lots.[10]  Strongs Neck, the other neck of land in the area, separating Conscience Bay on the west from Setauket Harbor on the east, was identified by the Indians as Minasseroke, or “island of wild huckleberries.”  Featuring a narrow passage of water between Conscience Bay and Old Field Point, the “royal residence” of Strongs Neck was also an Indian farming community.  The neck received its name after the Strong family bought property at auction.  The first colonial manor house was built around 1700.[11]

Mill Creek, Stony Brook Grist Mill (July 9, 2014)
Mill Creek, Stony Brook Grist Mill (July 9, 2014)

Until after the Revolution, Setauket continued to be the only place of any importance in Brookhaven township.  However, with the construction of roadways and introduction of regular mail and transportation services, the village lost its isolated character.  In addition to the sloops that ran from the North Shore to New York, a regular stage coach line began operation from Brooklyn to Sag Harbor in 1772.  While the line did not run through the village, it was often used by Setauket travelers.[12]

The current triangular Setauket green has been the village gathering place for over 300 years and the adjoining area includes several historic buildings.  The first, Caroline Church, was built in 1729 and is the oldest Episcopal Church in Suffolk County.  Originally called Christ Church, the name was changed a year later because Queen Caroline donated a silver communion set.  Another building is the Presbyterian Church, constructed in 1812.  It features a tall steeple that rises in three stages, capped by an octagonal dome.  Lastly, the Emma S. Clark Library was founded in 1892.  Of a Queen Anne design with brick, the building also contains a stained-glass window of angel Gabriel.[13]

The village center also features an important boulder.  Referred to as Patriot’s Rock, the object was left by the retreating glacier which created Long Island.  In 1665, Reverend Brewster preached his first sermon atop the rock.  However, during the American Revolution it gained patriotic fame.  It was used to mount a brass, six-pound cannon for the short 1777 Battle of Setauket.[14]  Patriot forces, using the boulder for cover, fired artillery at British soldiers and Tories who were taking refuge in a makeshift fort in the Setauket Presbyterian Church.  Following word that British reinforcements were on the way, the group of 500 forces fled and the short battle ended.  However, the rock remains.[15]

Battle of Setauket Boulder (July 9, 2014)
Battle of Setauket Boulder (July 9, 2014)

Setauket was also the site of the first organized espionage ring.  Working in behalf of the Patriot cause, the leader of the team was Benjamin Tallmadge.  Born in Setauket and the son of the local Presbyterian minister, Tallmadge became a major in the Continental Army and later passed important information to General George Washington from Setauket across Long Island Sound to Connecticut.[16]

Caroline Church of Brookhaven, Setauket (July 9, 2014)
Caroline Church of Brookhaven, Setauket (July 9, 2014)

Similar to Setauket, Stony Brook and Old Field only gradually advanced in the early days.  Both began as farming communities.  Fishing was also a supplementary occupation in Stony Brook.  However, the high bluffs along Long Island Sound in Old Field made direct water access, and therefore fishing, very difficult.  Following the purchase from the Sachem Waewasen, Old Field was allocated for early grazing rights.  In light of its remote location, population and commercial activity grew slowly.  The isolation led the Brookhaven town trustees to select Old Field as a site for a smallpox hospital in 1770.  While the construction of Old Field Road in 1791 improved accessibility, a 1797 map showed only two houses.[17]

Setauket Presbyterian Church (July 9, 2014)
Setauket Presbyterian Church (July 9, 2014)

The Growth of Industry

By the second half of the nineteenth century, Setauket had a population of some 1,400.[18]  Shipbuilding yards and marine railways dotted Setauket Harbor.[19]  Stony Brook also prospered in shipbuilding, George Hallock being one of the prominent shipbuilders.[20]  With its shallow but well-sheltered harbor, Stony Brook developed regular trade with New York City, with two busy wharfs and four shipyards.[21]  One caveat was its shallowness and inability to accommodate larger vessels, which greatly limited the amount of supplies and large items that could be shipped in.  Commissioner of Waterways William Sidney Mount attempted to have the harbor dredged but was unsuccessful.[22]  Like most areas across the North Shore of Long Island, cordwood was one of the most important resources until the introduction of coal.[23]  In its commercial peak, Stony Brook shipped four thousand cords of oak and walnut wood annually.[24]

Jonas Smith, a descendant of Richard “Bull” Smith of Smithtown, was one of the most important figures in the history of Stony Brook Harbor.  Rising from poverty to become the first millionaire on Long Island, Smith was both shipbuilder and ship-owner, with a fleet of thirty-two sailing vessels.  Around 1835, Smith purchased the house that would become the Three Village Inn to use as a summer house, which overlooks the harbor and Young’s Island to the west.[25]  Originally a farmhouse, the Inn dates to 1751.  Other industry in Stony Brook included piano-making, carpet and textile weaving, and lumber milling.[26]

Three Village Inn, Stony Brook (July 9, 2014)
Three Village Inn, Stony Brook (July 9, 2014)

The increase in sea traffic required better navigation along the rugged shoreline.  Hence, the Old Field Point Lighthouse was constructed in 1868.  The lighthouse, constructed in the Victorian-Gothic Revival style, is similar to the Block Island North Lighthouse and the Plum Island Lighthouse.  In 1933, it was deactivated.  Two years later the lighthouse property was conveyed to the village for “public park” purposes.  During WWII it was seized by the federal government and used by the Coast Guard.  It was later returned to the village following the war.  In the summer of 1991, the Coast Guard re-lit the light in the lighthouse tower room.[27]  Currently it serves as the village hall.

Lighthouse, Old Field Point (July 9, 2014)
Lighthouse, Old Field Point (July 9, 2014)

Two factors contributed to the demise of shipbuilding in the three villages.   One was the change from wooden sailing ships to steam-driven steel vessels.  The last wooden vessel made in Setauket was the Monrovia in 1879.  The other change was the arrival of the iron horse.[28]  For years, Setauket residents who wished to travel by steel rail needed to go the center of the island to use the LIRR’s Main Line.  John Elderkin ran a stage coach in Setauket to carry passengers to and from Lakeland Station, near modern-day Ronkonkoma.[29]  With the advent of rail travel, not only could area residents travel to the far reaches of New York by train rather than by boat, freight from the three villages could be shipped at faster speeds and thus further improve the area’s commerce.

The railroad also allowed communities to develop into modern suburban villages and vacation destinations.  One such locale is St. James.  While early settlers of Smithtown such as Bull Smith traversed modern-day St. James to access the Sound shore, it was not until a generation later that settlement began.  First known as Head of the Harbor, the hamlet was mostly composed of servants and workers from the harbor estates.  An additional section known as Sherrawog Park branched out of Head of the Harbor.  In 1853, the entire community was renamed St. James, supposedly after James Clinch, the principal contributor to the St. James Episcopal Church building fund.  Following construction of the railroad station, it was dubbed “Boomertown” because of the flurry of building.  By the late nineteenth century St. James featured an actor’s colony, a mile-long racetrack for trotters, a large distillery, a hostel for vacationers, and churches.[30]

The village of Setauket also became a lively summer resort and tourist center.  Summer hotels were constructed as the railroad brought weekend travelers to the North Shore to escape the confines of life in Brooklyn and New York.  Stony Brook also was a summer haven.  However, their existence as a resort was short-lived.[31]

Angel Gabriel window, Emma Clark Memorial Library, Setauket (July 9, 2014)
Angel Gabriel window, Emma Clark Memorial Library, Setauket (July 9, 2014)

Long Island Rail Road

The Hicksville & Cold Spring Branch Railroad was the first company to edge toward the three villages.  It was built as a branch off the LIRR Main Line and was sold to the senior company in 1863.  An extension to Northport followed in the late 1860s.  To expand eastward, a subsidiary company called the Smithtown & Port Jefferson Railroad Company was created in 1870.  The road left the former road at Northport Junction where the old line ran to Northport village, and continued to Port Jefferson.  The right-of-way from the junction to the village became a branch line.  By 1895, the road was further extended to Wading River by the Long Island Rail Road Company North Shore Branch, which then merged it with the Smithtown & Port Jefferson Railroad.  The North Shore Branch would later be absorbed by the LIRR.  Timetables identified the road as the Port Jefferson Branch in the late nineteenth century and later as the Wading River Branch.  By the mid-twentieth century, it was permanently known as the LIRR Port Jefferson Branch.[32]

In the nineteenth century, two railroad stations were established in the three village area and one in St. James.  St. James Station began in May of 1873 as a signal stop.  The site of the present depot building was given by Edmund T. and Milton G. Smith on the condition that the road be located on the road dividing their farms.  Depot construction began in August of 1873 by Calvin L’Hommedieu and was completed in October of that year.  When opened to the public, the building’s exterior consisted of board and batten siding, with bracketed eaves supporting the roof and gingerbread trim above the windows and doors.  The interior walls were tongue and groove, and there was a large pot-bellied stove in the waiting room.[33]

St. James Station
Historical Fact
Station opened May 1873 (timetable)
Depot building opened August – October 1873
High-level concrete platform and ramp constructed (with two flat-roofed, metal-framed Plexiglas passenger shelters) Mid-August – December 1986 (author’s analysis)
Station agency closed April 1, 1996
Station agent assigned to platform May – September 13, 1996 (author’s analysis)
ADA station enhancements completed March 20, 1997 (timetable)
Depot building renovation began March 21, 1997
Depot building renovation completed 1998
LIRR St. James Station depot building, view east (July 9, 2014)
LIRR St. James Station depot building, view east (July 9, 2014)

Stony Brook also began as a signal station in May of 1873, the original location marked by a hickory tree.  The construction of a depot was contracted in May of 1873 and the structure was built in the summer.[34]  Area citizens furnished the new building with a clock and an outside light by early September.[35]  Thanks to generous contributions from residents of both Stony Brook and Old Field, the depot building was remodeled between October 1916 and January 1917.[36]

Stony Brook Station
Historical Fact
Station opened May 1873 (timetable)
Depot building opened Summer 1873
Depot building remodeled October 1916 – January 1917
High-level concrete south platform and ramp construction began (with four flat-roofed, metal-framed Plexiglas passenger shelters) March 1988
High-level concrete south platform and ramp opened November 14, 1988
High-level concrete north platform and ramp constructed (with two flat-roofed, metal-framed Plexiglas passenger shelters and pedestrian overpass to south platform) November 1988 – Early Spring 1989
Station agency closed April 1, 1996
Station agent assigned to platform May – September 13, 1996 (author’s analysis)
ADA station enhancements completed March 20, 1997 (timetable)
Station renovated (with better lighting, new heating inside the depot building, ADA-compliant handrails, and six spacious, shed-roofed platform waiting area shelter and information center replacements made of steel and enamel painted pine green and light beige) November 2008 – Early 2009 (author’s analysis)
LIRR Stony Brook Station depot (August 2, 2013)
LIRR Stony Brook Station depot building, view west (August 2, 2013)

When service began on the line in July of 1873, Setauket Station was marked by a sand bank.  While public subscription was undertaken in April of 1873 to collect money for construction of a passenger depot, in February of 1877 a freight depot was erected first.    For a time it served as a passenger station.  The passenger depot proper was put up between January and February of 1883.[37]  Initial service was three daily trains at each station stop in both directions to and from Hunter’s Point and Port Jefferson.[38]

Setauket Station
Historical Fact
Station opened July 1873
Combination depot building and freight house opened February 1877
Depot building replaced January – February 1883
Station agency closed November 16, 1959 (author’s analysis)
Three-sided, shed-roofed metal passenger shelter erected November 1959 (author’s analysis)
Depot building razed October 3, 1960
Metal passenger shelter destroyed Early 1970s (author’s analysis)
Last passenger service June 26, 1980 (author’s analysis)
Station closed July 1, 1980 (author’s analysis)
LIRR Setauket Station depot, view east (Circa 1958: Dave Keller Archive)
LIRR Setauket Station, platform and depot building, view east (Circa 1958: Emery Photo, Dave Keller Archive)

Early Twentieth Century

At the dawn of the twentieth century, what little summer resort activity existed in the three villages and St. James ended.  Setauket also lost all industrial business.  In fact, lack of industry was due in part to a strict 1937 Brookhaven zoning ordinance.[39]  In its place, commercial activity developed along the road linking the village to East Setauket.  Following World War II, an array of stores and businesses including three shopping plazas developed along Main Street (New York State Route 25A).[40]

Gnarled Hollow Road, East Setauket (June 13, 2014)
Gnarled Hollow Road, East Setauket (June 13, 2014)

Old Field maintained a sense of isolation with a few large estates as many summer vacationers became permanent residents, building grander residences.  In 1901, Eversley Childs created a 500-acre estate.  Frank and Jennie Melville completed their Sunwood estate in 1919.  Ward Melville, who later was instrumental in the preservation of the three villages, purchased and renovated Widewater in 1924, originally named Old Field Manor.  Additionally, the Old Field Improvement Association oversaw many projects, including the Quaker Path extension to provide access from Old Field Road to the Stony Brook railroad station.  In 1927, the small villages of West Meadow, Old Field, and Conscience Bay were incorporated as the village of Old Field.[41]

Conscience Bay, Old Field (July 9, 2014)
Conscience Bay, Old Field (July 9, 2014)

As aforementioned, Ward Melville was instrumental in maintaining the old-world character of the three villages.  He was a visionary who started work in Stony Brook in 1940.[42]  He and his father Frank Melville, Jr. are also credited with conceiving of Stony Brook, Setauket, and Old Field as a cohesive three village district.  While not a formal municipality, the concept is an accepted notion and can be seen in the names of stores and churches, and the local newspaper, not to mention the school district.  Ward’s wife also advocated the three village concept and purchased the Three Village Inn in 1929 for the Woman’s Exchange Organization.[43]

Long Island Sound, Old Field Point (July 9, 2014)
Long Island Sound, Old Field Point (July 9, 2014)

As the communities prospered, the LIRR provided frequent service to the three villages and St. James.  By the summer of 1903, ten daily Monday through Saturday first-class trains made station stops at St. James, Stony Brook, and Setauket in both directions, as well as one second-class freight train.  On Sundays, there were four passenger trains, both eastbound and westbound.[44]

Long Island Sound, Old Field Point (July 9, 2014)
Long Island Sound, Old Field Point (July 9, 2014)

The railroad also added a flag stop.  In 1909, a 335-acre property was purchased by John Lewis Childs, a horticulturist and founder of the village of Floral Park.  Used to grow plants and seeds, the site contained a large colonial-type residence, manager’s cottage, storage building, and tenant houses.[45]  The following year, the endeavor boasted a rail stop and a post office under the name of Flowerfield.[46]  The LIRR station was 1.2 miles east of St. James and opened as a signal stop, complete with a depot building.[47]  Of a unique design, it featured a greenhouse on the upper level of the building’s east end.[48]

Flowerfield Station
Historical Fact
Station and depot building opened 1910
Station agency closed August 1925 (author’s analysis)
Depot building closed Some time between October 1943 & June 1944
Last passenger service September 8, 1957 (author’s analysis)
Depot building razed July 1959
Station closed Sometime between September 1960 & June 18, 1961 (author’s analysis)

By the fall of 1916, there were six daily, Monday through Saturday, eastbound and westbound flag stops at Flowerfield, with two additional eastbound on Saturdays, one being a parlor car consist.  Sunday service was four flag stops in both directions.[49]  Despite the frequent service, on July 14, 1925 the New York State Public Service Commission authorized that the LIRR had permission to discontinue the station agent.  However, the railroad was required to employ a caretaker at the depot to maintain its upkeep.[50]

LIRR Flowerfield Station depot and CPA-5 number 2404 of train number 621, view west (Circa 1924: Higginbotham Photo, Dave Keller Archive)
LIRR Flowerfield Station platform and depot building and FM CPA-5 number 2404 of westbound train number 621, view east (August 26, 1955: Higginbotham Photo, Dave Keller Archive)

Sadly, Flowerfield was the scene of one of the many LIRR incidents where a train struck a vehicle at a grade crossing.  On August 28, 1921, a automobile was struck by a westbound train just west of the crossing at the Flowerfield Station depot.  The driver Anthony H. May died on impact.  However, the passenger, May’s fiancé Margaret Zimmerman, survived and eventually sued the railroad for $15,000 in damages.  She would lose the case on the grounds that she was not as badly injured as she claimed.[51]

Between the first and second World Wars, rail service and ridership on the Port Jefferson Branch was at a peak.  The timetable for the summer of 1928 included eleven daily westbound and twelve daily eastbound station stops at both three village locations and St. James.  Sundays featured eight westbound and seven eastbound.  By this time, Flowerfield Station included some regular service.  In addition to three westbound flag stops, there were four regular stations stops.  Out of the nine eastbound trains, one was a regular stop.  Sundays featured three westbound and four eastbound flag stops.[52]

However, by the 1930s, auto competition and changing travel patterns led to track abandonments, including the right-of-way from Port Jefferson to Wading River.  Additionally, when subway service reached Jamaica in 1937 it tapped off close to ninety percent of the LIRR’s Queens traffic in a few years.   Still, during WWII LIRR ridership boomed system-wide, in light of the shortage of gasoline and automobile tires.  Trains were reportedly so crowded they often had to be slowed to collect fares.[53]  By 1942, service to the three village area minus Flowerfield was roughly a dozen trains daily, both eastbound and westbound.  Sunday service was slightly under ten.  But, Flowerfield service diminished.  The Flowerfield complex was sold off in early 1937, rumored at first to become a General Motors assembly plant.[54]  Daily eastbound service at the station in the war years was two regular stops and one flag.  Westbound trains made two regular and two flag stops.  Sunday service was down to one train in each direction.[55]  The post-war years would bring much change to the LIRR as the railroad needed to adjust to the automobile and the growth in Long Island’s population.

The Long Island Rail Road and the Three Villages in the Post-World War II Years

At the start of the second half of the twentieth century, the LIRR entered an era of uncertainty.  Failing equipment, poor investments, inappropriate management and foresight, and competition from motor vehicle travel were some of the issues the railroad faced.  While attempts were made to rejuvenate the LIRR in the 1940s, by 1949 there was barely enough money to meet the weekly payroll and the railroad plunged into bankruptcy.  The bad financial times came just as the post-war suburban revolution exploded in Nassau and Suffolk counties.  While the LIRR continued to play a pivotal role for the island, automobiles and trucks became the dominant modes of transportation influencing Long Island development.[56]

Setauket Millpond (July 9, 2014)
Setauket Millpond (July 9, 2014)

During WWII, hopes were high for the future of the LIRR.  An allied victory was envisioned as a stimulus for an upgrade to the aging system.  In 1942, J.G. White Engineering Corporation conducted a year-long study and recommended post-war improvements which included electrification of the rails between Hicksville and Northport completed in the years 1945 to 1950, and Northport to Port Jefferson from 1950 to 1955.  The plan was for first-class rail transportation to accommodate the island’s residential development.  It would be funded by fares and the lowoering of railroad property tax.  Completion of the program was expected to increase property values.[57]

However, the post-war years took a toll on the railroad.  First, nation-wide coal shortages led to federal restrictions on steam locomotion.  Twelve Port Jefferson Branch trains were cancelled in the fall of 1946 to save fuel.[58]  A year and a half later, the Federal Office of Defense Transportation ordered railroads to reduce steam passenger mileage twenty-five percent.  Six weekday and seven weekend Port Jefferson Branch trains were affected.[59]  Two years later, the LIRR announced withdrawals, schedule revisions and train switches to go into effect to comply with further orders from the Interstate Commerce Commission to cut steam operation fifty percent.  The railroad substituted diesel locomotives for some of the runs but a total of four Port Jefferson trains were withdrawn.  While many of these trains were later reinstated or switched to diesel-hauled service, the reliability of the railroad was in question since many trains were cancelled over the span of five years.[60]

Secondly, the railroad retired their DD-1 electric locomotive fleet.  Trains on non-electrified lines such as the Port Jefferson Branch typically exchanged their steam or diesel locomotive at Jamaica for a DD-1 to carry the consist into Pennsylvania Station, a costly and time-consuming practice.  However, as the last of the DD-1’s were withdrawn at the beginning of 1952 passengers were required to “change at Jamaica” and board a multi-unit electric train for service to the city.  The New York State Public Service Commission immediately ordered an investigation.  Nevertheless, electric railroading on the LIRR was regulated to the multi-unit electric train by 1958.[61]

Thirdly, the LIRR proposed the abandonment of the Port Jefferson Branch east of Smithtown.  The news came in May of 1952 as railroad trustee William Wyer sought to abandon service on three outlying branches in eastern Suffolk.  Wyer stated:  “ if [branches] do not pay for themselves we may have to take steps to eliminate them.”  No doubt poor railroad service and automobile travel decreased ridership on the eastern Port Jefferson Branch, and therefore revenue.  Abandonment required the LIRR to ask for federal proceedings as well as authorization from the Interstate Commerce Commission.  Both were never accomplished[62]

Lastly, and no doubt the most serious concern that the LIRR faced, was its safety following two fatal accidents in 1950.  The first occurred on February 17 in Rockville Centre after a head-on collision of two trains.  The catastrophe claimed over thirty lives.[63]  The second was nine months later on November 22 in Richmond Hill.  Over seventy perished as an express train plowed into the rear of a local on the same track.[64]

The first sign of relief was the formation of the Long Island Transit Authority.  Created by New York State with the approval of Governor Dewey on March 31, 1951,[65] the authority’s goal was to see that the LIRR provided “safe and adequate service.”[66]  On August 12, 1954, following more than five years of bankruptcy, the LIRR embarked on a twelve-year, $65-million rehabilitation program.[67]  The first part of the program guaranteed a fifty percent real estate tax decrease for nine years and a $5,500,000 investment by the its parent company, the Pennsylvania Railroad.  It also instituted a twenty percent fare increase.  After two years over 200 new cars were purchased and 696 older cars modernized.  Also, diesel replaced steam on all passenger operations as of October 1955.[68]

Additionally, the railroad attempted to cut service at station agencies to save money.  In August of 1959, the LIRR asked the Public Service Commission for the authority to end less-than-carload (LCL) freight  service in all of Suffolk.  Its argument was that stations which provided LCL handled only about one-sixth of the LIRR’s package business but were responsible for almost half of the railroad’s freight deficit.  Ending LCL at seventy-four stations would reduce spending by approximately $175,000 a year.  Three of these stations were Stony Brook, St. James, and Setauket.[69]  After a year of debate, the LIRR was allowed to centralize its freight operations as LCL freight was trucked into Long Island City from all points east.[70]

Meanwhile, the three villages and Stony Brook expanded and grew into modern suburbs.  In the 1950s, Setauket was somewhat on the threshold of a new industrial era.  Even though industry moved in, the village maintained its quaint style thanks to the efforts of Ward Melville.[71]  Residents who used the railroad fought for better service.  In fact, members of the Civic Association petitioned for a full-time agent in 1947.  A hearing was held where an attorney for residents claimed the LIRR unsuccessfully filed for a petition in 1938 to withdraw the full-time agent.  He added that the current agent worked only a little over an hour daily and that freight and passenger business had more than doubled since 1938.[72]  However, by 1959 the LIRR was authorized to end freight operations at Setauket Station.  Also, the Public Service Commission granted the LIRR permission on October 2 to replace the depot with a shelter.  A local commuter group attempted to fight the closure but to no avail.  Effective November 16, 1959 the ticket agency closed and a shelter shed was erected.[73]  The depot building was torn down on October 3, 1960.[74]

Location of the former LIRR Setauket Station, view east (July 9, 2014)
Location of the former LIRR Setauket Station, view east (July 9, 2014)
Former LIRR Setauket Station platform, view west (July 9, 2014)
Former LIRR Setauket Station platform, view west (July 9, 2014)

The St. James Station depot almost met a similar fate.  However, residents rallied to save it in 1964 and the depot stands today.[75]  To the east at Flowerfield, the former nursery was purchased by the Gyrodyne Company, developers of aerospace equipment and unmanned helicopters.[76]  In light of low ridership and in an attempt to save money, the LIRR discontinued Flowerfield Station.  The agency had already closed sometime between October 1943 and June 1944.[77]  One of the last timetables to feature regular and flag service was effective September 10, 1956.  Eastbound daily Monday through Saturday service included four eastbound flag stops, and one on Sundays.  Westbound Monday through Friday service included one regular stop and three flag stops.  On Saturdays there were four flag stops and on Sundays there were two.[78]  By the fall of 1957, there were no longer station stop times indicated.  However, it remained listed in employee timetables as a stop until the summer of 1960, timetables effective June 19.  By the summer of 1961, it was removed as a station stop.  The depot building was razed in July of 1959.[79]

LIRR Timetable Effective September 10, 1956: One of the last timetables to mark eastbound service to Flowerfield Station
LIRR Timetable Effective September 10, 1956: One of the last timetables to mark eastbound service to Flowerfield Station
Location of the former LIRR Flowerfield Station, view east (August 24, 2014)
Location of the former LIRR Flowerfield Station, view east (August 24, 2014)

The State Purchase of the Long Island Rail Road

Ward Melville’s efforts continued to rejuvenate the three villages as Stony Brook and Old Field expanded in the post-war years as well.  In Stony Brook, the Grist Mill was converted to a museum.  Constructed in 1751 and used by farmers until 1947,  the mill is now part of the Museums at Stony Brook, a sixteen-building complex with a carriage house and art museum.[80]  In 1962, Ward Melville donated land that would become the State University at Stony Brook.  Additionally, an eighty-eight acre parcel of Melville-donated land became a town of Brookhaven beach known as the West Meadows Wetlands Preserve.[81]

To the north, large parcels of land in Old Field were sold and new homes were built.  The passage of two-acre zoning in 1954 allowed the village to maintain its old-world charm but at the same time grow into an exclusive modern suburb.  As a result, the population of Old Field grew from 250 in 1950 to 975 in 2007.[82]

In 1962, there more than a dozen weekday trains in both directions at the three village station stops and St. James.  Weekend service was beginning to improve as well, with almost a dozen trains both eastbound and westbound.[83]  Nonetheless the railroad needed further investments to become a first-class service.

From the 1960s to the 1980s, direct electric service to New York City was the LIRR’s goal.  The railroad was no longer a private company but rather part of a state-run transit authority.  In 1965, New York State purchased the struggling LIRR from the Pennsylvania Railroad and created the Metropolitan Commuter Transportation Authority to govern it.  This agency evolved into the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) and planned to be embark on a modernization program through both the electrification of diesel territory and purchase of a new electric fleet.[84]  Following the MTA acquisition, Governor Rockefeller promised that within two months the LIRR was to become the finest commuter line in the country.  That promise was definitely difficult to keep since the delivery of the new rolling stock was pushed back several years.  Also railcar maintenance issues and labor disputes were to beleaguer the railroad for several years.  However, during the energy crisis of the 1970s, ridership increased to more than 280,000 a day.  A modernized rail system was a necessity in light of growth in population along some of its busiest routes.[85]

Location of the former LIRR Setauket Station, Gnarled Hollow Road crossing, view northeast (June 13, 2014)
Location of the former LIRR Setauket Station, Gnarled Hollow Road crossing, view northeast (June 13, 2014)

Prior to the MTA takeover, the LIRR attempted one last effort to economize service to non-electrified territory.  In the early 1960s, buses replaced some trains on both the Main Line and Montauk Division.  A plan for a bus-rail service along the Port Jefferson Branch east of Huntington met with failure.  In May of 1961, the Brookhaven Town Board refused to grant consent for the second time to the LIRR.  In the end, buses never substituted for rail service on the Port Jefferson Branch.[86]

There was also a short-lived plan proposed by the Nassau Suffolk Regional Planning Board for a new transportation corridor for the three village area and St. James.  It was to be a six-lane highway and rail link on the North Shore.  The highway was to run easterly from the Seaford-Oyster Bay Expressway in Nassau to the William Floyd Parkway in Suffolk.  The rail service was to be a high-speed commuter line along the existing single-track Port Jefferson Branch with two new tracks added.  For thirteen miles, both would run parallel to save on the cost of condemning land.  The plan would replace the Stony Brook and Setauket stations with a new station farther south at the state university, in the area of the former Flowerfield Station.[87]  The existing single-track Port Jefferson Branch would be used exclusively for local passenger and freight service, while a new, more direct line would be built between Flowerfield and the existing terminus of the line at Port Jefferson Station.  Although a study of the idea was called for, the plan never came to fruition.[88]

LIRR St. James Station depot building and ticket vending machines, view east (July 9, 2014)
LIRR St. James Station depot building and ticket vending machines, view east (July 9, 2014)

The Long Island Rail Road in Transition

The state plan to modernize the LIRR began in earnest in June of 1967 when the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development announced that it provide $22.6 million to improve LIRR service.  The money represented the first federal appropriation in addition to the authority’s existing $47 million modernization scheme.  With funding, the Metropolitan Commuter Transportation Authority planned to cut commuting time. Authority Chairman  Dr. William J. Ronan  stated that the plan was to increase third-rail power, extend electric service from Mineola to Hicksville, and Hicksville to Huntington.  The first stage in the three phase plan expanded power and was expected to be completed by the end of 1968.  Funded by the state’s commuter car program with support from Port of New York Authority bonds, the second phase was the purchase of new cars.  The third phase was the construction of high-level platforms to accommodate the new cars, financed through bonds issued by the commuter authority.  In all, Dr. Ronan said the entire plan would replace diesel trains with electric service to eliminate the moniker “change at Jamaica.”[89]

The arrival of the new Metropolitan cars (M-1’s), manufactured by the Budd Company of Philadelphia, coincides with a lackluster period for LIRR service system-wide.  On-time performance was 97.1 percent for the decade ending December 31, 1967.  For 1968, it was down to 89.9 percent.  In the first six months of 1969 it dropped to 89.3 percent.  In fact, the week of June 26 in that year there were as many as 223 of 774 old electric cars out of service for inspection or repairs.  A total of 108 new cars were delivered by late spring of 1969 but were plagued with brake, air conditioning, and electric issues.  Additionally, Dr. Ronan was trying to patch up issues with labor unions since a dispute in  August of 1968 led to three-week labor slowdown.[90]

Despite the setbacks, the LIRR was ready for a new fall schedule in 1970, complete with new cars, and electrification completed to Hicksville and Huntington.  The announcement came in the final weeks of 1969 as 240 M-1 cars were ready for electric service.  As part of the $350-million modernization program, a modernized signal system allowed for speeds of eighty-miles-an-hour.[91]

With its electric fleet in place, the LIRR next focused on its diesel fleet.  Some old electric cars were converted to push-and-pull diesel coaches.  Push-and-pull diesel operation involves the use of locomotives at the front and rear end of trains, and was instituted in the summer of 1972.  The design saved time lost since trains were no longer forced to turn around.  Additional diesel engines were purchased over the next five years to facilitate push-and-pull service.[92]

With a total of 770 new electric cars and push-and-pull diesel service, a new timetable was inaugurated on June 20, 1972 with shortened run times.  It eliminated a “change at Jamaica” for the new electrified corridor to access Pennsylvania Station.  President Walter L. Schlager reiterated the new timetables and improved service were made possible through capital improvement funding.[93]

Shorter run time was also achieved through a new commuter zone structure.  In 1970, the LIRR decided create zones of commuter stops, each with its own special fare for a trip to New York.  The plan, following MTA approval of a twenty percent fare increase, divided the system into fourteen zones in January of 1972 to permit easier ticketing procedures and allow for better collection of fares.  As the LIRR took control of smaller companies over the years, each line had its own set of ticket prices.  Railroad passengers living equidistant from the city, but on separate branches, were paying different fares.  Across-the-board fare increases continued the disparity.  The new zones were to operate north to south and allow for a manageable fair collection practice.  It also initiated the practice of trains only making rush-hour stops in specific zones on their way to and from western terminals.  Therefore, the new structure saved travel time as some trains made all stops in one zone and then traveled non-stop to New York or Jamaica.  The new set-up placed stations Stony Brook through Port Jefferson in zone 11.[94]

LIRR Port Jefferson, Setauket, Stony Brook Station Timetable Effective May 12, 1980: New color-coded station timetable that began in 1974 to inaugurate new commuter zone structure and other improvements
LIRR Port Jefferson, Stony Brook, Setauket Station Timetable Effective May 12, 1980: New color-coded station timetable (Port Jefferson Branch being dark blue) that began in 1974 to highlight the new commuter zone structure and other improvements

Before zoning, most diesel service from Port Jefferson through Hicksville made all local station stops and then select stops to Jamaica where passengers changed for electric service.[95]  Now select rush-hour trains ran from Port Jefferson to Greenlawn or Huntington, and then express to Jamaica or Hunterspoint Avenue.  Other rush-hour diesel service originated or terminated at Huntington where electric trains were utilized to and from New York.  Non-rush-hour service also typically ran to and from Huntington where passengers changed for electric service.[96]  Ideally, the new design avoided a change of trains in Jamaica as much as possible and attempted to resort to electric service for a speedier travel time.

LIRR Port Jefferson Branch Timetable Effective May 19, 1975: New color-coded branch timetable that began in 1974 to inaugurate new commuter zone structure
LIRR Port Jefferson Branch Timetable Effective May 19, 1975: New color-coded branch timetable (Port Jefferson being dark blue) that began in 1974 to highlight the new commuter zone structure and other improvements

While the railroad made substantial progress to improve travel from the three villages and St. James to western terminals, a one-seat ride to Pennsylvania Station was still not possible.  As far back as 1911, residents of the eastern Port Jefferson Branch clamored for express service.  In the summer of that year, customers expressed their displeasure with LIRR scheduling at a public meeting held at Pennsylvania Station demanding express service direct to and from Smithtown.[97]  It would not be until the dawn of the twenty-first century that residents of the eastern Port Jefferson Branch had an opportunity to travel to New York in one car without a change.

The Failed Attempt to Electrify the Port Jefferson Branch East of Huntington 

In July of 1973, Governor Nelson Rockefeller offered a $3.5 billion bond proposal for transit and highway improvements.  While talk of electrification of the eastern boundaries of the railroad dates back to World War II, Rockefeller’s plan looked to readdress the issue.[98]  To expedite improvements state-wide, the Tri-State Regional Planning Commission was set up to coordinate planning in twelve New York counties.  Made of regional and federal officials, the commission called for the purchase of 176 electric, multi-unit commuter cars and forty-five new locomotives for the LIRR in October of 1975, plus signal improvements system-wide.[99]  Nevertheless, the state’s inability to sell bonds, put a crimp on some of the improvement plans.[100]

The long effort to modernize the LIRR reached somewhat of a peak in 1982 when the state authorized a $7.2 billion capital program for the MTA, which included $680 million for the LIRR.[101]  Electric service finally reached Ronkonkoma on the Main Line by the late-1980s.  However, funds ran dry and electrification of the eastern Port Jefferson Branch was postponed indefinitely.  Seeking an alternative to the costly endeavor, the LIRR planned to institute dual-mode service whereby a diesel engine would be able to travel to New York’s Pennsylvania Station since it could both run off the third rail in electric territory and use diesel fuel in non-electrified regions.  The plan took several years to be realized.  In the meantime, despite increases in ridership, the busy Port Jefferson Branch lost one of its three village stations.

By summer of 1980, the LIRR was plagued by widespread air-conditioning failures and poor on-time performance.  Local politicians also complained that LIRR stations were inadequately maintained even though both Nassau and Suffolk paid more than $15 million a year in station maintenance.[102]  Setauket Station was described by Suffolk County Legislator Ferdinand Geise as “a slab of concrete, about five-by-twelve feet, littered with broken glass and crushed beer cans, no signs, and some charred wood that was a shelter but fell down ten years ago and was later burned by vandals.”  He also claimed that nobody it.  In early April-1980, Suffolk County cut off the $5,677 a year it paid for operation and maintenance.  Another legislator, John Rosso made the station a campaign issue in 1979 calling the expenditure on the a slab of concrete since the early 1970s ridiculous.[103]

On the other hand, MTA spokesman David Plavin said the State Legislature put a cap on the amount the MTA charged for maintenance so the real costs exceeded what Suffolk paid.  Under state law, Suffolk paid $5,140,000 for operation and $2,736,984 for maintenance, and was billed for service county-wide even though the law required a station-by-station breakdown.  In response, County Controller Joseph Caputo planned to survey all Suffolk stations to justify charges and ensure proper service.[104]

Indeed, by 1975 train service at Setauket was half that of its sister stations in zone 11.  The weekday eastbound timetable included six trains, four of which were during rush-hour.  Westbound scheduled five with only two during the rush.  Weekend service was six station stops in both directions.[105]  By the fall of 1976, weekend service was suspended.[106]  The following spring, daily service was cut to five eastbound station stops (four were rush-hour) and three westbound rush-hour station stops.[107]

On June 5, 1980, an MTA committee authorized the closure of Setauket Station to be effective by July 1.[108]  On June 26, LIRR spokesman Dave Vieser said that Setauket service would end the following day because of low passenger use and vandalism.[109]  The final timetable for Setauket service was effective May 12, 1980.  Westbound service on June 27, 1980 was at 4:54 a.m., 7:01 a.m., and 7:26 a.m.  Final eastbound arrived at 9:18 a.m., 6:15 p.m., 6:34 p.m., 6:59 p.m., and 7:57 p.m.[110]

LIRR Port Jefferson, Setauket, Stony Brook Timetable Effective May 12, 1980: Last timetable to mark westbound service to Setauket Station
LIRR Port Jefferson, Stony Brook, Setauket Timetable Effective May 12, 1980: Last timetable to mark westbound service to Setauket Station
LIRR Port Jefferson, Setauket, Stony Brook Timetable Effective May 12, 1980: Last timetable to mark eastbound service to Setauket Station
LIRR Port Jefferson, Stony Brook, Setauket Timetable Effective May 12, 1980: Last timetable to mark eastbound service to Setauket Station

Station maintenance fees continued to top the list of gripes that Suffolk had with LIRR service.  In fact, in the summer of 1981, Suffolk County joined four upstate counties in a lawsuit to stop the MTA from increasing LIRR station maintenance charges.  An MTA proposal called for Suffolk’s bill to jump from $2.7 million to $5.7 million.  Suffolk County Executive Peter Cohalan said the county paid $10.5 million in the previous five years.  In a statement, he claimed that “in exchange for that amount our stations are dirty, unpainted, have cracked pavements, inadequate and unpaved parking lots and are often locked, and…five stations…do not even have scheduled train stops.”  One of those was Setauket.[111]

Meanwhile, in the wake of high gas prices and population stabilization on the island, the LIRR passenger base continued to grow.  Ridership increased four-and-a-half percent in 1980 with a total 80,841,000 passengers, compared to 77,357,000 in 1979.  It was the largest passenger base since 1950 and marked the seventh straight year of growth.  The fastest growing branch was the Port Jefferson with a forty percent increase since 1973.  In 1983, total rush-hour ridership was 109,200, with 25,000 on the Port Jefferson Branch.  A year later the total was 113,600, with 25,700 on the Port Jefferson.  In light of the increase in Port Jefferson Branch traffic, a thousand more seats were added in the summer of 1984 by transferring coaches from underutilized lines, especially the Hempstead Branch.[112]  In response to ridership increase, the MTA revived a plan to electrify to Northport within a five-year $588 million package of LIRR improvements.  Electrification to Northport, complete with high-level platforms at both Greenlawn and Northport, was estimated at $35.7 million.  A second set of tracks was also scheduled from Syosset to Northport at a cost of $27 million.[113]

Sadly, by 1986, electrification plans east of Huntington were postponed indefinitely.  On July 8, 1985, new LIRR President Bruce C. McIver stated that there was not enough committed federal funding.  While, Representative Robert J. Mrazak and Senator Alfonse M. D’Amato were successful in obtaining $23 million in federal funds to electrify to Northport, another $40 million was needed to extend to Port Jefferson.[114]

The first nail in the coffin for the project was in late-1985 when official word of postponement was released.  The announcement came after Mrazek and D’Amato succeeded in securing $55 million in new federal funds.  However, president McIver said there was a $90 million budget gap and suggested a postponement as part of a $1.2 billion 1986 capital budget for the LIRR.  The news came as a blow to commuters who believed their wish wad to come true especially since the railroad had already spent $6 million on the project for design work and high-level platforms.[115]  In February of 1986, the second and final nail was word that the MTA approved a new $345 million capital spending plan for the LIRR through 1989 that contained no funds for the project.[116]

The Purchase of the New Diesel Fleet

As a substitute to electrification, a proposal called for the development of special engines to haul diesel coaches.  Scheduled for operation by 1989, each $3 million engine would have both diesel and electric power  allowing them to travel to Pennsylvania Station.  One major drawback envisioned was that the dual-mode engines would not be able to accelerate as quickly as electric trains.  An additional hurdle was finding a manufacturer.[117]  In the end a manufacturer was found and the MTA ordered ten new engines in 1987 built around the shell of worn-out FL-9 locomotives.  The LIRR eventually received three.[118]

In 1990, a pilot program was devised for dual-mode engines to haul ten new double-decker, or bi-level cars, on a two-year trial basis on the Port Jefferson Branch during rush-hour.  If the test proved successful, an entire new fleet would be purchased.  The new cars were planned to seat 187 passengers or fifty-seven percent more than the cars they would replace and cost twenty percent less to operate.  They would have three separate levels: a vestibule at platform level with sixteen or seventeen seats, and an upper and lower level with groups of two and three seats across.  The cars to be built in Japan by Mitsui & Company, U.S.A., a wholly-owned subsidiary of Mitsui & Company of Tokyo.  On September 20, 1990, the Long Island Committee of the MTA recommended the $22.4 million purchase of the ten test cars.  The eastern Port Jefferson Branch was chosen for the rush-hour test program because of its total daily ridership.[119]

Bi-level cars, like electric cars, require four-foot-high platforms for boarding since they do not have steps to grade.  Work to install new platforms along the branch began when electrification was still a possibility.  By mid-1985, $11.2 million was allotted to build high-level platforms at Kings Park, Smithtown, St. James, and Stony Brook.  At a cost of $1 million, construction of a twelve-car-length high-level platform at St. James Station, complete with two flat-roofed, metal-framed Plexiglas passenger shelters and a ramp for the handicapped, began in mid-August 1986 and was completed by year’s end.  It replaced the former low-level platform, which had a six-car capacity, just west of the depot building.[120]

LIRR St. James Station, high-level platform, view west (July 9, 2014)
LIRR St. James Station, high-level platform, view west (July 9, 2014)

Stony Brook received two twelve-car platforms.  At a cost of $5 million, renovation work also included track realignment, a pedestrian overpass, ramps for the handicapped, and a new commuter parking lot.  Construction contracts were awarded in March 1988 and work began on the south platform.  Track realignment brought the right-of-way up along the new platform, several yards away from the depot building, making for a straighter track.  To connect the first new section of track to the right-of-way, service was disrupted the weekend of November 12 and 13, 1988 between Smithtown and Port Jefferson.  The new south platform with four flat-roofed, metal-framed Plexiglas passenger shelters was put in service on Monday, November 14.  Construction next focused on the north track platform and two flat-roofed, metal-framed Plexiglas shelters, with work completed in early spring of 1989.[121]

LIRR Stony Brook Station, high-level platforms, view west (November 11, 2015)
LIRR Stony Brook Station, high-level platforms, view west (November 11, 2015)

Parking improvements at Stony Brook Station were necessary.  It was reported in March of 1984 that commuters were “informally parking” along Route 25A rather than designated lots.  State Department of Transportation officials claimed the number of cars parked on average, either in the lot or along the route, grew to about 100.  To accommodate the increase and to maintain the quaintness of the Stony Brook area, a three-part program created a new 100-car lot, furnished road improvements along Route 25A, and devised the best use of the area between Route 25A and the tracks.[122] The town of Brookhaven unveiled a beautification plan for this area in particular since many residents were not pleased with the appearance of the new concrete platforms.  The Route 25A Advisory Committee, a group of representatives from local civic groups, was set up to provide opinions on the project.  Among other improvements, a drive-through was added for commuter drop-offs in the area formerly occupied by the old right-of-way.  Landscaping also attempted to camouflage the new platforms and make the overall area more appealing.  While the new setup seemed to satisfy many residents, parking issues resurfaced again in the summer of 1997.[123]

LIRR Stony Brook Station eastbound platform (August 2, 2013)
LIRR Stony Brook Station, high-level platforms, view southwest (August 2, 2013)


The new diesel fleet plagued the LIRR from the onset.  First, the lagging state economy threatened the entire plan in 1992.  A total of $6 billion in federal funds financed transit in the New York region but the state had problems providing the remaining $4 billion.  Further rebuilding of old coaches was ruled out because of their age and deterioration.[124]  Secondly, when financial problems were sorted the three dual-mode prototypes faced technical problems and cost overruns.  Once more, a storm on December 11, 1993 flooded a test track in Flushing and seriously damaged all three prototypes.[125]

Despite setbacks, the prototype engines and coaches began testing during the morning and evening rush-hour in 1994.  Satisfied with their performance, the MTA approved the purchase of 114 bi-level coaches on March 10, 1995.  Following commuter input, the coach seating capacity was reduced to 142.  Mitsui & Company, U.S.A. was awarded the $179.5 million contract which stipulated that thirty-five percent of the work was to be performed by companies in New York State.  Mitsui & Company subcontracted Kawasaki Heavy Industries to build the coaches.  The MTA also announced the purchase of both new diesel-electric and dual-mode locomotives from the Electro-Motive Division of General Motors.  EMD was contracted to build unique engines that accelerated as quickly as electric cars.[126]

Meanwhile, in a cost-cutting measure the LIRR sought to close agencies at little-used stations. A similar attempt occurred in the summer of 1982 when the railroad planned to close the St. James Station agency since it sold few tickets. Residents protested and the agency remained open. However, by the 1990s, ticket vending machines replaced agents at several stations since the cost of their maintenance was far less than manning agencies.  As of April 1, 1996, ticket sellers were eliminated at Stony Brook and St. James. Prior to the elimination of the clerk, the hours at Stony Brook were 5:35 a.m. to 1:10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and 5:35 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. on Fridays, with no weekend service.[127] Now, waiting rooms and restrooms remained open from about 4:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. seven days a week, with doors locked and unlocked automatically from a central location.[128]

LIRR Stony Brook Station waiting room (June 13, 2014)
LIRR Stony Brook Station waiting room (June 13, 2014)

In response, Nassau and Suffolk Counties as well as three organizations for the disabled sued the MTA in the summer of 1996.   They contended that visually impaired riders incurred irreparable harm because of the absence of ticket clerks.  Following a hearing, Judge Leonard D. Wexler of Federal District Court in Hauppauge issued an injunction on May 30.  The LIRR was given a choice to reopen ticket windows or assign agents to the platforms from 6:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m.  The railroad took the second choice and assigned agents near machines.[129]  However, the preliminary injunction which prohibited the LIRR from using vending machines was overturned in the first week of September and the agents were reassigned as of September 16.[130]

As agencies closed system-wide, the test contingent of bi-level cars and prototype engines was wrapping up.  Railroad officials said the consist missed approximately twenty-four percent of its runs by May of 1997.  The major issues involved the dual-mode locomotives.  The problem was thought to be the size of the prototype.  It crammed too much equipment into a fifty-foot length.  The new EMD engine length was designed to be seventy-five feet.  While overweight, refinements were planned to trim 10,000 pounds.  Along with the twenty-three new diesel units (EMD DE30AC), twenty-three dual-mode locomotives (EMD DM30AC) were built in upstate Scotia.  In addition to the engines, a grand total of 134 bi-level coaches (C-3) were built.[131]

LIRR Bi-Level C-3 Coach, vestibule view (June 7, 2014)
LIRR Bi-Level C-3 Coach, vestibule view (June 7, 2014)

Finally, on October 21, 1998, a year-and-a-half behind schedule, the new diesel fleet was unveiled, as the 4:55 a.m. westbound train left Port Jefferson with local stops to Huntington.  Later in the day, then-LIRR president Tom Prendergast said “this is an exciting day for us…the cars are operating how we expected.”  The dual-mode locomotives were planned to hit the rails by March of 1999.  However, dual-mode service and the entire new fleet was crippled by one issue after another.[132]

The New Fleet in the New Millennium

Issues such as cracks in body frames, third-rail fires, and poor maintenance procedures haunted the new $500 million diesel fleet into the first decade of the new millennium.  By the end of the 2000s, the railroad instituted a program that hopefully guarantees at least a thirty-year operating period.  Additionally, the railroad is currently in the process of purchasing new diesel engines to compliment the problematic EMD DE30AC and DM30AC locomotives.

EMD Promotional Advertisement (Circa late-1990s)
EMD Promotional Advertisement (Circa late-1990s)

On a positive note, the St. James Station depot received a total renovation at the end of the 1990s.  A small ceremony was held by the LIRR on March 21, 1997 as the St. James Historical Restoration Project began.  Initially, it was feared that when the station agent was removed in April of 1996[133], and since freight handling at the station was eliminated in mid-1982, that the depot building was to be demolished.  However, State Assemblyman Robert C. Wertz pressured the LIRR not to abandon it, which by this time was on the National Register of Historic Places.  While the LIRR could not finance the entire project, it did spend $650,000 to restore the building.  The additional $440,000 came from federal funds authorized by the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act.  When completed, the building reverted back to its original forest green trim and cream-beige exterior.  The railroad-owned cast iron pot-bellied stove, once targeted by thieves who only managed to get the heavy object to the station’s door, was restored to its former prominence.[134]

Pot belly stove and waiting room, LIRR St. James Station depot (July 9, 2014)
Pot belly stove and waiting room, LIRR St. James Station depot (July 9, 2014)

After problems with the prototype FL-9 locomotives, the bi-level coaches were the next major issue with the new diesel fleet.  It was projected that they would beoperating by the fall of 1997. The date was moved to the spring of 1998, then to the fall of 1998.  By the spring of 1999, about half of the coaches were in service.  An independent consultanting firm told MTA board members on May 10, 1999 that procuring parts delayed progress.  Day & Zimmermann International Inc., engineering consultants for the MTA, also cited that a shortage of warranty parts had also sidelined seven coaches already delivered. Moreover, they claimed delays were in part due to the fact that Kawasaki gave priority to another project in Maryland.[135]

By mid-May of 1999, seventy-four coaches and nine diesel locomotives were in operation.  None of the dual-modes were in service at this time but most were delivered and being tested.  Delays required one last summer of passengers riding the former coaches.  “We’re continuing to monitor Kawasaki’s performance,” said LIRR spokesman Brian Dolan, adding “we’re speaking with management on a weekly basis to ensure material slippages are identified early enough so they can be corrected.”  In fact, the railroad withheld payment of $11 million of a projected total of $238 million because of Kawasaki’s failure to deliver coaches according to contract.[136]

In a report card released October 19, 1999, the LIRR received a bad commuter review.  A majority of riders believed service was either worse or unchanged. The Commuters Council gave the LIRR an overall grade of “C,” its lowest since 1995.  However, surveys were taken in May and June when most of the new coaches were not running.  When the report was issued, most of the 134 bi-level diesel trains were in service.[137]

LIRR Bi-Level C-3 Coach, lower level view (June 7, 2014)
LIRR Bi-Level C-3 Coach, lower level view (June 7, 2014)

With coach delivery completed, it was now time to institute the much-anticipated dual-mode service to New York.  On November 15, 1999, the 6:11 a.m. train from Speonk was the first to arrive at Pennsylvania Station to inaugurate direct service with the new DM30AC engines.  LIRR President Prendergast intented to have dual-mode trains on all three branches by the end of the year, with the full platoon of nine trains running into Manhattan by spring.[138]  On Port Jefferson Branch timetables effective March 20, 2000, one more round-trip dual train was added to the existing train operating since 1994.  In total, the eastern Port Jefferson Branch had morning service to New York departing Port Jefferson at 5:44 a.m. and 7:35 a.m.  In the afternoon, the return trains left Pennsylvania Station at 4:19 p.m. and 4:49 p.m.[139]

Despite the poor grade, 1.9 million more passengers rode the railroad in 1999 than the previous year for a total of 82.2 million riders.  The increase was in line with a general pattern of growth that saw ridership grow nine percent in the preceding ten years since 75.4 million rode the LIRR in 1989.  The greatest number was in 1946 when 116 million people used the road and the lowest was 70 million in 1970.  Prendergast stated that the city’s economic boom and an increase in off-peak riders was responsible for the jump in numbers.[140]

The year 2000 “report card” unveiled on October 19, 2000 indicated that railroad customers saw improvement, ranging from on-time performance to cleanliness to effective air-conditioning.  On-time performance in 2000 was at nearly ninety-three percent, almost two points higher than for the same period the previous year.[141]

Nevertheless, the new equipment continued to beleaguer the railroad following full delivery of the fleet.  Initially, some of the first issues were coach doors opening at inopportune moments and glitches in the train’s braking system.  Second, inspectors discovered cracks in the frames of locomotives.  LIRR’s Senior Vice President for Operations James Dermody disclosed the cracks were discovered in an area of the yaw damper which prevents swaying at speeds above a hundred miles-per-hour.  A metallurgical consultant was hired and recommended  disconnecting the device as an emergency temporary fix since the railroad had an eighty mile-per-hour speed limit.[142]  Thirdly, air horn noise triggered complaints from residents living along the railroad’s right-of-way.[143]

The most serious incident was on October 23, 2000 when fire engulfed a dual-mode locomotive of a Port Jefferson-bound rush-hour train just west of Huntington Station.  It marked the third time in two months that the new equipment caught fire triggered by electrical problems.  The first occurred on an Oyster Bay-bound train on August 15, and the second on September 4 near New Hyde Park Station.  The fires started when shoe beams, pieces of coated, insulated wood that held the power components, became defective.  Of the twenty-three $3.7 million dual-mode locomotives, three were now out of commission and the rest were temporarily out of service by November 2000.[144]

Dermody identified a four-inch hazard area where the connection to the third rail and shoe beam anchor was located.  As a temporary repair measure, each locomotives’ shoe beams received double coatings of insulating material.  Additionally, they were examined and wiped down daily.  Dermody added that the area was being sheathed in special insulating material and a new fiberglass arc shield installed over exposed bolts.  To handle arising issues with both the locomotives and coaches, the MTA hired STV of New York to oversee disputes with the manufacturer.  By year’s end, the total consultation fee was $23 million.[145]

Ongoing repairs put a damper on service.  As of March 1, 2001, fourteen locomotives were classified as out of service while another twenty-six operated with in-service defects.  One engine was out of service for more than twenty-three months and eleven others were in various stages of cannibalization due to shortage of available parts.  Seven had more serious defects, such as cracked engine skids.  By June 20, eleven engines were out of service and another twenty-seven running with in-service defects.  Commuters Council President Sandra Alayo was quoted: “I don’t know if they’re lemons, but there’s been a lot of problems.”  One locomotive had four skid cracks and another crack eight inches long.  Cracks were first identified in 2000 and the metallurgical firm Lucius Pitkin of Manhattan attributed them to “vibrations.”  Temporary repairs were made on-site until the railroad reached an agreement with EMD.[146]

In October of 2001, the LIRR prepared to send all forty-five locomotives back to EMD.  Engines would be shipped two at a time to a Paducah, Kentucky repair firm contracted by EMD and out of service about two weeks.[147]  However, the plan was cancelled because the Kentucky firm went bankrupt.  As a substitute, locomotives were shipped to Norfolk Southern in Altoona, Pennsylvania beginning in September of 2002.  They received replacement engine skids, the bracing that held the engines in place, as well as a host of other structural and mechanical fixes.[148]

Within the first five years of service, the new fleet was panned and alternate travel concepts discussed.  In his final public appearance as president, LIRR head Kenneth J. Bauer told a commuters’ group in February of 2003 that he was disappointed in the performance of the new fleet.  He added that EMD must be held accountable for another issue: why brake hoses became separated in snow.[149]

Bauer was followed in office by Dermody who reintroduced the idea of electrification east of Huntington.  He also focused on building a yard between Huntington and Smithtown for storage and light maintenance.[150]  Over the next year, the LIRR examined the proposals since it was anticipated that the line faced higher ridership growth than any other segment over the succeeding ten years.  While local community groups opposed the yard, some residents deemed it necessary.  A new yard meant that the eastern Port Jefferson Branch may finally be electrified.  The action would eliminate pollution from the diesel trains, and provide more frequent and better service.[151]  As 2015, electrification has yet to happen.

In the summer of 2007, new LIRR chief Helena Williams hired Metro-North head Donald Nelson to perform a comprehensive review.  In it, Nelson pinpointed the LIRR’s diesel engines as a repair headache and recommended that they be replaced.[152]  Nelson commented: “it is obvious that the entire diesel fleet is in serious trouble…if they can’t be made more reliable soon the LIRR will be forced to deal with the fact that these units are lemons.”  Built specifically for the LIRR, the diesel trains broke down twice as often as anyone predicted.  To complicate repair issues further, EMD shut down and the warranty on most parts expired.  Nelson’s report identified that this left the LIRR with troubled trains unlike any others in the world.  Originally they were to provide thirty years of service.  In 2006 for example, the dual-modes broke down on average every 14,595 miles which is more than twice the 30,000 miles projected between breakdowns.  Most problems with the dual-mode trains occurred while switching between diesel and electric.  The strictly diesel trains also broke down far more than what LIRR officials liked.[153]

Nelson’s report spearheaded efforts to better maintain the fleet.  A $100,000 study conducted at the end of 2007 by Booz Allen Hamilton of Newark, NJ prompted President Williams to reorganize the LIRR’s mechanical department and replace its chief Mark Sullivan with assistant chief Michael Gelormino. While Booz Allen Hamilton said a year’s worth of proper records was necessary to assess whether the fleet needed to be replaced before 2020, Williams sought immediate changes in operation.   Since locomotives encountered problems shifting to electric power, Williams ordered the dual-mode trains to remain in diesel mode as often as possible.  Additionally, Williams said mechanics too often put locomotives that previously failed back in service.  Pressured to return the engines to service, mechanics routinely reported that no trouble was found.  Williams called for mechanics to keep troubled trains in the repair shop longer and better document how they were examined and repaired.  A newly created board would then review mechanics’ work.[154]

LIRR Stony Brook Station and LIRR EMD DE30AC number 423 of eastbound train number 606, view west (November 27, 2015)
LIRR Stony Brook Station high-level platforms and LIRR EMD DE30AC number 423 of eastbound train number 606, view west (November 27, 2015)

At a meeting on October 22, 2008, Williams reported that new procedures better identified and resolved problems.  In turn, there were fewer breakdowns.  She cited that in 2008 there were thirty-two percent fewer repeat maintenance problems compared with 2007.  As for dual-mode engines, there were no incidents of trains being unable to switch from diesel to electric from January to June of 2008 compared with sixteen such incidents during the same period in 2007.[155]

In 2009, the LIRR recorded its best on-time performance since it began keeping track in 1979.  Total percentage was 95.21 percent.  Diesel trains lagged with on-time performance at 93.32.  However, this was up from 92.84 percent.[156]  Two years later in 2012, the dual-modes’ mean distance between failures was 18,781 miles, an improvement over 2010.  Sadly, the bi-level C-3 coaches reported more computer errors on door mechanisms in the same two year period .[157]

While it has yet to be determined how long the diesel fleet will function productively, there are new plans to compliment them.  The railroad projects to spend $2.3 billion in the next few years on rolling stock.  While most of the funds will be spent on new electric cars, the LIRR will invest in a new “alternative diesel fleet” to shuttle riders between electrified and non-electrified stations.  Additionally, there are plans to build a new train yard on the eastern Port Jefferson Branch.[158]

LIRR St. James Station depot building (former low-level platform in foreground) and Fireman’s Memorial, view west (July 9, 2014)
LIRR St. James Station depot building (former low-level platform in foreground) and Fireman’s Memorial, view west (July 9, 2014)


The twentieth century prosperity of the three villages owes to the guidance of the Melville family.  Currently, Setauket is further subdivided into Setauket proper, East and South.  Nesconset Highway, Route 347, divides Setauket from South Setauket.  In the new millennium, the communities attracted young families.  In fact, the Three Village School District is regarded as one of Long Island’s finest.  It features five elementary schools, two junior high schools, and Ward Melville High School.[159] For retail shopping, there is Smith Haven Mall to the south with over a million square feet of space.[160]  In St. James, the Flowerfield area is still owned by Gyrodyne and zoned primarily for light industry.  The company is working closely with the town of Smithtown to explore land use for the property.[161]

Presently, Stony Brook is the only LIRR station to serve the three villages.  On October 28, 2008, it was announced that the station would receive a $2.5 million rehabilitation thanks to a grant secured by state Senator John Flanagan. The work included extensive lighting improvements to enhance safety, a new heating system inside the depot building, the replacement of the existing passenger shelters with spacious platform waiting area shelters and information centers, and new handrails to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.[162]

Gyrodyne Property (Flowerfield), St. James (July 9, 2014)
Gyrodyne Property (Flowerfield), St. James (July 9, 2014)


Next page: The History of the Town of Riverhead and Its Railroad Stations


[1] Christopher R. Vagts, “Reflections on Suffolk County,” New York Times (1923-Current file), December 26, 1976,

[2] Benjamin F. Thompson, History of Long Island: Containing an Account of the Discovery and Settlement (New York: E. French, 1839), 66.

[3] Howard Klein, Three Village Guidebook: The Setaukets, Poquott, Old Field & Stony Brook (East Setauket, NY: Three Village Historical Society, 1986), 64.

[4] Thompson, History of Long Island, 261-263.

[5] Edwin P. Adkins, Setauket: The First Three Hundred Years, 1655-1955 (New York: David McKay Co., Inc., 1955), 2.

[6] Klein, Three Village Guidebook, 23.

[7] Adkins, Setauket: The First Three Hundred Years, 5-15.

[8] Thompson, History of Long Island, 261-263.

[9] Klein, Three Village Guidebook, 23.

[10] Ibid., 117.

[11] Ibid, 64.

[12] Adkins, Setauket: The First Three Hundred Years, 30-33.

[13] Ari L. Goldman, “Metropolitan Baedeker: The Three Villages, a Bit of Old L.I. History,” New York Times (1923-Current file), January 14, 1977,

[14] Klein, Three Village Guidebook, 26.

[15] John Rather, “If You’re Thinking of Living In/the Setaukets: a Historic Are for Rising Buyers,” New York Times (1923-Current file), April 6, 2003,

[16] Adkins, Setauket: The First Three Hundred Years, 44-45.

[17] “The Village of Old Field,” Incorporated Village of Old Field, New York, accessed June 25, 2014,

[18] Adkins, Setauket: The First Three Hundred Years, 68.

[19] Klein, Three Village Guidebook, 76.

[20] Thompson, History of Long Island, 278.

[21] Goldman, “Metropolitan Baedeker: The Three Villages.”

[22] Stony Brook Village, Harbor Walk: A History of Stony Brook Harbor, Stony Brook Beach Marker, Stony Brook, NY.

[23] Adkins, Setauket: The First Three Hundred Years, 77.

[24] Thompson, History of Long Island, 278.

[25] Stony Brook Village, Harbor Walk.

[26] Goldman, “Metropolitan Baedeker: The Three Villages.”

[27] “The Village of Old Field.”

[28] Klein, Three Village Guidebook, 76.

[29] Adkins, Setauket: The First Three Hundred Years, 89.

[30] Susan Soper, “Far Away from ‘Hassles’: a View from St. James,” New York Times (1923-Current file), May 21, 1975,

[31] Adkins, Setauket: The First Three Hundred Years, 92.

[32] Henry Isham Hazelton, The Boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens, Counties of Nassau and Suffolk, Long Island, New York, 1609-1924 (New York: Lewis Historical, 1925), 392-393.

[33] St. James Historical Restoration Project, brochure on display at St. James Station, St. James, NY.

[34] Vincent F. Seyfried, The Long Island Rail Road: A Comprehensive History, vol. 3:Age of Expansion (Garden City, NY: Seyfried, 1984), 197-198.

[35] “Long Island Items,” Long Island Traveler (Southold), September 11, 1873,

[36] “Timely Topics by Nosey Jim,” The County Review (Riverhead), October 20, 1916,; “General News,” Long Islander (Huntington), January 12, 1917,

[37] Ibid.

[38] “Smithtown and Port Jefferson Railroad,” South Side Signal (Babylon), April 26, 1873,

[39] Adkins, Setauket: The First Three Hundred Years, 94.

[40] Klein, Three Village Guidebook, 76.

[41] “The Village of Old Field.”

[42] John Rather, “If You’re Thinking of Living In/Stony Brook: a Hamlet where History Stays Alive,” New York Times (1923-Current file), June 23, 2002,

[43] Goldman, “Metropolitan Baedeker: The Three Villages.”

[44] Long Island Railroad Company, Long Island Railroad Company Time Table No. 26, For the Government and Information of Employees Only, in effect 12.01 A.M., Wednesday, May 27th, 1903 (New York: Long Island Railroad Company, 1903), Port Jefferson Branch.

[45] “John Lewis Childs’ Estate Reported Sold,” The Watchman (Matituck, NY), February 04, 1937,

[46] “Island News Notes,” Suffolk County News (Sayville), November 25, 1910,

[47] Seyfried, The Long Island Rail Road: A Comprehensive History, vol. 6, 275.

[48] David D. Morrison, Images of Rail: Long Island Rail Road Port Jefferson Branch (New York: Arcadia Publishing, 2013), 94.

[49] Long Island Railroad, Effective October 17th, 1916, Corrected to Dec. 6th, 1916, Long Island Railroad Schedule of Trains (New York: Long Island Railroad, 1916), Wading River Branch.

[50] “Flowerfield Loses Its Station Agent,” Port Jefferson Echo, July 16, 1925,

[51] “Killed on R.R. Crossing, Flowerfield,” Port Jefferson Echo, September 03, 1921,; “Miss Zimmerman Loses Suit,” Long Islander (Huntington), May 26, 1922,

[52] Long Island Railroad, Taking Effect May 23, 1928, Daylight Saving Time, Long Island Railroad Time Tables (New York: Long Island Railroad, 1928), Wading River Branch.

[53] Tom Morris, “Triumph and Blunder and Disaster Have Climbed aboard the LIRR,” Newsday (1940-1985), June 19, 1983,

[54] “Lewis Childs’ Estate Reported Sold.”

[55] Long Island Rail Road, Long Island Rail Road Time Tables, schedule in effect 2:00 AM September 20, 1942 (New York: Long Island Rail Road, 1942), Port Jefferson Branch.

[56] Morris, “Triumph and Blunder and Disaster Have Climbed aboard the LIRR.”

[57] “L.I.R.R. Envisions Big Improvements following the War,” New York Times (1923-Current file), May 6, 1943,

[58] “Trains in Area Cancelled to Save Fuel,” New York Times (1923-Current file), November 23, 1946,

[59] “Rail Service Cut to Conserve Coal,” New York Times (1923-Current file), March 20, 1948,

[60] “LIRR Trims Steam Service to Save Coal,” Newsday (1940-1985), February 10, 1950,

[61] “L.I.R.R. Faces Study on through Trains,” New York Times (1923-Current file), July 14, 1951,; John J. Scala, Diesels of the Sunrise Trail (Mineola, NY: Weekend Chief Pub., 1984), 5-6.

[62] “Long Island Rail Road May Seek to End Service on Three Branches,” New York Times (1923-Current file), May 23, 1952,

[63] “5th Major Wreck in the U.S. in 1950: Two of the Disasters Occurred on the Long Island in the Last Nine Months,” New York Times (1923-Current file), November 23, 1950,

[64] “Death Toll Lifted to 78 in L.I. Crash: To Advice Commission,” New York Times (1923-Current file), November 29, 1950,

[65] “Dewey Signs Bills to Revive L.I. Road,” New York Times (1923-Current file), April 1, 1951,

[66] “Long Island Rail Road May Seek to End Service on Three Branches.”

[67] Morris, “Triumph and Blunder and Disaster Have Climbed aboard the LIRR.”

[68] “LIRR Completes Two Years of Progress,” Newsday (1940-1986), August 8, 1956,

[69] “LIRR Wants to Cut SC LCL Freight Service,”Patchogue Advance, August 27 1959,

[70] “LIRR Gets OK on Change in Freight Setup,” Newsday (1940-1986), January 28, 1960,

[71] Adkins, Setauket: The First Three Hundred Years, 94.

[72] “Rail Hearing Put Off,” New York Times (1923-Current file), July 24, 1947,

[73] “LIRR Ends Ticket Service in Setauket,”Patchogue Advance,November 19, 1959,

[74] Seyfried, Long Island Rail Road: A Comprehensive History, vol. 6, 275.

[75] Ibid.

[76] Soper, “Far Away from ‘Hassles’.”

[77] Long Island Rail Road: Alphabetical Station Listing and History,” Trains are Fun, accessed June 24, 2014,

[78] Long Island Rail Road, Schedule in Effect September 10, 1956, Long Island Rail Road, Time Tables (New York: Long Island Rail Road, 1956), Port Jefferson Branch.

[79] “Long Island Rail Road: Alphabetical Station Listing and History”; Robert M. Emery Long Island Rail Road Collection, Box 14, Special Collections, Stony Brook University Libraries, Schedule in Effect September 9, 1957, Long Island Rail Road, Time Tables (New York: Long Island Rail Road, 1957), Port Jefferson Branch; Robert M. Emery Long Island Rail Road Collection, Box 17, Special Collections, Stony Brook University Libraries, Long Island Rail Road, Time-Table No. 7 Effective June 19, 1960 (New York: Long Island Rail Road, 1960), Port Jefferson Branch; Robert M. Emery Long Island Rail Road Collection, Box 17, Special Collections, Stony Brook University Libraries, Long Island Rail Road, Time-Table No. 8 Effective June 18, 1961 (New York: Long Island Rail Road, 1961), Port Jefferson Branch.

[80] Goldman, “Metropolitan Baedeker: The Three Villages.”

[81] Rather, “If You’re Thinking of Living In/Stony Brook.”

[82] “The Village of Old Field.”

[83] Long Island Rail Road, Schedule in Effect September 17, 1962, Long Island Rail Road, Time Tables (New York: Long Island Rail Road, 1962), Port Jefferson Branch.

[84] “LIRR/Tracking Long Island’s History/Ride into History with the Long Island Rail Road,” Newsday (Combined Editions), April 19, 1998,

[85] Morris, “Triumph and Blunder and Disaster Have Climbed aboard the LIRR.”

[86] “Town Again Refuses LIRR Request for Bus Service,” Patchogue Advance, May 11, 1961,

[87] Francis X. Clines, “Travel Corridor Proposed on L.I.,” New York Times (1923-Current file), May 28, 1967,

[88] Mike Unger, “New Road Would Link Sound Bridges,” Newsday (1940-1985), May 26, 1967,

[89] James F. Clarity, “L.I.R.R Gets Grant of $22.6-Million,” New York Times (1923-Current file), June 14, 1967,

[90] “Long Island Rail Road,” New York Times (1923-Current file), July 28, 1969,

[91] “Contract Awarded as L.I.R.R Presses for Modernization,” New York Times (1923-Current file), December 28, 1969,

[92] Edward C. Burks, “LIRR Trains, Nice but Late,” New York Times (1923-Current file), March 21, 1976,

[93] Emanuel Perlmutter, “L.I.R.R Improving Service on all Lines Under a New Timetable,” New York Times (1923-Current file), June 18, 1972,

[94] Martin Flusser, Jr., “LIRR Tries to Divide and Conquer Inequities,” Newsday (1940-1985), January 7, 1972,

[95] MTA The Long Island Rail Road Company, Long Island Rail Road Timetable No. 4, effective 12:01 AM, Monday, November 25, 1968 (New York: Long Island Rail Road, 1968), Port Jefferson Branch.

[96] Long Island Rail Road, Effective May 19, 1975, Port Jefferson Branch, The Long Island Rail Road (New York: Long Island Rail Road, 1975).

[97] “Long Islanders Wail for Trains,” New York Times, July 6, 1911,

[98] Special to the New York Times, “Main Transit-Road Plans,” New York Times (1923-Current file), July 27, 1973,

[99] Edward C. Burks, “L.I.R.R Improvements Urged,” New York Times (1923-Current file), October 5, 1975,

[100] Burks, “LIRR Trains, Nice but Late.”

[101] Morris, “Triumph and Blunder and Disaster Have Climbed aboard the LIRR.”

[102] James Barron, “Should the L.I.R.R. Be Split from M.T.A.,” New York Times (1923-Current file), January 17, 1982,

[103] Neil S. Rosenfeld, “Suffolk Cutting Station Funds,” Newsday (1940-1986), April 8, 1980,

[104] Ibid.

[105] Long Island Rail Road, Effective May 19, 1975, Port Jefferson Branch Timetable.

[106] Long Island Rail Road, Effective September 20, 1976, Port Jefferson Branch Timetable, The Long Island Rail Road (New York: The Long Island Rail Road, 1976).

[107] Long Island Rail Road, Effective May 23, 1977, Port Jefferson Branch Timetable, The Long Island Rail Road (New York: The Long Island Rail Road, 1977).

[108] Tom Morris, “LIRR to Cut Back on Ticket Windows,” Newsday (1940-1986), June 6, 1980,

[109] Setauket Station Closing,” Newsday (1940-1986), June 27, 1980,

[110] Robert M. Emery Long Island Rail Road Collection, Box 18, Special Collections, Stony Brook University Libraries, Port Jefferson, Stony Brook, Setauket, Brooklyn & New York, Effective May 12, 1980, by Long Island Rail Road (New York: Long Island Rail Road, 1980).

[111] “Suit on LIRR Station Fees,” Newsday (1940-1985), September 1, 1981,

[112] John T. McQuiston, “L.I.R.R Keeps Adding Commuters,” New York Times (1923-Current file), July 26, 1981,; John T. McQuiston, “L.I.R.R Shifts Trains to Meet Rush-Hour Rise,” New York Times (1923-Current file), August 5, 1984,

[113] McQuiston, “L.I.R.R Keeps Adding Commuters.”


[114] Blever, “New LIRR Electrification on Hold.”

[115] John T. McQuiston, “Pulling the Plug on Electrification,” New York Times (1923-Current file), November 25, 1985,

[116] John T. McQuiston, “L.I.R.R Electrification: New Delays, News Plans,” New York Times (1923-Current file), February 23, 1986,


[117] McQuiston, “L.I.R.R Electrification: New Delays, News Plans.”

[118] Roger J. Rudick, “L.I.R.R Lags on Dual-Mode Locomotives,” New York Times (1923-Current file), June 6, 1993,

[119] Eric Schmitt, “L.I.R.R May Add Double-Decker Cars,” New York Times (1923-Current file), September 21, 1988,

[120] “Community Digest: St. James/Platform Upgrade,” Newsday (1940-1986), August 17, 1986,; Bill Blever, “New LIRR Electrification on Hold,” Newsday (1940-1985), July 9, 1985,

[121] “Upgrade at Stony Brook is on Track,” Newsday (Brookhaven Edition), February 12, 1988,; “Work on Track at Station New Parking Lots, Platform Planned at Stony Brook,” Newsday (Brookhaven Edition), March 29, 1989,; Robert Braile, “2 Scenic Areas Study Station Changes,” New York Times (1923-Current file), March 25, 1984,; Robert J. Hendriks, “Stony Brook Railroad Station to Close Down,“ Three Village Herald, November 9, 1998; Jennifer Donelan, “Construction Cancels Train Service This Weekend,“ The Village Times, November 10, 1988.

[122] Ibid.; Jennifer Donelan, “Plans in Progress to Beautify Railroad Station in Stony Brook,“ The Village Times, April 13, 1989; Jennifer Donelan, “Plans for Railroad Station Draw Opposing Complaints,“ The Village Times, June 1, 1989.

[123] Vivien Kellerman, “In Stony Brook, Parking Rears its Head, Again,” New York Times (1923-Current file), June 1, 1997,

[124] John Rather, “$1.1 Billion L.I.R.R. Capital Plan Is in Jeopardy,” New York Times (1923-Current file), January 26, 1992,

[125] Rudick, “L.I.R.R Lags on Dual-Mode Locomotives.”

[126] John T. McQuiston, “New Coaches for L.I.R.R Will Have Two Levels,” New York Times (1923-Current file), March 11, 1995,

[127] Ed McCoyd, “LIRR Alters Ticket Hours,” Newsday (Nassau and Suffolk Edition), July 23, 1992,; “2 LIRR Stations Escape Closing,” Newsday (1940-1987), September 10, 1982,

[128] Carol Paquette, “L.I.R.R. Moving to Drop 32 More Ticket Windows,” New York Times (1923-Current file), January 14, 1996,

[129] Stewart Ain, “Ticket Agents now Helping Riders Use Machines,” New York Times (1923-Current file), August 4, 1996,

[130] “Long Island Rail Road Ticket Vendors Out Again,” Suffolk County News, September 12, 1996,

[131] Bruce Lambert, “The Tall Little Train That Usually Could,” New York Times (1923-Current file), May 31, 1997,

[132] Steven Kreytak, “ Smooth Quiet Ride: LIRR Unveils New Fleet,” Newsday (Combined Editions), October 22, 1998,

[133] Sidney C. Schaer, “LIRR’s Ticket Plan Panned,” Newsday (Combined Editions), March 9, 1996,

[134] Sidney C. Schaer, Retracing the Tracks, March 22, 1997, Newsday article on display at St. James Station, St. James, NY; Marie Cocco, “LIRR Updates Freight Car Repairs,” Newsday (1940-1988), May 6, 1982,

[135] Hugo Kugiya, “LIRR Woes Laid Out,” Newsday (Nassau and Suffolk Edition), May 11, 1999,

[136] Ibid.

[137] Hugo Kugiya, “Riding the Rails/In Survey, Commuters Criticize LIRR, Rating Overall Service a ‘C’,” Newsday (Nassau and Suffolk Edition), October 20, 1999,

[138] Hugo Kugiya, “A First for LIRR Speonk-to-Penn on a Dual-Mode Train,” Newsday (Nassau and Suffolk Edition), November 16, 1999,

[139] Long Island Rail Road, Port Jefferson Branch Timetable effective March 20, 2000 (New York: Metropolitan Transportation Authority, 2000).

[140] Hugo Kugiya, “LIRR’s Ridership Rose in 1999,” Newsday (Nassau and Suffolk Edition), January 20, 2000,

[141] Sidney C. Schaer, “LIRR Report Card Improves/New Train Boots Commuter Rating,” Newsday (Nassau and Suffolk Edition), October 20, 2000,

[142] Sidney Schaer, “LIRR: Cracks Found in New Locomotives,” Newsday (Combined Editions), May 18, 2000,

[143] John Valenti, “Stop & Go/A Weekly Guide to the Roads & Rails on Long Island/Pop Goes the Diesel: Yard Noise makes People Rail,” Newsday (Nassau and Suffolk Edition), August 6, 2000,

[144] Sidney C. Schaer, “Fire Fears for LIRR Engines,” Newsday (Combined Editions), October 25, 2000,

[145] Sidney C. Schaer, “Stop & Go/A Weekly Guide to the Roads & Rails on Long Island/The Rail Rider/Fires in Prize Locomotives Spark LIRR into Action,” Newsday (Combined Editions), November 26, 2000,

[146] John Valenti, “LIRR Fleet Heads for the Shop/46 New Locomotives Need Repairs for Cracks,” Newsday (Nassau and Suffolk Edition), June 21, 2001,

[147] John Valenti, “LIRR Engines to Ky. for Repair,” Newsday (Combined Editions), September 26, 2001,

[148] Joie Tyrrell, “LIRR Destination: Pa. for Fixes,” Newsday (Nassau and Suffolk Edition), October 2, 2002,

[149] Joie Tyrrell, “A Few Parting Words/Exiting Chief: LIRR Needs to Expand, Diesels a Letdown,” Newsday (Nassau and Suffolk Edition), February 23, 2003,

[150] Joie Tyrrell, “LIRR Focusing on Expansion, Repairs,” Newsday (Combined Editions), April 12, 2003,

[151] Kate Slevin, “New Rail Yard Would Give Us a Better Ride,” Newsday (Combined Editions), February 3, 2004,

[152] Steve Ritea, “LIRR Report: Room for Improvement,” Newsday (Combined Editions), October 3, 2007,

[153] Steve Ritea, “LIRR’s Diesel Trains Pose Delay Dilemma Railroad Pressing Options for its Fleet of GM Custom-made Locomotives that are Prone to Breakdowns,” Newsday (Combined Editions), December 2, 2007,

[154] Steve Ritea, “LIRR Study: Poor Tracking Rail Chief Replaces Mechanics Boss after Findings of Shoddy Record-keeping of Troubled Diesel Fleet,” Newsday (Combined Editions), February 21, 2008,

[155] Alfonso A. Castillo, “Solving Diesel Trains’ Problems at LIRR,” Newsday (Combined Editions), October 23, 2008,

[156] Herbert Keith, “Long Island: LIRR Breaks Its On-time Record,” Newsday (Combined Editions), January 8, 2010,

[157] Alfonso A. Castillo, “The LIRR Stays on Track: Data Show Fewer Breakdowns Last Year, the Agency’s Best yet,” Newsday (Combined Editions), February 18, 2012,

[158] Alfonso A. Castillo, “Plans for LIRR: More Trains/Tracks,” Newsday (Combined Editions), October 3, 2013,

[159] Rather, “If You’re Thinking of Living In/the Setaukets.”

[160] Rather, “If You’re Thinking of Living In/Stony Brook.”

[161] “About Flowerfield,” Gyrodyne Company of America, accessed June 25, 2014,

[162] “Railroad Station Getting Spruced Up, Improved” The Village Times Herald, November 6, 2008; Alfonso A. Castillo, “Stony Brook: Lawmakers, Officials Unveil Updated Station,” Newsday (Combined Editions), October 30, 2008,

Next page: The History of the Town of Riverhead and Its Railroad Stations


13 thoughts on “The History of the Three Villages and St. James: With a Modern Chronicle of the Long Island Rail Road’s Eastern Port Jefferson Branch

  1. Derek I found your blog post online and have enjoyed reading it. I’m originally from the three village area but now live in Indianapolis with my wife and three kids. My family, who are Hoosiers for sure have little connection to that area and I was eager to share some of this info with them. The photos are very nice as well!

  2. Thank you. My father was Chief engineer on the J .J. Harvey Fire Boat and would commute to NYC from Stony Brook Station. We moved here in 62. I still do .I also remember as a child when the old steamer engine train was retired and then brought to the Stony Brook Carriage Museum. It is no longer there. I wonder where it is today. It was quite a happening for the town. Love trains and are visiting Steam Town National Park in Pa this memorial day weekend.

    1. Thanks for the comment. The two steam locomotives used in the end of steam of ceremony in 1955 are still around and are being renovated. The one that was at the carriage museum is currently at the Riverhead Railroad Museum.

  3. Wow, I’ve always had so much pride in the heritage of the Three Villages and love to play tour guide for out of town friends. You have given me so much more to share with them.

    Excellent article! ❤

  4. Along with Bev Tyler, I was one of the Three Village Historical Society editors and consultants to the “Three Village Guidebook” (authored by Howard Klein, 1986) which is footnoted here more than any other single source.

    I was also the chief writer for the “Harbour Chronicle,” a small weekly newspaper which decades ago highlighted historical sites and structures in the Three Villages and Saint James.

    Many of the recent photographs on this website are spectacular! My only lament is that a couple of structures have been left in the shadows.

    But thank you, Derek Stadler, for a wonderfully-illustrated history!

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