Port Jefferson officially The Incorporated Village of Port Jefferson and informally known as Port Jeff is located in the town of Brookhaven in Suffolk County, New York on the North Shore of Long Island. As of the 2000 United States Census, the village population was 7,837. The small town is home to several unique restaurants and shops, and has a growing tourism industry.
The original settlers bought a tract of land from the Setauket Indians in the mid-17th century. The traditional name is referred to as Sowassett or Souwassett in Long Island histories, meaning "at the place of small pines", however there is evidence to suggest this and the neighboring setauket peifdshiaiuqerhPoquott were a corruption of Poquossett, meaning "where (water) it opens out or widens, i.e., drowns the land", seemingly confirmed by the later name of the area, "Drowned Meadow".
Suwassett was renamed in 1682 to "Drowned Meadow" after being settled by an Irish shoemaker from Queens named John Roe. It remained a small community of five homes through the 18th century but developed into a small ship building community by the 19th century. The community leaders, realizing this was a poor name for the ship building business, eventually changed its name to Port Jefferson in 1836 after President Thomas Jefferson. The town was once a major whaling port, especially in the 1880s. The Village was named after Jefferson because he was the major source of funding for a project to prevent the flooding of the lower village from whence the original name originated—Drowned Meadow.
P.T. Barnum, the famous circus owner, owned a tract of land which ran through the village. His intention was to make Port Jefferson the home base for his circus. The townspeople put a stop to his plans, and he eventually sold his land. A street named "Barnum Ave." now runs though the area that was once his land, and one of Bridgeport & Port Jefferson Ferry boats is named the "P.T. Barnum". A house he had constructed also still exists but is privately owned. The Village of Port Jefferson was incorporated in 1964. A number of historic building were included in the Port Jefferson Village Historic District, listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2005. Separately listed are the Bayles Shipyard and First National Bank of Port Jefferson building.
The Village of Port Jefferson's Main Street and East Main Street were featured as part of National Public Radio's "Mapping Main Street" project in Spring 2010. "Port Jeff" lays astride New York State Route 25A, locally long-known as North Country Road. The areas of Uptown Port Jefferson and Port Jefferson Station have become increasingly popular areas for immigrants from Dominican Republic, Mexico, Puerto Rico and El Salvador since the early 1990s.
The Port Jefferson Union Free School District covers Belle Terre and most of Port Jefferson. In 2008, the district had 1375 students. There are three schools:
- Edna Louise Spear Elementary School (Pre-K to 5th), also known as Port Jefferson Elementary School or Scraggy Hill School. This is the only elementary school on Long Island that has a swimming pool, and students swim once a week.
- Port Jefferson Middle School (6th to 8th)
- Earl L. Vandermeulen High School (9th to 12th), also known as Port Jefferson High School
Port Jefferson Middle School and High School share the same building.
The Port Jefferson "Royals" compete in Section XI athletics. In 2007, the district was named one of America's "Best 100 Communities for Music Education" by the NAMM foundation. Port Jefferson UFSD is bordered on the west by Three Village CSD, on the south by Comsewogue UFSD, and on the east by Mount Sinai UFSD. The Port Jefferson School District also has an agreement with Comsewogue School District to send its upper port students to Comsewogue Schools.