Yaphank Man's Old Collection Includes interesting Articles
Weather Report from Yaphank
The Inquiring Reporter
By B. C.
“Who is the oldest police officer in Brookhaven town in point of years of continuous service? “ was the question our editor asked your Inquiring Reporter. So we began inquiring and it’s our bet that we found the gentlemen in the mid-island section of the town. If we are incorrect, we will claim we came from Missouri. Our selection hails from no other place than Yaphank and his name is Deputy Sheriff John E. Davis. And, besides being a “cop” for 20 years, coming this spring, he is some “boy”, even if he was born in 1873. He’s the father of ten living children and the “grand-daddy” of nine others.
“John Ed” as he is familiarly called, was elected a Town Constable of Brookhaven town in the spring of 1907, for a two-year term. (In those days the biennial town elections were special ones held in the spring of the year instead of at the general elections in November.) He was successfully re-elected at the following town elections: 1909, 1911, 1913, 1915, 1917, 1919, 1921, 1923, 1925, 1927—11 terms all told. He “declined to run again” in 1929, accepting a position as investigator on the staff of the district attorney, which he held until 1932 when he resigned to act as a deputy sheriff, which office he continues to hold. During his 11 elective terms as town constable he was a deputy sheriff so that he has held that office continuously since 1907.
Naturally, one would accept a cop with a record of 29 continuous years of service would have lots of exciting police stories, murders, etc., to tell about, but not Davis. He prides himself on being a resident of a law abiding community composed of peaceful-living people. He would admit to an occasional “drunk” or family row but otherwise nothing exciting has occurred “around here in 25 years or more.”
One of the eventful cases that did occur however was the murder of a man that took place in the so-called River house in Middle Island, near George Prosser’s home and recently occupied as a summer camp by a New York City settlement house. This was the only murder in the history of Yaphank, according to its oldest inhabitant, and the man charged with the murder, one Chris Englart, was cleared of the charge after a trial during which he was defended by Town Attorney Ralph J. Hawkins.
Davis recalls the case vividly. He was at home one night about midnight when he heard a knocking on his front door. Opening it he was greeted by Englart, who was a contracting mason and lived alone in the River house, a rambling, old building, the scene of “gay drinking parties.” “Davis, I just killed a man,” Englart blurted out. Davis held his lamp closer to the face of his caller to make sure it was Englart and that he was in his sober senses. Englart was sober, all right, and after Davis accompanied him to his home and saw the prone form of a youth who lived in Middle Island lying in a pool of blood on the threshold of the Englart home, he believed him.
EVIDENTLY the jury that tried his case believed Englart’s story that he killed the man in self defense, for it acquitted him. He said he was awakened from his sleep by his uninvited caller and when the latter insisted upon coming into the house he grabbed his single barrel shotgun to scare him. It went off, he said, during a tussle. A few years later Englart was found dead one night beside the Patchogue-Port Jefferson State road near Port Jefferson.
About 1914, Yaphank had a “near” murder, according to Davis. The late Jonathan Baker was superintendent of the County home at the time and it was late one night when Baker phoned Davis that there had been a shooting match at the shack, east of the railroad depot, used by the Italian section hands as sleeping quarters. He was certain two men had been killed. Davis rounded up Dr. Clarence Baker, William Webber and Henry Regent and surrounded the shack. Forcing the door key they found an Italian section hand hiding under a bunk, his head covered with a blanket. He had been shot with a 38-caliber revolver through the chest, the bullet passing out his back and lodging in the ceiling. In a nearby cornfield they found a second Italian, shot through the chest. Despite their wounds the men lived, one of them later returning to Italy to be shot to death there. They accused a second section hand, who was never apprehended, of shooting them. This man, according to former Railroad Station Agent Flynn, Jonathan Baker and John Rickert, section foreman, was a “bad egg” and had threatened to kill the “whole bunch.”
Davis has resided in Yaphank 60 years; in fact, he was born in 1873 at Middle Island, “just over the hill” from his present home, so he ought to know Yaphank. And he claims it was “some burg” at one time. According to the old records, 50 years ago Yaphank might well be called the “queen village of mid-island Brookhaven.” It boasted in those days of two grist and saw mills, operated by water power, (parts of the old mill dam still remain at the south end of Yaphank pond); three blacksmith and two wheelwright shops; two groceries; one druggist, one hardware store, a coal and lumber yard, two churches, and one school. It is not “so long ago”, according to the subject of our narrative, that E. L. Gerard used to been seen carting cordwood in horse-drawn wagons to Patchogue, and, mind you, Yaphank was once the seat of the town government-the town clerk’s office.
Farmers and Wives Flocked to Yaphank
WHEN E. F. Hawkins conducted a general store (the empty one on the north side of the road west of the present post office) and he was town clerk, he used a small extension to his place of business as an office in which to transact the town business. Later this particular building was removed and today forms part of the residence of Charles Howell, former postmaster of Yaphank. Yaphank’s two mills attracted farmers from several miles away to do business in the village. They would bring their grain to be ground in the grist mill and timbers to be sawed into building lumber, have their horses shod and vehicles repaired at the wheelwright’s. Incidentally, their women folk would come along to the shop and on certain days, old timers told us, “we needed a traffic cop.”
Davis resides in the oldest house in Yaphank. According to the late Justice of the Peace Frederick P. Marchant, who was well versed in the town’s history, it was built between 1736-50. When Davis was born, his parents the late Mr. And Mrs. Albert L. Davis, resided in Middle Island. In 1876 they moved into the residence to the west of Marchant’s home, known as the Mary Ackerly place. A year later, Albert Davis purchased the old Norton homestead, in which his son now resides. Davis recalls his father telling how it was riddled with squirrel holes when he bought it. It also contained an old Dutch oven which Davis regrets having been torn down. The floor beams, still visible in the cellar, still retain their barks.
Davis’ first job, which he will never forget and which was recalled to his mind by the recent cold spell, was delivering mail for then Postmaster Charles Howell. He used to pick up the mail at the railroad depot, carry it by horse and wagon to the local post office and after it was sorted, start for the Middle Island post office, making deliveries on the way. In the winter he used a sleigh and, according to our source of information, “it used to be cold going and rough riding over fences.” Tiring of this he took a job with a Riverhead butcher, later working at the same business for George West, at Port Jefferson. West is in business today at Bayport and will recall how he and his helper were snowbound for five days in West’s home at Setauket during the blizzard of ’88.
Davis Decides to Change His Trade
While working for West, a neighbor, William Miller of Middle Island, had gone in the contracting business in Brooklyn and he offered to teach Davis the carpenter trade. Davis accepted without asking the salary. He was paid $3.50 a week for the first six months. Out of this he had to pay $3 for board. When he got a raise of 50 cents a week his board was increased a similar amount. At the end of three years he was making $7 a week but knew so much about his trade he secured a position with Ben Homan of Babylon and worked there and in Freeport for a year before going to Southampton, where he worked at the trade for three years.
He was 23 year old now and tired of being away from home, so he returned to Yaphank, met his wife, who, by the way, is a native of Michigan, was married, and has resided there ever since. The couple have ten children and nine grandchildren. The children are: Albert, Mrs. James Hawkins, Edward, Mrs. Flora Kiney, John, Mrs. John Norcross, Mrs. Jacob Baczensky, Mrs. Marion Sanford, Arthur and Madeline.
When the United States entered the World War Albert, the eldest child, decided to enlist in the navy rather than in the army. “He had heard enough about the army” from his grandfather, Albert L. Davis, who had enlisted in Co. A, 133rd Regiment, New York Volunteers and served three years during the Civil war.
“Come up and see me some time,” grinned Davis, “and perhaps I’ll give you some police stories instead of talking about myself.”