Port Jefferson (informally known as Port Jeff) is an incorporated village in the Town of Brookhaven in Suffolk County, New York on the North Shore of Long Island. Offically known as the Incorporated Village of Port Jefferson, the population was 7,750 as of the 2010 United States Census. The village 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 Poquott were a corruption of Poquossett, meaning "where it (water) 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 shipbuilding community by the 19th century. The community leaders, realizing this was a poor name for the shipbuilding business, eventually changed its name to Port Jefferson in 1836 after President Thomas Jefferson. 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. The village was once a major whaling port, especially in the 1880s.
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 residents put a stop to his plans, and he eventually sold his land. Barnum Avenue now runs though the area that was once his land, and one of the 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 1963. A number of historic buildings 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.
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" lies 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 the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Puerto Rico and El Salvador since the early 1990s.