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A Short History of Yaphank...

The following is a letter from the files of Brookhaven Town Historian Osborn Shaw written in 1947. In the letter Mr. Shaw gives a short history of Yaphank.

22 January 1947

Mr. Adler Ames,
2829 Joseph Street,
New Orleans 15, La.

Dear Mr. Ames:
Your letter of the 14th instant addressed to the “Mayor, Yaphank, New York” has been forwarded to me to answer, as I am the official historian of the Town of Brookhaven.

I might explain that Yaphank is one of the smaller of the 45 villages and settlements which comprise the Town of Brookhaven and has no mayor. Here in New York State and especially on Long Island (outside of the New York City metropolitan area) we still have our Colonial setup of towns (really townships)as a subdivision of the counties, with each town having its own government and embracing a number of separate villages, settlements, hamlets and communities — some of which are often incorporated villages of 10,000 or more population and have a mayor. None of the southern states have this set-up.

Yaphank is very nearly the geographical center of Long Island and is the outgrowth of one of the divisions of Brookhaven town lands made in 1739. As the little village lies on the east side of Long Island’s Connecticut River (corrupted from the Unkechaug Indian dialect of the Algonquin word “quonnetukqut” meaning a long, tidal river or creek), several water—powered woolen, grist and sawmills were established there in Colonial times and the village became known as Millville. Sometime about 1844, when the railroad was put through the village, the name was changed to Yaphank, taking the Indian name of a small creek which lies about 3 miles directly south, in Yamphanke Neck, now South Haven. The name of the stream appears on the Brookhaven town records as “Yamphanke” and is first mentioned as a boundary in 1664, in one of the Indian deeds given to the Brookhaven townsmen. It continued to be “Yamphanke” for about a century after which the “m” and final “e” were dropped reducing the word to “Yaphank.”
The late William Wallace Tooker in his “Indian Place-Names on Long Island” (G.P.Putnam’s Sons, New York and London, 1911) gives the meaning of Yamphanke or Yaphank as “the bank of a river,” but if that be true, it must refer to the neck of land adjoining the stream and not to the stream itself. The Indians owning the land were the Unkechaug sub-tribe - one of the 13 “tribes” who occupied Long Island. They spoke a dialect similar to the Delawares and Pequotts of Connecticut.

I might add that Camp Upton is actually not in Yaphank but is about 2 1/2 miles northeast of the village, on a part of the Manor of St. George conveyed in 1693, by patent from Gov. Benjamin Fletcher in the names of King William and Queen Mary to Col. William Smith, first chief justice of the Province of New York. When the camp was established on the land at the beginning of the first world war, the Yaphank post office was the nearest one and mail was addressed: “Camp Upton, Yaphank, L.I.,N.Y.” This gave the soldiers who were sent there, the impression that they were in Yaphank while actually they were at Wampmissic, a small settlement in the Manor of St. George.

During the last war, Camp Upton had its own post-office though some of the mail was sent to the Yaphank post office - probably through mistake.
At present, the Government is using the camp for atomic energy research and it is now known as the Brookhaven National Laboratories, though still locally referred to as Camp Upton.

Hoping I have given you the information you desire.

Yours very truly,

Osborn Shaw