Riverhead’s Mill Brook Lane: the last vestige of New York State’s first water-powered sawmill

The origins of Mill Brook Lane, a small road just off East Main Street in Riverhead, date back 350 years, according to Suffolk County Historical Society records, when Riverhead’s saw mill was the only place on eastern Long Island for settlers to obtain usable lumber. Before its construction, most North Fork residents were forced to get their lumber from British imports, a costly alternative that nearly everyone sought to avoid.

Like most colonial villages in the mid-1600s, Riverhead’s sawmill was the heartbeat of the town. It began in 1659, when a group of Southold pioneers ventured west and, under the direction of two men, John Tucker and Joseph Horton, constructed the first water-powered sawmill in New York.

The stream that powered the mill, flowing into the Peconic River and allowing easy access to any East End settlement, acquired the name “Sawmill Brook” over the ensuing years, a sensibly pragmatic name that would be shortened to “Mill Brook” and applied to the wagon path that led to the mill. Today, all traces of the former sawmill have disappeared, except for the old road called Mill Brook Lane.

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