Pier Avenue: vestige of a failed endeavor

07/22/2010 12:00 AM |

A hundred years ago, the railroad was the lifeline for trade. Anyone looking for faster transportation could as easily make bricks without straw — so most businessmen never tried.

But in 1899 a group of Riverhead entrepreneurs thought they could beat the railroad. By constructing a pier on the Sound at the end of a road called Luce’s Landing, they hoped to transport goods to New York City faster and cheaper than the standard railroad fare.

They failed miserably.

Pier Avenue is the only lasting vestige of the botched endeavor. According to records taken from the Suffolk County Historical Society, the 400-footlong pier didn’t extend far enough into the water to be reached by large vessels. Fishermen frequented the pier, and small farmers shipped loads of potatoes to New York City for 55 cents a bushel; but the limited trade was not enough.

To make matters worse, the winter of 1903 to 1904 left the entire Long Island Sound a “solid cake of ice,” according to the late Edna H. Yeager, a 20th Century historian who was a member of the Riverhead Bicentennial History Committee in 1976.

During an unexpected warm spell, she said in one account, the miles of ice, which measured five feet thick in some places, began to shift under high winds and strong tides. The force of the ice was so strong, she said, that it “snapped the iron spiles of the pier like clay pipestems and deposited the deck of the pier upon the beach.” Witnesses observed that in a few hours, over 10,000 tons of ice piled on top of the wreckage, burying the pier and destroying any chance of salvaging its remains.