Gil Smith

A black and white image of a Gil Smith boat floats on the Patchogue River.
A Gil Smith Boat floats along the Patchogue River

Photo Courtesy Greater Patchogue Historical Society

Gilbert M. Smith, Master Boat Builder

Born in Manorville on July 13, 1843, Gilbert M. Smith was employed in the shipping trade, sailing routes to Spain and Cuba before serving aboard Union Army supply vessels during the Civil War. He married Marion Terry of Riverhead in 1863 and earned a living as a bayman, duck hunter and guide before moving to the thriving port village of Patchogue in 1876.

During the late 19th century Patchogue was the largest trading and industrial center in Suffolk County, providing opportunities of employment for men like Smith who began working at various boatyards around the Patchogue River while producing 12 to 16 foot catboats in his spare time for local baymen.

In 1876 Smith rented a shop on the Patchogue River to produce his catboats, which were gaining increasing notoriety among the south shore baymen. Reputed to be the fastest on the bay, Smith's work steadily increased, and in 1881, Smith moved his business to a larger boatyard where he crafted his catboats until he suffered a stroke in 1936.

It is estimated that the "master boat builder" of Patchogue crafted about 400 sailboats in his time, known for their beauty and speed. Smith died in 1940 at the age of 97, leaving the business to his son Asa. Some of Smith's work is preserved at the Long Island Maritime Museum in West Sayville, the East Hampton Historical Society and the Bellport Historical Society.


Last updated: December 21, 2015

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