Brookhaven (population 486,000), the largest town in Suffolk County, was founded in 1655, when land agents from New England and Southold Township purchased an eight square mile tract of land from the Setalcott tribe. The original deed still survives and covers property stretching from present day Stony Brook to east of Port Jefferson. The earliest settlers arrived from New England and towns east of Brookhaven, and the first settlement was called Setauket.
In 1666, after Long Island became part of the Colony of New York, Governor Richard Nicholl granted a Patent which established the name of Brookhaven, confirmed title to lands already purchased, and allowed for additional purchases. In 1686, the town established a representative form of government. During the War for American Independence, Gen. George Washington relied on information provided by a spy ring operating out of Setauket.
Early Brookhaven residents engaged in farming, fishing, and whaling. By the 19th century, shipbuilding and the cordwood industry had also become important. In the 20th century, Brookhaven became a leader in communications, technology, research, and education.
Brookhaven is being recognized, in part, for its partnership work in sustaining the last African American family farm on Long Island. Beginning in 2007, a grassroots effort has helped the Hobbs Community Farm, surrounded by suburban development, find a new life raising produce for local food pantries, hosting youth programs and public events, including festivals which draw heritage tourists.
Longwood Estate, which was home to the Smith family from 1790 through 1967, hosts an annual two-day Town Fair, with tours of the home, Revolutionary and Civil War reenactments, historic craft and cooking demonstrations, Native American culture, and music performances. Teacher training symposia and school programs are also held at Longwood.
Among Brookhaven's other historic places are the estate of William Floyd, the only resident of Suffolk County to sign the Declaration of Independence; Nikola Tesla's original laboratory; Radio Central, the first commercial overseas transmitting station in the world, officially opened in 1921 by President Warren G. Harding; Brookhaven National Laboratory (1947), home of four Nobel prize-winning discoveries in physics; and more than 20 miles of the Fire Island National Seashore.
Today the town of Brookhaven comprises more than 325 square miles, including 125 miles of shoreline, and its rich history is evident in every hamlet, downtown, incorporated village, and open space area. The town includes 16 historic districts (plus two more located within incorporated villages), 46 town-designated historic landmarks, 33 National Register listings, and one National Historic Landmark. The New York State-designated Long Island North Shore Heritage Area runs the entire length of Brookhaven, along its north shore, and the protected Pine Barrens are at the heart of the town.
Designated a Preserve America Community in October 2011.