The story behind the wrecks on the beach just west of Reeves Park is the most-asked question fielded by the Riverhead Town historian’s office, town historian Georgette Case said today.
The wooden structures buried in the shoreline there are the remains of five ships that were run ashore by a sand and gravel company in the 1930s to form a harbor to protect barges transporting the sand and gravel. The ships are believed to be WWI-era wooden freighters.
They are known as the Friar’s Head wrecks after the nearby Sound-front farm — now a golf course — that was thought to have the appearance of a friar’s head.
“A well was put on top of the cliff to pump water for cleaning the sand,” Case said. “The sand was found to be of poor quality and the operation was abandoned.”
According to Riverhead Fire Department records, Case said, the wrecks were first burned in September 1943. A second fire in 1947 burned the structures to the water line, a fire department publication said. The sparks from fire set many brush fires along the shore line.
Following an inquiry by the town historian at the time, the Department of the Navy in a letter dated Feb. 18, 1977 said it had no knowledge of these ships.