New app offers snapshots of Port Jefferson's past

John Rago, who developed an app that allows John Rago, who developed an app that allows people to use their cell phones and iPads to see the history of Port Jefferson, shows a historic photo of a building that still stands, right, in Port Jefferson. (Aug. 1, 2013) Photo Credit: Newsday/Ed Betz

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Residents and visitors in Port Jefferson can see what parts of the village looked like decades ago -- by pointing their cellphones and iPads at its current attractions.

An app, available for free on mobile devices, allows Harborfront Park visitors to view historic photos of what they are viewing in real time. Town officials and the app's developer plan to have all of the village accessible in this way.

John Rago, YourPastPortal.com owner, came up with the idea for the app and developed it after adding thousands of photos from the village's archives dating to the 1800s to the PortJeff.com website.

"The app is amazing," Port Jefferson Mayor Margot Garant said. "What it's doing is taking what already exists -- historic archives -- and bringing that into the public's hands in a playful museum without walls."

Rago developed the Port Jeff Portal app and accompanying website PortJeffPortal.com free of charge. The Port Jefferson Harbor Education and Arts Conservancy contributed $2,000 to underwrite expenses for the project, including logo design, promotion and subscriptions to websites necessary to facilitate the application, Garant said. The group received a grant from Suffolk County for $5,000. Optimum, an Internet service owned by Cablevision, the parent company of Newsday, provided a sponsorship of $15,000, Garant said.

Village historian Ken Brady provided photos and written content for the app.

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"Seeing the historical assets they had, I just thought they had to be out there," Rago said.

The app employs technology called augmented reality that uses satellites to locate where a user is pointing and adds the old photos and other information.

The seven points of interest currently featured on the app include the 1897 Bayles Chandlery, the site of the Willse-Bayles Homestead and the World War I-era steel building where the Village Center is housed. When a viewer using the app points to a site, a photo of what used to be there appears on the device's screen, and users can click on it to see more images, hear narration or read more about the locale's history.

Users can buy historic Port Jefferson photos through the app, its website or the village's website. Proceeds go to the conservancy, said Lisa Perry, the group's president. The funds will help maintain the Village Center and Harborfront Park. The group also plans to use the funds to install a kiosk inside the Village Center that will instruct visitors how to use the technology and offer iPads for those without mobile devices, Perry said.

The app has been downloaded more than 700 times since it was launched at the end of June, Rago said. More content is to be added in the next few weeks, including photos and the history of East Main Street, he said.

Directions for downloading the app can be found on PortJeffPortal.com.

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