Editor’s note: This article is part of a series in which Newsday attempts to answer questions from Long Islanders about life on the Island. If there’s a question you want us to answer, send it to us here.
Where did the name Gilgo come from? Folklore says there was a successful clammer named Gill. — asked by reader Kim Murphy, Oak Beach
If you’re looking for a good catch in the water around the Town of Babylon, you go where “Gill goes.” Or, at least, that’s the local legend about how the Gilgo community was named — after a fisherman named Gill.
But if the legend is true, there’s no record of it among local historians and officials at the state’s Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. Nor is there any record of the name’s provenance.
The earliest mention of Gilgo in town records is in a 1793 deposition which references a “Gilgo gut,” said Babylon Town historian Mary Cascone. Before that, Gilgo Gut was called Huntington West Gut, according to an 1808 deposition. There is no mention of why the name was changed.
Still, some locals subscribe to the tale, and it’s been spread online through local publications. It was even referenced in a 2013 New York Rising document, which says a “famous” Gill Burch lived on the mainland after the Civil War.
A 1960 article in the defunct publication the Long Island Forum supports the Gill Burch legend. According to a story listing the origins of several place names across Long Island, the legendary fisherman Gill Burch belonged to family that “lived on the mainland south of Gilgo Inlet.”
But a Suffolk County News article from 1959 offers a slightly different version of the tale — that the Gill in question was either a Burch, Smith or Verity. So, we went looking for all three, and local genealogists did come up with a handful of men that fit the bill.
Genealogist Mac Titmus found three Gill Burches and a Virgil. There was a Gilson Burch born in Farmingdale in 1817; a Gilson Charles Burch born in Brooklyn in 1889; a Gilbert Burch born in 1840 in Huntington; and a Virgil Leon Burch born in Amityville in 1888.
But, all of those Gills were born too late to be the inspiration for the hamlet’s name.
Genealogist Linda Metzger uncovered another person of interest — a Gill Smith who was born in Huntington about 1765, though she couldn’t determine from historical records if Smith was a fisherman by trade.
And that was the end of the information trail, and with not quite enough to prove this tale true or untrue, the local legend remains just that.