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Old Cordwood Industry on L.I.

Footnotes to Long Island History

Old Cordwood Industry on L.I.

by
Thomas R. Bayles

 

 


For nearly 100 years, up to about 1900, the cutting and shipping of cordwood was an important industry in the central part of Long Island from Lake Grove to Middle Island and Ridge, and on the north side from Stony Brook to Wading River.

 The wood was cut during the winter months and during good weather was hauled by teams to the north side of the Island, where it was piled in long piles alongside the landing roads leading down to the Sound Shore at Miller Place, Mt Sinai, Wading River Woodville Landing (now Shoreham) and large quantities of wood was also loaded from the docks at Stony Brook, Setauket and Port Jefferson.

 The plains between the middle and north side of the Island, which today are practically bare of trees, yielded in those days as high 50,000 cords of wood, mostly pine. Most of the wood shipped was pine, although some bak wood was also shipped.

 During the open season a number of sloops and schooners were engaged in carrying the wood from various landings to New York, and also up the Hudson River to Haverstraw where it was used in the brick yards in curing bricks. The boats would "lay on," as they called it, that is come as close to the beach at high tide as possible. As the tide went down, the men with teams hauled the wood from the piles above the beaches and to the boats, where it was loaded. The men had to work fast in order to get the boat loaded before tide rose again, when it would have to be ready to sail. Sometimes several boats would be loading at the same time, which made a scene of great activity on the beach, and the work often ran late into the night, according to the tides. Men were often called out in the middle of the night to go over to the Sound and to "load sloop."

 Thousands of cords of wood were cut every winter on the farms by men who came down from Amityville and other sections for the winter and were paid fifty to seventy cents a cord. They lived in farm building and some of them built rude huts in the woods where they lived for the winter.

 Cordwood cutting is almost a lost art in these days, and among the very few remaining men who were active in the wood business in the latter part of the past century is Lewis Ritch of Middle Island, who is 92 years of age and still cuts up all all the wood at the woodpile for the wood-burning family cook stove which they use. In addition to this, last winter he sawed up about 40 half-cord piles of fireplace wood which he sells at his home. Many a colorful tale Mr. Ritch can tell of the years when he sailed the wood loops to Haverstraw and of the Industry that brought in thousands of dollars each year to the farmers in this area. Mr. Ritch is a great walker and still walks nearly two miles to see some of his neighbors and back again.

 The old wheelright shop in Yaphank of Charles Marvin was an important part of the wood business, as it was there that the farm wagons which carried the wood were built and kept in repair. The scene has changed and the old wheelright shop is gone, and also the teams and wagons that hauled the wood over the country roads across the Island, also the boats that carried the wood to the distant markets. All that is left to remind the present generation of a profitable industry that once gave employment to a large number of men, are the old landing roads leading down through the hills to the Sound shore. These are mostly hard surfaced highways which carry thousands of cars loaded with pleasure seekers  who go to enjoy the sunshine and the fine salt water bathing in Long Island Sound in the summer time. 

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