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Middle Island Man Still Saws Away

Footnotes to Long Island History

Middle Island Man Still Saws Away

by

Thomas R. Bayles


Middle Island Man Still Saws Away

 

 

            MIDDLE ISLAND—Still active at the age of 92, Lewis E. Ritch of Middle Island may be seen sawing stove wood at his large woodpile every good day during the Fall and Winter.  The Ritch family burns wood for heating and cooking, and Mr. Ritch saws it all with his bucksaw.  He has also sawed up 30half cord piles of fire-place wood this Winter for sale.

            Seventy years ago, before the turn of the century, Mr. Ritch was active in the cord wood industry in this area, where thousands of cords of wood were cut every winter.  He drove the teams that hauled the wood over to the “landings” on the sound shore, where it would be ready to load on the wood sloops and schooners during the summer that sailed from various landings along the sound, and from the harbors of Port Jefferson, Setauket and Stony Brook.

            Mr. Ritch sailed with Capt. Jake Mott of Middle Island, on his boat, the “Falcon”, and made many trips loaded with cord wood down the sound and around New York harbor and up the Hudson to Haverstraw, where the wood was sold to the brick yards there and used in baking bricks.  His sloop was a good sized one and carried 40 cords of wood, and many a thrilling tale Mr. Ritch can tell of those colorful days.  He was an experienced sailor and with Capt. Mott made up the entire crew of his boat.

            Going through Hell/Gate had to be done when the wind and tide were just right, as these boats depended on sail altogether for power.  He tells of one afternoon when they had just finished loading at Miller Place when the wind blew up suddenly from the northwest and would have grounded the boat if it had started to blow a few minutes earlier.  They were loaded heavily and just managed to get away from shore, and tacking into the wind took them all night to sail down the sound.  Next morning found them opposite Huntington.  It usually took about a week to make a round trip, and cooking was done on a small stove in the cabin of the boat.  The boats “laid on” as they called it, on the sound shore at high tide, and as the tide went down, the wood was loaded and the boat had to be ready when the tide was high again.  Many times men were called out to load the boats during the night, according to the tide.

            Mr. Ritch is still hale and hearty and says he hasn’t had a doctor in 44 years.

            He has a keen mind and a wonderful memory and tells of the “horse and buggy” days as though they were yesterday.  He has worked in the Union Cemetery for over 50 years and is able to quote from memory date and inscriptions of most of the gravestones in the cemetery.  He worked with Richard M. Bayles (father of author of this article) who was a surveyor, for many years and is familiar with property bounds throughout this section.  His help is sought out by lawyers and surveyors from neighboring towns and he is always ready to give information to those looking for it.

            He lives in the old homestead with his son, Raymond and his wife, on the farm which he has worked all his life.  It has been in the Ritch family since 1811.  He has always been a great walker, and until recent years thought nothing of walking to Port Jefferson, a distance of 10 miles.  He still walks a couple of miles at night to visit some of his old neighbors, is interested in sports and always watches the baseball games on television.  He reads the daily papers and keeps up with the events of the day.  Mr. Ritch attributes his healthy old age to clean, simple living and taking life as it comes without worrying.  Truly, he is the grand old man of Brookhaven Town. 

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