Active Middle Islander Still Woodcutter at 83

Footnotes to Long Island History

Active Middle Islander Still Woodcutter at 83


Thomas R. Bayles

                MIDDLE ISLAND- One of the most active men for his age in this part of Long Island is Lewis E. Ritch of Middle Island, who although 83 years of age, is still working some every day, and last winter cut and piled several cords of fireplace wood in his yard for sale, besides cutting firewood for the family cook stove.

                Mr. Ritch is one of the few remaining men who were engaged in the cord wood cutting an shipping business during the later part of the past century. In those bygone days cord wood cutting was an important industry through the middle of the island and during the winter months thousands of cords of wood were cut and hauled to the shores the sound on the North Shore.

                Great piles of wood were made there and during the summer months the wood was loaded and shipped on sloops that came in to shore at high tide and loaded the wood while the tide was down, then sailed when the tide rose again. Most of the wood was shipped to New York City and also up the river to Haverstraw where it was used in curing bricks.

                                             Spins colorful Tales

                 Many a tale Mr. Ritch can tell of those colorful days when cordwood was such an important product of the forests throughout this section. He drove the teams with the creaking farm wagons that hauled the wood across the Island to the Sound shore and it was a slow trip in those days.

                He can tell of being called out in the middle of the night to go over to help load "sloop" on the shore when the tide was right, as the work had to be done according to the tide, and many a night the beach was a scene of feverish activity by lantern light with several sloops loading at once. He also tells of the many trips he made on the sloops as mate. Among the boats he sailed on were the Falcon, The Alert, the Sharpshooter, and the Olive Leave which was the last wood sloop to operate from the sound shore.

                                        Only Memories Left

              The cord wood business with the teams of horses and farm wagons which made employment for a great many men during the last century have all passed from the American scene and nothing is left but the memories and tales of a few remaining men like Mr. Ritch. The only sale for wood now is for the use in fireplaces.

                Mr. Ritch has lived in the ancestral home all his life and operated the farm which has been in the Ritch family since 1811, when it was purchased by his grandfather Lewis E. Ritch from Charles Gerard, He was born on October 11, 1869 and when a young man married Katie F. Homan. They had three children, two boys, and a girl all of whom are living. The youngest son Raymond and his wife live in the family homestead with Mr. Ritch.

                For over 40 years he has been a trustee and custodian of Union cemetery opposite the Presbyterian church, and is so familiar with the grave stones there that he is able to repeat the inscriptions on a great many of them from memory. He possesses a remarkable memory and is able to tell many a tale of events of the years gone by. He is familiar with property bounds, roads and local conditions that existed year ago and he is sought out by surveyors, title searchers and others in search of information.

                                            A Great Walker

                Mr. Ritch is a great walker and is a familiar sight on the roads for miles around. He celebrated he eightieth birthday by walking from the steamboat dock at Port Jefferson to his home at Middle Island, a distance of 10 miles. In the years past he thought nothing of walking to Port Jefferson or Patchogue and is often seen at night walking to some of his neighbors with his lantern. He attributes his good health and age to simple living and exercise everyday.

                Mr. Ritch stands out prominently in these days of rush and money-getting as one of those fast-disappearing types of men who with their simple kindly ways are never too busy to stop and give information to someone looking for help.

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