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The Original Homeowners

The Original Homeowners


LITTLE REMAINS on Middle Country Road in Middle Island to suggest the once-prosperous Ritch family farm.

Two billboards advertise cigarettes there now, and an auto-body shop stands in what once was the family's front yard. But in the early 19th Century, this was a bustling homesite presided over by a prominent farmer, artisan and public official.

Son of a Revolutionary War soldier, Lewis Ritch was born in Connecticut in 1776. He and Elizabeth Wallace married in 1789 and had three children, but she died in 1803. Ritch met his second wife, Charity Hulse, while on a hat-selling trip to New York City, family members have told researchers at the Old Bethpage Village Restoration and the Long Island Studies Institute at Hofstra University.

Oliver Ogden, a former staff member at Old Bethpage Village Restoration and an amateur historian, said the meeting between Lewis and Charity probably was not by happenstance: He said Elizabeth Wallace's sister was married to Charity Hulse's brother.

Whatever the circumstances, Lewis Ritch and Charity Hulse were married in 1810.

Lewis left his three children by Elizabeth Wallace, including their youngest, 7-year-old Lucy, with relatives in Connecticut. Upon his death, he did leave cash to the two surviving children of that marriage.

Lewis and Charity had five sons and one daughter. After the custom of those times, they named two of their boys after American founders George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.

In 1811, the same year he bought 10 acres of woodland along Middle Country Road, Ritch acquired a three-room Cape Cod-style house, framed on oak timbers and measuring about 800 square feet.

The homesite stood about a mile west of the local general store -- where Middle Island-Yaphank Road now meets Middle Country Road -- and only a few hundred yards east of the Presbyterian church.

Apparently, Ritch focused on hat-making to earn a living until he was able to acquire even more land. By 1827, he owned almost 200 acres. Town records show that Lewis Ritch apparently threw himself into his adopted community. From 1813 to 1829, he served in four different public offices: town trustee, commissioner of highways, town assessor and overseer of highways.

Ritch died in 1835 at the age of 59. Charity died in 1871 at 82. The couple's six children begat a family that extended well beyond Long Island. Three of their sons moved to North Carolina to engage in shipbuilding.

The Ritch family plot in Union Cemetery reflects their prominence. The now faded markers surround a 9-foot memorial obelisk to Lewis and Charity.

The Ritch homesite stayed in the family for 158 years until 1969.

 

 

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