Lewis Ritch, cutting cordwood at age 95

Saws Wood on Birthday
Work Piles Up for Middle Island Man, Age 96
Long Island Advance Oct. 14, 1965

HEFTING HIS BUCKSAW, in this photo taken in l959 is Lewis E. Ritch of Route 25, Middle Island, who is still at it, piling up wood for use in his home and for sale. He marked his ninety-fifth birthday Monday, sawing away easily on another load of wood.

Lewis E. Ritch of Route 25, Middle Island, “The Grand Old Man of Brookhaven Town,” marked his ninety-fifth birthday Monday - by sawing a load of wood.

It was just another day to the hard-working nonagenarian, who keeps large, neatly-stacked piles of wood cut for use in the saltbox-type house on the 200-year-old family homestead.

The Ritch family burns wood for heating and cooking, and Mr. Ritch saws it all with his bucksaw. He has also sawed up a large number of half-cord piles of fireplace wood for sale this winter.

In addition, he helps his son and daughter-in-law tend to the farming that is their main source of income. There is a small vegetable stand in front of the home where he sometimes sells tomatoes, corn, melons, squash and potatoes.

In light of rising taxes, Mr. Ritch doesn’t think too much of “progress.” He recalls that years ago a man could make a good living on his land with a team of horses. Then, there were no licenses required and the taxes were only about $16. Last year, Mr. Ritch paid over $1,000 in taxes.

He eats three square meals a day and enjoys good health; He hasn’t taken any medicine for 45 years.

Seventy – three years ago, before the turn of the century, Mr. Ritch was active in the cordwood 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 the various landings along the sound, and from the harbors of Port Jefferson, Setauket and Stony Brook.

Schooner Emma Southard 1880. Loading the schooner with cordwood
at Miller Place beach. Thousands of cords of wood were cut in the Middle Island
and Ridge and carted over to the sound shore to be loaded on boats.

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 for baking bricks. His sloop was a good sized one 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 the shore, and tacking into the wind took them 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.

He is still hale and hearty and hasn’t seen a doctor in 47 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 on most of the gravestones. He worked with Richard M. Bayles, who was a surveyor, for many years and is familiar with property bounds throughout this section. His help is sought 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



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