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Cordwood Industry Once Flourished Here

Footnotes to Long Island History

Cordwood Industry Once Flourished Here

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by

Thomas R. Bayles

 


          Caption:  Emma Southard with Capt. Daniel Davis of Mount Sinai loading wood at Miller’s Place about 1890.

          For nearly a century prior to 1900 the cutting and shipping of cordwood was an important industry in the middle part of the Island from Lake Grove to Middle Island and the Ridge, and on the north side from Stony Brook to Wading River.  It brought in thousands of dollars annually to the farmers throughout this section.

The wood was cut mostly during the winter months, and in the late fall months a good many Negroes from Bay Shore and Amityville drifted down to the wood cutting areas, carrying their housekeeping equipment with them.  There was plenty of work for them, and the price for cutting wood in those days was 50 to 60 cents a cord.  The men lived in shacks on the farms and in some cases built rude buts in the woods to live in for the winter.

When we take into consideration the large number of farmers who were engaged in the wood business it will be seen that this was a major industry in this part of Long Island during the last century.

A great many men and teams were marched in carting the wood to the north side of the island where it was piled in long piles alongside of the old landing roads that led down to the beach.  Great piles were also made in the docks at Stony Brook, Setauket and Port Jefferson.  There were landing at Millers Place, Hallock’s Landing at Rocky Point, Woodville Landing (Shoreham) and Wading River.

During the open season a number of sloops and schooners were engaged in carrying the wood from the various landing to New York, and also up the Hudson to Haverstraw where it was used in the brick yards.  These boats would “lay on” as thy called it, that is, come as close to the beach as possible and lay side to the beach just after the flood tide.  The men with teams would haul the wood from the piles above the beach down to the boats where it was thrown aboard.  The men had to work fast in order to get the wood loaded before the tide rose again, as the boat would have to be ready to sail at high tide.  Sometimes several boats would be loading at one time which made a scene of great activity on the beach.  Often the work ran late into the night by the aid of lantern light, and many times the men would be called out in the middle of the night to go and “load sloop” so as to take advantage of the tide.  Where the wood was loaded from the docks of course it was a more simple matter.

The larger boats carried 50 to 60 cords of wood and the smaller ones 15 to 20 cords.  It took from three to five days to make a trip up the Sound and through Hell Gate around New York and up the Hudson to Haverstraw, although Capt. Jake Mott of Middle Island made five round trips in a month once which was a record.

Cordwood cutting is almost a lost art these days and there are few men except some of the old timers who can put up a cord of wood in good shape.  Among the few remaining men who were active in the wood business in the latter part of the past century is Lewis E. Ritch of Middle Island.  Although seventy-seven years of age, he still cuts several cords of wood every winter on his farm and sells it form his home.  His piles of wood are a master piece of wood cutting, and probably there is no man living in this vicinity who can come up to him in this respect.

The scene has changed, and the cord wood business which made such a colorful industry for so many years, has passed from the picture.  No longer do we see the teams that used to travel the country roads with loads of wood, nor the sloops that carried the wood up the Sound from the landing beaches and docks.  All that is left to remind the present generation of an industry that provided profitable employment for a large number of local people are the old landing roads leading down to the beaches.

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