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Long IslandTowns

'Long Island: Our Story': Jefferson and Madison Stopped for a Visit

A kitchen added in 1955 to the Terry-Ketcham

A kitchen added in 1955 to the Terry-Ketcham Inn in Center Moriches is now an office. The inn, run by the Ketcham Inn Foundation, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. (June 29, 2011) Photo Credit: Carl Corry


Beginnings: Believed to be named for an Indian who once lived there, the area today encompassing Moriches, Center Moriches and East Moriches went through a dozen spellings after the first Europeans arrived. Take your pick: Meritche, Merquices, Maritches, Marigies, Meritces, Moritches, Muriches, Moricha and Meriches all have been spotted in historical records. Col. William (Tangier) Smith, who already owned hundreds of acres in Brookhaven known as the Manor of St. George, snagged some land in the Moriches area in patents of 1691 and 1697. But he retained little of those purchases due to competing claims from earlier settlers who had deeds with the Indians.

Turning Point: The railroad arrived in 1881, opening the Moriches to vacationing New Yorkers. Among them was 16-year-old Julia Hand of Brooklyn, whose family operated the Hand rooming house on the banks of Senix Creek. Julia kept a diary of her 16th summer in the Moriches in 1886, offering a slice of life in the 19th Century seaside town. When she wasn't doing chores at the boarding house, Julia rowed along the creeks, sailed on the bay and picnicked at the beach. On Aug. 12, she wrote: "Had a regular Jones breeze all day. We went to the beach in the morning & Mrs. J. took some trimming along which she unearthed for the occasion & insisted on my showing her every stitch, she talked so much that Sandy commenced to hunt for a cork - with a bottle on the end of it, & we laughed every minute."

Claim to Fame: The old Ketcham Inn or Terry's Hotel, as it was known from 1783 to 1852, was built on the stagecoach route from Brooklyn to Sag Harbor (today Main Street in Center Moriches) and was a popular rest stop for many years. By far the inn's most famous guests, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, sojourned there in 1791 during their historic visit to Long Island. Restoration of the old inn, a portion of which dates to 1693, is under way, spearheaded by the Ketcham Inn Foundation Inc.

Radio Days: The golden age of radio, circa the 1920s, brought an early radio station to the east end of Smith Street in East Moriches. Run by the Independent Wireless Co., the station housed a spark transmitter used to communicate with ships off shore. Only problem was the transmissions wiped out popular radio programs like "Amos 'n' Andy," prompting residents to form a protest group called the Suffolk County Radio Protective League. A compromise was struck. The company agreed to keep the station silent during the primetime shows, unless there was an SOS call. Today, nothing remains of the station, but the area still carries the name Radio Point. In July 1996, East Moriches was the site of one of the most urgent emergency calls in Long Island history: the explosion of TWA Flight 800.

Where to Find More: "The Illustrated History of the Moriches Bay Area," by Van and Mary Field; "Teen-Age Diary of '86," Long Island Forum, November, 1960; the complete Julia Hand diary is contained in "Nettie's Diary: The 1880s Diary of Nettie Ketcham," edited by Van and Mary Field.

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