Wednesday, March 13, 2013

What to Call the new Inlet across Fire Island--Fire Place Inlet?

The following message was originally prepared by Richard Thomas, a member of the Fire Place History Club.  It has been edited to remove some extraneous material.




If we don’t get people to start using “Fireplace Inlet,” perhaps we should try for Bellport Gut.    [“Gut” -- a relatively narrow body of water.]


Actually, the new opening may be too narrow and too shallow to be a “gut,” which, if “gut” refers to something like “Plum Gut” (between the tip of the North Fork and Plum Island), must mean a fairly wide “narrow channel.”


“Inlet,” is definitely a better word, as an inlet allows a vessel to move from a larger body of water to a smaller body of water, while “gut” doesn’t imply anything about the relative sizes of the bodies of water on either side.


The problem with “New Inlet” is, of course, that new things eventually become old and the name no longer suits.


The bay was called Fireplace Bay as late as November 1878, as seen in that month’s issue of Lippincott’s Magazine of Popular Literature and Science in an article entitled “Seawanhaka, The Island of Shells”:



[If you want to know the nature of the “question so abstruse” you can access that issue of Lippincott’s Magazine at Google books.]


On the map of the Town of Brookhaven drawn by Isaac Hulse in 1797, the inlet is actually labeled "South -or New Inlet." 


Osborn Shaw implied that the map showed it as “Smith’s Inlet,” but that is not the case, at least, it isn’t the case for the image of the “Hulse map” that I have. 


"Historic Storms and Gales - Part I" by Osborn Shaw. From: Long Island Forum - Volumes 23, No. 2 - Page 31, February 1960.

   Two of the seven inlets through the Great South Beach, referred to in the aforementioned testimony of Col. Nicoll Floyd, are shown on the official map made for Brookhaven Town in 1797. One of them, known as "Hallock's Gut," was a small one and about opposite Centre Moriches; the other known as "Smith's Inlet," was west of Smith's Point and opposite Brookhaven village. It is described in the 1797 survey of the Town, as 4 furlongs and 1 chain in width, which is 4 rods more than half a mile. Both of these inlets have long since closed up. The latter began to close soon after 1800 and when the small channel was at last blocked by a brig loaded with grindstones, which sunk in its mouth about 1834, it closed up entirely and a large dune now stands over its entrance into the ocean. The other five inlets also closed up naturally and for many years there was no break through the beach east of Fire Island Inlet until on March 4, 1931, when Moriches Inlet broke through unexpectedly when there was no storm on land, but a high sea running from the effects of a storm many miles out to sea. It is just east of this inlet, that the section of the beach is known as "Cupsogue" — a term defined in Tooker's Indian Place Names on Long Island, as an "inlet that closes or shuts up." In view of the fact that old records refer to several inlets in this section, the Indian word is very appropriate, as all these inlets did eventually close up. Still further east, at Shinnecock Bay and Mecox Bay, inlets are known to have opened up and after a number of years, they too closed up entirely during the respite between Hurricanes and near-hurricane gales.


In early records, "Fire Island" was often referred to as simply the "South Beach."




The Bay is called the “South Bay” on the map. 


By the 1840s, the east end of the Great South Bay was known as Fire-place Bay, which I think is a much better name than “Bellport Bay,” as the bay lies mostly along the south side of Fire-place Neck. 


From the New and Complete Statistical Gazetter [sic] of the United States of America published in 1853:



The inlet is not shown in a drawing of the long and cross lots of meadow land at Fire Place that was drawn in 1753, so perhaps the inlet was, in 1797, truly a "New Inlet."





The inlet was definitely also called “Smith’s Inlet” before 1835.


On a map published in 1835 by David H. Burr, the inlet is labeled "Smith's Inlet." 




"South Shore Inlets and Places Names" by Chester G. Osborne.  From: Long Island forum - Volumes 33 - Page 117, June 1970.


Old Inlet: opposite Bellport; possibly the same as Smith's Inlet, west of Smith Point, part of the Tangier Smith property on the mainland.


The two could have been the same if one takes into account the tendency of inlets to drift westward.  Existed in the 1770's.  The pamphlet "The Story of Old Inlet" by Bigelow and Hanaway (1952) says it diminished to little more than a brook by 1836. Two ships had foundered in its mouth, which contributed to its closing. The first was loaded with grindstones and mill wheels. The second was the salt ship Syracuse which drifted into the inlet after striking a bar outside.

    The fate of Syracuse may have been the same as Savannah, first steamship to cross an ocean; Savannah ran aground off Fire Place[*]  at 3:00 a.m., Nov. 5, 1821.  An intensive search for its remains led by Frank O. Braynard about ten years ago turned up little that could be identified.  Ship's timbers are exposed after storms at the site, even now.


[*All that area east of Bellport along the south shore to the Carmans River was called "Fire Place."  In 1853 that part of "Fire Place" on the two necks of the Carmans River, Little Neck and Yaphank Neck, became "South Haven" and in 1871, the hamlet on the necks on the Great South Bay, Fireplace Neck, and the necks westward, to Bellport, Tarman's Neck, etc., became Brookhaven.]


I wonder what the name of the first ship was.  Was there a big market in grindstones in 1837?


Here is a story about the dangers of "Old Inlet," when it was still an inlet.


I found the story in:





which is available on Google Books to read or download (for free).






In later years, there are pictures of hay boats that are less like a barge and more like a double-hulled catamaran. 


These can be seen on John's history web site at:



The hay boat in those pictures looks more like two small sail boats with a platform mounted across them.  It was probably nearly as difficult to steer that as it was to steer the hay barge in the story.


Richard Thomas


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