Cotuit, Massachusetts

Update: Apologies for the very long winded introduction yesterday to the “Cotuit Project.” I’ve moved the post to its proper home at where I have started a new blog devoted to the project.

This is the first post in a planned series of essays about Cotuit, Massachusetts, the Cape Cod village where I live and where my family have lived since the late 17th century. Cotuit is well defined by its entry on Wikipedia, and since I spend some time monitoring and editing that entry, I’ll link to it here and extract some essential facts to help define what Cotuit is, what landmass it covers, its demographics, history, places of interest, and eventually, biographies of notable residents over time.

I am not aware of any successful interactive attempt to create a multi-media interface for a specific place, layering over it layers of information beginning with fundamental geography, and on up through history, infrastructure, etc. all the way up to current events and contemporary news. The limitations of Wikipedia are many: it isn’t a simple interface for just anyone to use and correctly format information with, it can be a contentious battle ground for differences in opinion, and it tends to define the amount of detail that is acceptable for a class of topics – in this case a Cape Cod village.

So, realizing that my happiest topic to write about on is Cotuit, I thought I would systematically present the town as I would over the course of a lot of long walks through various neighborhoods, taking leisurely, digressive strolls through the labyrinth of my memories, and reaching out to those who know more than I do about a particular person, place or thing as needed. Yes, a book format might have done the trick, but books are cumbersome creatures that age into irrelevance unless, like a dictionary, they are revised every few years to reflect the changing landscape of words and idiom. I want to leave behind a dynamic set of content that eventually can be opened up and co-edited by others, keeping alive an interactive record of a unique place close to my soul.

The French have a term of the specific local flavor a wine or cheese picks up from its surroundings – terroir – it is the piquant touch that comes from a place, from its climate, its soil, its air … Belgian monks brewing lambic beer using the ancient ambient yeast spores drifting like unlit dust motes in abbeys centuries old. French farmers bottling up this season’s marc or Armagnac following a recipe never written down, only demonstrated from one generation to the next. This is what time does to a place, what happens when a place stays preserved long enough to begin to imbue itself and its fruits with a flavor know only to that place and none other.

Cotuit is best known to the world for the terroir of its oysters; acclaimed far and wide in the 19th century because of their perfectly sweet-briny balance of flavor brought on by the fresh water streams and springs that emptied into the pristine bays. I still maintain that the terroir of Cotuit lies in its black, gelatinous, fecund mud, a boot-sucking mess that is almost like quicksand, blacker than black can be, almost like coal jelly except for its smell, an amazing organic, sharp nosed stench that smells exactly the way a quahogMercinaria mercenaria – tastes. This mud is probably the result of thousands of years of leaves blown off the scrub oaks and copper beeches, the white pines and the concord grape vines, sinking to the bottom each fall and composting, in gentle still waters, flavored by the hordes of quahogs tucked away deep in its embrace.

If the clams can absorb that taste and smell, then why not me? I’ve only been here 55 years come this spring – and for the first thirty years I was a summer kid, only in residence from June through September. But the family tree, the gravestones in Mosswood Cemetary, the old daguerrotypes on the walls – they go back to the 1600s, when a man named Handy came to Cotuit looking for some land and a chance to make his own way in the world without having to fuss over the religious dogma imposed on him by the Pilgrims, the Puritans and the Quakers.

An interesting fact about quahogs – allegedly they are the longest living animal, with a record of 405 to 410 years. So if the clam that defines the taste of the town can hang in there for four centuries, I suppose I could claim to have eaten a clam that was first spawned before the white man moved in and messed everything up.

I don’t make these claims of longevity to establish my bona fides. We all inhabit this world for the briefest of times, inevitably pining for the good old days, for the way things used to be. Cotuit is, I think most people would agree, a relatively unchanged place from one decade to the next. Change has been gradual, perhaps accelerating in recent times as all of society seems to change faster, but nonetheless I think the Cotuit I was first conscious of in the early 1960s was – aside from paved streets, running water, electricity and indoor toilets – pretty much the same place it had been in 1900. Who can say? I am always amazed by the way time erases landmarks and signposts of the past. Even the geography of Cotuit is very plastic, morphing from one winter storm to the next, changing on its tenous footing of yellow glacial sand from one year to the next.

So, with that bloviation and tuning of my piano out of the way – let me describe the goal of this project in 2013:

First, while I am a terrible photographer, I would like to lavishly illustrate this with photographs taken around the town during different seasons. Today, as I write this in my cold office, Cotuit is frozen under a layer of white slush and snow that came in after Christmas and decided to stay. To dash out and madly photograph the village in one enthusiastic burst of effort would deny the future reader any sense of the amazing green verdant perfection that is Cotuit in June through September. I will put the photographs directly on my server here at – in the belief that keeping the various content assets archived on my own domain is going to be wiser than entrusting it to some third party service that could vanish suddenly in a bankrupt cloud.

Second, I have always been fascinated by maps, starting in my childhood when my father taught to me read a navigational chart, then in college when my favorite class of all was a seminar on Cartography taught by the university’s cartographer who’s name unfortunately escapes me now, but who had a lasting impact on my understanding of the important role a good map can play as an information interface. I got my job at Forbes Magazine by writing a story about digital maps – a profile of Stan Honey and Etak – and went on to cover the GIS industries throughout my tech journalism career. As recently as this year, 2012, maps dominated the tech news as the two technology titans of our time – Google and Apple – broke with one another and launched competing digital map services. The breakthrough that first got me thinking about a Cotuit Map Blog project came when Google acquired and launched Google Earth, an amazing tool that allows people like me to author overlaps of specific landmarks and embed experiences similar to guided tours, with photography, video, definitions all interlinked.

I am a writer, a terrible, desultory photographer, and a technology dabbler, so this project will be – as a patient reader will heartedly agree at this point in the introduction – very “wordy” and essay intensive. I write without the benefit of an editor, copyeditor, or proof reader, so please, in advance, forgive me my usual spate of sloppy typos and omitted words.

I wish I could open this project up to public contributions – perhaps in phase two – but initially I will seed the mine by myself so to speak with a few dozen entries, see how it is received, and then, if the WordPress content management system permits – begin to enlist contributors with specific expertise to take over the development of particular entries. I’ll do my best to knock off an entry per week, but I want to take my time initially and get the hosting and the map interface sorted out.

And finally – I will enable this on a new blog unto itself – at the address of I’ll also try to give it a non-Churbuck identity by attempting to host it as

Here is a somewhat randomly ordered outline for the project (feel free to suggest other topics), putting together gave me pause about the size of the meal I am about to bite into with this project:

  1. Introduction to the project (this post)
  2. Define the scope and the boundaries of the village
    1. Legal definition
      1. Fire District
      2. Town of Barnstable voting precinct
    2. Landmass
      1. Areas of ambiguity
      2. False Cotuit
  3. The Northside of Cotuit
    1. Lovell’s Pond
      1. Fresh water fishing and bathing
      2. Who was Lovell?
      3. Cranberry bogs
      4. Current state
  4. Newtown District
    1. The Portugese houses around Newtown, Cotuit Center for the Arts, the Catholic Church
    2. Cotuit Water Department
    3. Commercial district
  5. Route 28 District
    1. Intersection of Route 130 down to Putnam Avenue
  6. Geology
    1. Kettle Holes around Newtown/Route 28
  7. Santuit Point, the Santuit River, and the Santuit River Herring Run
  8. Story of William Apess and the Santuit woodlot
  9. The village of Santuit –
    1. Crocker House and other early 1700 structures
    2. Old Post Office
    3. Cahoon Museum and the story of Ralph Cahoon
    4. EPAC Grotto, Church of St. Michael
  10. Sampson’s Folly
  11. Maushop Farms
  12. The Powerlines
  13. The Cotuit School
    1. History of Cotuit schools, locations, school masters
  14. Elizabeth Lowell Park and the
    Cotuit Kettleers
  15. The Lowells – their compound and descendants
  16. Little River
    1. Cotuit Oyster Company
    2. Shipbuilding
    3. Handy’s Point
  17. Old Post Road
    1. What were the colonial roads?
    2. The Narrows
    3. Point Isabella
    4. Camp Candoit
  18. The Mills River
  19. Eagle Pond
    1. Otis Barton
    2. The BLT
    3. Green Acres
    4. Cedar Swamps (almy)
    5. Cordwood Landing
  20. Mosswood Cemetery
    1. Azuba Handy
    2. Rubbings
    3. The Nickersons
    4. The Chatfields
  21. Hoopers Landing
    1. Who was Hooper?
    2. The Ropes Beach
      1. Bonnie Burlingame, the bathhouse, swimming lessons
    3. Bridge
    4. CMYC
    5. Cotuit Rowing Club
  22. Ropes Beach
  23. Lowell Point
    1. Abbot Lawrence Lowell
  24. The village center
    1. Library
    2. The Park
      1. Story of Bobby Mayne and the scene in the 60s
    3. The old commercial center: Sears, etc.
    4. The Kettle Ho
    5. Procopio’s Gas Station
    6. The Federated Church
    7. The Post Office
    8. The Fire Department
    9. Assorted institutions: Mariner’s Masonic Lodge, Dottridge House and the Cotuit Historical Society
  25. Town Dock
  26. Cotuit Bay
    1. North Bay
    2. Narrows
    3. Innerharbor
    4. Harbor
  27. Sampson’s Island and Dead Neck
    1. Geological history
    2. SIYC
    3. Cupid’s Cove
    4. Sub Rock
  28. The Harborview
  29. Codman’s Point
  30. Oceanview
  31. The Estates
  32. Cotuit Highground
  33. Rushy Marsh
  34. Oregon
  35. Lloyds and Vineyard Road
  36. Mansard architecture
  37. Cotuit Highlands Golf Course
  38. Kellyville
  39. The Coves
  40. Crocker Neck
  41. Shoestring Bay
    1. Crabbing Bridge
    2. Back marsh
    3. The Cranberry Bog
  42. The Terminus of the village – Ryefield Point, Popponesset Bay



Erg race registration reminder

If by any remote chance you are thinking about competing on the indoor rowing circuit this winter, my two favorite races are now open for registration.

Cape Cod Rowing’s Cranberry Crunch, aka “The Cape Cod Indoor Rowing Championships” takes place Sunday, January 27 at Cape Cod Community College in West Barnstable, MA. Doors open at 10, racing begins at 11:30, distance is 2,000 meters across various age groups and by gender. There is a 500 meter sprint challenge as well. Registration is at Regatta Central for $20.

And the mother of all indoor regattas, the venerable CRASH-B Sprints, aka “The World Indoor Rowing Championships”, is taking place February 19, Sunday, at Boston University’s Agganis Arena. Registration deadline is January 14 and costs $25 for masters, $20 for collegiate and high school rowers. The distance is 2,000 meters across lightweight and heavyweight classes for men and women. If you miss the registration there is a walk-on “bullpen” race where you show up, pull your piece and get counted against your class. This is my last year in the men’s heavyweight 50-54 category and perhaps my eighth year racing at the Sprints.


Using a Dynamic Map as a Table of Contents

I have a project planned for this blog in 2013 — a series of blog posts touring the village of Cotuit each accompanied by photographs of the relevant landmark or neighborhood. I want to use a map of the village as a “table of contents” — either by adapting Google Maps or Google Earth into a dynamic interface, using the “pin” function to mark each spot and then link that spot deeper into a specific blog post.

The idea of turning an image into something interactive is fairly basic. Making a “clickable” gif is old hat to Web 1.0 designers, who could embed hyperlinks into an image with Photoshop. I did that for the homepage image of — the learning curve sucked and the image was not very dynamic, just a couple words such as “People” and “Places” with links into pages.  Google Picasa and Flickr both allow a subscriber to place specific photos on a public map, and Google Earth allows a cartographer to create custom KML files to create tours, routes, or “photo walks” with pictures linked from a Picasa account.

Google Maps native embedded images using Panoramio are sort of what I am looking for, but with links into individual blog posts as well as any associated media.

Ideally I’d like to embed a Google Map “window” into a WordPress page — let’s call it the table of contents for the project with links to all of the posts in the series as well as any photographs — I load into the posts.  I definitely want that map within the blog page to be dynamic and not a static link to Google Maps itself. There is a WordPress plugin I’m playing with — Leaflet Maps Marker — but I haven’t played with it enough to determine if its the solution to my challenge. Another WordPress plug in is “XML Google Maps” but its developer notes he doesn’t have the time to maintain it, so I stand the risk of it falling out of compatibility with a future refresh of the WordPress code.

Google Earth has great tagging capabilities — I can mark a spot and add to the “flag” a link to any webpage or blog post as well as embed a still image from a hosted photo, e.g. a Flickr photo’s URL. but Earth is a fairly heavy program and I don’t want to force readers to light up their copy of Earth to navigate the project.

If anyone has any suggestions on how to adapt a dynamic map (not a static image of one) to serve as an index or table of contents to a blogging project about a specific territory or town, please chime in.



The End of Surfcasting

The Cape Cod Times has a sobering eulogy to the classic Cape Cod fall tradition of surfcasting from the beaches of the outer Cape for big striped bass. The cause of death? Seals. Too many of them.

Tony Stetzo, a guide and the former holder of the International Game Fish Association’s record for stripers — a 73 pound cow he caught off of Orleans’ Nauset Beach in the late fall of 1981 — said in the Times story: “It’s all done. Everybody knows it now,” said Stetzko, who said his fishing guide business has suffered from the decline.”

With the seal population tripled since 1999, surfcasting is all but useless to attempt on the backside beaches. I’ve had seals take hooked fish off my line before, and nothing is more discouraging than seeing a seal’s face bobbing in the waves, waiting for the angler to make its life easy by snaring a fish and holding it tight long enough to be snatched away. The pinnipeds are doing more than ruining the season for the legions of surfcasters who followed the fall run and set up camp from Provincetown to Chatham, pumping dollars in the shoulder season economy and enlivening the beaches with their four-wheel drive trucks and campers. This was a way of life that went back to the late 40s, when the Cape’s fishing was legendary and attracted anglers from around the northeast for a shot at a trophy-sized fish.

The beach driving has been cut way back due to the piping plover situation, and now the seals have all but shut the door on one of the Cape’s best off-season pastimes.

Add in the great white shark situation, the rising concern among town officials of how those sharks will affect tourism, and now the recreational fishermen pointing a finger and it doesn’t take much imagination to predict someone is going to call for some culling despite the presence of the Federal Marine Mammal protection act which has made it illegal to kill a seal and is the single reason the population has exploded.

I loved surfcasting back in the 90s when I first moved to the Cape year-round and was looking for an excuse to flee the family and find some wild peace and quiet under the stars standing in front of the big foaming ocean. A couple close calls with rogue waves and clumsy waders and I hung up my rod in the belief my life was worth more than a fish. As it turns out I hung it up before the curtain fell on the sport thanks to the seals. I guess nature will take its course and put things into equilibrium as word spreads through the great white social network that the table is set for fine dining on the beaches of Truro and Monomoy Island. One can only hope.

A great but obscure account of the golden era of Cape Cod surfcasting is Frank Daignault’s “Twenty Years of the Cape: My Time As a Surfcaster” – I highly recommend it.

Related is this cool auction of books about fall striper fishing on Rhode Island’s Block Island complete with a collection of the wooden plugs (lures) used in the early 80s. Proceeds benefit the American Littoral Association which conducts an excellent striper tagging program I used to participate in.

Turning our backs and pressing mute

As we gird ourselves for a national debate over  gun rights, let me remind the debaters that the all-time highest death toll in any school massacre was caused by a bomb and not a gun. The Bath School Massacre of 1927 happened because Andrew Kehoe, an otherwise rational adult in his 50s, killed his wife, torched his home and then set off enough dynamite to kill 38 children.

A fiend with mayhem and horror in his mind will find a way to do his deed whether he has a Glock, an assault rifle, his bare hands or a couple bags of fertilizer and a can of diesel fuel. So go ahead, melt down all the guns, but it isn’t going to stop the next  Travis Bickle from making his own dark twisted bid for top score in the worst first-person-shooter of all time.

For that’s what this, these fiends and their maniacal acts of incomprehension: their bid for infamy and notoriety. I propose we do one thing to deny them that thrill, the dark epitaph they hope for as they make their plots, buy their black trench coats, stockpile bullets, load their assault rifles and fill their notebooks with  plots and schemes just like the “heroes” before them and the ones that will follow them. “I’ll show them,” they’ll vow. “They won’t forget my name after this.”

Let’s ignore them.

Let’s turn our backs and press mute.

Let’s take away what they want.

Let’s agree that we will not name them. we won’t publish their photos. We won’t interview their friends or family, take old pictures out of yearbooks or Facebook, and we will deny them the one thing they couldn’t find in life:  our attention.  We ignored them before, let’s keep on ignoring them afterwards.

The press can do this on their own: decent news outlets won’t publish that suicide victims killed themselves out of respect for their families (they died “suddenly” or “unexpectedly”), they won’t name victims of accidents or violent crimes until the next of kin have been notified, so why not put in place a tacit policy that maniacs and fiends don’t get named or famed? I learned from a tweet by Xeni Jardin that BoingBoing has an informal policy not to run the photo of these mass murderers.  One random guy on Twitter  — @SalGomes summed it up: “please don’t spread his name. Don’t make that monster famous. That is what he wants. Don’t forget the atrocity; forget the monster!”

All that really needs to be said is a stark account, “A 20 year-old male killed his 50 year-old mother and used a machine gun to kill a lot of six-year olds with names more deserving of our attention and memory than his.”

The ravenous press, so solicitous and understanding with their concocted sympathy, their bright lights and satellite trucks and bubble-headed anchors hovering like ghouls.  can never be trusted to do the right thing. But we the people can. Let the coroner autopsy the madmen’s brains for a clue, let the investigators figure out the causes and try to learn so they can try to out-guess the next desperate domestic terrorist, but we the audience can stop rubbernecking, stop obsessing and stop giving these sad fiends the one thing they want — our horrified attention.

I don’t need to know what their fathers did for a living, what their high school classmates remembered. Yes, it is instructive to know that “high-strung” mothers who collect guns and then take their “developmentally disabled” child with them to a gun range for some mom-son bonding are likely to prove out the cliche that people who own guns often get killed by them. But let’s ignore their names, their street address, let’s stop obsessing over their Facebook profiles, their bad haircuts, and freaked out memories of their friends and neighbors. If that segment of society who is really into serial killers and horror wants to know the gory details, they will find them. But take away their identity and you take away the whole point of going out with a bang.  Deny them what they want the most and maybe the next sad loner looking to set the high score and unlock the “terror achievement badge” will realize he’s only going to be shunned. If the press can’t ignore them, then we the audience can. Stop rubbernecking. When that headline about Adam Lanza’s sad life passes your way, pass it over.

So, no more Adam Lanza, Andrew Kehoe, James Eagan Holmes, Seung-Hui Cho.  I shouldn’t know their names. I’m ashamed I know who John Wayne Gacy or Ted Bundy is. That I know what kind of gun Cho used to gun down his classmates. I’m doing to stop worrying about the villain, mourn with the bereaved, and move on.




Erg Playlists — 2013 edition from Row2K

I’ve written before about the necessity of a good playlist to make it through a winter’s worth of erg rowing. Now that I am training for the CRASH-B sprints (Feb. 17 in Boston, registration now open until Jan 7), I back to messing around with playlists on my android phone.

Row2k — the best source of all rowing news online — has a feature on erg playlists and a poll to vote for your favorite (I voted for Rammstein’s Du Hast as it is prominent on my go-to list and is utterly teutonic sturm und drang). I also respect the Rage Against the Machine on Row2k’s list, but have to puke on Jackson Brown. Now to go compile this sucker off of Amazon and load it up for my next bout with the Wheel of Pain.

If you row and you read Row2k you owe them a contribution. Send them $60 and get an awesome t-shirt. No site matches the depth of their coverage, the completeness of their calendar, the awesomeness of the features, the relevance of their news and the usefulness of their classifieds.

The Big Dig of Cotuit is Coming

Word is circulating around the village of an application by Three Bays Preservation and the Massachusetts Audubon Society to dredge away a big piece of the western, Cotuit end of Sampson’s Island and pump the spoil back to the eastern, Osterville end of the barrier island. While details were sparse and everything was hearsay when my source phoned to see if I had any specifics, an email to Three Bays Executive Director Lindsay Counsell  cleared things up.

LGCotuit1952 copy (1)(click the image for a sense of how wide the Cotuit channel was in the 1950s)

The application will go before the Barnstable Conservation Commission on January 8. It’s available along with detailed engineering plans and maps  at the Three Bays website. Here is a link to the specific project application.

Counsell wrote to me:

“Three Bays and Mass Audubon are proposing to dredge the end of Sampson’s Island and we both will be presenting the project at the Jan. 8th Con Comm hearing.  The footprint of the work area is 11 acres and the material will primarily be transported easterly to Dead Neck, with several areas on the beach nourished for coastal waterbird nesting habitat and a recreational beach segment is also proposed.  This channel area to be altered comprises the original permitted dredge footprint that has been maintained previously since the before the1940’s and it is for that reason we are seeking renewal of those permits.  This project proposes to back pass the sand easterly from its origin and close the loop on the local littoral drift cut off in 1900 by the creation of the West Bay Cut.

This is a joint application of the two owners of the island and we are going forward based on the need to rebuild Dead Neck with material that has drifted down shore to Sampson’s Island.  The island’s bird nesting habitat is almost completely gone through erosion and vegetation infill and active construction and maintenance thereof is the only feasible method to recreate those areas.  Other interests the project serves are storm damage protection, navigation, public safety and to a lesser extent water quality improvement.”

 Three Bays came to Cotuit a couple summers ago to drum up support and raise money for the project. I wasn’t able to attend, but understand from some friends who did go that the pitch met with some skepticism — some Cotusions reacted that the plan sounded like a plan to take their money and “their” sand to fund a beach replenishment project for the other, Osterville-end of the island. Three Bays is (and has long been) a big advocate of dredging as a way to improve the flushing of the stagnant, overly fertilized water high in the estuary. This isn’t dredging for the sake of improving navigation and making the channels deeper so bigger boats can enter and exit the bay. This is about opening things up so the sclerotic system can purge itself faster with the tides.

This isn’t the first time Three Bays has dredged to improve circulation. The last came about decade ago and did indeed improve the internal channel system and put a lot of sand back on the beach near the Wianno Cut — the man-made entrance to Osterville’s West Bay.

The spit is thinnest there and despite several expensive projects to build the beach back up — including one crazy privately funded endeavor that used a helicopter to ferry hopper after hopper of sand from inside the island to the outside beach — it remains the most likely spot for a beach breach during some future storm. Three Bay’s application predicts a breach of the beach within five to seven years, exposing the Seapuit River behind the island to the full flow and force of Nantucket Sound.

Piping 11 acres of sand, grass and mud from one end to the other will definitely shore things up, and will solve the growing encroachment of the western end of the spit into the main Cotuit Bay channel. Old photos and postcards taken in the 50s and 60s from Cotuit’s Loop Beach on Nantucket Sound looking inland, towards the island, show a very wide channel with the point of the island back at last a quarter mile from where it is today.  The gap was once so large that a person standing at Loop could look to the northeast and see nothing but water all the way inside to Oyster Harbors/Grand Island.

This project would give Sampson’s a serious trimming. Here is a detail of the plan showing the proposed cut line as well as some of the areas due to receive new sand. Click the thumbnail for a bigger view.

The sand would be pumped to a few spots on both the inside and outside (Nantucket Sound) sides of the island.

The project is an attempt to patch the damage did at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries when the Wianno Cut was dug through Dead Neck (“Neck” being a Cape Cod geological term referring to a sandspit that attaches to the mainland). At that time Dead Neck ran west from Osterville, in front of Oyster Harbors, and behind it, to the north, ran the Seapuit River, then the only channel draining Osterville’s West Bay. Sampson’s Island lay to the west, separate from Dead Neck.

The Cut project was opposed by the residents of Cotuit, including my great-great-grandfather, who led the opposition to the dredging on the grounds it would disrupt the natural flow of the estuary. The commercial interests in Osterville prevailed. The boat building industry at Crosby’s doubtlessly needed better navigational access and Cotuit at the time was a busy commercial port serving Nantucket with firewood, freight and the mail. Two stone breakwaters, or jetties were built on each side of the Cut by the state and they are the reason more than 100 years later dredges and helicopters are needed to restore the natural equilibrium of sand nourishment along the beach. In essence the jetties blocked that sand, trashed the natural equilibrium, and the result is a drastically changed landscape.

I think it is safe to say that no one is proposing to dismantle the jetties and plug the Cut. Instead we’re faced with chewing off 144,000 cubic yards of sand, mud, grass and clams and blowing them through pipes onto the starved sections. Given the sad fact that recent dredging has proved to be a bit of a Sisyphean battle, with one project’s efforts getting washed away by the next big storm or two, this one is not going to be a definitive solution and will buy a decade perhaps of protection to the nice houses behind the eastern end of the beach.

I’ll anticipate the oppositions’ and the proponents’ arguments then weigh in with my own opinion:


  • Don’t mess with nature and let things take their course. Let the island breach.
  • Don’t cut down the copse of mature trees and shrubs to the east of Cupid’s Cove that is proposed on the dredge map -probably by Massachusetts Audubon (co-owner of the island along with Three Bays) — for “predator management. Dead Neck/Sampson’s Island is a key bird sanctuary in the Mass Aubudon system of refuges, especially for Arctic and Least Terns and various critters from skunks, raccoons and even coyotes have been swimming across Seapuit to snack on eggs and fledgling birds.
  • The silt and turbidity this will create will raise hell with the shellfishing and the aquaculture grants owned by the Cotuit Oyster Company, Conrad Geyser, and the commercial aquaculture project inside of West Bay.
  • It erases a very very popular summer sunbathing beach on the Cotuit end.
  • Why not dredge the main channel that was last dredged in 1944 by the Army Corps of Engineers for Camp Candoit and dredge where it will do some good?
  • This is Osterville versus Cotuit


  • The point of the island has grown unnaturally close to the Cotuit shore and is causing a hazard to navigation in and out of the bay.
  • This will dramatically improve flushing and could lead to a restoration of eel grass beds inside of the island and a possible return of scallops, etc.
  • A beach breach into Seapuit could potentially close the river to navigation and open up the waterfront of Oyster Harbor to the full force of Nantucket Sound in a storm.
  • The Cut is an unnatural disruption in the natural order and beach sedimentation processes so man made measures are called for.
  • The point of the island was historically back at the cut off point shown on the map.
  • Dredging will take place in the winter months to cut down on adverse effects to the shellfish which spawn in the summer.
  • The birds are endangered and need all help they can get in terms of optimal nest sites and reduced predators.
  • It’s all one interconnected system so Cotuit vs. Osterville or Osterville vs. Cotuit is silly.

Me? I’ve seen the old photos and know the Cotuit end used to be much wider, so this isn’t an unnatural proposal. I’ve grown accustomed to the current configuration and would very much miss the cove that would all but disappear as a place to anchor my boat on the weekends.  While I can grumble and point fingers at the idiocy of past generations in trashing the beaches with their jetties, groins and Cuts they’re all dead and there’s no undoing the damage, lord knows the current generation sealed the fate of the bays when it permitted the Rape of the Cape to happen from 1970 to the present. I doubt this is going to magically clean up the water quality — we simply don’t have the tidal range to get a big transfer of water through the system, big channels or not, but it can’t hurt. So, I’m in favor but think it’s yet another sign of the times, there’s no going back to what we’ve lost, but there’s no reason to give up hope. And heck, I’ve seen the old plans from the 1920s to build a polo field and landing strip for airplanes on the island, so at least we’re not dealing with that.

Here are some old charts showing the changes to the beach over the years. First, from 1857:

This is pre-Wianno Cut. West Bay in Osterville drains through the Seapuit River and empties into Cotuit Bay and out through a gap between Dead Neck and Sampsons Island, then truly an island.

Now 1933. Thirty years after the Wianno Cut was built. Sampson’s has bonded to Dead Neck and the old channel is closed, forming Cupid’s Cove. The western end, the Cotuit channel, is very wide:

And finally, a Google Earth satellite photo of where we are today.

disclosure: I am a paid member of both Three Bays Preservation and Massachusetts Audubon and think they both do good work. I was a volunteer water quality tester for Three Bays last summer.

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