Update: Apologies for the very long winded introduction yesterday to the “Cotuit Project.” I’ve moved the post to its proper home at http://www.churbuck.com/Cotuit 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 Churbuck.com 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 quahog – Mercinaria 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 Churbuck.com – 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 http://www.churbuck.com/cotuit I’ll also try to give it a non-Churbuck identity by attempting to host it as http://www.cotuit.info
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:
- Introduction to the project (this post)
Define the scope and the boundaries of the village
- Fire District
- Town of Barnstable voting precinct
- Areas of ambiguity
- False Cotuit
The Northside of Cotuit
- Fresh water fishing and bathing
- Who was Lovell?
- Cranberry bogs
- Current state
- The Portugese houses around Newtown, Cotuit Center for the Arts, the Catholic Church
- Cotuit Water Department
- Commercial district
Route 28 District
- Intersection of Route 130 down to Putnam Avenue
- Kettle Holes around Newtown/Route 28
- Santuit Point, the Santuit River, and the Santuit River Herring Run
- Story of William Apess and the Santuit woodlot
The village of Santuit –
- Crocker House and other early 1700 structures
- Old Post Office
- Cahoon Museum and the story of Ralph Cahoon
- EPAC Grotto, Church of St. Michael
- Sampson’s Folly
- Maushop Farms
- The Powerlines
The Cotuit School
- History of Cotuit schools, locations, school masters
- Elizabeth Lowell Park and the
- The Lowells – their compound and descendants
- Cotuit Oyster Company
- Handy’s Point
Old Post Road
- What were the colonial roads?
- The Narrows
- Point Isabella
- Camp Candoit
- The Mills River
- Otis Barton
- The BLT
- Green Acres
- Cedar Swamps (almy)
- Cordwood Landing
- Azuba Handy
- The Nickersons
- The Chatfields
- Who was Hooper?
The Ropes Beach
- Bonnie Burlingame, the bathhouse, swimming lessons
- Cotuit Rowing Club
- Ropes Beach
- Abbot Lawrence Lowell
The village center
- Story of Bobby Mayne and the scene in the 60s
- The old commercial center: Sears, etc.
- The Kettle Ho
- Procopio’s Gas Station
- The Federated Church
- The Post Office
- The Fire Department
- Assorted institutions: Mariner’s Masonic Lodge, Dottridge House and the Cotuit Historical Society
- Town Dock
- North Bay
Sampson’s Island and Dead Neck
- Geological history
- Cupid’s Cove
- Sub Rock
- The Harborview
- Codman’s Point
- The Estates
- Cotuit Highground
- Rushy Marsh
- Lloyds and Vineyard Road
- Mansard architecture
- Cotuit Highlands Golf Course
- The Coves
- Crocker Neck
- Crabbing Bridge
- Back marsh
- The Cranberry Bog
- The Terminus of the village – Ryefield Point, Popponesset Bay
5 thoughts on “Cotuit, Massachusetts”
I’m really looking forward to following this Dave and seeing the photos. Seems like a massive undertaking but yet a labor of love. Kudos.
No apologies necessary for the introduction. It certainly jump-started my interest in the project. Looking forward to every update.
Good project. I’d also be interested if you added local restaurants and food history, and local recipes. Also, I presume you’ll indirectly cover important nautical events given that Cotuit is on Cape Cod, but perhaps there’s a place for a standalone focus on “significant nautical events and seafaring passers-by”.
Thanks for the encouragement. I want to spend a few days perfecting the map interface — it seems to be a bit of a convoluted exercise between Google Earth and Google Maps, but I am slowly getting there.
Great idea. Ambitious, interesting, expansive, muscular, useful and, most important, sure to beautifully written. What Simon Winchester did for the Atlantic, you can do for Cotuit. The story of a village but so much more. I look forward to reading it as it progresses.