History

Written records of Gooseberry go  back to 1602  – yes, that was before the Pilgrims made their famous landfall about 30 miles from here – when Bartholomew Gosnold explored this area giving the Elizabeth Islands their name and planning, then abandoning, a settlement on Cuttyhunk. In fact, as early as 1702 we have a map of the island that contains all the features you’ll find there today, including the sandbar where the causeway was eventually built.

Many thanks for this and several other news clips provided by Nancy Rodrigues. This one is from the New Bedford Standard-Times, c. 1970.. Click image for larger version.

Today Gooseberry is covered with dense, low brush that keeps people either on the beaches, or on a central, one-lane dirt road that goes out to the two concrete towers just past the half way point. book_wwIIThese towers  – and several small foundations almost entirely hidden in the thick brush – are the only man made structures on the island now, but they tell a story of a very active and not too distant past.

The towers are relics of World War II coastal defenses and the foundations tell the story of a very active and quite large summer colony. You’ll find several details on the summer Colony in “Gooseberry Summers – A Boy’s Story.”  But even in 1950, the era covered by that story, the towers were receding into memory.  They served as lookout and “fire control” towers for large coastal guns  during WWII.

Carlton “Cukie” Macomber, a friend and neighbor who has lived in Westport forever and knows everyone and everything about the town,  told me that when these towers were  erected they were disguised to look like part of a farm. There was a farm house and barn and the tower looked something like a silo next to the barn. The guns themselves were more inland in protected bunkers, not even in Westport, but in Rhode Island just to the west. Now the towers serve as billboards for nincompoops  of limited artistic talent who think they can improve on the scenery with spray paint.

Still, I’m kind of glad they haven’t been simply torn down. They’re an eye sore – but also a reminder of what we were and they make me wonder if we really were worried during WWII that German soldiers were going to land on Horseneck Beach? Yes, I know German spies were landed  at a few locations during the war – in fact, Cukie was in the Coast Guard Reserve during WWII and regularly patrolled the beach at night with another Westporter to guard against saboteurs landing there.  They carried a pistol, a submachine gun, and a 20 pound search light they were ordered not to use!  Fortunately, they never saw anything.

And  I know German submarines operated in the waters off our coast, but 11 of the 12 merchant ships sunk “off” the New England Coast were at least 50 miles out. We certainly couldn’t  spot even a surfaced submarine more than a few miles out.  Cukie says there was also a copper cable that went underwater from Gooseberry to Cuttyhunk and was apparently used in some sort of system to detect submarines entering Buzzards Bay.  There were both Army and Navy installations on Gooseberry and one night Cukie was called out there as a volunteer firefighter to handle a fire in a Quonset Hut. He remembers the water in the hoses freezing because that night the temperature hit a record low – 27 degrees Fahrenheit below zero! It was so cold that winter (he thinks it was 1943) that Buzzards Bay froze solid for the only time in memory and a story was making the rounds that someone had driven a Model A Ford across to Cuttyhunk, eight miles away!

WWII German submarine,

Probably the nearest war action came in 1945 when a German sub sank a ship just three miles off Point Judith, RI in the western end of Rhode Island Sound and was, in turn,  sunk off Block Island by a  veritable fleet of Navy destroyers that rushed to the scene. The large guns, whose fire was directed from the towers at Gooseberry, played no part in this action. They were frequently put on alert and loaded, but were never fired at an enemy, and only a few practice rounds were fired according to a book called “Defenses of Narragansett Bay in World War II.” Still, it’s a fascinating little piece of history which ends with some of the bases that had been built in RI being used as a controversial educational unit in an attempt to teach democracy to German POWs.

Tree swallows gather in the September skies over Gooseberry. (Click for larger version.)

I love Gooseberry for it’s natural history, but the uninhabited island is the only one I’ve known.  On any given day you’re likely to get a wealth of bird life in different categories: Ever present gulls cruising the skies and resting on rocks; sea birds who have come out from the rivers and marshes or in from the ocean; shorebirds, many of them migrants going back and forth to their arctic breeding grounds; song birds, such as huge flocks of swallows who seem to use this as a jumping off point in the fall; and raptors – marsh hawks and falcons in particular. I’m also discovering that there’s a good variety of butterflies here and I know in the past I have stumbled across huge numbers of migrating Monarch butterflies in early October.

But Gooseberry was for many years the home of a thriving summer colony. When I first arrived in Westport in 1965 I used to notice several concrete foundations as I walked Gooseberry  and there were many more paths going out from the central road. But the paths have grown over for the most part and you need to search real hard to find the foundations today.  I assumed they represented a summer colony that was wiped out by the hurricanes of 1938, 1944, and 1954 – but that wasn’t quite the case.

Gooseberry  was apparently used to graze sheep in the 19th century and you could cross over to it quite easily at low tide using the sandbar that stretched out from Horseneck Beach at the location of the current causeway. In the 20th century it was owned by Alvin Waite of Salters Point and in 1913 he began work on  the causeway – work that would take until 1924 to complete.  In 1929 he sold the island to Nickolas S. Saliveros. (Later, his brother, Kostas, is also listed as an owner.) Saliveros apparently  rented small lots of land to people who wanted to vacation on Gooseberry and some of these folks built substantial summer cottages.  By 1954 there were 81 buildings – cottages, shacks, and Quonset Huts – on the town tax roles – all on Salilveros land.

Cukie says his father worked on a farm and one of his jobs was to go down to Gooseberry and gather seaweed. They had to go down near low tide, then they would let go of the reins and let the horses find their own way across the sandbar which was still under water. They would gather the seaweed and head back before the tide came in. The entrance to the current causeway was known then as Horseneck Point and there was a lifesaving station there, which has been restored as a historical site.  I imagine the major building on Gooseberry came after the causeway was built, but again, I’m not sure when – but I suspect at least some were built in the late 1920s and early 1930s.

Seaweed also figured in a long-standing controversy over the causeway that as early as the 1930s saw the town debating appropriating funds to provide some sort of sluiceway under it. Folks on Horseneck Beach argued that the causeway blocked the free flow of water and thus led to smelly, red seaweed accumulating on the beach and also contributed to the rockiness of East Beach. Others who had lived in the area before the causeway argued that storms always brought in the seaweed and the rocks and the causeway had nothing to do with it.

I have found some interesting pictures and notes on the Westport Historical Society web site. Here are the key dates.

1913 – 1924
First causeway to Gooseberry finished.

1915

East beach road tarred.

1925

West Beach Road tarred.

1935

Accoridng to a 1935 newspaper article Saliveros built and occupied a 7-room house and about a dozen “beach houses.” He “intends to build many more soon, and to improve the island as a summer resort.”

1938
Hurricane – rated among the costliest disasters in life and property in U.S. History. Worst hit area Horseneck Beach and Westport Harbor.
Hundreds of summer homes destroyed and 22 lives lost. (Did this impact Gooseberry – it must have if there was anything there to impact. It certainly did change the shape of East Horseneck Beach – before the storm it was much wider with impressive construction on it. )

1941-1942
Gooseberry Military Installation put in under emergency measures following attack on Pearl Harbor. Land taken by eminent domain; causeway enlarged. The Army and Navy installations were surrounded by chain link fence that also separated one from the other.

What land did the military use? All of it? Some of it? As I understand it, it was 6 acres – a relatively small chunk out of an island of 73 acres. (You can still see some remnants of the fence that enclosed the military area, including what looks like metal parts in the ground for a gate as you trun from the main road towards the towers.)

1954

Hurricane Carol does extensive damage in area.

1955

According to a January article in the New Bedford Standard-Times  the State plans to take over Horseneck and Gooseberry and make an improved beach, recreation area, new road (RT88) and  new bridge are applauded by the town.

1956

State takes Gooseberry over as part of the Horseneck Beach Reservation.

State uses town tax evaluation of property on Horseneck Beach and Gooseberry as of January of 1954 to figure cost -  140 buildings and land on West Beach is valued at $455,250.  “Saliveros brothers were taxed on a valuation of $58,700 for their 81 buildings and 67 acres on Gooseberry neck.” (1954 tax rate was $40 for $1,000 valuation.)

Westport is to be paid a sum equal to the taxes for five years and Westport residents would get free parking at the beach and Gooseberry. (I assume the money was paid – but free parking on Horseneck beach? Not to my knowledge. Of course, this is just from a newspaper account – not an official agreement.)

A history – of sorts  in pictures

fromthe Westport Historical Society Web site.
East Beach Bathers. From East Beach looking toward Gooseberry Island. Note the rolling surf line breaking at the bar between Gooseberry Island and Horseneck Point and no causeway. The dark rise on Gooseberry is supposedly a sheep shelter. According to the 1895 map of Westport, the two-story structure at Horseneck Point is Beach View Cottage; the single story structure is the Life Saving Station which still exists on that site. Note the bathing costumes on the women. The lobster trap and small tub suggest the gentlemen had a lobster dinner in mind. (Posted by Jack DeVeuve at October 7, 2003 12:19 PM)

The above picture and caption are from the Westport Historical Society Web site and obviously it was taken before 1924 when the causeway was put in – but beyond that, you have to guess at the date.

There’s a large rock to the west (right) as you enter the causeway and this is called “Bar Rock.” The “bar” referred to in that name is obviously the sandbar which can be seen in this old picture from the Lee’s Collection.

I love this shot - and it's the only one I have found that shows the connecting sandbar well. My guess is it was taken somewhere around 1900. It appears ot be an old postcard. Click image for larger version.
I love this shot – and it’s the only one I have found that shows the connecting sandbar well. My guess is it was taken somewhere around 1915-1920. My reasoning is that work on the causeway began in 1913, but wasn’t finished until 1824. Those rocks on the sandbar look as if they are the   beginnings of the causeway.  The picture appears to be an old postcard. Click image for larger version.

This next one we can pin down – it is the fall of 1908. Because we know that is when the cruiser USS Yankee sank, having grounded on Hen and Chickens due south of  Gooseberry.  That’s the cruiser you see in this picture looking like a building on the island! There are many more details in a story at the end of this entry.

Do you see the bar? I don't, though it seems to be near low tide. Wonder if the photographer came to the beach in that horse and carriage? (Click image for  a larger view.)
Do you see the bar? I don’t, though it seems to be near low tide. Wonder if the photographer came to the beach in that horse and carriage? (Click image for a larger view.)
here's a sweeping shot from Horseneck Beach tot he west of Gooseberry.  If the island looks higher than it should, i believe it's because it is built up - that is - there are buildings there and - I believe - the lookout towers. So I assume this was taken in the 1940s or early 50s. (Click image for larger version.)
Here’s a sweeping shot from Horseneck Beach to the west of Gooseberry. If the island looks higher than it should, I believe it’s because it is built up – that is – there are buildings there and – I believe – the lookout towers. So I assume this was taken in the 1940s or early 50s. (Click image for larger version.)

OK, this next is the picture which really started my head spinning. Gooseberry with telephone wires and buildings. You’ll find this one explored in detail in the post “Gooseberry Summers.” Bottom line: I think it was taken about 1957 and the buildings in the right foreground are huddled together because they are about to be moved off the island as part of the state takeover.

This came from the Westport Historical Society archives and it is fromt here I got the date of 1954 - which judging from the cars looks about right. What were all these buildings? And I must say, I like it better today, though it must have made a very itneresting summer colony.
This came from the Westport Historical Society archives and it is from there I got the date of 1954 – which judging from the cars looks about right, but I think may be a few years early. What were all these buildings? I have a partial answer from Cukie who says there was a dance pavilion and several rather flimsy summer homes. Could have some of  these buildings been part of the military installation? Yes, but I suspect the better date for this is about 1957 or 1958 and several of the buildings are in the process of being moved off the island after the state takeover

Here’s a second picture from the same era – 1950s – taken looking along the west side of Gooseberry. The current parking lot would be just to the left in this shot.

Click image for larger view.
Click image for larger view.

Finally, here’s the story of the raising – and resinking – of the Yankee, as detailed in the New York Times. (Or you can download a pdf file here 104814983.)

Click image for larger view.
Click image for larger view.

24 Responses to History

  1. Peter Rosa says:

    Thank you for your reply. The email address to reply to was not complete. Please resend. I don’t know how much history I can offer, my contribution would be in amazing memories of growing up on the island. I spent May 1st to Labor Day with my grandparents on the island. I remember stories they told about the 1938 and 1944 hurricanes. I do have a photo of the cottage that sat on the top of the highest part of the island. We had a 360 degree view from the four cottages. I will contact you next week after you send an email address to me and I will try to fill in what I can add. I also will study your site here and see if it spurs further information stored in my mind. I am now 66, and memories are starting to fade. The government take over of the island was monumental in the history of this island. It ruined many lives and the government never did anything with the island after paying to have cottages moved and the rest destroyed. More next week. Peter J. Rosa, grandson of the mayor of Gooseberry Neck Island Joesph Victor Cabral and Delia Olga Mia Cabral.

  2. sandi barr says:

    Hi Greg,
    I love your Gooseberry journal. I spent many weekends on Gooseberry Island from the time I was born in 1951 until the hurricane in 1954. I may have been very young, but I have very vivid memories of staying at my uncle’s Quonset hut with my mom, dad and one of my younger sisters. I have spent every summer of my life at Horseneck. First on Gooseberry, then in Small’s little village and now on East Beach on property inherited by myself & my sisters.
    I recall riding in the car on the causeway. We would stop at a store on the left where my dad would run in and pick up something for our weekend stay. There were houses on both sides of the dirt road and houses behind those houses and many Quonset huts. My uncle’s Quonset hut was across the road from the military compound on the east side of the island. The compound was surrounded by high chain link fence. I remember that the walk down to the water from my uncle’s hut was not easy one – it was very rocky and painful on little feet !!!
    After the hurricane in ’54 and after the state took over the island, some of the still existing houses were purchased from owners who were no longer interested in them. My uncle purchased a piece of land from the Small’s farm and moved one of these houses to this property. Today, the part of Small’s farm that was sold, consists of the 3 streets, 1st, 2nd & 3rd Street. Bayside Restaurant is on the corner of 3rd St. & Old Horseneck Rd. In the sixties, my summer friends, my sisters & myself would walk to Gooseberry Island. We pretended to have forts in the rocks on the causeway, we’d walk around the island. At the time, there were 3 towers with metal ladders up the walls. We would climb to the top of the towers. There was also a bunker that you could go in. It still contained some of the equipment left behind by the military. The chain link fence extended all the way down to the the water on the west side of the island.
    I have so many wonderful memories.
    I do have some old photos that I will dig up. I think they are mainly of family, not landscape.

    sandi barr

    • Peter Rosa, former inhabitant of Gooseberry Island says:

      Sandi, when were you living on Gooseberry Island? It is very possible that we played together. I am 68 now and my Grandparents were early settlers of the island and lived there in one of the four cottages on the very top of the island until we were forced to move to Small village on Second Street. All four of these cottage were moved to Smalls on different lots. Only one wall of our cottage still exits as stated in the laws of the town of Westport. I understand the place is now a large summer house. My grandfather Joseph V. Cabral was known as the mayor of the island. He built the playground that sat on the side of the island that looked out to the causeway, near our cottage. I would love to hear from you. You may contact me at Email: rosapj@AOL.com or by cell: 941-266-3211 THANKS Peter Rosa

  3. Pingback: Gooseberry Summers – a mystery solved! « Gooseberry Journal

  4. Susan says:

    Greg,

    As a newcomer to Westport, I found this history fascinating. Woderful pictures and narrative!

    • Greg Stone says:

      Thanks!

      • Peter Rosa, former inhabitant of Gooseberry Island says:

        Greg, please contact me. Email: rosapj@AOL.com or Cell 941-266-3211. I lost track of you and really would like to find out how yo are doing. I got off FB for a while and lost track of many people. I hope you are well. Pete Rosa

  5. uggs says:

    I appreciate, result in I discovered exactly what I was having a look for. You’ve ended my four day long hunt! God Bless you man. Have a nice day. Bye

  6. Sam says:

    I have been wondering about the bunkers forever! I went to school at Umass Dartmouth and my friends and I often went to Gooseberry Island (as we called it). This is a really interesting article, thanks!!!

  7. Peter Rosa says:

    From time to time, I come back to Gooseberry Island Journal to reminisce. I disagree with Cukie’s assessment of “rather flimsy cottages. Having lived on the island for just short of 20 years, there were a few flimsy abodes, but the majority were solid structures and during the 1950s, some of the structures were full homes. There was one large duplex half way up the main road that belonged to a family that occupied both sides of the duplex. The four cottages on the top of the island were solidly built by my grandparents and three other friends/families. These were in no way flimsy. I realize that we all have different ideas, but I want folks to know that these were permanent structures. The 1954 hurricane did a magnitude of damage to the area, however these cottages were strong enough to survive without major damage. They were also strong enough to be transported to various places during the mass move, including many that ended up at Small’s village. Once again, thank you Greg for keeping the memory of GOOSEBERRY ISLAND PAST alive. Peter

  8. Pam says:

    Thank you so much for this information. My 8 year old son has always wondered about the towers on the island and wanted me to do research on the island. You have answered all of his questions that I could not answer. Thank you very much.

  9. Peter Rosa, former inhabitant of Gooseberry Island says:

    Pam, your son would have loved to have lived my life on Gooseberry Island. I lived there until we were forced to move. I played all around the fort in my childhood when people did not worry about lawsuits. We used to play in all the buildings. There was much more than the tower that now exists and the bunker that I understand is now sealed shut. You may contact me at Email: rosapj@AOL.com or Cell: 941-266-3211 THANKS Peter Rosa

  10. Kendra says:

    Awesome! Thank You!

  11. Phil Baykian says:

    Wow, great website! My grandfather had a cottage on Gooseberry until the ’38 hurricane. It washed away, and several years later he purchased the big house just north of the causeway, (maw-nan-tuk inn) along with the small oriental looking one (we used to call it the little house). My family owned those properties from the mid-’40s until 1983. I spent all my summers there. And yes, I remember those telephone poles on the causeway…they were there until the ’70′s or early ’80′s, although the wires slowly disappeared over the years. Don’t remember any buildings on the island, other than the military ones, which we all played in as kids in the ’60′s and ’70′s. Nice memories…I need to show my mom, who grew up there!

  12. Thanks so much for this site. I’m a relative newcomer to Westport and just took a walk out on Gooseberry yesterday afternoon (lovely sunset) and was looking for a good map to show someone about the area. Your site looks terrific and I’m looking forward to exploring it, and Gooseberry, much more.

  13. I’ve lived in westport since 1980 and have grown up playing and walking on Gooseberry. I knew some of the history of the towers but didn’t realize there had been cottages and houses there until the military took over. I’ve seen some of the foundations. And some pavement is still visible down the main path. I’ve climbed the tall tower (stairs are all corroded now) and the small tower and I remember a concrete bunker of some sort north of the large tower. There are also still pipes and cables that extend from the beach on the west side into the ocean. I haven’t explored off the beach or path since I was younger and since things have really overgrown and the ticks are awful during warm weather, but I think a trip to the island before spring comes is in order!

    Thanks so much for this article and the repost of the photos. I love learning about my town.

    • Greg Stone says:

      Thanks for the kind words – always good to know someone is reading this stuff ;-) One quick point, though. I didn’t mean to give the impression the cottages vanished when the military took over. The military had only a segment of – I think – about six acres out around the towers. Some houses – certainly tents and fishing shacks – were there before the military -which came about 1940 – and remained there after they left. What ended the residences was the state takeover of Horseneck and Gooseberry about 1955.

  14. Pingback: Gooseberry Island, Westport, MA

  15. linda says:

    I love this article like so many I have been going there for many decades and love the photos thanks for sharing great memories

  16. Gina says:

    So glad I found this site. I have been going to gooseberry island for years, usually by myself to enjoy the serenity. Live 50 minutes away and no matter what my frame of mind is during the ride I am overwhelmed and thrilled with the beauty when I get there. Every time is different … And i’ve been there three times in the past week. Today the swallows were out in mass and the sky was so blue …just incredible. It’s wonderful to learn about the history… I walked the perimeter today and now I am imagining what life was like back those many years. My dream is to move to Westport and walk there everyday.. See the sunrise and sunsets.. Thanks for bringing it all more alive! Gina

    • Greg Stone says:

      Thanks Gina – you sure picked a great day to visit – wish all summer days could be like this one. I was there early in the morning – saw lots of warblers, swallows (as you mention) and a beautiful marsh hawk.

  17. Brian Valcourt says:

    Wow great site Greg, I have lived here all my life and knew some of the history, and I remember there being a third tower to the east of the larger one when I was a kid in the 70′s, is my memory correct or am I delusional?

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