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PHOTOS: Cuttyhunk

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Cuttyhunk Island

Town of Gosnold, Massachusetts

The geography of Gosnold differs from that of other Massachusetts municipalities since the town consists of a chain of a dozen islands running westward from Woods Hole between Buzzard's Bay and Vineyard Sound. In 1602 Bartholomew Gosnold made landfall at Cuttyhunk, one of the larger islands, and gave the Elizabeth Islands group its name. The history of Gosnold also differs from other cities and towns, since the clustered chunks of land were so small they were usually not named separately in the grants and sales of the properties of the New World, but changed owners attached to one or another vast holding. The islands were under the control of the Dutch in New York until 1691 when they passed by charter into the hands of the English of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. In 1688 a permanent settler in Gosnold, Ralph Earle Jr., built his house, the first of a small, hardy island population, while Captain Kidd anchored in one of Gosnold's harbors in 1699 just before he was captured for piracy. Succeeding owners like Major General Wait Steel Winthrop and James Bowdoin of Boston developed their property as a country estate, stocking it with deer and turkeys. In 1759, one of the earliest lighthouses was built on Naushon at Tarpaulin Cove and six years later, a light was built on Cuttyhunk to warn of the disastrous reefs near the islands. Residents of the islands fought for almost two centuries to become independent of the Town of Chilmark to which they were attached. In 1863, the 16 legal voters of Gosnold claimed they were not being fairly represented and finally succeeded in getting permission to establish an autonomous town. Many of the islands have had a relatively uneventful history, as Naushon Island shows. In all of its history, Naushon has only been owned by three families; the Winthrops were proprietors for 48 years, the Bowdoins for 115 years and the Forbes for 147 years have been Masters of Naushon. A life saving station was established and commissioned in 1890 on Cuttyhunk to try to save those shipwrecked. Also on Cuttyhunk, a round tower built of stone with a set of circular steps and a look-out deck marks the 300th anniversary of Gosnold's discovery. Still peaceful and windswept, Gosnold shelters yachtsmen cruising the waters of Vineyard Sound or Buzzard's Bay, provides summer homes to some and year-round homes to a handful as one of the smallest communities in the Commonwealth.

Gosnold at a Glance

Incorporated: As a town: 1864

County: Dukes

Town size: 12.65 sq. miles

Population: 86

Population density: 7 people per sq. mile

Information from Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development.










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Massachusetts is a small state with a ton of nooks and crannys.

I've never visited these islands. Do you know if they are accessable from anything besides a private boat?

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Scott these are great pictues. I imagine you need a boat. You can rent small boats in a lot of places for the day. That may be an option depending on the distance and sea conditions. I know you can rent in Boston Harbor.

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There is a ferry from New Bedford to Cuttyhunk. It is passenger only, if residents want to bring a car over they need to arrange for a barge. There are only a handful of cars out there. There is also float plane service on Island Shuttle. The rest of the Elizabeth Islands are privately owned. There is one island (Penikese) which is a state run school for boys. It is a small program for troubled youth. At one point, Penikese was a leper colony.

The Allen Inn was a Cuttyhunk insitution for years but it closed along with the General Store. I've heard there is now a B&B on the island. Places to buy supplies on the island are limited, I would suggest if you head out there, you bring whatever you plan to need.

I've actually never been there myself, I had a friend in school who summered out there. My mom used to go there with her parents on their boat when she was a kid.

I just stumbled upon some more pictures of the island, these are stunning!
















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I just dug up this article I saved from the Globe about the Elizabeth Islands.

The other islands

By Kathy Schorr, Globe staff, 06/30/02

A few years ago, a woman from Cuttyhunk and an off-islander friend were watching a bulldozer at work filling in a marsh. The friend asked her if the landowners had gotten clearance from the local conservation commission. "What conservation commission?" she asked. "The one that administers the Wetlands Protection Act," he said. "What Wetlands Protection Act?" she asked. "The state Wetlands Protection Act," he said, to which she replied, with a slight smile, "What state?"

That interchange captures something of the remoteness of the Elizabeth Islands, which extend southwest off Woods Hole. They are like something slightly out of time and place, almost all privately owned, with little or no public access on any but Cuttyhunk. Early settlers drained swamps, built stone walls, and cleared land for grazing, and most development took place before the 20th century. So the dozen islands recall the 19th century more than the 21st, with their grasslands and meadows and twisted trees, their occasional mansion or small cluster of cottages.

Mysterious and beautiful (one was said to be Shakespeare's model for Prospero's island in The Tempest), they are the former haunt of pirates and generations of Boston Brahmins, who still occasionally come out for deer-hunting parties and family sailing excursions. And like that Cuttyhunk resident, they prize their independence. Once governed as part of Chilmark on Martha's Vineyard, in 1863 the islands (with 16 voters) cut their ties to the Vineyard and established themselves collectively as the town of Gosnold. Bartholomew Gosnold was the Englishman who first landed on the islands in 1602 and named them after either his queen or his sister Elizabeth.

Though their collective names, Elizabeth and Gosnold, are British, the islands have kept their individual Native American identities, which inspired this mnemonic ditty: "Naushon, Nonamesset, Uncatena, Weepecket, Nashawena, Penikese, Cuttyhunk, and Pasquenese." While these tongue twisters may sound confusing, each island has its own history and sensibility. Here's a thumbnail guide to a few:


Seven miles long and the largest of the islands, Naushon, across the Woods Hole channel from the mainland, is all about descendants: It's been in the hands of only three families over the last 400 years. It's been a Forbes family retreat since 1850, the scene of countless fishing outings, painting weekends, and musicals performed at summer reunions of the clan. There's still deer hunting as well, though the island's deer population has been greatly diminished with the arrival of coyotes. If such descriptions bring on the green-eyed monster, take comfort in remembering that one man's paradise is another's poison, especially if the latter is squeamish about ticks. The first black-legged ticks collected in New England came from Naushon in the 1920s. As a doctor recently wrote in the online magazine Praxis Post, "The progeny of the Forbes' Bambis became the winter haven of Ixodes dammini," otherwise known as the deer tick, carrier of Lyme disease.


Used for US Navy bombing practice in World War II, these three islands make up a FUDS

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Wow, excellent information. I had no idea those islands existed. But they seem very cool. I'm not sure I'd want to be out on one in the middle of winter, but looks like a great place to visit in the spring, summer, or fall.

Seems the Forbes family owns a lot of the land on those islands though.

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An interesting(ish) story about the Penikese School

Penikese Island: From lepers to learning

Director of school for troubled boys offers a current history

By Brad Lynch

The smallest in the chain of Elizabeth Islands has the most distinctive history, members of the Harvard Club of Cape Cod learned at their monthly meeting in Hyannis last week.

And a famous Harvard scholar, Professor Louis Agassiz (1807-1873) was a pivotal figure in the establishment of an influential but short-lived marine biology laboratory on Penikese Island, a mostly barren spot of rocks and sand 12 miles from Woods Hole and just a mile north of Cutty Hunk.

Another institution that was part of the Penikese heritage early in the 20th century was a leprosarium that provided patients with a secluded refuge and the company of fellow lepers, some of whom spent most of their lives on Penikese and are buried there.

If Penikese is remembered for its ancient institutions, consider who lives there and what happens on the island today.

The executive director of the Penikese Island School, Toby T. Lineaweaver, explained that for the past 30 years the school has been taking a small number -- nine at a time is tops -- of troubled boys in their teens from the courts, schools and social agencies and sending them to Penikese for periods generally about nine months. In lieu of serving jail time or other criminal punishment, the boys have chosen to learn how to live as normal human beings, to adopt acceptable social behavior, to form alliances and relationships with others in order to help each other and themselves, to think things through rather that act precipitously, to decide on goals that reconcile their wants and needs with those of others.

Life is no picnic for the boys of Penikese. There always are at least four staff people on the island, and they expect the boys to toe their line. Life is regimented. The boys get up at 7:30 (90 minutes after the staff), cook their meals, attend academic classes in mornings and afternoons, study until lights out at 10.

No TV, radio, electricity, indoor toilets, and one day off on Sunday. There's a one-room schoolhouse, a cistern for the water supply, a one-room teaching workshop. In summer the boys grow their own vegetables, care for pigs and chickens, catch fish.

Almost without exception the boys come from backgrounds in poverty, many from homes broken by addictions and crime. Penikese introduces them to values like cooperation, tolerance, respect, understanding. Among the lessons: they learn to say "Thank you."

The school raises one third of its $1.5 million budget, which factors into an investment of $85,000 per student per year. That's exactly the same cost as required to keep one individual for a year on another island, Riker's Island, the main intake prison in New York City. But there's a world of difference.

From The Barnstable Patriot

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Great pics. I've always liked the little New England towns like this.

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Not much chance of a bridge. The residents would probably just bomb it. It's too far out to sea anyway, and linking the Elizabeth chain is out as the ones closest to the mainland are private and protected open space.

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Island ideals

By Sam Allis, Globe Staff

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