Cape Poge homeowner discovers a link to the past

James Recht found a refuge on Cape Poge and a link to its past. — Photo by Nelson Sigelman

Chappaquiddick, a sometimes island at the eastern end of Martha’s Vineyard, remains remote despite its proximity to the hustle and bustle of Edgartown.

A small vehicle ferry that crosses Edgartown Harbor and, depending on the forces of nature, a beach route available to over-sand vehicles provide the only access to Chappy.

For now, it is an island in fact as well as in spirit until the cut in the ribbon of sand known as Norton Point beach fills in, as it has many times over the past 300 years that historians have recorded the periodic breach in the barrier beach that protects Katama Bay from the Atlantic Ocean.

As do many of the residents of Chappy, James Recht relishes the remote nature of his island home and its link to Martha’s Vineyard’s past. Even by Chappy standards, his house is well off the beaten path.

Mr. Recht is a member of a community within a community, located on Cape Poge and reached only by boat or over-sand vehicle along a sand track, sometimes flooded out, that leads from Dike Bridge and along the shoreline of Cape Poge pond to the area marked by the iconic Cape Poge lighthouse.

A real estate professional from Roxbury, Connecticut, he purchased the property in 1994 on his first trip to the Vineyard. As he described it in an email to The Times, it was love at first sight despite the difficulties he was cautioned about by those familiar with living on Cape Poge.

“It was a place that people would be reluctant to make theirs as it was off the grid and inconvenient to get to,” he said. “A party line phone from World War II that barely worked and the high winds, rain, cold and dampness, of the shoulder season made it impossible to do anything but curl up to a wood-burning stove to read a good book.”

Mr. Recht said he had always been interested in archeological finds, both for the insights they provide about generations past and the guideposts they provide for future generations. “I would never imagine that one day it would be a personal experience as well,” he said.

The property Mr. Recht bought had once belonged to Charles Simpson of Edgartown, who owned a very prosperous bakery in New Bedford. According to the very informative, “Chappaquiddick, That Sometimes Separated but Never Equalled Island,” published by the Chappaquiddick Island Association, “He was a wealthy bachelor and built a house and boathouse on Cape Poge Pond. He travelled to and from New Bedford by his private yacht, Mardeen, and was always accompanied by one or two prizefighters: Martin Canole was one and, later, Ralph Tickle.”

Building anything on Chappaquiddick is difficult. It is doubly difficult on Cape Poge, where everything must travel by barge or over-sand vehicle. Mr. Recht set about the task of rebuilding the house and boathouse, both in states of disrepair.

His architect wanted to build a house with prominent wrap-around windows and French doors. The home owner disagreed. “I wanted it to look like an old duck hunting lodge,” Mr. Recht told The Times during a recent tour of his property. “I wanted it to look like it’s been here forever. So he did it. I wanted no painted trim. I wanted it as simple as possible. It’s all cedar.”

Mr. Recht transported much of the material used to rebuild the house and boathouse in an old Suburban. Old photos used to decorate the interior walls of the house add to the historical feel.

“Over the first few years of residence I began to become curious about what some people called the Simpson boathouse that sat on the property,” Mr. Recht said in an email. “Also, here and there I was able to see remnants of the original Simpson house that burned to the ground, probably in the 1920s. Shortly thereafter Mr. Simpson moved to Cove Meadow but kept the boathouse and property on Cape Poge Bay.

“During the following years I did some research in the library, historical society and internet to see what I could find out about Charlie Simpson and his life on the Vineyard and maybe uncover what could bring him to living, back then, in such a remote isolated environment.

Paralleling that, in a way, were the lighthouse keepers and their family, on Cape Poge, who struggled with everything nature and seclusion could throw their way.

“So, as it happens and going back to that archeological find. The winter storms out here have a way of uncovering old artifacts as well as new ones washed up on the shore. An example of a new find would be the many fishing lures, buoys, bottles and tennis balls. An example of an old one would be the many bricks of the old lighthouse property or several shipwrecks that rose to the top of the sand on East Beach.

“That same thing, in a similar fashion, happened on the old Simpson property. I must have walked that very spot thousands of times over the last 18 years, but this one time I noticed, in the grass, a few white pebbles. When I knelt down, to pick them up, I could feel that they were embedded in what seemed to be concrete.

“Carefully uncovering the dirt with my hands, the shape of a compass, true to its direction, revealed itself. As my pulse started to race faster more and more was uncovered until I was able to read the hundreds of small white pebble inscription of Simpson – July 1910.

“As per the property deed it was one year after Mr. Simpson acquired the property and obviously built the house and boathouse dedicating it by way of this 4′ x 4′ concrete monument with a cutout in the center for what had probably been for a flagpole. How proud he must have been on that summer’s day in 1910. Thanks to Mother Nature and a little bit of luck I could now not only read and learn about Charlie Simpson but actually feel and touch what he created, with his own hands, 102 years ago this July.”

Correction: This story has been modified from the print version to reflect the fact that Mr. Simpson was from Edgartown and owned a business in New Bedford.