Letter from Cuttyhunk: The Avalon

If walls could speak.

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View of Vineyard Sound from the Avalon on Cuttyhunk. — Photo by Nancy Dunn

What a difference a month can make! Daffodils bloom abundantly across the island in every direction, adding their cheerful countenances and bright hues to a previously monochromatic landscape. The majestic snowy owls we had been spotting on Cuttyhunk have returned to the Arctic, replaced by a magnificent pair of great horned owls, who have taken up residence in the quiet West End. The male owl has been seen coming and going from the hidden nest, and the nearby ground is littered with many large, regurgitated owl pellets. According to island birdwatcher Paula DiMare, our first towhee has been spotted hopping around, and the tree swallows have determinedly returned to build their nests, albeit four days later than they did last year! Another interesting change is no longer seeing the familiar red and white signal flashing from the Gay Head Lighthouse into my living room window each night. I await its return!

Cuttyhunk abounds in fascinating history, from entrepreneur Bartholomew Gosnold’s first English settlement here in 1602, to Cuttyhunk-born Captain Paul Cuffee’s remarkable achievements as a blockade-running patriot and abolitionist. The historical contributions of the island’s residents are astounding! You can read more here: paulcuffee.org/about/mission-history/paul-cuffee/.

When you do decide to come out and visit the island, you can choose your accommodations from the venerable Cuttyhunk Fishing Club, founded in 1864, cuttyhunkfishingclub-bb.com/home; Pete’s Place Rentals, furnished rental units of every size and configuration, petesplacerentals.com; from private owners at Cuttyhunk.net, cuttyhunk.net/rentals.shtml; or from the historic inn the Avalon, cuttyhunkinn.com.

Situated on a high knoll with a commanding view of Vineyard Sound, the Avalon has quite a story. It was built in 1909 by William Madison Wood, (1858-1926), president of the American Woolen Co., and a major landowner on the island. Mr. Wood implemented his visionary plan of burying all of Cuttyhunk’s power lines underground to ensure continued power during hurricanes, and installed the current power plant. The Avalon has survived and prospered since then, despite many transitions. It was used as a recuperation hospital for Army officers in World War I, and as a summer retreat for Wood’s son’s family and friends in the 1920s and ’30s. As beloved Cuttyhunk resident Wye Garfield, great-grandson of President James Garfield, recounted in his Tales of Cuttyhunk, “my bedroom porch at the Avalon during Prohibition was like having front-row seats at the theater, a lookout station over Vineyard Sound … there were large mother ships full of rum and whiskey waiting on the horizon to be picked up by small boats called rumrunners that could outrun the Coast Guard patrol boats. The Coast Guard was shooting star shells to illuminate the night sky to spot the rumrunners, and I’d hear the rattle of machine-gun fire, sometimes setting a rumrunner afire!”

Thankfully, things are much more tranquil today, and the Avalon is now being run as a unique inn with ethereal ocean views. In summer, there are concerts held on the lawn for the community, and it also houses the island’s doctors-in-residence program. Caretakers and uberhosts Ellie von Wellsheim and Teri Bordenave have put their heart and soul into this property, and it shows. In the fall, they will again run their popular artists’ retreat from Sept. 11 to 16, with only two openings left. Last year’s retreat included a plein air painting workshop for both islanders and artists, while this year, a six-hour (two 3-hour sessions) alla prima–style painting workshop, taught by New York artist Chris Averill Green, is included for both islanders and artists attending the retreat. Preregistration is required, as spots are limited. Teri wants you to know, “This retreat offers a unique opportunity to focus just on your work — your painting, poetry, writing, composing — while we take care of all of your creature comforts. You will be fed healthy, delicious meals, stay in a beautiful historic inn on a small, quiet island, complete with fabulous views, fresh air, and as much solitude as you desire.” Here’s the link to their website: cuttyhunkartistretreat.weebly.com/.

The Avalon management reports, “The Avalon looks forward to opening its doors to guests again in mid-May, and anticipates a busy season. Thanks to a successful fundraising campaign to which many islanders contributed, the Avalon is getting back to its old glory, now with new landscaping, a renovated Ice House, a new porch roof, and its great chimneys all rebuilt and standing tall! Avalon staff, the board, and the Baumgarten family are all working together to continue the Avalon’s place as a cultural hub for Cuttyhunk. Now we’re looking to expand arts workshops that will include free opportunities for island residents. We hope to see you this season — and please check us out at cuttyhunkinn.com, and spread the word on Facebook.”

For Cuttyhunkers

Island Market news
Coming soon! Kris’ delicious homemade pastries and Asa’s famous Smoked Bluefish Pâte! The market sustained some heavy damage from the relentless winter storms, but they have been busy making the repairs and putting the finishing touches on the store, to be ready for the quickly approaching summer season. Hours as of May 1 will be 8 to 10 am and 3 to 5 pm until the holiday weekend.

School news
Cuttyhunk Elementary students will be taking their second round of state MCAS exams, this time in Math and Science. Testing dates: Grade 4 and 5 Math on May 12 and 13, and Grade 5 Science on May 19 and 20. Students recently celebrated Earth Day by picking up all of the trash from Church’s Beach and the cove by the yacht club. They also celebrated baseball’s opening day by wearing Red Sox shirts and hats, measuring out a ballfield, learning to play baseball, reading and singing baseball poems and songs, and of course eating Fenway franks, popcorn, and peanuts!
The island students will be heading south to the Mason-Dixon line to study the Civil War, the Underground Railroad, and their federal government on an exciting end-of-year school field trip to Gettysburg, Pa., and Washington, D.C., on May 3rd.

Summer employment on Cuttyhunk:

“Art Camp” Director

If you love children and can teach arts and crafts, please consider this opportunity.

Two weeks, Mon.-Fri ., July 27-31 and August 3-7.

20 kids maximum, Grades K-6. $600 to $900, planning, camp, cleanup. 
Assistant teacher provided. Housing as needed. 
Email Russell Latham, superintendent: rflatham@comcast.net, or 508-252-4272.
Meeting dates
Town of Gosnold annual town meeting and next School Committee meeting on Monday, May 18.

New graduate
Congratulations to Rachel Helen Schenck, who will be receiving her Bachelor of Science degree in allied health sciences from the University of Connecticut, in Storrs, Conn., at the May 9th commencement. Rachel has been accepted into the doctorate of physical therapy program at Simmons College in Boston, and will begin her three-year graduate program this summer.