Letter from Cuttyhunk

Cuttyhunk Fishing Club stands the test of time.

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The road to the venerable Cuttyhunk Fishing Club these days. — Photo by Nancy Dunn

A lone chummer stood quietly waiting at the water’s edge with his basket of bait brimming with plentiful lobster, crab, and menhaden. He had spent the predawn hours breaking apart the lobster bodies and claws, and chopping the fish heads as the sun slowly made its appearance above the horizon. Although exhausted from the outing the day before, the invigorating salt air and island breeze never failed to awaken him. His sturdy wooden chum spoon was ready for action as he watched the magnificent red sunrise over Vineyard Sound. He squinted into the sun to see if there was any movement above him on the white porch above the bluff. He knew he had an important job to do soon, baiting the angler’s fishing hook, throwing the chum into the water with the spoon, and then wading out to retrieve the caught fish. The wealthy Cuttyhunk Fishing Association members, later known as the Cuttyhunk Fishing Club, cast from the safety of one of the 16 narrow wooden-plank fishing stands built upon large boulders and jutting off the heavily cobbled shore. Ten more stands supported by iron pipes and equipped with benches were to be built, extending the locations around the island, and since some stand locations were considered better than others, they were awarded by drawing the night before.

This was his second year employed as a chummer; he knew these waters well as a native, and he was determined that today his member, the New York multimillionaire Henry McGowan who owned a Hudson River steamship line, would receive the honor of the “high hook” for catching the largest fish. Mr. McGowan, who was the club’s first president, would receive a diamond-studded fishhook pin to proudly wear until someone else caught a larger fish. Bluefish were caught regularly, but avoided, due to their sharp teeth cutting through the linen fishing line. Rods were long and quite heavy, with wooden reels. It was the delicious striped bass they were all after, record-setting fish ranging from 47 to 64 pounds over the years. As a chummer, he thought about how he could surely use that three dollars for each fish caught if they did indeed win the esteemed “high hook” prize. The usual dollar per fish he earned from early June through mid-October was good pay for 1865, but he had a feeling that today would be his windfall. His mind wandered as he watched and waited; could it have been only one year since he spotted that extraordinary yacht Theresa sail into Cuttyhunk Pond? There had been seven millionaires on board from New York who had grown dissatisfied with their own West Island Fishing Club on Sakonnet Point in Rhode Island. They had heard about the spectacular bass fishing at Cuttyhunk Island, and proceeded to purchase most of the island from the Slocum family, building their new club on a scenic high bluff above the southeast shore facing the Gay Head Cliffs on Martha’s Vineyard. The club included a library, sitting room with fireplace, brick terraces with resting benches, a shuffleboard court, and an expansive water view. There was much to accomplish in those early startup days, building ice houses, a superintendent’s house, and sheep sheds; digging wells; building a dock, fishing stands, and a pump house; and widening the channel. They went about establishing their own set of club rules: There would be only 50 original members, which was later increased to 75; dues would be $100 each year per member; members could bring along one guest per year; new members must be unanimously approved by the existing members or they would be denied membership; meticulous records would be kept; and no women were allowed in the club building, so families had to stay in the village. Most members came out for two-week stays, and the island prospered as local men were hired for almost all of the club positions and related construction. The members also gave back to the island community each July 4th by entertaining all island residents out at the club.

A loud crash on the stand jarred him out of his daydream as a large clam smashed and splintered at his feet after being dropped against the rocks by a hungry seagull. The gull swooped in to retrieve its mollusk reward. A few black cormorants stood side by side on a large rock drying their feathers in the early sun after consuming a bountiful fish breakfast. Still no movement on the large covered porch, except one well-dressed member who had come to sit in a rocker, and now adjusted the tripod-mounted spyglass so he could check the waters for passing ships. Could it be Jay Gould, the railroad tycoon? He couldn’t be sure it was him from this distance, since he looked much like one of the Lorillard brothers, who had made their fortune in tobacco. His stomach growled as he thought about the lavish multi-course dinner he would receive with the other chummers and members tonight at the club. It would definitely include meat, striped bass, lobster, pastries, vegetables from the sprawling club garden, and fresh milk and eggs from their own cows and chickens. Each member had a locker in the dining room which held rare wines and liquors. He considered how lucky he was to have this job chumming. Each afternoon the day’s catch would be laid out on the front lawn of the club, weighed on the pair of scales hanging in the porch corner, witnessed by two club members and carefully recorded in the books. The club steward, Alec Gwinn, would joyfully play “See the Conquering Hero Comes” on his trombone, and congratulations would be given to the day’s winners. The chummer hoped with all of his heart that today, the song would play for him.

The club flourished and prospered for over 30 years on the backs of hardworking chummers and boatmen with the familiar island names of Veeder, Tilton, Bosworth, Akin, Allen, Stetson, Rotch, Black, and Wainwright. The first club superintendent was from the Vineyard, Vernal Clifford. Presidents Grover Cleveland and William Taft were club guests. Some other notable members were J.D. Archbold, Standard Oil; William Wood, American Woolen Co.; Hugh Auchincloss, Jacqueline Onassis’ stepfather; William McCormick, International Harvester.

The early 1900s brought many changes, as founding members died, others resigned due to age, some deserted it for the newer Pasque Island Club, and interests changed when the gas engine brought a new way of fishing, and guides began to take fishermen out on their boats. Some of the strict rules were relaxed to increase member retention, such as wives now being able to join their husbands at the clubhouse. By 1912, only one fishing stand was put out by the club, and soon the clubhouse was closed due to lack of interest and funds. William Wood had first come out to Cuttyhunk in 1904 with his two sons, and a year later bought as much land as the club would sell to him. In 1923, he bought out the remaining club holdings, and an era came to an end when the club disbanded. In 1935, the Cuttyhunk Fishing Club was founded, and in 1948, William Wood’s son, Cornelius Wood, sold it to the Moore family of Concord. The Moores lovingly restored the old building, retained the original furnishings, paintings, and artifacts, and continued the 4th of July tradition of entertaining island families at the club.

In 1997, the club reverted to Wood family ownership when it was bought by Muriel Wood Ponzecchi.

Today the Cuttyhunk Fishing Club is owned by the Ponzecchi family, Wood descendants, and is operated as a bed and breakfast managed by sixth-generation islander Bonnie Veeder. The building’s classic exterior hasn’t changed much over the years, but the updated clean and simple rooms are available to the public for rent. There is a delicious full breakfast served to guests and the public each summer day on the large covered porch overlooking Vineyard Sound. There is a new pickleball court on the grounds, replacing the former sand volleyball and shuffleboard courts, and the club continues to serve the community as a popular wedding and family celebration site. For more information on CFC, visit cuttyhunkfishingclub-bb.com.

Sources:

“Cuttyhunk and the Elizabeth Islands — From 1602,” Cuttyhunk Historical Society, 1993

“The Story of Cuttyhunk,” Louise Haskell, 1953

“Cuttyhunk Island and Striped Bass 1883-1897,” Cuttyhunk Historical Center, 1980

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For Cuttyhunkers

Weddings

John William Hornbach and Linda Ann Turner were married at Cuttyhunk Union Methodist Church on Saturday, July 18th.  Best Man was Jim Barry and Maid of Honor was Rita McCormick.  John McCormick walked his sister down the aisle and the bride’s nephew played the piano at the ceremony. The reception was held for all at the Cuttyhunk Fishing Club.  After a summer on Cuttyhunk, Mr. and Mrs. Hornbach will honeymoon this fall with a Greek island cruise from Rome followed by a transatlantic cruise. Congratulations to the happy couple!

Cuttyhunk Historical Society News

The summer got off to a gala beginning on Friday, July 3, with the Cuttyhunk Historical Society opening party on the lawn of the Museum of the Elizabeth Islands (MEI). The all-inclusive event gathered over 200 islanders, summer residents, and boaters with an open bar and spread of tempting hors d’oeuvres. There were silent and live auction items that made for lively bidding.

The youth workshops and children’s PJ storytime have been popular, drawing many children to the shady porch of the museum, while the fifth annual CHS/CYC Model

Boat Regatta attracted 14 young skippers, their families, friends, and onlookers to the Marina on Saturday, July 18. The winner for her second time was Molly Frothingham.

Michael Dyer, Senior Maritime Historian with the New Bedford Whaling Museum

packed the Town Hall on July 16 for a presentation on Cuttyhunk items in the

New Bedford Whaling Museum collection. Attendance at the Museum has been surging in recent weeks and not just because of the air-conditioned building! The 2015 exhibit From Your Attic to Ours: Gifts That We Treasure is a stunning presentation of a diverse set of items literally from the Museum attic displayed with information about the artifacts and their donors. Interest in Oil & Water: Paintings from the Permanent Collection is strong with a number of visitors dropping in to salute Tamalin Baumgarten’s wonderful portrait of island personality Alan Wilder.

There’s a second chance to take home a trophy in the next Model Boat Regatta coming up on Saturday, August 15. Boats are available for sale in the Museum Shop and children of all ages may participate.   On August 20 at 7:00 p.m., speaker Tom Austin, Principal Engineer at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, will present a program on remotely operated undersea vehicles.  MEI Director Kathryn Balistrieri will offer two workshops on “Care of Works on Paper” and “Learning the Museum” before the summer wraps up on September 7.

For more information on museum hours and exciting upcoming activities, including classical concerts, nature walks, church fair, and the annual Musicale, please visit the CHS website: cuttyhunkhistoricalsociety.org

(Thanks to Sara Ellis Lehner and Kathryn Balistrieri for this CHS update)

Cultural Council News

On July 15th the rain held off and the Avalon lawn concert showcased The Little Compton Band, a group of four highly skilled rock musicians, who played several familiar pieces including Grateful Dead classics, Allman Brothers, and quite a few of their own original compositions.  Of course, it took a while before the teenagers got up the nerve to dance, but after the mothers and babies had gone home, and the older folks had begun reminiscing in their lawn chairs, the kids all had fun dancing. Thanks to John Paul Hunter, for getting the band and all of their equipment here and back safely, and to Teri and Ellie from the Avalon for housing the band and putting together a terrific meal for four hard-working, hungry musicians. Donations to the Cultural council were over the top and I highly recommend The Little Compton Band.  For more upcoming CC event information please visit cuttyhunkhistoricalsociety.org

(Thanks to Judith Archer for this CC update)

Church News,   Week of July 27th

Wednesday…Welcome to Reverend Robin Junker-Boyce, her husband Sean, and sons Fritz and Ulysses. Robin is ordained in the United Church of Christ and recently completed 12 years of ministry at Bethany Church, UCC in Randolph VT. When she’s not playing with the family or studying eastern spirituality influences on western Christianity, you’ll find her ready to talk about the latest TED talk or daydreaming of becoming a fiddler.

Wed., Thurs. and Friday, 11:00 to noon…Sharing concerns and celebrations with Rev. Robin and one another in the study.

Thursday evening, 6:30…Kids Movie Night –  “Howl’s Moving Castle” (2004)

Sunday…

8:30 am

Episcopal Eucharist with Rev. Ned Prevost

9:30 am

Sunday Kids

10:30 am

Roman Catholic prayer service and Eucharist

7:45 pm

Come As You Are hymn sing

8:00pm

Evening vespers with Rev. Robin Junker-Boyce

Worship music provided by Glenn Starner-Tate

(Thanks to Tim and Judith Buckeridge for this church update)

Cuttyhunk Yacht Club News

The 2015 sailing season is in full swing!  The instructors are doing a fantastic job and we’ve had over 50 different kids participate in sailing in June and July so far. The July Awards party was held on Saturday July 25th at 5 pm.

The annual Model Boat Regatta was run on July 18th and was a huge success.  This wonderful event is done in partnership with the Cuttyhunk Historical Society where kids build and race model boats. Thanks to all who participated and volunteered to make this event a success.

We received four new Lasers in late June, which rounds out that class to seven good boats. We were able to sell one of the well-used old boats and we are donating two others to a community boating program in Bourne MA.  Thank you to the Cuttyhunk Ferry Company for generously contributing the transport for both the new and old boats to make this all happen.   Along with the Lasers, the A groupers have been sailing the 420’s and these will be in action this Thursday in our first regatta.  The B and C groupers have been sailing the six N10’s that are in the water.  We needed to complete hull repairs on four of these boats and also pour new moorings.  This work is finishing up to put us back to full ten boats in this class.

(Thanks to Commodore John Kidder for this CYC update)

Heard Around Town

Maddie Lynch recently shared her ethereal voice with everyone at the church during a recent Catholic mass, singing a beautiful song accompanied by Dr. Seymour DiMare on harmonica.

Condolences

Charlie Tilton’s sister, Sally (Tilton) Winterbottom, long time Vineyard Haven resident, died peacefully on May 27. She was 87. Sally was married to Ed (Pete) Winterbottom for nearly 50 years before his death in 1998. They had five children, Phoebe (Jim), Amy (Harley), who predeceased her, Polly (John), Bethany (Steve), and Peter (Suzi). Her nine grandchildren and one great-granddaughter knew her as their Nana, a baking, painting and drawing, beachcombing, piano-playing card sharp.

Service Available

Septic Pump-Out  available for August 4th or 5th

We need at least 10 people in order to make it reasonably affordable.

Covers MUST be dug up the day before and a deposit mailed prior to pump out.  Email Emily asap at addigrace05@gmail.com

Town Position Opening:

Town of Gosnold, Central Billing Clerk needed for Water, Electric, Solid Waste, Harbor, Wharf and other fees and permits.

Must be familiar with Clerk Books/Quick Books.  Must be available to meet with Water Commissioners, Electric Light Commission, Finance Committee and Board of Selectmen as needed.  Work with Town Treasurer and prepare commitment sheets for each billing. $19.00/hour.  Send your resume or letter of interest to:  Town of Gosnold PO Box 28 Cuttyhunk, MA 02713 or gosnoldtownclerk@yahoo.com by July 31, 2015.