A couple of Sundays ago, we packed a picnic. Paddled 7NM northeast from home. And enjoyed a beach day on just about the only speck of dry land you can set foot on all summer around Greenwich, CT (unless you’re a—sniff-—Resident). Below, a trip to Great Captains Island with Jim, Bea, Alex and Jean…aka, the riffraff.
Q: How do you know you’re near Greenwich?
A: Even the birds have “keep out” signs.
About a mile off the coast of Connecticut, Great Captains is among the 30 or so islands under Greenwich jurisdiction (since 1879, anyway, when New York lost that battle). Some say the “captain” its named for is Captain Kidd the pirate, who supposedly buried gold and silver treasure here. (Not! The $$$$$ is obviously over yonder in Greenwich.) More likely, it’s named after Captain Daniel Patrick, a partner in the first recorded real estate transaction in Greenwich in the 1640s and the town’s first military commander. Then again, it is Captains plural…maybe it’s both!
Lifeguards’ hammock faces the beach, mooring field and Greenwich, CT
Great Captains Island is all of 17.2 acres. The western portion is for recreation, with a ferry dock, picnic tables, grills, and a beach. The eastern part is a managed conservation area (egret and heron paradise!) and home to the grand old 1868 lighthouse, now the caretaker’s residence.
Bea takes the plunge.
Inspecting the renovated 1868 stone lighthouse. An automated light tower replaced the beacon in 1970.
Great Captains has been particularly susceptible to dreamers and schemers over the years, writes Stephen Sawicki in Greenwich Magazine (April 2011, Island Hopping). Excerpts from that article follow; pics are ours.
Years ago, probably sometime in the nineteenth century, someone decided it would be a good place for grazing sheep, according to a 1920 article in the Norwalk Hour. As the story has it, the creatures were put on a scow and ferried back and forth between the island and mainland. Then one day a squall kicked up while they were being transported and a hundred of them went splashing into the brine near the Byram River. The fate of the animals went unreported. The sheep shuttle operation, however, was no more.
SW view towards New York City. We can see our home in New Rochelle…tall building far right. (Hi, Kuno!)
Then came the Great Captains Island Beach and Yacht Club, an endeavor that was short-circuited by bad timing. The resort was much ballyhooed when plans for this “luxurious playground for the wealthy” were announced in September 1929. Unfortunately the stock market crashed a month later. The private club, which charged $600 dues and ferried its members on cruisers from what is now Byram, opened that first summer of the Great Depression, in 1930. It offered all the amenities, from a grand clubhouse to tennis courts to moonlight sails. The colorfully lighted ballroom even had an orchestra pit designed to look like the stern of a yacht.
Surprise! Jim brought his ukulele. No surprise: He’s really good!
Picnic? Dinner and a show!
Further plans to develop the island literally went up in smoke. One summer night in 1947, a Coast Guard seaplane, searching for an Army aircraft that went down in Long Island Sound, mistakenly dropped a parachute flare atop the old clubhouse, setting it ablaze and leaving it in ruins. And in 1955, soon after the Aerotech Corporation bought Great Captain’s [and renamed it Huckleberry Island, which didn’t last either!] another fire destroyed what was left of the resort. The company used the island as an employee retreat in the fifties and sixties before selling it to the town.
More scenes from our great day on Great Captains are here. Click on slideshow to begin. :)