Grand Island in Osterville had been colonized by people from Cotuit long before the neighborhood called Oyster Harbors was planned in the 1920s.

Oyster Harbors, the exclusive resort on the east side of Cotuit Bay, is located on Grand Island, once called Great Oyster Island.

Back in the 17th century, Wampanoag wetus (houses) were probably there when Paupmunnock reserved a place for Indians in his deal with Miles Standish in 1648. Fields were cultivated on grants by the woman sachem Syucy. But by 1700 white cattlemen were crossing the shallow Wading Place, just north of the future Osterville Cut, to pasture their cattle in the fertile salt marshes of Oyster Island. The Indians sued the cowboys in 1706 and won their case in the highest state court (Wickett Indians vs. Lovell). But lawyers’ fees were so high that the Native Americans had to sell the island to the families of Lovell’s Neighborhood, as Osterville was then known.

In 1826 Samuel Dottridge, Cotuit’s Quaker builder, paid $30 at auction for land along the Sepuit River, where the Lovells were making salt by boiling. From this our historians concluded that Dottridge built saltworks.

After the Civil War Cotuit leaders began buying large parts of the island. Postmaster Charles C. Bearse and Captains Alexander Childs and Andrew Lovell paid a dollar an acre for 80 acres of Dead Neck. George Gardiner Lowell bought a strip across the island east of Tim’s Cove, probably for hunting.

When Harvard history professor Edward T. Channing (1856-1931) complained to Harvard’s President Lowell about the poor hunting in Nantucket, Lowell recommended that he try Grand Island. A point on the west side of the island known as “Noisy Point” was the legendary home of the witch Hannah Screecham, who was thought to guard Captain Kidd’s treasure and haunt the area, Undeterred by the legend, Prof. Channing built the first house on the island in 1904. It was built by a Cotuit contractor Hamlin & Fish, of School Street. Prof. Channing would row across to Cotuit daily to get his mail, and his daughters were co-founders of the Cotuit Mosquito Yacht Club.

Cotuit’s Hamlin & Fish probably built two houses in 1911. Materials were brought to the island by barge, or across the ice using horse-drawn sledges. The first was the Storrow’s “Sandy House” for cotton businessman Edward Cabot Storrow, of Boston. The house of Edward Blake Field, heir of textile manufacturer Peder Olsen, was designed by the famous architect Guy Lowell who summered in Cotuit. Guy Lowell, a cousin of Harvard President Lowell, was the architect of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and the Unitarian Church in Barnstable village.

The first house on the Sepuit River, on the south side of the island, was built in the winter of 1911-12 for Dr. Walter G. Phippen of Salem. Two steel beams to support the water tank in the attic were dragged across the ice from Cotuit by horses.

MIT architect George Canning Wales, well-known for his etchings of sailing ships, designed a fine shingle-style house similar to the Storrows’ house. It was built for Rev. Theodore Reese in 1912, probably by Charles Daniels. When Rev. Reese became Episcopal Bishop of Southern Ohio he sold it to the helicopter pioneer Haviland Platt.

By the time the U.S. entered the first World War in 1917, seven houses had been built by people from Cotuit. In 1916 Guy Lowell designed a house for Dr. Robert Greenough (1862-1937), the famous cancer specialist. Hamblin & Fish barged their materials across the bay to build the house. In 1917, Guy Lowell probably designed the house for Mrs. Greenough’s brother Dr. Elliott Goodwin (1875-1931), the political scientist associated with civil service reform.

The Olmsted Brothers laid out the exclusive planned community of Oyster Harbors. In 1925, when President Lowell permitted a golf course, which was built using plans of the famous golf course designer Donald Ross, and even a polo field.

published in Barnstable Enterprise 24 Feb. 2012


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