West Island is located off the eastern shore of a pennisula called Sconticut Neck, in the town of Fairhaven, MA. The island is about 2 1/2 miles long and a mile wide and situated along Buzzard's Bay. Views of the Bourne Bridge and Woods Hole along with the Elizabeth Islands can be seen from the Town Beach at the southern end of the island. Nokatay was the Wampanoag Indian name for West Island, it refers to "at the hunting place." According to records the Island was bought by colonists from the Wampanoags for "20 yards of cloth, eight moccasins, eight blankets, 15 axes, 15 hoes, 15 pairs of breeches, two kettles, one cloak and 10 shillings in other commodity." The Island was actually sitting on the town line of Fairhaven and Mattapoisett, with one half in each town until it was declared entirely in Fairhaven.
Significant historical events that occured at or near West Island include the first naval battle of the War of Independance fought off West Island's shore. Legend says that a British raiding party spotted sheep on the island and came in to steal meat for the troops, but residents saw the ship, slipped away and warned towns folk about the British arrival. Fairhaven residents comandeered a ship and fought off the raiding party. Reports of casualties for both sides differ. the island was the location of two farms and the homes to three families dating back to possibly the early 1700's. West Island is the location of one of the oldest homes in town, about 300 years old, located at the top of Causeway road, across from the Community House. Across the street from the old house was a barn and windmill for the farm on the northern half of the Island. The southern portion of the Island was once deeded as a Poor Farm for the town of Fairhaven.
Early attempts developing West Island included a Yacht Club and later a state prison. The first attempt at building a causeway to further the development of the Island was in 1886, but was never completed. Many individuals and corporations have had the vision of West Island as a valuable community to Fairhaven. A causeway connecting from Sconticut Neck was completed in 1946. It was developed as an exclusive summer colony named West Island, Fairhaven Estates. A diesel powered electric grnerating system was installed and power lines were strung to homes on the Island. Eventually, bankruptcy of West Island, Fairhaven Estates led to a loss of electricity to the entire island. Hurricane Carol in 1954 destroyed the causeway for all but pedestrian traffic. The insolvency of the developers resulted in the need for the state to purchase the causeway for $1, enabling the beginning of repairs.
Wanna Know More?
Article from New Bedford Evening Standard May 25, 1886 regarding a petition that was signed by boaters who objected to the building of a causeway from Long Island to West Island if it did not include a draw bridge in the design. The article mentions of intent to develop the island and Sconticut Neck. Tedious wording but interesting. This article also appeared in the Fairhaven Star of May 29, 1886.
Various articles from the Fairhaven Star newspaper regarding West Island.
In 1922 a curious castaway was found washed up on the shores of West Island and caused quite a commotion.
Many Ownership Changes Seen in Tiny Tract Where Vikings, Indians and Colonists Roamed By JOHN FLANAGAN, Standard Times March 17, 1946. Article about history of West Island and impending development of "Fairhaven Estates" on uninhabited island.
150 Cottages built in 3 Years On Fairhaven's West Island Standard Times article from June 4,1950
Ground Breaking on West Island for Community House Standard Times article from August 30, 1951
Standard Times article from June 29, 1952 about colonization of "Fairhaven Estates"
Standard Times article from November 13, 1951 about insolvency of West Island Power Co.
Herter to Inspect Causeway DamageI found this article from November 1954 especially interesting. Primarily because of the last paragraph. It describes the attempts to get the causeway reconstructed after the '54 hurricane rendered it impassible to anything but foor traffic. The problems stemmed fron the fact that West Island Estates, the developer of West Island and actual owner of the causeway, was bankrupt. The concern for the 200 or so houses and residents of the island seemed only slightly as important as access as to the Town Beach for visitors. Some things never seem to change.
Sconticut Neck and Ripleys Believe It or Not
Articles about West Island from the Standard Times
Old Fairhaven from the Fairhaven Star of April 4, 1946
Pope Beach off of Manhatten Ave on Sconticut Neck was one of the first developed areas on the Neck. A pavillion and pier were just part of it.
A West Island Mystery cemented into legend
West Island Tower is dedicated for Civil Defense plane spotting, Standard Times July 26, 1956 I wasnt familiar with the GOC, or Ground Observer Corps so I did a google search and came up with this site, among others GOC and a little more on the Tower and it's sister structures Tower page from Millicent Library site listing monuments in town compiled by Jim Cochran
Army Corp of Engineers Map Of the observation installment at West Island, 1943, provided by Chris Wiles, U.S. Coast Artillery Photos, ca.ckwinfo.net
History of Sconticut Neck written by Mabel L. Potter in 1945. Posted on the Millicent Library website.
Fairhaven History Timeline By Chris and Lori Richards.
Was treasure buried in Riverside Cemetary?
I'd like to thank Debbie Charpentier, Archivist of the Millicent Library, for access to their collection. Debbie is wonderfully helpful and extremely knowledgable of most of the old homes in Fairhaven.