Guildford to relocate ‘iconic’ grass island cottage amid coastal erosion concerns
GUILFORD — City officials are looking to move the Grass Island Shack away from the western shore, which has eroded significantly over the past year, to prevent it from potentially collapsing into Long Island Sound.
Geologically, the cabin is not located on an island, but rather at the end of a peninsula extending west from Neck Road in Madison. During high tide, water levels cover part of the peninsula, temporarily making the area near the hut an island and inaccessible by land.
Exposure of sidewalk columns on the west side of the building has increased over the past year, City Engineer Janice Blasiak said Friday.
“We don’t know how deep these piers are,” she said. “It’s about 7 feet from the top of the deck to the ground as of that day. At one point, the deck was about 2.5 to 3 feet on the front side. It’s still about that on the back side. We don’t know how it was built.”
Sand began to accumulate north of the hut on the peninsula, Blazac said.
“The high tide line is under the building now,” she said. “It’s gone so quickly in the last year. All of a sudden it’s sitting in the water. It’s eroding. It’s dislodging sand… We’ll figure out what it would take to move it, try to get permits, see how much it costs, see if the city wants to spend money on it.”
The plan is to move the hut 45 to 90 feet from the west side of the peninsula, putting it above the waterline, she said. Blasiak said that exactly how and when the operation will take place is still unknown. The proposal involves building new piers behind the hut and then moving the hut from the existing set of support beams to the new beams.
“We are still trying to gather information from the structural engineer,” she said. “We’re waiting for CT DEEP to do a review of the natural diversity database to see if they have any concerns about endangered species, and then we’ll have to take it to local planning and zoning to see if they have any concerns and get their approval. Then we’ll have to Engaging the engineer to design something to put the bid package together and put it out to bid.
The cabin had been vacant since 1965, when the town took ownership. Since it is neither a residence nor a commercial building, Plaziak called it a monument.
“She’s creative,” she said. “It’s not really historic as in anything that has to be preserved. It’s historic because it’s been there forever.”
City historian Joel Helander prefers to call it a hut versus a hut.
“When the Monroes owned this house, they called it the Cottage,” he said Friday. “It’s a beautiful area. The subject of artists and photographers for years.
Grass Island was originally called Sandy Point, a name it had since 1730, he said.
“It was acquired by a local resident, Samuel Hill, as a donation from the town,” he said. “It’s described as Sandy Point. It’s been Sandy Point forever. Then his last descendant was a Guilford merchant named Samuel Johnson. He was the last in a long line of descendants to own it. Sam Hill’s descendants sold it to the first selectman of Guilford and then they sold it to J. Harrison Monroe He was the local pharmacist in town.
The Monroe family built a cabin in 1914 for family vacations, but it was destroyed in a fire in 1936, Helander said.
“It was rebuilt shortly after,” he said. “This is the second hut. It has been moved over the years to bring it back from the attack of Long Island Sound.
Helander called the Grass Island Shack’s recent relocation attempt a “great preservation project.”
“The city deserves credit for its conservation efforts because it represents an iconic symbol of our landscape,” he said.
Much of the cottage, which was rebuilt in 1936 and renovated over the years, most importantly when Eagle Scout John Markowski made major upgrades in 2015 and 2016, is gone.
“There may be a few token woods left,” Helander said of the 1936 version of the hut. “It’s pretty much an exact replica of what was there.”
Although the cottage has not been used for any practical purpose since the Monroe family sold it to the town in 1965, “it is a landmark in Guilford,” Helander said.
“She is a lonely beauty,” he said. “Despite its state of disrepair, it is a respected landmark in our Sound region. It has been photographed and painted time and time again. It has appeared on mugs, towels and plaques in business offices. It is part of heritage tourism.”