Editor’s Note: Some stories just have to be written down. Such is the case with Edo Potter’s story of life at Pimpneymouse Farm on Chappaquiddick that began for her nearly 80 years ago at the age of four, and continues today. The Last Farm on Chappaquiddick is at once a memoir, history book and chronicle of a changing island. Written by Mrs. Potter and published by Vineyard Stories, the book will be on sale at Edgartown Books, Bunch of Grapes, in Island stores and through the Vineyard Stories Web site (vineyardstories.com). The author will sign copies at Edgartown Books at 11:30 a.m. on Sunday. The following is an excerpt of text and photographs from The Last Farm on Chappaquiddick; it appears here with permission.



From the beginning, Chappaquiddick shared little in common with its nearest neighbor. While Edgartown became a bustling whaling village, Chappy remained rural and savagely beautiful in its austere loneliness. Its only tentative connection to Edgartown and the main Island was a barrier beach at the southern end of Katama Bay, a connection that routinely disappeared through the centuries and completely disappeared again in April 2007 during a northeast storm.

But if they didn’t want to live there, Edgartown citizens took advantage of the open, grassy landscape and brought their animals over to Chappy in early October via the “swimming place,” the narrowest part of Katama Bay where it joins Edgartown harbor. Some people walked or led their livestock along the beach between the two Islands, or put small animals in sturdy rowboats for the trip across. The animals were pastured there until spring, when they returned to Edgartown. No fences or shepherds were needed, since the animals would not cross the water without strong urging. Before returning to Edgartown in April, the sheep were herded to Cape Pogue to be sheared in Shear Pen Pond, which still carries that name,

Empty and barren, the island was an inconvenient place to get to, and only hardy families could survive there. Prior to the first motorized ferry in 1934, there were only rowboats for transportation and a launch that towed a small scow. The few year-round people lived in the center of the island away from the gale force winds and writhing seas of winter. They made a living tending their sheep, growing their own food, and living off the land and the bounty of the sea.

Yet none of this — not geological formations nor vistas nor winter gales — meant much to me when I first came to Chappy. All I knew was the wide-open land, the empty beaches with no footprints except ours, and an island small enough so that everyone knew each other. The year-round residents provided food and seafood to the summer people, bringing ice and other necessities by rowboat, sometimes towing a flat wooden scow to transport livestock and horses for the buggies left here year-round by the summer people.

I could feel the power of the island even from a young age during the four months of our summers there, the feelings that eventually led me to claim Pimpneymouse as my year-round home. Standing on top of Meeting House Hill, I could see 360 degrees, virtually the entire island and much of the south shore of the Vineyard. The ocean, ponds, and streams were full of fish, eels, crabs and shellfish. Wasque, which has been kept open for centuries by man’s effort, was awash in blueberries during the summer, beach plums during the early fall, and other treasures the rest of the year, gifts from both land and sea. All of this was encircled by white sand beaches and wonderful blue waters.

The wonder of it has lasted me almost 80 years.

By 1928, when my father first came to Chappaquiddick, there were a few summer people who had bought land, often from the Wampanoags, and built a handful of houses along North Neck and Katama Bay. Most people, though, simply viewed our Chappy as “nothing but a godforsaken sand dune,” as one described it.

My father, called Charlie by most of his friends, relished the isolation and the simplicity of living here, the closeness of the community, and all the opportunities that Chappy offered. He, like many others before him, had bought the land for hunting. Duck and goose hunting was popular during this time, and many hunting camps existed on the Vineyard in the 1920s and 1930s. Chappy itself had three hunting camps: two on Poucha Pond, including my father’s and one at Wasque owned by Curtis Nye Smith; and one on Cape Pogue Pond owned by Charles Simpson.

It was mostly a man’s sport, and women and children were not included. However, in 1932 my father, who was on Chappy hunting and tending to his live goose decoys, invited us down for Thanksgiving so that he didn’t have to leave the island to return to Marblehead. It was cold, empty, and almost unpopulated on Chappy, and my mother, myself, and my two sisters had to get across from Edgartown aboard a small launch called Sleepy, captained by Tony Bettencourt. We must have thought we were at the end of the world.

Our first long visit when my sisters and I were four, six and eight years old, came to be a traditional journey every summer. I remember the flurry of preparations before we left Marblehead, then the drive from Marblehead to Woods Hole that took all day. Our Chevrolet sedan was packed to the rooftop, not only with two adults and three children but a cage of white mice and two canaries belonging to my sister Ruth. One summer my sister’s canary had babies. We thought it was a wonderful occasion until we discovered they were too young to travel, and we had to delay our departure. Every year trunks and suitcases were shipped via Railway Express, that precursor to United Parcel Service and Federal Express.

The trip through Boston, Taunton and Buzzards Bay seemed endless. No reservations were needed on the steamers that took us to the Vineyard. We just arrived at the dock and waited for the next boat. Sometimes the wait was two to three hours because the steamer from Woods Hole went all the way to Nantucket and back. During the wait, we got out of the car and explored the dock and Sam Cahoon’s Fishmarket next door.

When the steamer arrived it sounded its unique steam whistle, a welcoming sound with a more melodious, higher, sweeter pitch than the boats of today. It came along the front of the dock, then warped itself around the corner of the dock where ferries come in today, using the huge bollards at the corner as a turning point. (Bollards are large spiles that hold the dock firmly when a big boat has to make a 90-degree turn.)

Once settled in the slip, stern first, a large side door near the boat’s bow opened into the car deck. A heavy ramp was manhandled up to the opening. Passengers had to get out and go aboard at the stern while the cars were driven on board.

My sisters and I ran up to the top deck and leaned over the rail to be sure our loaded car made it on board safely. The driver drove the car straight on, across the freight deck, then “backed and filled” (as my father called it) many times between the stanchions on the freight deck in order to turn 90 degrees in a small space and drive toward the stern to the appropriate parking place.

Nobska was my favorite steamer. Passengers came in on the stern’s side, and to the right was a grand staircase, wide and gracious with polished mahogany handrails going up to the next deck. There was an elegant lunch counter, always clean and bright. A polished brass rail encircled the counter so that nothing could slip off in rough seas or when the ship rolled. The tables had white tablecloths, and the chairs were dark mahogany armchairs, polished by use.

Along the outside of the interior second deck were staterooms, used mostly by people on the three-hour trip to Nantucket after the Vineyard passengers were dropped off in Oak Bluffs. A woman named Mrs. Trent cared for the staterooms, and her husband was also employed by the boat line. Mr. and Mrs. Trent had a month’s vacation in February when one of the steamers was in drydock for repairs and painting. They spent their vacation in their tiny house across the Chappy Road from Pimpneymouse Farm’s biggest field. It has always been known as the Trent Field, named after them.

Once on the Island, our vacation began, and we could hardly sit still long enough to get to the Chappy ferry. Our glorious, four-month summer was at hand.

For a time we were simply summer people, among the few who came to this spit of land between Edgartown and the Atlantic Ocean.

We felt like pioneers, with no electricity, telephone, or running water, and ready for an adventure.