Burying Hill Beach: Unburied

Alert “06880” reader Scott Smith writes:

The backwash of Superstorm Sandy lingers in our community — personally now in beachfront neighborhoods, in fuller view at Compo and along Main Street where, surprisingly, some shops are still shuttered a month after the fact.

Then there are places around town caught somewhere in the middle of our public/private introspection of what Sandy wrought.  Burying Hill is one of them. The pocket park and beach remained closed until this week, its entrance along a curve of Beachside Avenue gated shut.

Last weekend — while it was still closed — I parked near Green’s Farms railroad station and hiked up the low-lying road along New Creek that leads to the beach. It was my 2nd furtive trip to Burying Hill since the storm.

Burying Hill Beach shows extensive post-Sandy damage.

I can happily report that a Kowalsky bulldozer has scraped away the 2 feet of sand that washed over the parking lot. But a much bigger, longer and costlier job remains: repairing the seawall at the base of what I’ve always figured is the actual Burying Hill.

Sandy gouged deep into the hillock, nearly taking with it the tidy little bathroom building on top of the seawall.

Though a chain link fence and lots of orange ribbon surrounding the ugly gash is now gone, who knows when the park will be be repaired.

Westport is so blessed with public amenities, Burying Hill hardly ever enters into the conversation of “town jewels.” Fine by me, because being the least trammeled shoreline around makes it a particularly good place for impromptu wave-watching, private sunsets, unfettered jaunts with the dog in winter, rock-turning for crabs in summer and, especially, beachcombing.

Burying Hill, before the storm.

People mull over the sand in all seasons and for all kinds of reasons. I seek beach brick, polished by the surf and sand into streamlined pieces of all shapes and sizes. Over the past few years I’ve taken home enough pieces of beach brick to fill a pathway in my garden. I like how the ocher hues contrast with the dirt. The bricks soak up water like a sponge yet drain like gravel, and they will last forever, more or less. Plus, it’s free –though I do have some guilt for choosing salvage rights over a more altruistic “leave things be.”

As an architectural artifact, beach brick marks our progress as New World residents along this shore of the Sound. My favorite find is a pale yellow-orange variety flecked with bits of shell and straw. Surely these pieces date from the pre-Industrial Era, when brick was formed of hand-dug clay and any old beach sand, and padded with salt marsh grass.

Much of the brick I find no doubt derives from seawalls or steps leading down to the beach that failed to stand the test of time. But who knows how long or far each piece has been tumbled by each tide, how whole it was before being ground down to a pebble, or from what man-made thing it came from?

Scott Smith’s “beach bricks.”

Some of the brick I find is charred on one side — the chimney from an old settler’s cabin? Is it from some swanky seaside patio that got sucked into the sea? Or is it just detritus from a load of fill dumped at the water’s edge back when we valued our beaches differently?

And why is it called Burying Hill Beach, anyway?

One thing’s for sure: Each storm uncovers a fresh haul of sea-burnished brick that catches my eye and fills my coat pockets, and Sandy upheaved a mother lode. And who knows where all that brick from Compo’s bathhouses will wash up…

But I digress. And that’s the best thing about beachcombing at Burying Hill. It invites stray thoughts as I work my way down the beach, feeling like a peasant with privileges as I pass along the high seawalls of the Beachside Avenue estates. However grateful I am for this public access to our shoreline, I never quite overcome the feeling that I’m a trespasser, sneaking across someone’s own private horizon.

I’ve gone as far as the point to the east on the far side of the public beach, but only at the lowest of tides, scooting through and around the old pilings that jut out into the sea. Like boating on the Sound, to enjoy Burying Hill Beach one must abide by the tidal charts. In any event, it’s a good long walk to the far point and back, especially with beach brick weighing you down. I will miss those walks this winter, I suppose.

Beachside Avenue got pounded by Hurricane Sandy. (Photo courtesy of Fine Shell Art Blog)

12 responses to “Burying Hill Beach: Unburied

  1. Dan: Thanks, again, for an interesting update and for once again evoking fond memories. Burying Hill has always been one of my favorite places, mostly because it was a short walk or bike ride from my childhood home and so I spent a lot of time there. But also because it’s one of the best places to surf fish along the Westport shoreline — particularly for striped bass which in the spring and fall lay in wait for food drifting out from New Creek on the outgoing tide. New Creek was also one of my favorite places to fish for snappers (baby blue fish) and catch blue crabs. I also liked to wade out the point, east of the beach, that you are referring to where I spent a lot of nights surf fishing for stripers. Officially, it’s called Frost Point, named for Daniel Frost who, along with John Green (as in “Green Farms”) was one of the five original “Bankside farmers” who settled the area. However, my father and others called it Bedford’s Point. On ingoing tides, my brothers and I, and other neighborhood kids, would purchase cheap blow up rafts and float from Burying Hill up New River, around Sherwood Island and end up at Old Mill Beach. We’d fish and catch crabs along the way. Back then, it seemed like quite an adventure. And swimming across New Creek was always a quick, and free way to get access to Sherwood Island. I was always taught that Burying Hill got its name because it was used as a cemetery by the earliest colonists, up until the early 1700s. I’d be curious if Sandy exposed any old remains? Thanks for posting, Dan!

  2. Thanks Dan and Dave, I love hearing about the history, I am a relative newcomer to the area (8 years), but have loved Burying Hill for since I arrived and share a lot of the same reflections, I keep thinking that they will open that gate, but I guess it is going to be awhile till they can fix it up, just days before the storm, I coincidentally hit it at very low tide and was able to walk all the way over to frost point and beyond, then back, one of my best Burying Hill walks yet

  3. Nice post, bro. I remember Dad taking us for walks along Burying Hill Beach years and years ago.. But you and your garden? Beach bricks? Who knew?

  4. Always one of my favorite spots–and it was an Indian Burying Ground–and a sacred spot. Which is what It remains for all of us who love it.

  5. Older bricks, or remains, often exhibit black spots or veins. This is largely carbon, contained in the clay, that did not oxidiize during the firing process.

    I believe, in the trade these are known as “bats” or “batts”. When struck with a hammer or trowel the brick may fracture, before being discarded by the bricklayer, as unsuitable. Controlled “burning”, providing excess oxygen, reduces the production of such defective product.

  6. Burying Hill is a great little beach (albeit rocky), and the grassy hill & flat area below serves as an entertaining alternative to Compo. I remember many cookouts there with family & friends while growing up, running around the field while our parents watched from above. Later in life, I couldn’t think of a better place to get engaged than at the top of Burying Hill at sunset. Truly a town treasure.

  7. Chef has the day off

    Burying Hill Beach rocks are what it is all about, just ask any rock hound you see looking downward, stopping to inspect a find, while slowly walking along after a the high tide washes out, I’ve found jasper, quartz and topaz without trying very hard. But really, it’s a secret, don’t tell anyone.

  8. Wendy Crowther

    Burying Hill is one of my favorite Westport places. I go there during all seasons to kill time between one work appointment and the next. I’ve written many diary reflections about its beauty, solitude and wildlife while pausing there. The history of the spot is fascinating – wish I could go into my files to post some of it here but I don’t have the time. I hope the Town will be able to find funds (federal, state or local) to make repairs and perhaps even spruce up the place a little. It is an absolute gem. I’m missing it right now.

  9. Burying Hill is a great beach.

    When I was in high school and college I was a lifeguard there. I had 4 days at Compo and 1 at “The Hill”. There were two lifeguards assigned there and one day we got into an argument about who was actually buried at Burying Hill Beach. I thought it was Indians my partner thought it was British soldiers killed in the Revolution. We spent part of a day (it was a rainy day so there were no swimmers!) looking around for the old graves. We finally called the Westport Historical Society and found out, as Dave Stalling stated, that it was the burial ground for the original Green’s Farms farming families. Mostly the Green’s and the Couch’s. The WHS thought the original markers were probably made of wood so there would be nothing identifying the graves.

    I’m down there year round as well. From April to about October if you catch the tides right it’s a great place for Stripers. When it’s really cold and everything inland freezes up it’s also a good place to duck and goose hunt (I’ll apologize now if you’re a neighbor i’ve woke up in the morning with the gunshots).

  10. poetic beautiful

  11. The name Burying Hill is exactly what it implies – a burial ground. Although, today, no gravestones remain at Burying Hill, in 1657 it was the Couch family cemetery, perhaps shared with other Bankside families before Greens Farms had an official cemetery in 1725.

  12. John
    In the late 60’s we would surf Burying Hill when ever a winter storm came in . That was the only time the waves have any size. The snow storms were best. We had to use pliers on our wetsuit zippers cuz they would be iced up.
    Ya , The good old days.