Cockenoe Kodachrome

It’s been decades since Bill Whitbeck lived in Westport. (Westport, Connecticut, that is. He’s now in the beautiful seaside town of Westport, Washington.)

But he remembers fondly his days on Cockenoe. That’s the island a mile off Compo. (Which Westport now owns, having bought it in 1968 to save it — and us — from a proposal to build a nuclear power plant there. Click here for that unbelievable story.)

Still, he did not realize how many times his family visited Cockenoe until his father died, and the Whitbecks examined thousands of old 35mm slides.

It seemed like every other roll of film taken during the summers showed camping on the island.

The other day, Bill sent some of the images, from 1958 to ’60.

Bill Whitbeck's sister Joanne, neighbor Bobby Bittner, Bill (waving) and his mom, at the highest area of the sandbar. 1958.

Bill Whitbeck’s sister Joanne, neighbor Bobby Bittner, Bill (waving) and his mom, at the highest area of the sandbar in 1958.

“We brought tents, camping gear and food for the weekend,” Bill recalls. “We’d camp on the western side’s long sandbar. From current photos I’ve seen, it’s almost gone from erosion.”

Other prime campsites were nestled in the trees on the southern side of the island, on higher ground with little trails leading to them. Those sites were usually snatched up first. But if Bill’s family got there early enough on Friday afternoon, they snagged a site for the weekend.

Bill Whitbeck (with pail), his mother, sister and a neighbor digging clams on Cockenoe’s sandbar, now almost totally gone.  This stretch between the sandbar and the higher part of the island in the distance was covered at high tide, though it was shallow enough to walk between the two in 1958.

Bill Whitbeck (with pail), his mother, sister and a neighbor digging clams on Cockenoe’s sandbar, now almost totally gone. This stretch between the sandbar and the higher part of the island in the distance was covered at high tide, though it was shallow enough to walk between the two in 1958.

I was struck by the quality of the colors, and composition of the photos. I told Bill that they seemed like a Life magazine spread on the Kennedys at Cape Cod.

“The colors haven’t faded after almost 60 years,” he agrees.

“Kodachrome film used layers of dyes, as opposed to silver halide crystals found in other transparency films, like Ektachrome of Fujichrome. The silver crystals give most film their ‘grain’.”

Bill Whitbeck, his sister’s fiance, and 2 sisters on the 16-foot outboard his father built. This was its maiden voyage. It was so new, he had not yet installed the windshield. The photo was taken inside Cockenoe’s bay, a perfect anchorage, surrounded by the island’s horseshoe shape. Check out the wooden boats -- there was no fiberglass in 1959.

Bill Whitbeck, his sister’s fiance, and 2 sisters on the maiden voyage of a 16-foot outboard his father built. It was so new, he had not yet installed a windshield. The photo was taken in Cockenoe’s bay, a perfect anchorage, surrounded by the island’s horseshoe shape. Check out the wooden boats — there was no fiberglass in 1959.

In 1994, Bill took his dad for one more walk around the island. He died a few years later.

Breakfast on the south side of Cockenoe, in 1959. The bay is behind young Bill Whitbeck. In the distance to the left is Sprite Island; Saugatuck Shores (still undeveloped) is to the right.

Breakfast on the south side of Cockenoe, in 1959. The bay is behind young Bill Whitbeck. In the distance to the left is Sprite Island; Saugatuck Shores (still undeveloped) is to the right.

Looking east from the camp site in 1959. Some large Army-style tents are on the beach. Families would set them up, then stay on the island for weeks at a time. They made runs back to town once or twice a week for supplies. Whitbeck remembers during a few summers, enterprising young boys would go to Cockenoe on Sunday mornings with blocks of ice, and copies of the Sunday New York Times, Herald Tribune and Daily News, to sell to boaters and campers on the island!

Looking east from the camp site in 1959. Some large Army-style tents are on the beach. Families would set them up, then stay on the island for weeks at a time. They made runs back to town once or twice a week for supplies. Whitbeck remembers during a few summers, enterprising young boys would go to Cockenoe on Sunday mornings with blocks of ice, and copies of the Sunday New York Times, Herald Tribune and Daily News, to sell to boaters and campers on the island.

 

 

21 responses to “Cockenoe Kodachrome

  1. Nina Sankovitch

    These are such wonderful photos. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Yes, these are terrific vintage pics (and I didn’t realize there were a number of families who camped out at Cockenoe back in the day). Bill, by any chance, do you have some vintage photos of Main Street/downtown? Thanks.

    • Bill Whitbeck

      Fred- I may have some b&w negatives of Main Street from the 1970’s that I took when I was in college. I’ll check my files and see what I come up with!

  3. David Squires

    Great Story, Outstanding Photos!
    Thank You…

  4. John Hartwell

    Dan

    did you know about this interview about Cockenoe hat Martha Aasen did with Jo Fox for the Historical Society?

    John 203-216-1425

  5. Those are amazing memories!

  6. Families did stuff like this because there was “virtually” nothing to do back in the day.

  7. Nathaniel martin

    Great photos- but one small correction. There WAS fiberglass in 1959. It was used for small boats like mine sweeps in WWII and the first production fiberglass boats started appearing in the early 50s, which ushered in a new fad of “recreational boating”. I have an early 50s Dyer, one of the first fiberglass boats, which spends a lot of time out at Cockenoe.

  8. Jack Whittle

    Awesome photos and history of how Westporters took advantage of Cockenoe in the 1950s. By the way, by the time I was often found on a boat off of Westport (fishing with my dad or water-skiing) in the late 70s and early 80s, there was a family that camped on Cockenoe the entire summer – they were often heard on the CB radio (channel 13 was the Long Island sound fisherman’s channel back then) with the handle “Cockenoe Base”

  9. sandy johnson

    Great pictures and so wonderful that the island was saved from the horror of the plant being built there. I always enjoyed looking out at the island – especially during the quiet off season – my husband and I used to bring lunch down and sit in the car and just enjoy the surrounding views.

  10. Hello Jack. That would be the Palmer family. They camped all summer on Cockenoe for many years.

  11. Bill Whitbeck ! Bill are you still riding the Guzzi that Allan and Patty Graves delivered to you in Washington ??? Glad to see all the great photos!
    take care !!!

    • Bill Whitbeck

      OMG!! Hello Patty! What a surprise. I kept that Moto Guzzi until 2002, sold it for more than I paid for it, and bought another Guzzi a few years later, which I still have. I put almost 400,000 miles on that bike in 32 years. Send me an email and let’s catch up!

  12. Beautiful old photos.

  13. Lucinda Mirk Setnicka

    I love these photos – we sailed for years on our Blue Jay out of Cedar Point (old location) and we always thought it was deserted! Who knew!

  14. Michael Lonsdale

    Actually the first fiberglass boat was a cat boat made in 1942. An interesting article! http://www.goodoldboat.com/reader_services/articles/birthoffiberglass.php

  15. Cathy Jones

    Wonderful photos and memories! Thank you so much!

  16. Sharon Paulsen

    I love this!

    I’m a kid of the 70’s, so these photographs have a sort of “Kennedy’s on vacation” vibe to me. (Quality and tonal nature of the slides, style of clothes, etc.)

    Also brought back memories of sailing out to the island on my Dad’s boat for a little swimming off anchor, and island exploring.

    Good stuff!!

  17. These photos are really wonderful treasures. Thanks so much for sharing.
    Lynn Miller

  18. Bill Whitbeck

    I’m so glad the readers of 06880 enjoyed the early photos of Cockenoe Island. I have more that were taken in later years that I will send to Dan for posting. I also have photos of a “Cockenoe mystery” that I’d like to solve!