Cockenoe Stone Wall Challenge

Recent “06880” posts on Cockenoe Island — 1950s-era photos from Bill Whitbeck, and a south-side shot by JP Vellotti — have proven popular with readers. The island a mile off Compo Beach has a long, enduring hold on Westporters.

Bill sends along another image, from the summer of 1969. It’s of a friend (and fellow Big Top worker) named Leslie. Today, he hopes it will answer a question he’s had for decades.

Cockenoe stone wall -- Bill Whitbeck

Bill writes:

 If you can get past looking at Leslie you’ll see a stone wall, maybe 15 feet tall, the remains of some type of structure. There is mortar between the rocks, so it is definitely manmade.

At that time, very few people explored that side of the island. It was a difficult trek over a rocky shore strewn with large boulders. I remember hiking completely around the island a couple times, and it took a good part of the day.

I’ve always wondered about that wall. Who built it? How long ago? Was it part of a complete structure at one time? Is it still there?

If any “06880” readers know anything about this mystery wall, I’d be anxious to hear about it. If anyone ever hikes the south side, see if any part of the wall remains. If I remember correctly it was located near the middle of the southern shoreline, and was easily visible from the shore 40 years ago.

“06880” readers: That’s your late-summer assignment. Please click “Comments” if you can shed any light on the stone wall.

And Leslie, if you’re out there: What’s up with you these days?

18 responses to “Cockenoe Stone Wall Challenge

  1. I’ve been over there recently and don’t know about the wall but I think the south side is still closed off for the birds nesting site til fall.

  2. PS I worked the Big Top for a summer 🙂

  3. Barbara Bangser


  4. I miss the “Palm” tree on the East side of the island.
    Never found the wall despite all my trips there.

  5. Jacques Voris

    As I recall, people resided on the island for some time. Perhaps it is the remains of their abode

  6. Bill, I don’t have an answer re the stone wall. But, since I see there are at least two former Big Top workers following this post, as a former Big Top patron I have the following question: what was the origin of or decision behind using the word “Shoppes” in the full Big Top name/logo?

    “Shoppes” seems to convey something of British origin or of a British nature (especially related to England of centuries ago), But, England has never been known for its burgers, fries, or onion rings, right? (If Big Top had been specializing in fish & chips, of course “Shoppes” would be perfectly understandable.)

    So, while “06880” readers are trying to come up with the answer to your question, I thought perhaps someone would have the answer to this as well. Thanks.

    PS– for former Big Top patrons from the class of ’71, the organizers of the 45th reunion have tentatively scheduled it for the weekend of August 13 or 20, 2016.

    • Bill Whitbeck

      Fred- Yes, the full name was Big Top Shoppes, but I don’t know the reason for the word ‘Shoppes’. I worked at the Westport Big Top in the summers of 1968 and 69. Shortly after, it changed to Hager’s Patio, which was pretty much the same menu. The following summer I worked at the Hager’s in Darien, also on the Post Road. I believe that location is now a Duchess Hamburgers. By the way, it was at the Westport Big Top in 1968 that I saw the first use of a microwave oven! We used it to heat the individual orders of BBQ chicken and ribs, which were first cooked in a big rotisserie. I remember it was an Amana Radarange, and it was huge compared to microwaves now.

  7. First step for the nuclear power plant? mmm

  8. Maybe it’s the first wall for the nuclear power plant. mm

  9. Barbara Paver

    In 1969 my family and three others camped on the west side of the island for the entire summer. Rumor had it that In the 19th century, the island was a working farm with a farmhouse, barn, and livestock. And at low tide livestock would be moved from the island to Saugatuch shores to trade with farms there. We never really had any reason to question that.

    • Diane h silfen

      I had bedn told there were cows on the island. That confirms what I was told

  10. Here’s what I found and wrote up for the WHS exhibit that I curated in 2012: During the Puritan era, Gershom Smith owned Cockenoe and several other Norwalk Islands. he farmed corn, beans and potatoes, and raised cows. When his cows meandered to nearby islands at low tide, Smith rowed over to milk them. In 1868: a distillery replaced farming on Cockenoe. At low tide, oxcarts carried molasses to the island and returned with rum. Eventually, the federal government closed the still. So the wall might be from the farm or from the distillery.

  11. Bob (& LuAnn) Giunta

    Bob started fishing Long Island Sound in 1962 and remembers seeing the partial stone wall back then. The property was higher at the back of the island. So the wall was partially there when he fished as a kid. Also he camped out there with the Boy Scouts. But back to the wall, It slowly deteriorated over the years, and he has no idea who built it. At that time there were several old run-down beach cottages on the island so the thought is someone had a stone wall built as a retaining wall. Over the years it just kept slipping away into the sound. Bottom line: Wall was built many years ago before Bob started fishing.

  12. I remember seeing the stone foundation while duck hunting(no leaves to hide it) and camping in the 60’s.Someone told me they used to make moonshine there during the prohibition and boats would disperse it along the coast, What I find stranger is there appears to be an area of blacktop pavement and small shed on neighboring goose island. Does anyone know the history of that?