There are many ways to get from Westport to Cockenoe Island.
You can sail. You can paddle. You can JetSki.
Or — if you are particularly adventurous — you can walk.
Alert — and creative — “06880” reader Jeff Manchester reports:
“With a super low tide at 8:09 this morning, some intrepid souls took their soles and walked from Saugatuck Island to Cockenoe Island.
From left: Jeff Manchester, Eric Sugerman, 9th graders Jake Coykendall and Tucker Peters, and 8th grader Max Manchester, with their “support vehicle”: a mega-kayak.
“It was a brisk morning in the high 40’s when we started, and only in the 50’s when we returned. However, the water was warmer than the air, so it made for a much more enjoyable journey.
“This is a bucket list item for sure, when the tides and weather cooperate.
En route. (Photo/Mary Sugerman)
“And of course, we have the Einsels, Greens, Jo Fox Brosious and many more to thank for their herculean efforts, saving Cockenoe for future generations from an attempted nuclear power plant over 50 years ago.”
Indeed. Although if that Chernobyl-style structure had actually been built there, today’s water would be a lot warmer.
The former Staples High School wrestling star — now a resident of Saugatuck Shores — writes:
When I was at the original Saugatuck Elementary School in the mid-1970s on Bridge Street, one of the field trips took us on a tour of the town.
The teachers pointed out an onion barge buried in the mud by the Cribari Bridge not far from the school. Today it is still visible. I point it out to my kids at low tide. Do your readers know anything more about this barge?
The barely visible sunken vessel.
But Jeff is not through with onions. He adds:
Interestingly enough, my back yard is on a canal that was dredged at the turn of the last century, for the purposes of a safer route for Westport’s onion farmers.
The page Jeff provides proof — and a history of how “Saugatuck Island” was formed:
t! There’s more! Jeff sends along this story by Gregg Mangan, from ConnecticutHistory.org:
Westport is a quiet beachfront town along Connecticut’s southern coast known for its pristine views of Long Island Sound, its upscale shopping, and its close proximity to New York City.
Many attributes that make Westport a desirable residential community, however, once made it home to a thriving onion farming industry. Boats and railroad cars full of onions from Westport and the surrounding area once flooded the markets of New York.
Around the time of the Civil War, the town of Westport began to commercially farm onions. In April of every year farmers drilled rows of holes 12 inches apart for sowing onions. They separated the abundant rocks from the soil by using machines and rakes or, sometimes, by hand.
Westport farmers originally fertilized the crops using local sources of manure, but the rapid expansion of the industry required the importation of commercial fertilizers along with railroad cars full of manure from horse stables in New York. Local farmers then stored harvested onions in barns where they covered them in hay and cornstalks until eventually adopting the use of heated onion houses.
For the first weeding of onions, an onion carriage, patent number 247,856 by J.C. Taylor, Westport
Horse and oxen teams then carried the onions to the shipping docks. There, men like Captain John Bulkley and his brother Peter piloted their schooners full of onions, oats, butter, eggs, hats, and combs to New York from which they returned with flour, molasses, sugar, mackerel, rum and gin. During the busiest parts of the season, two boats from nearby Southport and one from Westport made weekly trips to New York, complemented by 1 or 2 boatloads of goods shipped by rail.
Southport white, yellow and red globe onions all developed around the Westport area and became staples of the local diet. In New York, yellow and red onions sold for $1.50 per barrel and higher, while white onions commanded as much as $10 per barrel. Westport onion farmers like Talcott B. and Henry B. Wakeman (who lived on opposite sides of the road from one another) helped make Westport onions some of the most popular agricultural products in the Northeast.
The most prosperous years for onion farming in Westport lasted from around 1860 until 1885. By the end of the century, however, the rising costs of fertilizers and competition from larger farming enterprises largely brought an end to the commercial industry in Westport. Farmers then grew onions primarily for the local population, which now included numerous German and Irish immigrants who came to the area to work on the onion farms.
After the decline of the industry, wealthy urbanites slowly developed the farmland for summer homes and permanent housing away from the noise and pollution of the city. This transition from farm land to residential suburb helped mold much of the town’s character into what it is today.
(Courtesy of Edible Nutmeg)
PS: If you remember Onion Alley, now you know the name did not just fall out of the sky.
There can’t be anyone in Westport who has not been impacted in some way by cancer.
So there could be 20,000 or so riders in July, when the CT Challenge Bike Ride pedals off at the Fairfield County Hunt Club.
There won’t be that many, of course. But the 1,000-plus riders — coming from across Fairfield County, and beyond — will have an experience unlike any other bike ride in the world.
The event — now in its 14th year — is a physical challenge (though you choose either a 10, 25, 50, 75 or 100 mile route).
It’s also a festival, complete with live music, a BBQ, buffet lunch, games, massages and more.
Most importantly, it’s a celebration of cancer survivors — and a fundraiser, so the many men, women and children battling the disease can benefit from the fitness, nutrition, and mind-body health programs offered by the sponsor, Southport-based Mission.
It also assists the new Adventure Project, which funds equipment, training, coaching and competition for cancer survivors ages 12 to 30.
Jeff Manchester is one Westporter who knows the devastation caused by cancer. In 2013 his 73-year-old mother Judith planned to ride. But chemo treatments weakened her. So Jeff — and her 5 grandchildren — took her place.
Five years later, they still ride.
Jeff Manchester and his kids (from left) Ella, Logan and Max,
“I’ve been involved in a lot of cancer events and fundraisers,” says Jeff, a 1985 Staples High School graduate. He moved back to Westport in 2011, and runs an independent financial consulting firm.
“They all focus on research. That’s important. But it’s esoteric, and down the road. The CT Challenge is much more immediate and hands-on. It’s a special place, with special people.”
The ride begins with inspirational speakers. This year’s keynoter, Brenna Huckaby, is a Paralympic gold medal snowboarder — and Sports Illustrated’s first-ever amputee swimsuit model.
Up to 1,200 bicyclists line up. But that emotional moment is dwarfed by the sight of a few dozen riders — all in the middle of chemo — taking a loop through the Hunt Club.
“We think our training was tough. But we can’t imagine how they do it, with all they’re going through,” Jeff says.
Another emotional moment comes with the release of butterflies — symbolizing those who have lost their battles.
And they’re off!
As in years past, Jeff will share these experiences with his 3 children.
Twelve-year-old Logan has ridden since he was 6. For him, the best part is the end.
“Everyone lines up, clapping and screaming and calling your name,” he says.
Logan takes his fundraising responsibilities seriously. He has a lemonade stand, sells maple syrup to neighbors, and solicits relatives and friends.
His 9-year-old sister Ella adds, “I’m proud of what I’ve done.”
Jeff first heard of the CT Challenge from childhood friend Mitch McManus, who lost his mother to cancer at a young age. Since that first ride, Jeff has worked his way up to 100 miles.
However, he notes, “It’s a ride, not a race.” Inspirational signs along the route keep him going.
Amy Kaplan: — a cancer survivor — completed the 2013 CT Challenge.
Once, a support vehicle picked up his 7-year-old daughter, and brought her to the top of the next hill. “She took it from there,” he says proudly.
On July 27 and 28, more than 1,000 riders will join the Manchesters, and take the CT Challenge.
If you join them, chances are that — like the Manchesters — you’ll be back every year too.
(The CT Challenge is Friday and Saturday, July 27 and 28. Fundraising minimums are based on distance: 10 and 25 miles, $500; 50 and 75 miles, $750; 100 miles, $1,000. Teams of 4 or more may share funds. Registration fee is $60 to $125, depending on distance. For more information click here, or email email@example.com. For more information on Mission, click here.)
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