(This article was written by Beverly Perna before the cottage was torn down, and has been updated.)
An iconic Ipswich landmark, the last privately owned cottage on the Ipswich end of Plum Island, was turned over to the Fish and Wildlife Service and was taken down in 2016.
Boaters and Great Neck residents were most familiar with the camp with its flag pole and red shutters. It stood alone for several years, the lone survivor and last testament to bustling seasonal Plum Island activity. The cottage has also been the subject of many photos and paintings. In the past, when such cottages and camps were turned over to the feds, they were bulldozed then burned.
As part of the federal government’s eminent domain takeover of the southern end of the island in the 1940s, cottage owners were given the option of fair-market payment for their properties or leasing their plots until the owner died.
Dorice Goodwin, owner of “Goodwin’s Camp” passed away a year ago, and family members have until May 23rd to clear the cottage of belongings. The Bluffs at Stage Island will seem sadly vacant if nature takes over the site. The mission of the Fish and Wildlife Service was to restore the island to natural habitats as part of the wildlife refuge. Although family members knew the time was coming when they would have to give up their camp, now that it is happened, they are filled with nostalgic sadness.
Amber Knowles Hovey of Rowley, Goodwin’s niece, spent many summers at the camp, purchased by her grandparents in the late 1930s. She shared memories of vacationing in the idyllic spot, despite the fact it has no running water or electricity.
“You were out of communication. It was like you stepped out of the world,” she said.
The Knowles family held an annual reunion there each year and met last August for what they knew would be the final time. Family members from Florida, Virginia, New York, and New Hampshire gathered with local relatives to celebrate their years at the cottage.
Hovey’s aunt was on the deed as a result of her loaning her father the money required to buy out his partner’s share of the cottage. Her father put her name on the deed. She was a young schoolteacher at the time, and her long life of 88 years granted her extended family many happy years of camp experiences.
Hovey recalled that in the early days, the camp, now accessible by a dirt road through the refuge, could be reached only by boat. The husbands of vacationing families would go to the Ipswich Yacht Club after work, toot their car horns three times and flash their headlights, and soon a boat was underway from the camp to pick them up.
“The kids were never bored,” she said, describing croquet and horseshoe tournaments in addition to fishing, swimming, and exploring the island. Evenings were filled with board games by lantern and candles. The camp was filled with treasures found on the island. “All the decorations in the place were things kids found and dragged back,” she said.
Everyone brought old sneakers to fill the “sneaker box” so there would always be footwear to protect from the rocky beach that surrounds the site. “We also had a big box of comic books that never left the place,” she said.
The camp could accommodate as many as 16-20 family members with four bedrooms upstairs each with multiple beds, and daybeds on the first floor. When pressed for space, Hovey recalled her grandmother putting up kids on cots in the attic. “In the morning we could hear the seagulls overhead on the roof,” she said.
She remembered boat trips over to the store on Pavilion Beach to pick up milk and other supplies. “But we could pretty much live off the land with fish, clams, oysters and little strawberries we gathered,” she said.
Because the family knew their time to enjoy the camp was drawing short, maintenance had lapsed, although Hovey said the inside was still in pretty good shape. Up until recently everyone pitched in to keep the place tidied. Initially, her grandparents brought out a goat to eat the brambles. Once cleared, all family members who visited were expected to keep the lawn with a rotary mower despite the bugs and heat.
The cottage was built in the 1890s when Stage Island was a hubbub of activity with hotels filled with pleasure seekers brought over on steamers. The Goodwin Camp was built by Nathaniel Dole who called it “The Anchorage.” It stood at the head of a large dock, long gone, where passengers walked up to the island.