Guilford to Move ‘Iconic’ Grass Island Shack Amid Coastal Erosion Concerns

Grass Island Shack in Guilford (CT Examiner).


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GUILFORD — Town officials are looking to relocate the Grass Island Shack away from the western shoreline, which has eroded significantly over the past year, to prevent it from potentially collapsing into Long Island Sound.

The shack doesn’t geologically sit on an island, but rather at the end of a peninsula that extends west from Neck Road in Madison. During high tide, the water levels cover a portion of the peninsula, making the area near the shack temporarily an island and unreachable by land. 

Town Engineer Janice Plaziak said Friday that exposure of the pier posts on the west side of the building have increased over the past year.  

“We don’t know how deep these piers are sitting on,” she said. “It’s about 7 feet from the top of the deck to the ground as of the other day. At one point, the deck was roughly about 2.5 to 3 feet on the front side. It’s still about that on the back side. We don’t know how it was built.”

Plaziak said sand has started to collect north of the shack on the peninsula. 

“The high tide line is under the building now,” she said. “It disappeared pretty quickly this past year. All of a sudden it’s sitting in the water. It is erosion. It’s displacement of sand. … We’re going to explore what it takes to move it, try to get permits, see how much it costs and see if the town wants to spend money on it.”

Grass Island Shack in Guilford (CT Examiner).

The plan is to move the shack between 45 and 90 feet away from the west side of the peninsula, bringing it higher off the waterline, she said. Exactly how and when the operation would take place, Plaziak said, is still unknown. The proposal involves building new piers behind the shack and then sliding the shack from the current set of support beams to the new ones.

“We’re still trying to gather information from the structural engineer,” she said. “We’re waiting on CT DEEP to do a natural diversity database review to see if they have any concerns regarding endangered species, and then we have to take it to local planning and zoning to see if they have any concerns and get their approval. Then we would have to engage the engineer to design something to put a bid package together and put it out to bid.”

The shack has been unoccupied since 1965, when the town assumed ownership of it. Since it isn’t a residence or a commercial building, Plaziak called it a monument.

“It’s iconic,” she said. “It’s not really historic as in anything there to preserve. It is historic in that it’s been there forever.”

Town historian Joel Helander prefers to call it a cottage versus a shack. 

“The Monroe family, when they had it, they called it a cottage,” he said Friday. “It’s a beautiful area. The subject of artists and photographers for years.”

He said Grass Island was originally called Sandy Point, a name it had as early as 1730. 

“A local resident, named Samuel Hill acquired it as a grant from the town,” he said. “It’s described as Sandy Point. It was Sandy Point forever. Then the last of his descendants was a merchant in Guilford named Samuel Johnson. He was the last in a long line of descendants to own it. The descendants of Sam Hill sold it to a first selectman of Guilford and then subsequently sold it to J. Harrison Monroe. He was the local druggist in town.”

The Monroe family built a cottage in 1914 for family getaways, Helander said, but it was destroyed in a fire in 1936.

“It was rebuilt shortly after,” he said. “This is the second cottage. It’s been moved over the years to move it back from the onslaught of Long Island Sound.”

Helander called the latest relocation attempt of Grass Island Shack “a great preservation project.” 

“The town is to be lauded for their efforts of preservation because it is an iconic visual on our landscape,” he said. 

Much of the rebuilt 1936 cottage is gone and has been renovated over the years, most significantly when Eagle Scout John Markowski made substantial upgrades in 2015 and 2016. 

“There may be a few token timbers left,” Helander said of the 1936 version of the shack. “It’s substantially a replica of what was there.”

Though the shack hasn’t been used for any practical purpose since the Monroe family sold it to the town in 1965, Helander said “it’s a Guilford landmark.” 

“It has lonely beauty,” he said. “In spite of its disrepair, it is a revered landmark on our Sound-scape. It’s been photographed and painted over and over. It’s appeared on mugs, towels, and paintings in business offices. It’s a part of heritage tourism.”