Dune town, redux

Fri, 11/11/2022 - 1:45pm

When we study some history we learn that locales define themselves within the confines of supply and demand economics. If people were digging in to settle somewhere, then they would need to develop some industry to fire up an economy and create some goods and services - whip up some supply and demand - to make some money. It’s pretty simple. Once a strong base of supplying the demand for something was developed, a robust economy could grow and expand. A prime example of this is how the island of Nantucket became a successful whaling community in the 1800s. Prior to the folks on Nantucket becoming adept at catching right whales off their shores, their economy was based on farming. The success of farming their land eventually led to a depletion of the soil’s capability to sustain itself. (All resources are limited and must be managed.) Subsequently, the islanders looked to the sea to make a living;
they had to shift gears and redefine what would drive their economy. The island had to reinvent itself. Subsequently, when the Nantucket whalemen discovered the value of the sperm whale and its valuable oil, their economy became flush because of the industrious and efficient nature of hunting this particular type of whale. As a result of this fishery’s expansion, the whaling industry created many goods and services. Fortunes were made and filled some very deep pockets of the Quakers on Nantucket.
Of course, all good things must pass, and around 1830 the island of Nantucket took a hit with regards to supply and demand economics. Three particular problems plagued the thriving and powerful economy of the island. The first threat to the very capable, efficient, inventive and evolved Nantucket whaling industry, was the development of different ways to light cities. There was gas produced from coal, and petroleum products were being developed across the country, thereby affecting the demand for whale oil. This was very bad news not only for Nantucket whalemen, but for whalemen worldwide. Secondly, the California Gold Rush kicked into gear and many of the island’s young men
headed west to perhaps hit the jackpot and clutch it back for a cushy life; whaling was brutal work. Thirdly, the sandy entrance to Nantucket Harbor shoaled up and created dangerous navigational issues for the heavily laden whale ships returning from the hunt. (Nantucket was also a Dune town. Just sayin’.) As a result of these impediments to progress the island economy faltered, and in 1850 the town of New Bedford became the principal player in the whaling industry. Nantucket had to redefine itself. Today, the island is high-end Dune town sustained by fancy houses and the respective goods and services needed to keep said houses looking pristine with perfectly-weathered, curb-side appeal. It’s a solid economy if you are ensconced in, and like, that kind of thing. The building trades fuel this economy along with some standard-issue cool restaurants, marinas, hotels and branded boutiques.
The evolution of Point Judith proper has some interesting maritime history. The first Point Judith lighthouse was built in 1810. This point of land lies in an area where tide convergence, ocean swells, fog, and gales have been an issue for mariners for centuries. It was a necessity for navigation, which assisted coastal trade, and helped goods that were in transit on ships from not getting jammed up on the rocky shoreline of Narragansett and Point Judith. Additionally, the Harbor of Refuge was built to assist mariners transiting the peninsula. With its good holding ground it gave sailors a place to hide out and get a respite from nasty weather - it still does. In my previous column, Dune town, I referenced the gale of 1815 and how it created a breach that evolved to an entrance of Galilee Harbor. Albeit there are several recorded hurricanes in this area of the east coast, this particular gale of wind was a game-changer in regards to what the Port of Galilee would become in future decades.
Fort Greene—named after the intrepid Rhode Islander General Nathanael Greene - was a coastal defense fort during World War II. Hitler’s U-boat service was a menace to the allies who were trying to shut this maniac down on land, in the air and at sea. A U-boat relied on stealth and these ships had to be closely monitored; America and the allies were outgunned by these brilliant and deadly designs. Narragansett Bay’s approaches were also guarded by Fort Church
in Little Compton. Moreover, there were nets across the bay’s entrance to guard from Hitler’s hostile threat. Before Galilee became a tourist destination, a formidable fishing port, and an embarkation point for ferries to Block Island, it was a neighbor to a very important military installation. It’s hard to think of the range and danger of Hitler’s aggression; however, if we study the interior psychology of men like him and Stalin, we’ll find men with no scruples regarding human life. Given this, while the locale of Point Judith was on the way to defining itself with the aforementioned elements of a bustling economy, Point Judith was steeling itself to engage a formidable enemy. Fortunately, our scientists developed sonar, and put Hitler out of business. (A neighbor of mine from Sand Hill Cove named James Harrington, was the sonar operator aboard the destroyer that triangulated U-853, which was sunk with all hands lost after it engaged and sank the collier Black Point. The U-boat captain sank the collier two miles to the southeast of the Point Judith Lighthouse.)
Indeed, the war was at the state’s doorstep. Then, it ended.
After the war, Galilee was emerging as a commercial fishing port, and state engineers and planners were working on plans to help further define this expanding area and economy of the south coast. One of the artist’s picture of the improvement plans considered a protected anchorage near Little Comfort Island, a beach on the north side of the Escape Road, and an air strip, which if built, would’ve decimated the marshland along what is now Sand Hill Cove Road. (Bad idea.) The anchorage made some sense because of its protective location; however, the beach along the Escape Road made no sense whatsoever because of the acres of mud flats and marsh that would need to be moved and destroyed. If we connect the dots, we can see that the proposed air strip was simply an addendum to Fort Greene. It would be a short drive for military personnel to make when they landed.
In 1957, the Escape Road was built, and Galilee expanded and defined itself as a productive fishing port. Supply and demand economics ruled the day. Restaurants like the Portside, The Fo’c’sle, George’s and Champlin’s appeared and succeeded. The Dutch Inn was built in 1967 and had a good run; now it’s a parking lot. Finally, in this Dune town the seasons come and go, gales still blow, the Point Judith light still shines, the ferries run on time, and Milt’s was a great saloon to raise some hell. ‘Nuff said.