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Cockenoe Island: Farm? Distillery? Power plant? Buried Treasure?

Cockenoe Aerial

Cockenoe Island lies 1.5 miles from Longshore. Westport boaters enjoy it's beach and natural cove, but few know the rich history of the island.

Vol. 1, No. 6

Matt Kanaga illustrates the island’s interesting history:

Growing up as a boater in Westport, some of my fondest memories are of the days and nights I spent out on Cockenoe Island (pronounced “kah-KEE-nee”). While most Westporters are familiar with the 27 acre island a mile off of Compo Beach, few have had the opportunity to explore its rocky shores and unique wildlife.

Vegetated by wild rose bushes, oriental bittersweet and sea lavender, and populated by herons, egrets and plovers, Cockenoe is a nature lover’s paradise.  The waters around the island are prolific shell fishing grounds, and you can frequently find Cockenoe oysters on raw bar menus throughout the Northeast.

The Island has a rich history, and was named after 17th century Native American Cockenoe-De-Long Island, one of the first known Indian-English translators.  In fact, Cockenoe means interpreter in the Native American language. 

It is rumored that Captain Kidd buried treasure on Cockenoe during his fateful journey from New York to Boston, where he was arrested and sentenced to death by hanging.  During the 1800’s the island was a working farm, complete with a farmhouse, barn, Einsel's Save Cockenoe poster from the 1960s.  and livestock.  This operation eventually evolved into the more lucrative business of a whisky distillery, which was raided by the Federal Government in 1870.

In the 1960’s, The United Illuminating Company had developed plans to build a nuclear power plant on Cockenoe, but with the threat of Eminent Domain and a concerted effort by local residents, Westport purchased the island in 1967 for $200,000.

Before erosion, the island was believed to be significantly larger and could even be reached by foot at low tide.  Today it can only accessed by boat.   The approach can be shallow, so it is best to get there by kayak or small sailboat.  Cockenoe is a very popular destination for our kayak and sailboat rental customers at Longshore Sailing School.  It’s a mile and a half away, so a trip to Cockenoe and back is a good workout in a kayak and a nice long sail in a Hunter or a Hobie.