Monday, October 5, 2009

Day 9: Digression: The theory of waterfront property

I awoke early, in my chilly anchorage at the mouth of Buzzards Bay. Had some time to wait before the tide started flowing into the Bay, which I hoped would carry me all the way to the west end of the Cape Cod Canal and, with luck, right through it into Cape Cod Bay.

It had been a damp night as well as a cold one, and the decks and cushions were soaked -- as if someone had been playing a firehose on the boat all night.

After the obligatory caffeine, I got out the binoculars and scanned the shore. Obviously a posh part of the world, especially on Mishaum Point, in the town of Dartmouth, MA. At the very end of the point was a house I tried to take a picture of, but I didn't have a long enough lens and the images I got couldn't do justice to the Pharaonic scale of the thing. Here's the Google satellite image, which may give you some idea:

What the satellite photo doesn't show you is the arrogant bearing of this swaggering, obviously bran-new structure -- the spelling is a little hommage to the Veneering family, in Our Mutual Friend:

Mr and Mrs Veneering were bran-new people in a bran-new house in a bran-new quarter of London. Everything about the Veneerings was spick and span new. All their furniture was new, all their friends were new, all their servants were new, their plate was new, their carriage was new, their harness was new, their horses were new, their pictures were new, they themselves were new, they were as newly married as was lawfully compatible with their having a bran-new baby, and if they had set up a great-grandfather, he would have come home in matting from the Pantechnicon, without a scratch upon him, French polished to the crown of his head.
192 Mishaum Point Road -- for such is the address of this ziggurat, if the Dartmouth town records are to be believed -- dates from 2006. Here's just-the-facts-Maa'm, from the town:

Property Information for 192 Mishaum Point Rd
Property Features  
    * Single Family Residence
    * Year Built: 2006
    * 5 Bedrooms
    * 9 Bathrooms
    * Approximately 19,138 Sq Ft
    * Lot size: 283,576 Sq Ft
    * Stories: 2
    * Rooms: 11
Financial History:

Last sold on 6/25/1992
Last assessed at $18,778,700 on 2009

Previous assessments

    * $18,778,700 on 2009
    * $19,113,500 on 2008
    * $10,115,400 on 2007

Source: Public Records 
This vast overbearing structure apparently occupies part of the site of a former military installation, the Mishaum Point Fire Control Station. Here's what DoD has to say:
The United States acquired the site in 1943 and 1944.... The Army used the site, known as the Mishaum Point Fire Control Station, during World War II as part of the harbor defense of New Bedford. The Army built a battery for two 6-inch guns, barracks, an infirmary, a fire station, a radar operations building, a radar tower, two generator buildings, nine other temporary buildings, and a 40,000-gallon reservoir... In 1960 the 0.14 acre leasehold was terminated. In 1963 the 26.84 acres fee were reported excess to General Services Administration (GSA). GSA conveyed the 26.84 acres fee to Richard S. Perkins, et ux. in November 1964. The site is currently privately owned by several owners. The area is an exclusive beach front residential area.

SITE VISIT: A site visit was conducted on 20 November 1992 by David Larsen and Robert Martin of CENED-PL. They were accompanied by John Barrows, President, Mishaum Point Association (508-994-1042).


a. CON/HTW. CENED suspects that there are two 5000 gallon underground storage tanks (USTs) located inside buried concrete vaults at Battery 210. A third 1000-gallon UST is located near the generator house foundation on the Parker property. The tanks are a potential source of environmental contaminants.

b. OEW. The site was used by DOD as a gun battery. Initially there were two 155mm GPF guns. Upon construction of Battery 210, these guns were removed. Battery 210 consisted of two 6-inch rifled guns mounted on concrete gun emplacements 200 feet apart. Between them, in a concrete structure covered with earth, were powder magazines, shell rooms, compressor rooms, storerooms, a plotting room, a latrine, a circulating water system room, a water cooler room, a power plant, and a muffler gallery. Today Battery 210 has a modern dwelling built on top.

One can only hope a large number of artillery shells were left behind, and that they will spontaneously detonate while I'm passing on my next trip -- at a safe distance offshore, of course. I don't think I'll anchor nearby again. But I will try to have the camera ready, for a change.

* * *

Few waterfront "residences" are quite so grandiose as this 192 Mishaum Point Road. But it's by way of a type specimen.

Sailing the last couple of years along the New England coast, I've come increasingly to feel that the signal I am getting from the houses along the shore is a bit thin. I seldom get any sense of social geography: no sense that various kinds of people are at the shore for various kinds of reasons, no sense that in a given huddle of houses there might be any kind of social complementarity -- the doctor's house, the fisherman's house, the crazy sea-captain's widow's house, the parsonage, the grocer's house, the house with a car up on cinder blocks, the untidy boatyard where some boats are cared for and some have been long abandoned to the elements.

Of course you can't know these things. But there are streetscapes, townscapes, shorescapes, that suggest such stories.

The posh prosperous Northeastern coast seldom does that, I'm sorry to say. The stories it suggests tend to be "hedge fund creep" -- "successful plastic surgeon" -- "partner in a Boston law firm" -- "real estate speculator."

Buildings in general send many messages -- in fact any given building may send many messages. Up The Guelphs. Vikings Go Home. Benedictine Hospitality Here. The Middle Ages Weren't So Bad. Barberini Rule. Delicious Lobster Roll!

But for mile after weary mile of the Northeastern coast, all the buildings send the same message, in more or less loud voices: Waterfront Property. I Cost A Lot Of Money. You Can't Afford Me.


  1. I must say, I'm enjoying this whole trip, and I'm not getting wet or cold! Though I did have to wade into Caspian Lake this morning for a bucket of water -- twice -- in my hiking boots, so I have a bit of sympathy. For you, not the people who build houses with nine bathrooms. Nine! Can you imagine? Hmm, where shall I pee this time?

  2. I've just stumbled across your path -- Susan, I was going to email you to see if you were among the vicarious sailors.

    It's all too delicious; exercising remarkable self restraint I'm rationing myself to one entry a day. It brings back memories of a night spent with my father on the Adastra (a 26' sloop he designed and built), trying to sleep to the clanging of lines on the mast, and my father's explitatives after discovering he'd used the bug spray in lieu of nasal spray. Charlotte

  3. That clanging of the halyards against the mast is the most obnoxious part of sailing. I hate it myself, and I have devised a very ghetto-looking arrangement of bungee cords to keep the halyards away from the mast whenever there's the slightest wind. I still get the occasional clang but I don't get that metronomic thwack, thwack, thwack. It's butt-ugly but it's worth it. I just wish all the other boats in the harbor would do the same.

    Bug spray instead of nasal spray -- wow. That would put you in a surly mood for maybe the next six months, I'd think.

  4. The mast isn't wooden anymore? I guess not!