1885 real estate promotional map for West Island on Buzzard’s Bay

C[harles] O[tis] Boutelle / Heliotype Printing Co., U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey J. E. Hilgard, Supdt. West Island And Vicinity Buzzard’s Bay Mass. Surveyed in 1845 … Copied from the Original in Archives of the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey Office for Mr. Horace S. Crowell, 27 State St. Boston, Mass. Boston: [Horace Crowell?], [ca. 1885].
Heliotype, 27 ¾”h x 21 ½”w at sheet edge, some hand color. Folds, some gentle toning and minor soiling. Very good.

An unrecorded map of West Island and Sconticut Neck on Buzzards Bay, based on an earlier chart by the U.S. Coast Survey and privately printed around 1885 for real estate magnate Horace S. Crowell.

This intriguing map depicts the area around Sconticut Neck and West Island, located on Buzzards Bay a few miles southeast of New Bedford. There is a considerable amount of detail, including dashed lines likely demarcating field or property boundaries, as well as a variety of symbols indicating wetlands, woodlands and tidal flats. Tiny boxes indicate the locations of residences, apparently no more than four or five in all (Today, by contrast, the southern end of Sconticut Neck and west side of West Island are rather densely built-up.) An inset at upper right emphasizes the area’s proximity by road to Fairhaven and New Bedford, with connections from thence by the Old Colony Railroad.

The map is based on an 1845 survey conducted by the U.S. Coast Survey, then copied in 1885[1] at the request of Horace S. Crowell of Boston, who that same year purchased the thousand-acre West Island. The purchase was part of a larger deal that also encompassed Wing’s Neck, Nye’s Point, Great Island, and Charles’ Neck, some 3500 acres in total.

Crowell secured permission from local officals to construct the causeways illustrated on the map, and promptly began construction. (Fall River Daily Evening News, New Bedford Evening Standard, June 3, 1885, May 25, 1886) The causeways rendered West Island accessible, allowing for residential development and enhancing value of real estate value on both the island and at Sconticut Neck on the mainland. For roughly the next seven years, Crowell advertised his West Island property, in papers across the country, including The Chicago Tribune and The Buffalo Commercial, with the description “Buzzard’s Bay — large island connected with the main land by a causeway. Well wooded, beautiful beaches, about six miles shoreline” (April 22, 1886, p. 7; April 22, 1892, p. 10). Late in 1892 he succeeded in selling the island to real estate dealer Frank Obear of St. Louis (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 28, 1892, p. 7). No doubt this map was ordered by Crowell as part of his campaign to promote the island.

Horace Crowell, born in 1849 and educated in South Boston, spent around a half century in the real estate business until his death in 1924. He was quite successful, known as an authority on Cape Cod and high-end seashore properties in southeastern Massachusetts. He had particular interest in the area around Buzzards Bay, which according to his obituary he knew “better than almost any other man, and his judgment on property in that section was considered final” (Boston Globe, April 24, 1924, p. 15). This same obit asserts that “it is claimed for him, that he sold or bought for others practically every one of the big Summer estates on the Cape.” One of his greatest and proudest achievements was the development of Penzance, a desirable residential district of large estates in Wood’s Hole. In 2020 a Penzance Point estate sold for $20 million, the highest real estate transaction ever on Cape Cod.

Not in OCLC.

[1] See The Executive Documents of the House of Representatives for the First Session of the Forty-Ninth Congress. 1885-’86. Volume 23, p. 89.