East Beach Before the 1938 Hurricane

A walk along East Beach

This exhibition was on display at the Handy House in 2017 and 2018. We are indebted to the research of David Jones. Additional images and information can be viewed at http://www.pbase.com/clamflats/westport_postcards.

The community of East Beach is most notable for the fact that it no longer exists. The small town that had developed along the beach in the 19th century was almost completely wiped out by the hurricanes of the 20th century. Despite its disappearance, the East Beach community was a village in its own right with a store, a church, a post office, 120 houses, a dancing hall and a bowling alley.

It is also the location of the greatest tragedy in Westport’s history, the hurricane of 1938 during which 23 people lost their lives, most of whom were trapped on East Beach.

Take a walk along East Beach, from east to west, to explore this once vibrant community.

Who lived on East Beach?

 East Beach/Horseneck Beach was one of two beach communities to develop along the Westport coastline. Westport Harbor became the summer residence of wealthy Fall River mill owners. East Beach, however, attracted a different population, mostly from New Bedford and surrounding towns. Although this community had a few grand houses, the majority of cottages were small and simple, closely packed together, catering to a less affluent population, such as mill workers from Fall River.

East Beach has changed significantly since the hey-day of the summer cottages. It has narrowed and has been eroded. Today, had these cottages survived, they would be located in deep water. The pre-1938 houses are shown here in yellow.

East end of the beach to Farley Lane


By the 1890s, cottages lined the far eastern section of the beach. The houses are remarkably close to the water. Those images that show a large expanse of sand were probably taken at low tide.

The Kingfisher House was one of many businesses that developed along the East Beach. Owned by John T. King, it served as a summer inn for visitors. It also sold groceries, cold drinks, tobacco, ice-cream, candy, and baked goods.

The Plaza Hotel near Farley Lane, viewed from the beach.

A view of the Plaza Hotel from the road that ran behind East Beach.

“Dear Bert, this is a view just east of where we are staying. The large house is the Plaza Hotel just in sight of where we are, only on the opposite side of the road. George is boiling lobsters for supper but that won’t do me any good. We are having plenty to eat although there are no baker carts that come this way. I took a walk this afternoon down as far as Mr. Vogel’s cottage. Will be glad to see you and Elsie. Love to all Mother.”

The hurricane of 1938 washed these structures into the area that is now 1st – 3rd street. The military police used the top story of one cottage as their HQ.

Looking east to the end of the beach. The Kingfisher House is the large building near the center.

Farley Lane to Ocean House

Looking west towards Ocean House.

Sea View Cottage, also known as the Williston Cottage.

Stoney Crest, owned by Elisha Small, became “one of the show places” on East Beach.  Mr. Small’s summer home was a popular meeting place for dances and for activities of the Social and Improvement Association.

A view from across The Let showing Ocean House Barn, Ocean House, Stoney Crest and Sea View.

What was the function of this strange “observatory” structure at the far right, next to the Sea View?

Ocean House, one of the earliest East Beach hostelries, was established in 1883 by Josiah Wood. It was destroyed by fire in 1932.

The Trafford Cottages

Dating from 1886, this is one of the earliest photographs of East Beach showing the beach before most of the Trafford cottages were built.

The grandest houses on East Beach belonged to the Trafford, Lewis and Bloomingdale families. The Traffords and Lewises owned the Westport Factory.

A group sits on the porch of one of the Trafford cottages.

These grand “cottages” were architecturally ambitious, surrounded by beautifully landscaped lawns and other plantings.  The stonework was created from beach cobbles.

“This is where I have been hanging out…

A view from East Beach Road. The Trafford cottages were near the midpoint of the beach with the ocean in front and the Let across the road.

The location of the Trafford cottages, before and after the hurricane. Although the Trafford cottages seemed exceptionally solid structures, they became death traps during the hurricane of 1938.  Several people took shelter here, however no one was to survive the storm.

Stonehurst Cottage, Surfside Hotel and Burden Head House

A view from the water showing “Stonehurst” cottage, Surfside Hotel and Burden Head’s boarding house.

Stonehurst Cottage

Stonehurst Cottage was part of this elegant row of small houses west of the Trafford cottages.

The Surfside Hotel, owned by Lydia and John Gifford, was a popular destination, serving vacationers for over 50 years. The Surfside Hotel appears on many postcards. It must have been a fun place to stay!

John Gifford with his dogs “Doctor” and “Buff” and the two cats.

The Surfside’s elegant dining room provided chowder, lunches and refreshments.

“Dear Sir, Dinner is served at the Surfside Hotel Sundays parties can be accomadated (sic) through the week”

The Giffords also owned a store and post office.

By 1927, the Gifford’s Store became the John Alden Store.

Frederick Burden Head was one of the first residents on East Beach and an enthusiastic hunter. By 1876, he established a boarding house to accommodate duck hunters. He perished in the 1938 hurricane.

His boarding house stood at the western end of East Beach. Head recalled:

“As many as 150 hunters roomed at my house in the early years when ducks and other fowl such as loons and quail were plentiful…I shot as many as 86 ducks in one day and shipped them to the markets in New York and Boston.”

St. Rose of Lima Chapel stood next to Gifford’s Store. Like most buildings it was washed away during the hurricane of 1938. Its remnants were found ¼ mile inland from its former location.

The Winslow Cottage, Lifesaving Station and Allen’s Bathing Pavilion


 For many years, the Winslow Cottage stood on its own near the end of East Beach.

By 1910 the Winslow Cottage was part of this row of houses at the end of the beach, along the road leading to Horseneck Point. The causeway to Gooseberry Neck was yet to be built at this time.

The Breakers, a roller skating rink, was built in 1922 and destroyed by fire in 1928.

A view of East Beach before and after the 1938 hurricane.

State-O-Maine Lunch stood at the intersection of John Reed Road and East Beach Road.

The building that houses the lifesaving station was one of the few survivors of the 1938 hurricane. Erected in 1888, the station was part of a network of lifesaving stations established by the Massachusetts Humane Society. It ceased operation in 1913, and the building as pictured here, was converted into a restaurant. In recent years it has been restored, and is now open to the public.

Allen’s Bathing Pavilion at the base of the Gooseberry Neck Causeway. This view from the 1940s shows houses that survived the hurricane and remain today.