The Battle Over Atlantic Avenue
From Peter Barnicle, "The Resurfing of Atlantic Avenue,"
Cohasset Mariner, November 8, 1979. Reprinted by permission
of the Cohasset Mariner.
Today Atlantic Avenue winds near the oceanfront from Nichols Road past
Sandy Beach and over Cunningham Bridge to Beach Street, and then on
to Margin Street at the harbor. In the middle of the nineteenth century,
however, the stretch from Nichols Road [built in 1882] to Beach Street
A number of townspeople, particularly those who owned property in the
area, thought that a macadam roadway, an extension of Jerusalem Road,
would enhance the value of the land and attract builders of summer homes.
Naturally, their reason was that the new homes would bring increased
income to the town.
The proposal to "build a road across 'the island' (Beach Island)"
was first brought up at a town meeting in 1852 and then put on the back
burner. For the next thirty years the necessity for the road was debated
pro and con. Peter Kimball, owner of the Pleasant Beach House, and several
other property owners, agreed to offer the town a right of way through
their land for the road. Kimball went so far as to say he would build
the road through his own land.
It wasn't until the town meeting of 1884 that the proposal was again
brought up at town meeting. The selectmen were asked to study the idea.
However, thus time proponents were ready to do battle. They got up a
petition requesting a special town meeting, and 178 residents signed
J. Q. A. Lothrop, the moderator, called the meeting for September 18,
and the proponents and the remonstrants (the opposition) showed up for
a discussion. Henry D. Hyde, counsel for the opponents, was well prepared.
At least, according to reports of the meeting, he talked for two hours.
Hyde argued that the road was not needed and was more expensive than
the town could afford. He also questioned whether a bridge could be
legally built across the mouth of Little Harbor without the permission
of the legislature. At the time there was a wooden [footbridge] where
Cunningham Bridge now spans the opening. It replaced Cuba Dam, which
had been built around 1765 [and was destroyed in 1851].
How Cuba Dam came by its name is another story. One legend says that
an elderly black from Cuba lived in the area at the time it was built.
Another story is that it was named to commemorate Lord Albemarle's capture
of Havana by the British in 1762. In any case, the dam was built to
protect the salt marshes where haying was a big industry. Several expensive
efforts were made to control the tides, but recurring storms undid the
At the special town meeting, the selectmen decided "to lay out
the proposed road in three distinct locations and secure estimates from
road builders as to the probable cost, and to report to the next annual
town meeting." The "three distinct locations" idea started
another brouhaha. Peter Kimball, whose hotel burned down in 1881, found
that one of the routes would go directly in front of his barn and spoil
several house lots on which he planned to build. Another route would
go through his orchard and over his wells.
Undaunted by the protests, Daniel N. Tower surveyed the routes as outlined
to him by the selectmen. A hearing was held before the Legislative Committee
on Harbors, and members of the committee took time off from their arduous
duties to visit Cohasset for a look at the proposed bridge site.
The matter was on the warrant for the 1885 town meeting and was defeated
by a vote of 127 113. The meeting voted to have "a committee of
seven, appointed by the moderator, to act with the selectmen in revising
and changing the proposed location of the proposed road." W. C.
Burrage, a resident of Beach island and one of the proponents of the
road, was recorded after the meeting as saying, "The selectmen
have been bullied in the matter from the first, threatened with suits
at law and loss of position, talked to and at behind their backs by
some of the first citizens of the town, begrudged the expression of
their opinions, and then forsooth coolly told they 'insult' people by
their labor to improve the town."
Despite the adverse vote, the legislature approved the bridge part
of the project but not before Attorney Hyde made his position perfectly
clear. "My client," he said, "is totally opposed to any
road of whatever name, nature, or description."
The town fathers restudied the road, and finally, in 1890, Atlantic
Avenue as we know it now came into being. Not exactly where it was first
planned along the oceanfront but then you can't have everything.