Brief History of Little Harbor
From Savor of Salt, edited by Jacqueline M.
Dormitzer (Cohasset, Mass., 2006), pp. 61-63.
A few miles west of [Cohasset] Harbor is Little Harbor. It is so called
[because] it originally was a tenth of its present size.
Between about 1685 and 1732, Daniel Lincoln had a large farm on [what
is now] Sohier Street near Ripley Road. He took his excess produce by
boat to sell in Boston. His wharf was in Little Harbor near the Common.
In the spring of 1728 [a group of landowners] proposed to build a
stone dam at its natural outlet [to the sea]. This would allow Little
Harbor to be used as pastureland without fear of flooding . . . The
dam was finally built in 1765. It was called Cuba Dam, believed [to
be named] in honor of [England’s] victorious capture of Havana
from Spain in 1762. The dam held out not only the [sea] but also water
[that washed] over the nearby beach in storms, rains, and melting snow.
Around 1800 a deep ditch was dug the whole length of Little Harbor
and a wood sluiceway was built across Sandy Beach to the sea. However,
before this sluice was used, it was buried in the sand by a storm. It
is still there, intact, and the tops of the pilings are often visible
in the lowest tides of winter.
A second attempt was made in 1804. Elisha Doane headed the Cohasset
Meadows and Flats Company. They punched a hole through the dam and fitted
it with a strong gate. This gate closed and remained shut by the pressure
of a rising tide. The sluiceway was lined with boards to prevent erosion.
This [effort] was a complete success, and nearly 100 acres were opened
for pasturage. The company divided the land into strips and rented them
out to the nearby farmers.
However, in the great Minot’s Light Gale of 1851, the storm-driven
waves washed right over the dam. Ezra Towle, who lived at 272 North
Main Street, had retired from being a sea captain to become a contractor
and stage line owner. He was hired to clear out and open the tide gates
to allow the salt water to escape. [But] the gates were jammed too tightly
and he was forced to dynamite the whole dam. The pent-up water rushed
out so fast that it took all the good earth with it. In just a few hours,
Little Harbor was transformed into the large sandy-bottomed area it
A few years before, Edward Cunningham had built his summer home on
Beach Island. This Milton resident was an agent of a Boston clipper
ship company and was one of our first summer visitors. He also built
an unusual Chinese-style cottage on Brush Island just off Sandy Beach.
It was painted Chinese red and was furnished with oriental items brought
over by his clippers. Cunningham [would come] from Boston by . . . train
and then walk down Beach Street and across the dam to his cottage.
When the dam was destroyed, he had a small footbridge built over the
now enlarged outlet of Little Harbor. The present bridge is the fourth
Cunningham Bridge. Cunningham was murdered at his Milton home shortly
after the turn of the century. His unusual house on Brush Island was
set afire and destroyed in 1929 by rumrunners. However, his descendants
still own the property. This house is not to be confused with the one
on the Black Rocks at the end of Forest Avenue, near Straits Pond. This
started out as a gunning shack in the 1870s.
On Beach Street is a small inlet known as Mohawk Run. No one today
knows why it is so called. It was here during the Revolution that the
Pest House stood. [At that time] there was an outbreak of the dreaded
smallpox . . . People could be inoculated to prevent it, receiving a
hopefully weakened strain of the disease. However, many feared an epidemic
could break out from those vaccinated. Thus they were shut away for
a few weeks in a small house built for the purpose some miles distant
from the village.
From Robert Fraser, “Little Harbor,” Cohasset Vignettes,
privately printed, 1981. Reprinted by permission of the author.