GUILFORD >> The Grass Island shack, one of the town’s most iconic landmarks, has had been the go-to spot over the years for partying, picnicking, prom proposals, playing on the roof, pictures and paintings.
Yet since mid-September a red snow fence has encircled the building with multiple signs in red large red lettering stating, “AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL ONLY NO PUBLIC ACCESS.”
“The whole thing is leaning. It’s not in good shape,” said Parks and Recreation Director Rick Maynard. “That, as you know, is iconic Guilford and the town wants to preserve it.”
As part of his endeavor to earn his Eagle Scout ranking, John Markowski, a Life Scout from Boy Scouts of America Troop 471, has stepped forward to lead the restoration project.
“I just happened to be looking for my Eagle Scout project around the same time and thought that it would be a great project to fix the shack so that it’s safe enough again so that there doesn’t have to be the fence around it,” said the 16-year-old.
An original summer cottage constructed on the west shore of the island in 1914 by local druggist J. Harrison Monroe was destroyed by fire around 1936. The current structure was built around 1940 and moved to its current location in 1950.
The town purchased the building, plus 7 acres of Grass Island land, for $15,000 in September 1965 from Bradford Monroe.
At the time, “I remember there was a lot of controversy — some of the old Yankees didn’t want to buy all that salt marsh for all that money,” according to Carl Balestracci, local historian.
With nearly equal parsimony, under the auspices of the Parks and Recreation Department, the town has made small repairs over the years, including replacing boards and roof shingles. Yet there is no money in the budget to undertake the type of restoration project that is essential today.
“We do repairs to it, as needed,” said First Selectman Joseph S. Mazza. “But a major renovation of this type was never planned for.
“We never wanted to do much to it to change the character of it,” added Mazza. “But now it becomes a point of we have to look at the structure itself and the structural integrity of it.”
Town Historian Joel Helander recalls that over the years many local groups have stepped forward to donate their time and energy to restore the shack.
“It’s had very narrow escapes from demolition, including now” said Helander. “It’s just like all good preservation, it take a grassroots citizens’ group to come forward to save it.”
Markowski will spearhead fundraising, working with town officials, architects, builders and local businesses to preserve the local landmark. Initially he will work with his team of professionals to determine the cost of the project.
He plans to personally solicit local businesses for donations, raises funds through Go Fund Me (www.gofundme.com/grassislandshack) and spread the word on social media.
At press time, the Go Fund Me page had raised $745 toward its $12,000 goal. Checks can also be sent directly to the First Selectman Joseph S. Mazza, Town of Guilford, 31 Park St., Guilford, CT 06437.
The goal is to raise the funds and begin construction in early spring 2016.
“I can’t bear to see the Grass Island shack gone, I hope you can save it!” wrote Carolyn Vanacore on the Go Fund Me page.
“Having my own Eagle Scout, I know how much work this will be to undertake this endeavor, this is a very worthwhile project!”
Ruth Cost shared a photo of a 1970s painting of the red shack done by local artist Tad Smith. It was on display in her family’s restaurant, Chello Oyster House, a popular local eating establishment from 1934 to the mid-1990s.
“I’ve seen this pic in hotel rooms, shops, and one time we had it in our restaurant, the man who painted it was Guilford native, his daughter still lives here,” Cost wrote.
“I am all for the restoration, it is GUILFORD.”
Markowski said he is encouraged by all the positive feedback he has received so far.
“Everyone seems to be very supportive,” said Markowski. “They want to see it fixed and still standing.”
Facebook Save the Shack; www.savetheshackguilford.com, 203-453-8015