By Karen Back
One might think that someone having grown up in a home literally surrounded by water – Cedar Swamp, Paw Wah Pond
and Little Pleasant Bay – might become blasé about the wonder of the experience. Not so for 84-year-old, Rachia
Heyelman, who has a life lease on 109 Portanimicut Road and has made a personal and financial commitment to keeping
this bay fronted parcel undeveloped, by its transfer of ownership to the Orleans Conservation Trust (OCT.)
From her, one is exposed to a wealth of knowledge about this specific site in South Orleans and the seven generations of
family who preceded her. Once entirely cleared for farming in the 1600s, this land has since the early 20th century been
transforming to forest, mostly oak which later will again transition to include beech and birch trees. Ms. Heyelman
nurtures a remnant of an asparagus patch at her nearby home as a reminder of the asparagus industry which had been
important to the Cape economy.
This property had passed down through her mother, Thelma, directly from Rogers to Higgins to Nickersons and finally to
her brother Charles Heyelman.
In 1658 the son of a Mayflower Pilgrim purchased what became Deacon Rogers Meadow, from the Nauset Indians, to
obtain a source of vital salt hay, as winter fodder for cattle. Now the marsh is considered critical for the health and
preservation of Pleasant Bay.
Rachia’s mother, cognizant that development of this area would threaten it, bought up as much land as she could afford as
it became available. There are 20 acres and a house adjacent, which Rachia plans to bequeath directly to OCT.
Visits to the property, which are encouraged, quickly reveal the esthetic value of preserving it. On 1.8 acres of shaded lawn
sit two charming cottages, which sadly, are not viable for restoration, but whose colorful shutters ornamented with
sailboats, have excited many salvage collectors. At the edge of the firm turf the marsh begins. The tract of a tidal creek
meanders to a sliver of beach, the width of which is dependent on the tide cycle.
A previous attempt to dam the creek, in hopes of creating a cranberry bog proved unsuccessful due, perhaps, to the high
salinity of the bog water. Now a stand of phragmites flourishes, a plant which may have been present since Colonial times,
though considered a recent invader.
From across the expanse of Little Pleasant Bay, Hog island rises to view. A catboat or two can be seen scuttling by today,
where, as once, in summer, this place was replete with kids in sailboats from the numerous boy’s and girl’s camps that
dotted the shore from Frost Fish Cove along the Namequoit River on down to Chatham.
In Colonial times a break in the barrier beach, just South of Hog Island, had established a channel sufficiently deep for large
vessels to traverse from the ocean to Town Cove. A legend has it that Captain Kidd stopped at Money Head (hence the
appellation) on Hog Island to bury treasure.
Over the years there have been many folks who attempted to locate it. These include two veterans, recently home from
WW II, who while vacationing at Thelma’s rental cottages, heard the tale. They left the Cape, returning with equipment
for an exploration but the cache remained elusive, as it has been to this day.
While Captain Kidd’s bounty remains hidden deep in the cliffs, the valuable legacy of 109 Portanimicut Road will endure
and enrich our water, our land and our lives.
Karen Back is an Orleans Pond Coalition board member. She thanks the Orleans Conservation Trust and the OPC board members for
an introduction to Ms. Heyelman. Water, Water Everywhere appears monthly.