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The Controversial Creeks
The Sherwood family owned only a small part of what is today Sherwood Island State Park. Their land was on the Sherwood’s Island uplands on the west side. The marshland on the east side had many owners. In the olden days, Sherwood’s Island (formerly Fox Island) was bounded by Gallop’s Gap Creek, which no longer exists. [In the sources, spellings vary.]
This is a cut-out from a larger map of Westport in about 1868. (Source: Magic: Map and Geographic Information Center (UConn)). We have added notations to show New Creek and what was apparently Gallop's Gap Creek (GG).
Gallop’s Gap Creek
In his 1933 book, George P. Jennings noted the opinion of some that Gallup Gap Creek was named after galloping horses on the “horse pasture.” Not so, he says. It was named for Captain John Gallup, a hero of the Pequot War. He also says that the creek was dammed in 1715 because it was drawing off water from the Sherwood Mill Pond. [See notes.]
In the 1868 map (above) Sherwood’s Island is the area between Sherwood’s (Compo) Pond and Gallop’s Gap Creek.
For many years, Sherwood Island State Park did not include Sherwood’s Island.
Jennings pointed this out in a 1929 letter to the Bridgeport Telegram, when a controversy raged about the dredging of New Creek [see notes].
This is a cut-out from a larger map in George Penfield Jennings' 1933 book Greens Farms. We have added notations on the right: New Creek between Burial Hill and the park lands, and a "B" to designate the western end of Beachside Avenue. The Jennings map is a stylized composite that mingles different points in time and is not meant to be historically accurate. Here, the whole area between Compo Pond and Burial Hill is marked "Sherwood Island," but in his 1929 newspaper article, Jennings made a distinction.
In 1929, there were only 48 acres of parkland, all between what was Gallop’s Gap Creek and Burial Hill.
In his letter to the paper, Jennings said: “Gallops Gap Creek together with Compo Pond formed Sherwood’s Island.”
“The state park lands are very largely within the stretch of beach from New Creek to the former outlet of Gallop’s Gap creek, nearly a half mile, and reaching northerly to Long Ditch … so the state park lands are within Machamux, not formerly Sherwood Island.
“Machamux (Indian) would be an alternate name for the state park on Sherwood’s Island.”
Mr. Jennings went on to say that New Creek was deep enough to be a shipping port before the Revolutionary War.
1929: the New Creek dredging controversy
In the 1914-23 period, the State had acquired 48 acres of land, mainly marshland and a strip of beach, but the land was inaccessible to the public except by crossing over New Creek from the Town of Westport’s Burial Hill (Burying Hill) Park. [See acquisitions.] For many years, the creek (ditch) between Burial Hill and the parkland was dry or almost dry, so people and cars could get across. In the summer of 1929, at the direction of George Gair (who was also Chairman of Westport’s Board of Finance), the ditch was deepened several feet and widened to 30 feet. Gair said this was necessary for mosquito control.
Since Gair was the leading opponent of the park, most park supporters saw this as a means to keep people out of the park — but George Jennings, a park supporter, argued that the dredging was justified because New Creek had been a deep creek in the past. He said: “There are evidences of a dock landing and store on the creek. … Captain J.A. Parcell, who has resided in Greens Farms for over 60 years, a farmer near New Creek, and at various times a seafaring man tells me that when he was 15 years old he said on an oyster sloop and they entered New Creek Harbor at half tide. Their vessel drew two and one half feet: and he says that Captain Bob Depyster had a sloop drawing five feet and has seen it sail into New Creek Harbor.”
Further: “When the Compo Tide Mill was running there was a tremendous flood of water into the pond through Gallops creek to New Creek. the waters would ebb and flow either way. Long Ditch became a deep canal some 15 feet wide. When Compo Tide Mill shut down 25 years ago the doors and tide gates still remained. So only a small flow of water leaked there, and the outlet was there. It followed that sluggish waters prevailed at New Creek after severe storms helped to fill it with gravel.”
A breakwater was built, but “the ever resistless action of the water has carried sand and gravel around the breakwater into the creek outlet. The town of Westport is clearly within its rights in dredging New Creek, and it should be deepened to low water for drainage, and for health and as a harbor for boats. The State Park Commission should build a bridge across New Creek in justice to the people who now have to ford the water.”
More notes from the 1929 Jennings letter:
Gallops Gap creek is the tidal outlet for Port Royal Brook, known also as Muddy Brook, and originally emptied into Long Island Sound just east of the upland of Sherwood Island, or some half mile west of New Creek at Burial Hill Park.
The Gallops Gap creek together with Compo Pond formed Sherwood’s Island. Formerly there was no water connection between Gallops Gap creek and New Creek. … The proprietors of the Compo Tide Mill wanted the flowage of water that passed through Gallops Gap creek turned into Compo Mill Pond. Somehow an act of the General court was passed allowing the closing of Gallops Creek inlet. … Then the farmers and proprietors exercised their right and dug long ditches across the salt meadow lands at the foot of Long Hill thus connecting the New Creek system with the former Gallop’s Gap system of creeks.”