Blocked Path

The house which represents refuge from Salem October is the house I grew up in, a shingle “cottage” in York Harbor which is on the main street but also adjacent to a lane which used to offer access to the Cliff Walk, a constructed path along the water which used to proceed from York Harbor Beach all the way to Cow Beach near Long Sands Beach. When I was younger I would just walk down the lane to the Cliff Walk, turn right to go to Cow Beach, which is rocky but where I saw my first (and now that I think about, only) beached whale, or left to go to York Harbor Beach for swimming and tanning. At that time, York Harbor was dominated by summer houses: we were among the minority of full-time residents. And so even though our way to the Cliff Walk had houses on either side with adjacent lawns, nobody was ever there: one was a cool 1920s house and another a big old gray Victorian. Now the cool 1920s house has been turned into something less aesthetic, and the Victorian replaced by another generic coastal house, and yet another generic coastal house has been added to the conjoined lots, and none of the owners of these houses recognize any pre-existing access to or from the Cliff Walk: the path is blocked and gated. The Cliff Walk itself has also been blocked on the way to Cow Beach by a landowner who has planted a big imposing hedge, and while still beautiful, is a stub of its former self. Let’s take a walk from the Harbor Beach to the hedge, passing by my former entrance to the walk—and the sea.

Looking up at the Cliff Walk from York Harbor Beach; the Reading Room is the first building. There used to be four cottages, but they were removed for Hartley Mason Park/Reservation.

Must be fully warned! As you will see, some parts of the path are in better shape than others.

But the path in front of the Reading Room looks great!

Ok, I get it!

For me, the Cliff Walk was all about private lookouts and houses—it was and is the best way to see some of these cliff-hugging cottages. We always stuck to the path, even when we were mischevious kids.

Not too great over this stretch.

My old entrance and exit.

Nicely-maintained after that but there’s not far to go; that big white house is the home of the hedge-maker and the end of the line.

I’m late to this party as I have not been living here. There have been substantive efforts to defend the public’s prescriptive (historical) right to access the entire path, rounding the corner you see above to Cow Beach. The Town of York has a Cliff Walk Committee, and there is a Friends of the Cliff Walk Facebook group. But the Hedge Guy is standing his ground. It’s complicated, and I need to learn more. I certainly understand the privacy and insurance considerations of those who own homes adjacent, but I miss “my” walk—I guess it’s just a memory lane for now.

Golden Hour, indeed!

10 responses to “Blocked Path

  • Judy Rosentrater

    Hello Donna…..I was fortunate to purchase a 1728 land deed involving Samuel Sewall…, not the judge (oh, I wish), but his brother Johns son, Samuel Sewall. I’ve learned many of the judges descendants relocated to York, Maine after the Salem tragedy. Wondering if you have encountered any of his descendants?

    • daseger

      That’s a HUGE name in York, Judy—still today. We have Sewall’s Bridge, a great old farm, the name is everywhere. I don’t know of the precise connections, but you’ve given me a quest!

  • Josiah Fisk

    Donna, I recently provided an affidavit in a case the AG’s office has taken up concerning a similar situation in Rockport. The area in question, Andrews Point, has been public access since the 19th century, and the property owner who filed the suit knew this full well when she (recently) bought her house because it’s right in the deed. Not to mention that everyone in Rockport knows its public access. Deed, schmeed, public, schmublic. “It’s mine mine mine!” The case in still in its early stages so no sense of how it might turn out. But I wonder if it would be worth talking to anyone in Maine state government.

  • Robert Albert

    Thank you for sharing your memories with us

  • Stan Franzeen

    Disappointing. That was one of my first day trips when I moved to the Boston area in the early 70s. The same thing is happening (on a much smaller scale) in Rockport now.

    • daseger

      I don’t have time to deal with this now, but I’m wondering if the colonial or early Republic Massachusetts laws could be of any help? Presumptuous of me, I’m sure they’ve already been mined, but I’d like to do it myself!

  • Brian Bixby

    I am sadly reminded of how the public lost access to a section of the Nashua River path between the West Groton Road and Fitch’s Bridge Road, forcing an inland detour. Sadly, Massachusetts law, which Maine presumably inherited, doesn’t give the public many rights to the seashore, let alone lakes or rivers.

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