It is a private 200-acre island, with two coves, one to the east and the other on the west.
People are still not sure how it came to be called Hog Island. Probably because early settlers kept their hogs on the island, or because it is a short name and fits well on the map, like many of the small islands with the same name on the eastern coast of the United States.During the winter island life slows down, but by summer, like any beach community, the island takes on a whole new character. Families return summer after summer, with the next generation taking over the family home. If a cottage goes up for sale, children buy, so they can be there too.
One thing about Hog Island, you either love it or hate it. The mosquitoes can be torturous and without a ferry it is difficult to get there, but Hog Islanders are persistent.
Like any island we watch out for each other. When you are surrounded by water and travel depends on the weather, neighbors are very important.
My great aunt Mable Budlong, who arrived the first day of summer, would not leave till school began. One summer during the 1970s, she finally knew she was too sick to stay on the island.
We knew the one truck we shared was too bumpy to bring her down the hill to the ferry. So two of the men took the dining room chair with arms and nailed a board under the seat like a sedan chair. They gently carried her down the quarter mile slope to the ferry.
When Manny Souza, the captain landed the old ferry and saw Aunt Mable aboard, he turned the ferry around and headed back to Bristol. It was the last time I ever saw her.
This March, David D’Aiello, a longtime resident, died. David had been sick for a number of years, but only last summer he was up every morning to go for a row near his Hog Island home.
These are the kind of people that love the island.
Today there are a little over 100 houses on the island — 20 or more on the south end and about 80 on the north end. In 1901 Walter Harris Knight, an inventor, bought the island which had been used as a farm. He built a main house on the top of the hill, and a farm house and little milk house at the corner of the walled farm yard on the south end of the island. On the water facing east he had a two-story boathouse built with a ballroom upstairs. All of the buildings have concrete walls. The windows and tiles for the roof came from the mechanical building of the Buffalo Pan American Exhibition.
Walter Knight’s fortune came and went, but before he lost it for good he sold the island to his four son-in-laws for $1.
Through the years their families have summered on the south end of the island, slowly selling land on the north end of the island to pay the Portsmouth taxes.
Today, with the loss of the ferry, we travel by small boat. Most families have a golf cart to carry bags and groceries to their home.
Kyle Hess, one of Walter Knight’s great-great-grandsons, bought a landing craft which he runs on leftover cooking oil. Kyle handles the garbage and most of the big freight runs. We use propane gas to cook, for lights, refrigeration and to heat hot water. There is no electricity on the island, so we use generators, kerosene lights and solar power.
Sam Romano, a retired engineer from New Hampshire, drives his boat to Bristol most mornings and picks up the newspaper for many of the islanders. Each house owner has a special spot to leave the money for Sam. Originally we kept the coins on our deck in a clamshell. Now that the paper has gone up to a dollar, we keep it on the kitchen table so it won’t get wet or blow away. Some mornings Sam comes in for a visit, mostly to tease my daughter who is slowly painting a mural. It is not fast enough for Sam.
Lela, Korinne Sullivan’s service dog, waits every morning for Sam to come back from the mainland with the papers. The minute she hears his boat, Lela goes to Sam’s golf cart and waits for her ride. Lela knows which house will have a cookie for her.
Islanders gather from all over the world to little Hog. Debbie Pretat-Klofski travels from Germany each summer. Her mother, Jane Pretat, and sister, Judy Seaman, live in Portsmouth but all share a summer home at the island. Even Lela, the dog, flies up from Florida.
At the moment people are doing repairs or building. By spring the water will be on and the pace will really pick up on the little island, Hog Island.
Joyce Fairchild Almeida has summered most of her life on Hog Island. She’s the author of “Knights of Hog Island” and has written for publications in Rhode Island and Florida.