"Welcome to 'The Rock,'" says Greg Hoffmeister as we step gingerly out of his rowboat onto the precarious shoreline of Black Rock Island.
Are we on Alcatraz? Newfoundland?
Nope, technically, Hull, MA.
Greg has just rowed this intrepid magazine editor and photographer from Black Rock Beach to his home away from home, the tiny historic cottage that has intrigued generations of Cohasset residents, who watch avidly each summer to see: Is the flag up? Is "the doctor" home?
It is a perfect late summer's day, and we have the honor of being two of the very few visitors to be invited to step ashore and visit this captivating island shack with its iconic red shutters.
As the island has no formal dock, the only way to arrive is small watercraft: paddleboards, kayaks, or perhaps a hearty swim. Go "low and slow," Greg recommends as we pick our way up to the rocky embankment toward the boathouse lined with buoys. Scrapes and bruises are to be expected when visiting The Rock.
The private island home is currently owned by the Ralph E. Leader Trust, comprised of Greg and his wife, Michelle, his sister, Erica Supple, his parents, George and Christine, their aunt, Bev Leader, and her daughter, Casey Palmer. The family inherited the house decades ago when the Hoffmeisters' great grandfather, George Hopkins, was a dear friend and business partner of the original owner, Horace Cook, who passed it along to him after his death in the early 1940s.
(The name Doctor's Island, according to local legend, comes from several doctor friends tending to Horace who were often invited to come for a visit to socialize, imbibe and experience the medicinal qualities of the fresh salt air surrounding the island.)
As a child growing up in Needham, Greg recalls visits to the house being a regular part of summertime family getaways. It was no pampered vacation, but roughing it, like stepping into a moment back in time – no electricity, no running water, no TV. You had to read a book, play cards, or generally make your own fun.
Around eight years ago, a home directly across from the island on Hull's Summit Avenue came up for sale, brokered by Cohasset REALTOR® Frank Neer. The Hoffmeisters seized the opportunity to be just a short paddle away from their island property, with beach access provided down a steep set of metal steps.
Harsh New England winters mean there is always an island project to be done. As we arrive, Greg's father is touching up the deck, originally built by his grandfather, Ralph Leader. Another recent project, rebuilding the steps up to the house, required 75-bags of cement. It's a daunting task when you realize everything has to be ferried over, including fresh water and the propane tank for grilling and powering the generator.
Though modest, the four-room house comes with a tax bill from the Hull assessor's office – that stunning 360-degree water view doesn't come cheap. It also comes with unique challenges: The family has weathered storms, including Hurricane Bob, where they had to evacuate in a hurry. Trespassing looky-loos breaking and entering have forced them to (reluctantly) place a padlock on the front door.
This particular afternoon is a perfect late summer's day, and the extended clan has assembled to enjoy Happy Hour, Hoffmeister-style. Greg's second cousin Charlotte displays the crab she has caught. Cousin-in-law Ross fishes for bass. Mom and Aunt Bev relax on beach chairs, popping open a craft beer, while Greg's father grills. The fare is casual, and the vibe is laid back.
The iconic landmark inspired the name for Greg and Michelle's venture into craft beer brewing: Black Rock Brewing Company. (Their hilltop home even has hops growing right in the backyard.) They have produced several varieties of craft beers, giving them names like Horace Cook Honey Brown, Red Shutters Amber ale, and Dr.'s Island IPA as a nod to the history and uniqueness of the island.
Their current goal is to scour the area and secure the perfect South Shore location, and someday open their own local nano-craft brewery and taproom. Stay tuned!
As the sun sets, we push off back toward shore, the family members hopping in kayaks and paddleboards to return to running water, power, and the comforts of civilization.
The flag is lowered. Until next time. Cheers!