So You Want to Buy an Island?
0 Wheelers Island isn’t just a home on an island – it’s the entire island. Photograph courtesy of Joe Piscitelli. )
Pot Island is also known as Treasure Island, keeping with Captain Kidd legends common to the Thimble Islands. Photograph courtesy of Lori Vogel. )
3 Lake William Island is surrounded by state-owned land in the middle of the 275-acre Lake Williams. Photograph courtesy of Janice Johnson. )
It's safe to say that island life isn't for everyone. Forgetting to pick up milk or eggs from the grocery store has new consequences when the trip involves a boat. Beyond being meticulous with a shopping list, island residents must contend with storms, know their way around a generator, and be experts at winterization. Yet for island residents, the appeal of swimming, boating, sunsets, and solitude transcends any inconvenience.
Interested? You don't have to look too far. In Connecticut, two homes in the Thimble Islands are currently up for sale, one owned by the same family that last summer sold the 7.5-acre Rogers Island for $21.5 million. And in Lebanon, real estate agent Janice Johnson is selling her own island in the middle of Lake Williams, having just sold her next-door neighbor's island earlier this year.
Johnson is selling her Lebanon island for just under $300,000, and the Thimbles are on the market for a fraction of the cost of Rogers Island. For all its rarity, island life may be more attainable than you thought.
0 Wheelers Island, Branford
2,462 square feet; 0.77 acres
Sitting on its very own island in the Thimbles, this three-story home is ringed with a porch and wraparound deck to soak in views from every direction, topped with a windowed cupola. Though it's been on the market for longer than Rogers Island, real estate agent Joe
Piscitelli has a feeling that Wheelers Island will soon be bought. "It's a beautiful property – it's gorgeous," says Piscitelli, who noted it was originally listed for almost $6 million. "We're pretty confident it's going to sell this year."
The home was built in 2001 by Petra Construction, which makes it one of the newer homes in the Thimbles. However, it retains the character of the historic 1860 home it replaced. "She [the owner] took down the old Victorian home that was there and built a new one," says Piscitelli. "It was an exact replica of what was there. The current owner was meticulous."
Inside, the floor plan offers a bright and open family room with a fireplace and an eat-in country kitchen with granite countertops, a double sink, a dishwasher, and a gas stove. There are eight bedrooms and four bathrooms; the third floor with its two private decks could be repurposed for a master suite.
One of the closest islands to the mainland, Wheelers Island gets electricity and municipal water from shore. The home has a backup generator, along with central air and heat. However, the island's water supply is turned off in the winter. "With just a little bit of effort it could be made into a year-round home, because it is insulated," says Piscitelli, who notes it would just need a large water storage tank.
The property is surrounded by Stony Creek Granite stone walls, with a rolling lawn, shade trees, an outdoor sitting area with a fireplace, a sandy beach, and two docks. You'll likely end up with your own boat if you own the property, but there's also access by water taxi from Stony Creek.
Perhaps most important, for those seeking solitude, "it's an island with only one house on it," says Piscitelli. Many of the Thimbles host multiple houses. "It's good for kayaking, boating, swimming – it's just a perfect getaway."
2 Pot Island, Branford
6,000 square feet; 1.65 acres
Previously used as a hotel, this 11-bedroom Victorian home on Pot Island is a 10-minute boat ride from the mainland. Pot Island is also called Treasure Island, in keeping with the Captain Kidd legends common to the Thimbles. The 10-acre island is shaped like an hourglass, with three homes on either end and a sandy beach at the center.
According to real estate agent Lori Vogel, Pot Island has been a summer recreation getaway since the 1800s. "The steamship The Margaret used to bring passengers out to the island to escape the heat," says Vogel. "There's photos of the old steamships sitting alongside the island."
Today, the former hotel is a private residence. Renovated in 2000, it features a chef's kitchen, family room, formal dining room, game room, and a library on the main floor. Three bedrooms are on the second floor of the home; two are master bedrooms with private baths. The upper level houses boys' and girls' bedrooms with appropriately styled bathrooms. "[The owners] put about $1 million into the renovation," says Vogel. "They took some of the bedrooms and combined them to make a larger master and rooms that are more suitable to today's use."
The home primarily runs on solar power. It has city water from the mainland (again, shut off in winter) and its own septic system. "There are [propane] generator backups for things that might take more power, like the washing machine and things that have a larger draw," adds Vogel.
Outside, the wraparound deck and immense covered porch provide an ideal space for parties, relaxing and watching the sunset – or viewing fireworks on the Fourth. "You can see Stratford Shoal, you can see Madison, all down the coastline you can see all the fireworks going off – it's quite beautiful," says Vogel. A second porch off the kitchen is ideal for morning coffee.
A flagstone path leads down through a meadow to a private dock. Sitting by the water, Vogel was lucky to catch a bicentennial celebration from the property. "You saw the tall ships go by and you could have been at any year – it was such a beautiful thing," Vogel recalls. "It's the best therapy. I always find when I get there I don't want to leave."
3 Lake Williams Island, Lebanon
640 square feet; 0.82 acres
Significantly more affordable than a Thimble Island is an island surrounded by state-owned land in the middle of 275-acre Lake Williams in Lebanon. A two-story cottage on the island commands views from atop a small hill. The lake itself is pristine, with no public access except for canoes and kayaks.
"We are in the middle of a state preserve," says Johnson, who spent summers with her kids on the island before they grew up and moved out of state. "The people around the lake are allowed to have motor boats and jet skis, but there's not a lot of people. You don't have a lot of traffic, you don't have a lot of noise, and you don't have a lot of pollution."
The home's living area includes a kitchen, full bathroom, and a sitting area. Upstairs, Johnson turned what was originally three bedrooms into one large, open bedroom with windows all around.
Outside, a brick patio and stone wall surround the entire home, ideal for outdoor grilling or relaxing. The second-story wraparound deck invites bird watching, sunbathing, and stargazing. "The stars in the sky are just wide open because there's nothing blocking them," says Johnson. "I can't even explain how beautiful that is."
The gorgeous natural surroundings are a constant invitation to unplug and just be. "You're outside all the time – even in the evening," Johnson says. "You sit outside because it's so pretty there, the water reflecting the stars. Everybody that goes there says it's one of the most special places they've been."
The home is off-the-grid, with solar panels and a gas generator that power a battery bank. It has a deep well. The stove, refrigerator, fireplace, and hot water run on propane. The home has a composting toilet and a grey water septic system.
It's seasonal – but only for the obvious reason. "You can't get across the water when there's ice," Johnson notes.
The almost one-acre island has a dock on either side. It has plenty of trees for privacy and shade, plus a yard with a fire pit. Swimming, fishing, water skiing, and tubing are favorite activities of the lake's residents. And, of course, boating. "You end up with a lot of different boats when you own an island," says Johnson, who relies on a pontoon boat (included) to access the island.
Whether from a boat or the home itself, the lake is ideal for a bird watcher or nature enthusiast. "The wildlife there is fantastic," Johnson says. "There's ducks and geese, there's a bald eagle that's been hanging out around the lake, great blue herons."
So, is owning an island just straight-up bliss? Sadly, Johnson's love of the island, and her parting with it, show perhaps the true hardship of owning an island – having to one day give it up. "It's amazing and I can't stand that I have to give it away," she says. "To me it's worth a bazillion dollars, but I have to do something for when I'm too old to get in and out of boats."
Lake Williams Island: Janice Johnson, Beacon Realty Group; 860-287-4655 or email@example.com