Tanampo Club, A Hunting Lodge

TANAMPO CLUB

Marstons Mills was one of the favorite haunts of sportsmen, with woodlands with plenty of game, and lakes full of fish and fowl.

After the first World War a group of well-to-do sportsmen founded the Tanampo Club. The location was on the glacial spit or esker that separates Mystic Lake to the north from Middle or Run Pond to the south. In 1912 Boston’s well known concert pianist Carlo Buonamici had a summer retreat built on this isolated place, probably by our local builder Charles L. Hamblin.

When the pianist died in 1921 his widow Bianca sold it to an enterprising Dennisport man, Oscar E. Skinner. Before the war he had been head chef of a resort in Bermuda. After the war he became manager of the Wianno Club in Osterville. He found several local sponsors who incorporated The Tanampo Club, which bought the property.

The Tanampo clubhouse had a big room with a large stone fireplace, and two wings with small bedrooms. It was set in a grove of great white pines that laid a carpet of soft pine needles. On the water’s edge below were pens of domestic geese and ducks raised by Preston Cobb on the Marstons Mills River on the east side of River Road. Here he kept ducks in pens at the waterside, camouflaged by natural growth of weeds and poison ivy. To attract the wild fowl he tied a string to the live birds’ legs and set them out as live decoys. All this ended about 1935-7 when wooden decoys were required by law. Blinds were set up on the beach below the house.

Wilbur Cushing’s grandfather Isaac Green was a guide who knew where to find the deer, and how to catch the waterfowl and fish. He also cooked up a meal for the hungry hunters, perhaps a hearty chowder or a roast duck.

Wâpanâak chief Ferdinand “Ferd” Mills was head game keeper. He led hunting, fishing, and was great fly-fisherman. He’d show the members how to catch the small-mouthed bass, and take the men hunting thru the bogs and up to the highest point in Mystic Lake.

Outside the grapevine covered entrance was a big bell, bigger than a school bell, perhaps from a church. This was rung for meals. Ferd would call out, “Come on now! Dinner’s almost ready”.

Former Wâmpanâak Chief Earl Mills told me that one day the dining room had a kind of swampy smell. The head cook Eben Quippish had learned to cook when he was on tour with Buffalo Bill’s wild west show in Europe. He didn’t like riding horses, though in the public mind all Indians were supposed to ride. Well, he brought out a scrawny looking bird. Ferd whetted his knife well, and took a cut. The knife wouldn’t cut. So he whetted it again without luck. Ferd said, “Eben, what have we got here?” Since there were no ducks or geese, this was a wild blue heron, a bird of strong muscle. Ferd said “you couldn’t cut the gravy!”

We puzzled for years over the name Tanampo. Earl says it’s not a Wâpanâak word. If it was a combination of first letters of names of owners, A’s fit Ayling and Apollonio, M for Merrill and O for the Secretary O’Connell, but who were the others? And where was the treasurer Skinner? After a long hunt Earl Mills found that in Choctaw language it meant “gun and rifle”. Two of Ferd’s daughters married Choctaw men, who may have given him the name.

The Great Depression ended the club. In 1935 it couldn’t make its mortgage payments, and the bank auctioned it for about a quarter of the price Skinner had paid. The rescuers were the Centerville banker Charles Ayling, James Rollins of Milton, Kent Mattison of Providence and George Walker of Newport. About this time the carriage house/garage was converted to a dormitory for a girl’s camp. But the Depression was not over, and when the rescuers couldn’t make payments, the bank again sold it at auction, for even less money, only $1905.

The clubhouse was bought by the current owners, the Halpert family, descended from Charles Lawrence Odence, the Boston cigar manufacturer whom Mary Hamblin had welcomed as summer guests. Charles’s daughter Mary Odence Halpert converted the old summer house into a comfortable modern home that now looks out over the waters of Mystic Lake where the wild geese and ducks now land, undisturbed by hunters.

First published in Barnstable Enterprise 12 March 2010.

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