Today, when we go to the Marstons Mills shopping center on Route 28 we can hardly believe that this was once “a Cotuit Disneyland” called Treasure Highland. The bank building was the main office of a vast complex of ancient buildings, railway cars, army barracks, recycled lumber and household fixtures. The funeral home was the 1915 Marstons Mills schoolhouse, Peck’s Boat Yard was the 1881 Sandwich Freight Depot, and the Oyster Shack was once the home of Cotuit Oyster Co. owned by Harry Height of Eastman Kodak who summered in Marstons Mills.
Treasure Highland was the creation of Robert F. Hayden III (1910-1980). It all began in 1936 when Sandwich decided to demolish Sandwich Academy, its old high school, and sold it to Hayden for a dollar. Hayden had grown up summering in Cotuit, where his father had a summer dental office. After graduating from college he bought a Marstons Mills farm on the west side of Patty’s Pond. Beside raising a family and a lot of livestock, Hayden accumulated useful parts of buildings he demolished, like the 30 room mansion of Boston Globe publisher General Charles Taylor located where Mass. Maritime Academy now stands.
Selectman Chester Crocker winked an eye at the accumulation, since it was far enough off Newtown
Road not to see. But after the war the overflow got too great, and in 1946 Hayden paid $700 for 40 acres on Route 28 to store his treasure.
It is rumored that Hayden moved over 5,000 buildings, and that may be an underestimate. Some buildings came here for a while: the base of the Shaw windmill in Pocasset, the Hyannis railroad station, and Hyannisport caddy camp. Valuable pieces of other sites showed up: marble from the Albee Theater in Providence, the baptismal font of a Dorchester church, and two combination baggage-passenger cars of the New Haven railroad.
Hayden was also a musician, who played cornet, and collected jazz recordings as well as buildings. A poem he wrote says: “His crew was rough and tumble,
They would weave and curse and mumble”.
The first thing in the morning Hayden trucks had to tank up at the package store. As George Pierce of Marstons Mills said, “Fifty cents would buy a pint of Muscatel”. He recalled that one of the crew bought a pint of booze and climbed under the barracks they were moving. Hayden was rewarded with a shower of stones.
Miraculously, there were no serious accidents. The worst was when Hayden lost his right index finger in a jack. He went to Dr. Lewis in Sandwich, who said he’d have to amputate. Hayden said no, and went to Cape Cod Hospital where they sewed it back on.
Another time a jack hit him under his larynx. He lost his voice for a month and had to communicate with his family by the lazy suzan on the dining room table.
Leonard Peck told how Hayden seldom had any cash. When George Pierce was hired Fergie told him, “George, you arn’t married, I’ll give you a chicken this week.” Two chickens if you were married. When he did get some cash, Hayden was careful to divide it among the men.
The workhorse of house moving was a big red International truck mounted with a tall A-frame. This lifted the steeple onto the Rooster church in West Barnstable, and toppled the Provincetown power plant chimney. Its longest haul was 35 miles, moving the Brewster windmill to Heritage Plantation in Sandwich.
But Hayden’s dream was a mini-mall. He battled for a decade in town meetings to get the zoning permit, and finally was able to begin in 1978. The first shopping center was built in 1982, and a much larger Stop & Shop market in 2002.
When the ground was cleared they saved “Tink’s tree”, which Tink watered every day. Tink was one of the expert moving crew which included the six Washington brothers, descended from George Washington, the slave whom Russell Marston rescued from the slave-hunters.
Since 1975 Hayden’s son Bob (Robert Ferguson IV) has carried on the Cape’s biggest moving business
from an old army barracks, one of hundreds his father moved from Camp Edwards.
Published in the Barnstable Enterprise 15 April 2011,