Archive for May, 2011

Capt. Samuel S. Baxter

May 14, 2011


Baxter Neck

May 14, 2011


Baxter Neck is the southernmost tip of Marstons Mills. It is surrounded by salt water on three sides: Prince Cove on the west, Marstons Mills River Narrows on the east, and North Bay on the south. Called Heman’s Neck from its owner Heman Thomas, whose house was on the old Falmouth Road, now Route 28, until 1872 it was bought for $500 by the Boston restauranteurs Russell and Howard Marston. In 1883 they sold its 60 acres for $1000 to Capt. Samuel Sidney Baxter of Marstons Mills.

Capt. Baxter was born in Osterville in 1828, son of Capt. Shubael Baxter, who had been captured during the War of 1812. The son went to sea on a coasting vessel when he was eleven, probably in the usual boys’ job of cook. He learned sailing skills in the Caribbean and the coast of Carolina. When he was 25 he married a Marstons Mills girl, Mary Marston Hinckley, daughter of Luther Hinckley, Esq. whose estate was on South County Road. By 1858 they had a house opposite her father’s, on the west side of the road.

Meanwhile, Sidney, as he was called, had graduated from sailing ships to steamboats. In 1853 he became first mate of the huge paddle wheel steamer, the 2100 ton SS “Illinois” of the U.S. Mail Steamship Line. The California Gold Rush had created a big demand for passage to Panama, avoiding the hazards and delay of the trip around Cape Horn. The line ran from New Orleans to Chagres on the Atlantic side of Panama, where gold hunters crossed to the Pacific for the voyage to California. The line was so important that the Navy assigned top naval officers to command the “Illinois”. Baxter was mate under Commander Charles S. Boggs, an admiral in the Civil War, and Capt. Henry J. Hartstene, the Arctic explorer who returned the Resolute to Queen Victoria in 1858, had a state of Washington island named for him while on the Wilkes Expedition in 1838, and became a Confederate naval officer at Fort Sumter. On one of Boggs’s trips in 1856 the Illinois brought over $1,700,000 in California gold from Panama to New York.

By 1860 Captain Baxter had been given command of his own steamship, SS “Empire City”. Smaller than the “Illinois”, but said to be the first ocean-going ship whose top deck was enclosed for the whole length of the ship. The “palatial” interior was described as the most ornate on the Atlantic Ocean, with Corinthian pillars, rosewood furniture covered with purple and gold damask, stateroom doors painted with Hudson River scenery. Eleven years old, the paddle-wheeler was given a new deck and double copper bottom before Baxter took her from New York to New Orleans via Havana, and back.

On the eve of the Civil War in March 1861 when Texas seceded from the union the government sent Baxter to evacuate army troops there. On the day the war began with the shelling of Ft. Sumter, Baxter loaded 400 troops of the Third Infantry and the Third Cavalry divisions, plus officers’ wives and 47 “camp women”, and took off from Indianola, TX. Texas Rangers regretted his escape, and captured the Empire City’s sister ship and imprisoned the remaining soldiers. On the Empire City’s stop in Havana for coal and water they couldn’t believe the news of the war, until it was confirmed by the pilot who met the ship off New York.

The Union then chartered Baxter’s ship to carry troops and supplies south, paying as much as $1000 a day rent. Baxter applied to the Navy for commission as Acting Master with strong recommendations of his former masters Boggs and Hartstene, and captained the Empire City during the war. He brought home the masters of the famous “Stone Fleet” ships that had been sunk to block Charleston harbor. The Empire City was a key transport of the expedition to capture Port Royal SC in Oct. 1861, and Fernandina FL in March 1862. In May 1862 he towed the Cuban steamer “Nuestra Señora de Regla” from Charleston to New York, which the US army had illegally seized, as settled in two court cases before the Supreme Court, finally costing $300,000.

In April 1863 Empire City was sent up the Mississippi where Grant ordered her to load troops to run the gantlet of rebel guns at Vicksburg, a move that Gen. Sherman called “a desperate and terrible thing”. Baxter was probably not in command, for Grant found “volunteers”. The ship was completely disabled by a shot thru the steam chest, and two thru the pilot house, which killed the pilot. Admiral Porter repaired her quickly, and she was soon back in service, transporting from Virginia to South Carolina (August 1863) the 40th Mass. Infantry which included four Marstons Mills soldiers. Capt. Baxter turned his own cabin over to General George Gordon, a Boston lawyer whose published war diary lauds his host “a good fellow and an admirable seaman” who was “down on all lawyers”, but sent his guest off to battle with the gift of “a box of ice, chickens, hams, ducks and mutton.”

After the war, now 37, Capt. Baxter retired to his farm on South County Road in Marstons Mills. He had Cotuit captains bring boatloads of seed oysters from New Haven to raise oysters in the Narrows. The town elected him a pound keeper and fire warden, and he served many years as judge of poultry and trees at the county fair. But his pride was strawberries, which he produced almost a pint in the first week of November 1897, a triumph of late bloomers, since the berry usually ripens in June.

Baxter Neck remained unsettled until 1921 when the Whittiers built the first house. An old sandy road through the scrub pines was popular with local residents who drove down to the shore to dig clams.

Many older Marstons Mills residents could tell you stories of suspected illegal activity during Prohibition, but they will not reveal the names of those involved.

What’s In A Name?

The editor of the Barnstable Enterprise, Laura Reckford, asked how to spell Baxter Neck, and printed this in a box below the history on page 3, 13 May 2011: Spellings of historic roads can be tricky, especially ones named after individuals, like Baxter Neck. Columnist James Gould uses USGS topographical data in choosing to call it Baxter Neck, rather than using the plural or the possessive. A number of residents on the street also use the singular version on their mailboxes. But a couple of neighbors use the plural version: Baxters Neck. The town street list and official Road Status Map also use the plural with no apostrophe. The street sign for the road, at the corner of Old Post Road, also uses Baxters Neck. But some residents seem to prefer an apostrophe when referring to the road.

Prince Cove, the subject of our next article, according to USGS should be singular. But Wilbur Cushing, who lived here most of his 88 years, called his establishment “Prince’s Cove Marina”, so we’ll stick to that.


May 3, 2011


It is with tears that we mourn the deaths of soldiers, freedom-fighters—babies, mothers and fathers, children, victims of endless wars,

It is with sadness that we welcome home our war-shocked veterans who take their own lives when they find a future without hope.

We live in a world of wars without end.

The longest war in the history of our nation, in a mountainous land that has never been subdued,
A seven years war of torture and destruction in the cradle of civilization,
Now a desert war of “humanitarian intervention” to save lives by killing,
And a half-war by unmanned drones that kill whole families of tribal peoples.

With all life, we suffer the pains of our precious Earth from wounds by careless missles, tanks and bombs.

We decry the wasteful destruction of finite resources that are desperately needed at home,
to house the homeless, to cure the sick, and to tutor our children in ways of peace.

We vision a world which embraces peaceful means of resolving conflict with equality and justice, where before the idea of violence is entertained, grievances are addressed with concrete steps, where conciliation, mediation, arbitration, fact-finding, adjudication, are codified international law and practices of international organizations like the United Nations.

The Society of Friends, born in the chaos of the English Civil War, has offered its testimony of peace and nonviolence.

William Penn, former warrior and statesman taught us how to meet violence:

“ We are too ready to retaliate, rather than forgive, or gain by Love and Information. And yet we could hurt no Man that we believe loves us. Let us then try what Love will do: For if Men did once see we Love them, we should soon find they would not harm us. Force may subdue, but Love gains: And he that forgives first, wins the Lawrel. If I am even with my Enemy, the Debt is paid; but if I forgive it, I oblige him for ever. “ Fruits of Solitude 1693, 542 – 547.
Penn put this truth to test, achieving peace with the Leni Lenape, Susquehannocks and the Delaware Indians, instituting what was known in Indian terminology as a “chain of friendship.”
Let us then try what a chain of friendship, try what Love will do.
Barnstable Friends Meeting 3 April 2011


May 3, 2011


This is the 15th anniversary of the annual celebration of the Marstons Mills River.

It all began in 1997 as the inspiration of environmentalist Kris Clark. She was shellfish expert with the town of Barnstable, now the working for the Wampanoag tribe. At the time she was also board member of Barnstable Land Trust (BLT), the leading private conservation organization in town.

BLT was looking for a way to get Marstons Mills people interested in conservation. Kris came up with the idea of focusing on our main asset, the river. BLT’s director, Jaci Barton called the owner of the Inn at the Mills, Bill Henry, to ask if they might pitch a tent on his lawn overlooking the Mill Pond, and invite the public to come and celebrate the river. Bill at once replied, “Anything to help the river!”

This was a free event, hoping to attract whole families. A featured attraction was guided kayak and canoe rides on the river. The “Salties”, local fishermen, put on a fishing demonstration on the banks of Mill Pond, and sponsored a catch and release derby for kids under 16. Barnstable High School biology teacher David Gorrill did a show-and-tell survey of the pond, dipping his net into the water, and displaying the variety of life that he caught. Paul Caruso of the state fisheries seined for fish in Middle Pond. Al Brewster of Trout Unlimited demonstrated how to make a fly-and-tie lure.

Marstons Mills Men’s Club provided lunch and cookout of hotdogs and hamburgers. A big tent sheltered educational displays, T-shirts with maps of the watershed provided by the town. Lindsey Counsell of Three Bays organization, which works to preserve the waters fed by the river, led an interpretive tour of the herring run, where the alewives were running.

Fifty people showed up the first year, so BLT did it again in 1998, with greater success. They added canoe trips on Prince Cove with Tom Marcotti. Marsha Alibrandi got a grant four year grant funding “River 2000” to support high school students’ study of the river environment. Blue signs now mark the borders of the Marstons Mills watershed

The death of Bill Henry in 2000 did not end River Day. His partner Peter Erceg still lives on the pond, and the new owners of the Marston House, Kevin and Judy Galvin were hosts for seven years until the event was moved to Burgess Park in 2008. In 2001 the Marstons Mills Civic Association and the Cape Cod Conservation District took over sponsorship of the event, led by Donna Lawson.

River Day has put the Marstons Mills river on the map. When the students began their study, one young man said, “Where’s the river?” It’s no longer unknown. The event sparked interest in youth like Heidi Pye, who went on to get a PhD in lobster management. The Marstons Mills community has been brought together in its annual celebration.

Come and join the fun down by the riverside on May Day 2011.

Barnstable Patriot 24 April 2011


May 3, 2011


Back in the nineteenth century each year about a third of a million herring swam up the Marstons Mills River to spawn in the Mystic Lakes. This was the official estimate of a potential catch of 600 barrels, each packed with 480 fishes, plus 20 percent escaped to the lakes to create a new generation.

But the creation of cranberry bogs brought the “ruin of the fishery” by 1900, according to the 1920 state survey, making it “worthless”. The report shows a photo of the by-pass from Run Pond all dried up. Arthur Thifault remembers going down to the river in the thirties, and “the herring were so thick you could pick them up with your hand.” The herring will spawn in the river even if they can’t make it up to the ponds.

When the new Route 28 was built in 1931 they buried the old herring run, and provided a tunnel under the highway.

There’s a story that we can’t prove that German prisoners from Camp Edwards did some work on the herring run. We do know that POWs cleared trees after the 1944 hurricane, and set up a sawmill on Route 28. Let us know if you can confirm the story about the herring run.

The first major effort to revive the run was made by Taisto Ranta for the town shortly after the war. He cleared away some of the concrete blockage from Dave Leland’s hydroelectric project, and planted huge boulders along the lower stream to create resting pools for the fish.

In 1978 the town created the public viewing area at the Mill Pond, excavated by John Aalto,with a new concrete fish ladder built by an Orleans contractor. Several dry years prevented the young fry getting out of the pond, and the counts of fish dropped sharply. In 1983 1900 herring were brought from Stony Brook in Brewster to restock the run.

Again, by 1992, the 1300 foot long sluiceway needed reconstruction. The president of the Barnstable Land Trust Lindsey Counsell got a grant from the Mass. Environmental Trust, and found volunteer labor from the Marstons Mills Men’s Club, chiefly Al Baker, Charles Thifault and Bob McCluskey. Digging by hand was slow, encountering big rocks, so they went back to John Aalto for his heavy equipment to dig out the rotted timbers, and replace them.

The run needs constant maintenance, still done by those volunteers of the men’s club, and the town’s natural resource department. But the basic problem is still there. The 1880 by-pass over the hill is artificial; the natural route of migration was up river, through the cranberry bogs.

Since 2006 Kevin Galvin has been doing an annual count. The estimate of the total ranges from 2400 last year to 26,000 in 2008. That’s a far cry from the 360,000 of the 1870s. But everyone is cheering for a big revival. If you’d like helping with the count, call 420-8100. The herring will be running soon after April first.

Barnstable Enterprise 22 April 2011