Archive for January, 2012

THE GREAT POST OFFICE FIGHT

January 28, 2012

THE GREAT POST OFFICE FIGHT

Cotuit has a deserved reputation as a very quiet village. But in 1885 it was rocked by a great battle over the Cotuit Post Office.

It began with the upset national election of 1884, called “one of the most scurrilous in American history”, when President Grover Cleveland brought the Democrats back into power after a quarter of a century’s absence.

“To the victor belong the spoils” was the rule of politics since President Jackson was elected in 1828. Postmasters were exempt from civil service reform of 1882 and were still political appointments. Cotuit’s postmasters had been Republicans, including 12 years under storekeeper Charles C. Bearse followed by Capt. Andrew Lovell in 1882. Lovell, whom New York schoolmaster described as “a slow indolent man” also held offices of state representative, 18 years as selectman, assessor of taxes, road-master, overseer of the poor, justice of the peace, often at the same time.

Boston Brahmin Augustus Thorndyke Perkins, who was heir to a China trade fortune, and was also Cotuit’s wealthest resident, consulted Boston Democrat leaders. They all agreed the Republican postmaster had to go.

Squire Perkins could find no suitable Democrat, then settled on his governess Addie E. Bearse (1847-1928). Known as “Miss Addie”, she had been a teacher in Cotuit schools for 15 years, later Librarian, tutor to summer residents’ children.

On 27 July, 1885, President Cleveland appointed Adelaide F. Bearse as postmaster of Cotuit. The village was outraged at the firing of Captain Lovell. On August 30 Freedom Hall was packed with over 200 indignant protesters. Addie’s uncle Charles Bearse was elected moderator. The meeting unanimously resolved that the change “is contrary to the principle of civil service reform, to the spirit of the present administration and to the wishes and convenience of this community, irrespective of party.” A poll found 147 voters (male, of course) opposed to Lovell’s removal, and only four in favor.

Mr. Perkins did not attend, but wrote that “as a civil service reformer” he approved 2,400 postmasters being fired. New York headmaster James H. Morse, who summered in Cotuit, observed in his diary that the quarrel was between two Boston “nabobs”, Mr. Perkins, favoring Miss Addie, and General John H. Reed, one-time head of the state militia, who for years summered at the Samuel Hooper house, rooting for Lovell.

In the face of great “indignation meetings” Addie’s brother, the storekeeper Asa Bearse, urged her to write her resignation. But Perkins and his friends persuaded her to tear it up. Charles Grafton Phinney, feeling sorry for Addie, lent her space in his house, the former Hoxie Store, to open the post office.

In November 1885 the plucky lady had Perkins build her the small post office that still stands at 819 Main St. No carpenter in Cotuit would help, so she had to go out of the village. According to the Boston Globe hoodlums tore down the frame and threw it into the bay, where it floated over to Grand Island before it was recovered with difficulty. Then they stole 500 feet of lumber, and polluted Mr. Phinney’s well three times.

When the new Cotuit post office finally opened in 1886 it faced a village boycott. Capt. Gilbert Crocker was so angry that he collected Cotuit mail in a carpet bag and took it over to the Mills. But this violated the exclusive right to carry mail.

“The tempest in a teapot” ended with the national election of 1888 when Harrison beat Cleveland. With the Republicans back in power everyone forgot their hatred of the spoils system, and Andrew Lovell was reappointed postmaster. Captain Lovell who turned it over to his daughter Lizzie Lovell (1849-1922), a Cotuit school teacher. Her father built her a little office almost opposite Addie’s, that still stands at 842 Main St.

Published in The Barnstable Enterprise 27 Jan. 2012

SANTUIT HOUSE AT ITS PEAK

January 21, 2012

SANTUIT HOUSE AT ITS PEAK

On May Day 1882 Santuit House, on Main Street in Cotuit overlooking Cotuit Bay, reopened under Cotuit’s Webb family, who were to revive and greatly expand the hotel for the next 38 years. The hotel property was located at what is now 790 to 820 Main Street.

Charles Scudder, who purchased the property out of bankruptcy in 1880, was paid $3,000 for the Santuit House property by Abbie Webb (1839-96), wife of James A. Webb, a leading cranberry grower. One report said Mr. Webb “probably manages more cranberry bogs than any other man in the state.” James Webb was born in County Cork, Ireland in 1834, came to America when he was 14, worked as a shoemaker, and at age 20 came to Cotuit to manage the Hooper farm for 16 years. When he was 21 he married Abbie, the 16 year old daughter of coasting Captain Leander Nickerson on whose hill the Cotuit Church and Freedom Hall were built. Abbie was a keen businesswoman, well off enough to lend her brother-in-law $1000 at 7 % in 1872. In Mashpee she owned cranberry bogs on the west side of Santuit Pond, and the productive Abigail’s Brook bog.

The Webbs remodeled the Santuit hotel. They bought houses adjacent to the hotel, added a second story to the Alpheus Adams house, and advertised they could accommodate 100 guests. Guests the first year included future residents Frank Wesson, the gun manufacturer of Springfield; Prof. Edward Channing of Harvard who was to build the first house on Grand Island; Dr. Solomon Haskins who was Cotuit’s first resident physician; and Prof. Frank Metivier, a Harvard professor of French. While the Webbs were busy managing over 400 acres in nine bogs off Cape, the hotel was run by the stage and post carrier William Irwin and his wife.

In 1889 the Webbs had Sylvester R. Crocker build a two-story annex which was linked to the main hotel by a broad veranda, looking out across the lawn to the bay. With business booming in the “Gay Nineties”, they expanded the dining room so that is seated 230, added a ballroom. At its peak the resort had 70 hotel rooms for 150 guests. They came from as far away as California. A favorite guest was MIT astronomer George Abbott Osborne, who was “infatuated” by the hotel. In 1897, daily rates were $2.50 to $3.50 a day, or $10 to $25 a week, per person.

For recreation there was croquet (a game pioneered in this country in Cotuit), tennis courts and the nearby Santuit golf course. A popular attraction was the pavilion on an L-shaped pier on the water (today’s town landing) where Captain Nelson Nickerson served fresh oysters and littlenecks, as well as ice cream and tonic. A major change in bathing came with building of bathhouses on Round Cove west of the Union Church, which gave access to better sand beach, but one that was half a mile south of the hotel. With the Irish love of horses, Mr. Webb himself provided races at the Cotuit Race Course (at today’s Ralyn Drive), and even horse races on the frozen ice.

Abbie Webb died in the midst of expansion in 1896, a young 57, and her husband remarried a 26 year old woman, who died eight months later. The Webbs’ only child, Anna Webb Bodfish, took over management. Her husband Eben D. Bodfish added rental of bicyles, the end of the century fad. Their only child, Abbie Webb Bodfish. arrived four months after their wedding. Eben drifted off to the Vineyard, and Anna sued for divorce.

Santuit House thrived through the First World War, despite new competition of The Pines which opened in 1891 about three quarters of a mile south of Santuit House; and Central House, which opened about 1890 about a a quarter of a mile south of Santuit House. The newly introduced auto brought guests from afar: In 1918 one guest, James Williams, drove all the way from San Diego. But in 1920 Anna Bodfish died in Malden while looking for maids. Her daughter, Abbie, a student at Wheaton College, came back to run the hotel and marry Cotuit cranberry grower (Matthew) Raymond Harlow.

At 8:30 pm Sept. 22, 1925 William Potter saw flames coming from the old kitchen, and sounded the alarm. Flames could be seen from as far as Centerville. Cotuit had only its little chemical engine, so pumpers came from Hyannis, Onset and Falmouth. Falmouth’s crew pumped sea water onto the blaze, to no avail. All but the Adams House and Hillside Cottage burned to the ground, a loss of $50,000. After the fire, a wide view of Cotuit Bay could now be seen from what is today about 800 Main Street.

Published in The Barnstable Enterprise 20 January 2012.

FIRST HOTEL ON CAPE COD 1860

January 14, 2012

FIRST HOTEL ON CAPE COD

Santuit House, the first resort hotel on Cape Cod, opened in Cotuit Port in June, 1860. Of course there had been taverns since colonial times, like Cotuit’s Ezra Crocker tavern, frequented by trout fishermen such as Daniel Webster. There were also boarding houses, but not resort hotels.

The Santuit House had its beginnings before 1830 as a boarding house run by Captain Hezekiah Coleman and his wife Dolly Fish. They put up seamen and travelers on their way to Nantucket, and back. The charges were 25 cents a night, and ten cents for breakfast. Cotuit historian Floss Rapp found a contemporary memoir that said typical breakfast was a glass of cider, cheese and a piece of gingerbread.

Dolly and Hezekiah’s work was taken over by their son Captain Braddock Coleman (1805-73) and his wife Martha Bearse. It was at their house that the wealthy China trade merchant Samuel Hooper stayed in 1850 when he came looking for a sea captain. Mr. Hooper found one in Cotuit’s postmaster Alexander Scudder, whose house he bought, and made into the first summer residence. The house ttracted Boston Brahmins and national politicians who got a first-hand look at Cotuit’s charms.

The opening of the railroad in 1854 greatly increased tourism. In 1860 Braddock had the three-story Santuit House built for about $5000, a lot of moneyat the time. He was probably helped by his brother Nathan, the richest man in town who made a fortune in whaling. It is likely that the hotel was built by James West, who married Braddock’s daughter Libby.

The three story building was surrounded on the sides with a wide piazza. The old boarding house became its kitchen. The new hotel was advertised as “delightfully situated…popular resort for families who wish to spend a few weeks by the sea-shore.” Attractions were a sandy beach and warm water, with bathing houses, a “magical” view of the harbor, a sail with a salty sea captain who might tell you some tales of his whaling days, renting a boat, a livery stable for rides in the woods, good home-cooked food, clambakes at Popponesset, and just “loafing”.

In 1863 the hotel was taken over by Martha and Braddock’s son James H. Coleman (1831-92), a professional Boston advertising agent, who probably inspired such raves as the Boston Traveller’s “one of the most picturesque and delightful spots in the country”. Another reviewer found Cotuit “very quiet and very puritanical”, and also wrote, “No bathers nor promenaders on the beaches at Cotuit on Sundays” (1870).

The dining room was enlarged in 1871 to seat 75. Santuit House was often filled to overflowing, necessitating using neighboring cottages. It attracted justices of the highest state court, the first Harvard professor of English, and people from as far as Kalamazoo, Savannah and Toronto. For a couple of years the hotel had its own resident physician, and visits by a local dentist and a portrait photographer.

In spite of the hotel’s popularity, the long depression of the 1870’s drove Coleman into bankruptcy. A bank mortgage at 7 % was foreclosed in 1877, and Santuit House was sold at auction for only $4000. The hotel did not open in 1879, but the next year the bank was able to sell it to Charles Noble Scudder , youngest of 17 children of a wealthy Osterville merchant, and husband of Rosa Nickerson, daughter of the rich Cotuit cranberry investor, Samuel Nickerson. Charles’s mother lent him $4000 to purchase the Santuit House. Charlie, only 22 when he took charge, ran it for two years, and then sold the hotel, going into the family livery and coal business until his sudden death at age 28.
Next week: Santuit House at its Peak

Published in the Barnstable Enterprise 13 Jan. 2012, page 2.Santuit House before 1882

Little River Turkey Farm north end

January 10, 2012

Little River Turkey farm north end, now Bell Farm, courtesy of Kate Armstrong

Little River Turkey Farm

January 9, 2012

Every Christmas and Thanksgiving the owners of Hinckley Hardware, John and Howard Hinckley, would go around their lumberyard and store to ask each employee, “How many kids do you have?” Then they’d send a nice plump turkey of appropriate size from Little River Turkey Farm.

The turkeys were raised by Frieda Landers on Old Post Road in Cotuit. She was born Frieda Hanni at Biberach, on the upper Rhine, in Germany in 1899. Having suffered through the terrible years of the Great War and postwar near-starvation, she left chaotic Germany in 1923. Her aunt paid her passage to America on the new North German Lloyd liner Sierra Ventana, arriving at Ellis Island on the day after Christmas, bound to Catonsville MD as housekeeper for a banker named W .O. Osborne.

Later she was hired as governess to the children of the Crouse family of Utica, NY, Since 1919, the Crouses had summered in Cotuit at the Heman Crocker house in Little River, one of the oldest in Cotuit, next to today’s Cotuit Oyster Company.

In 1928 Frieda married 50-year-old Little River plumber Edward E. Landers, whose wife Lois had died. Mr. Landers had done the plumbing and heating for the Arthur Clements Restaurant at the Cape Cod airport, and the Cotuit parsonage across from the Library.

In 1929, Frieda herself bought the Capt. William Crosby house on Old Post Road where she established the Little River Turkey Farm which extended from the Crosby House, along the ancient cart path Lovell's Lane, north to where Putnam Av. crosses Little River. The Landers moved a horse barn from the McLeod estate on Cordwood Road as a place to raise and process the turkeys. It also served as Edward Lander's plumbing workshop.

Edward Landers died in 1938, and Frieda carried on alone for the next 24 years, through the Great Depression and World War. A neighbor described her as an educated lady and heroic figure who worked like a Trojan, carrying the heavy bags of grain, slaughtering, plucking, dressing the turkeys herself.

Her flock of about 100 to 200 turkeys were bought in the spring as pullets, probably from the incubator at the Hadleys' Clear Lake Duck Farm in Marstons Mills. In 1940 Frieda sold the north half of the farm along Putnam Avenue (where the cherry tree stands) to the Bells, to became Bell Farm, so the postwar turkey farm ended at the northwest corner of the cemetery. The turkeys, who are sociable and curious birds, made an impression. Local people remember funerals at Mosswood Cemetery where the turkeys would gather along the cemetery fence to watch the ceremony.

Frieda raised three children, Elfrieda, Marc, and Edward, who became a Barnstable policeman. She was also a marvellous cook, remembered for her beautiful apple pies.

The Little River Turkey Farm came to an end in 1962 when a fire destroyed the outbuilding sheds. Frieda lived on to age 92, a fine example of a woman entrepreneur.

I'd love to hear from people who remember the turkey farm and Frieda Landers.

Published in The Barnstable Enterprise 30 Dec. 2011.

Frieda Landers was a strong supporter of foreign student exchange.  Shirley (Anderson) Fisher called on Jan. 3 to say that a fellow classmate at Barnstable High in 1952 was a German exchange student named Herman Lindner from Weissenburg in Bavaria, whom Frieda gave housing and food, probably in exchange for help on her farm.  He would ride his bike from Little River to school.  Herman has since died.  Let us know if you remember him.

Home for the holidays in Cotuit

January 9, 2012

Willie Irwin's Stage

By 1900 most of the Cape’s young people had found work off the Cape in business in Boston or in factories of Lowell and Brockton. Coming home to Cotuit for the holidays a hundred years ago was exciting. After a three and a half ride down from Boston the train pulled into West Barnstable station, and stopped with a jerk. Waiting at the baggage car behind the engine was Willie Irwin in “Cotuit Belle”, alongside the post carriages from Osterville and Centerville, all crowding in to lift the steamer trunks and suitcases and mail bags onto the carriages.

As the train chuff-chuffs off to Hyannis, those aboard the Cotuit Belle are off on the seven long miles to Cotuit. If passengers are lucky, they can sit up next to the driver, behind those two perfectly matched bays (reddish brown to you). The carriage goes past the village store, and Willie might point on the left to where the Cranberry King, A. D. Makepeace lived and processed his crop of berries. On the right is the Selectmans’ building, as close as the town has to a town hall. Just beyond, carriage passengers might see some old-timers at the town Poor Farm. Here the rain puddles up in the cart tracks, and passengers hope the carriage doesn’t get stuck in the mud. Otherwise, it is the passengers that have to get down and push.

Continuing on, ahead is the steeple of the old Rooster Church, the oldest in town. Soon, the going gets tough, as we climb the glacial moraine, bumping over the rocks and boulders, hoping not to break an axle. The carriages to Centerville and Osterville have headed off east, and we come down at last to the Plains, with their broad fields and white farmhouses.

Across Race Lane, we can see the sparkling reflection of waters of Hamblin’s Ponds. Nearing Marstons Mills we pass the old cemetery. Here, next to the road are the arrowhead shaped tombstones of the early settlers of Cotuit. Next, the travels down the gully into Marstons Mills where Willie stops at the Post House to give the gray US Mail bag to Hattie Mecarta, the postmistress.

As the carriage leaves the Post House, on the right by the pond is the office of Dr. Higgins, the doctor for the whole west side of town, and Mashpee. To the left we can hear the grist mill. The carriage crosses over the herring run, and slowly climbs the hill toward Cotuit. At the top of the hill is the big mansion of Judge Marston, whose dining room they say has a hole in the ceiling–a souvenir of the Revolution–when a soldier putting down his musket discharged the firearm accidentally as he accepted a beer from the judge.

Then it is two long miles through the thick dark pine forest surrounding Eagle Pond. Finally we come home to Cotuit Port with a first view of salt water. On Main Street we pass Julius Nickerson’s store on the right, where the Coop now is, and halts at the famous Santuit House, to let off guests.

Then, on to the post office to drop the mail. The carriage travels own past Sears department store on the right, with the fire station and barber shop, where the park now is. On the left would have been the old Coop grocery, an immense three story building that included a jeweler, a plumber, telephone and telegraph, a pool hall, and furniture store.

The carriage climbs the last steep hill to Central House, run by the future Congressman Gifford’s wife, Fannie. At the end of the line is High Ground, where Freedom Hall and the 1846 church (now the Mariners Lodge) crown the hill.

Barnstable Enterprise 16 Dec. 2011