Home for the holidays in Cotuit

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

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One Response to “Home for the holidays in Cotuit”

  1. Sharon Johanson Says:

    Hi Jim, My first attempt to leave a comment disappeared, so I don’t know if it got sent or deleted. But I was telling you how much I enjoyed reading this column and how it inspired me to wonder about when and how people began to synchronize time in Cotuit. Was it a need to know the train schedules, get kids to school on time, know when mail would arrive and depart the post office? When did people begin to own clocks and then watches? Lorraine Weir told me John Baxter used the second floor of the building that became the Santuit Post Office as a watch repair shop for a while – another fact that inspires my curiosity.
    Did people feel the same urgency to own a watch that we feel to own a cell phone?
    I love reading everything you write on your blog. Sharon

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