FIRST HOTEL ON CAPE COD 1860

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

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