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.


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