Archive for July, 2012
Barnstable Historical Commission has received an application to demolish a Cotuit landmark known as Bonnie Haven, one of the last surviving homes of Cotuit whaling captains. Bonnie Haven is on lower Main Street below Loop Beach, overlooking Nantucket Sound. It was built in 1837, probably by the village housewright Quaker Samuel Dottridge, whose home houses the Historical Society of Santuit and Cotuit. At the core, Bonnie Haven is a classic Cape Cod cottage, which was expanded to accommodate the growing family. The well-preserved house is an excellent survival of vernacular architecture of the early nineteenth century.
Bonnie Haven was built for Captain Seth Nickerson Jr. (1814-1892), the best known whaling captain of Cotuit. Captain Nickerson’s story was told in a somewhat fictionalized form by his grandniece in the book The Cut of Her Jib (1953); the hero Horace is actually Seth Nickerson. He had been whaling since age 16 with his father and by the time he was 22, he had command of the New Bedford ship Massachusetts. In a voyage in 1849, he took along his wife and three children. The youngest, baby Ella, died of fever off the coast of Peru, was pickled in a barrel of rum, and was eventually– nearly two years later– brought home for burial in Mosswood Cemetery. During those two years, there was a long trip to San Francisco, where everyone went off to hunt gold, but returned to the ship, to hunt whales in Hawaii, off the tropical islands of Micronesia, into the recently discovered Japan Sea, far north to the frozen sea between Siberia and Alaska. The voyage was chronicled in a historical paper by Ken Molloy, archivist of Cotuit Historical Society. The ship returned home with a rich cargo of whale oil.
Captain Nickerson switched from whaling to the profitable trade in silk and tea with China in 1857, commanding the Boston ship Edith Rose on a voyage from Boston to Shanghai. Then he made several profitable whaling voyages to the Bering Sea, but lost his youngest son, four year old Stanley to scarlet fever in 1861, to be buried beside his little sister Ella. Still captaining whaling ships in his fifties, Captain Nickerson almost lost his end during a trip to the Azores in 1867. The captain’s leg caught in the line attached to the lance in a whale, and he got pulled under water. Captain Nickerson was rescued by his son who dived in with knife held in his teeth to cut the rope. The captain, half drowned, was rolled on a cask to get the water out of his lungs. He took a recuperative break at Mahe in the Indian Ocean’s Seycelles, and kept on captaining whaling ships until he was 63.
In 1879, after Capt. Nickerson had moved closer to the village center, the house was sold to summer resident James Herbert Morse (1843-1923), well-known New York City headmaster, literary critic, abolitionist and poet. His wife, Lucy Gibbons Morse founded the Cotuit Library, and was also an author and skilled maker of paper silhouettes. Her mother, the noted Quaker prison reformer, Abby Hopper Gibbons, spent many summers in Cotuit with her daughter and grandchildren.
It was during these years that the red-shingled Bonnie Haven became an active Cape Cod literary center. It attracted the famous actor Joseph Jefferson from his Cape Cod “Crow’s Nest” in Bourne, long visits from the popular author Frank Stockton, who wrote his tale of two shipwrecked ladies here; the Morses’ comedian cousin DeWolf Hopper, whose routine “Casey at the Bat” toured the country, and the reformer William Lloyd Garrison Jr. The red barn on the property became a popular summer theater. Mr. Morse also ran a summer prep school for Harvard students, and entertained friends from Cotuit’s “Summer Harvard” including faculty like the eminent economist Frank Taussig and president A. Lawrence Lowell.
Cotuit residents love their historic landmarks like Bonnie Haven, and have raised their voices to preserve this heritage. The Historical Commission will hold a public hearing on the proposed demolition at 4 pm Monday July 30 in the Selectmens’ Conference Room on the second floor of Town Hall.
Published in The Barnstable Enterprise 20 July 2012.