Historical Paintings of Woods Hole and Falmouth by F. L. Gifford

Historical Paintings of Woods Hole and Falmouth
by Franklin Lewis Gifford

Introduction this site
There are 20 or so paintings of various scenes around Woods Hole, Massachusetts that are hanging on the walls of the Woods Hole Public Library. Most of these paintings show scenes from Woods Hole in the 1800s, though a few are more recent, and a few more ancient, including one — featuring several men in horned helmets — titled, “Landing of the Vikings at Woods Hole,1000 A.D.”

All of these paintings are the work of one artist, Franklin Lewis Gifford, who was born in Woods Hole in the 1850s, lived all his life in Woods Hole, painted houses in Woods Hole for a living, and, after he retired in 1930, painted over 200 pictures, many of historical scenes.

After his death in 1936, his historical paintings featuring Woods Hole were given to the Woods Hole Public Library and historical paintings featuring the town of Falmouth (of which Woods Hole is a part) were given to the Falmouth Historical Society.

The artwork can, at times, be a bit crude, but the paintings are full of light and of interesting details that make them a delight to inspect closely. Many of the paintings capture scenes and moments that Gifford himself remembered or seems to have carefully reconstructed from the memories of other Woods Hole old-timers and from historical records. They are an intriguing entry into the history of the village.

Most visitors to the Woods Hole Library don’t come looking to learn about Woods Hole history. Even if they did, they would have to know a lot about 19th Century Woods Hole to understand what they were seeing in the paintings.

For example, one painting shows some windmills on the shore of Little Harbor, but the painting offers no explanation of what the windmills were doing there. Fortunately, Gifford wrote notes about most of the paintings for an exhibit that was mounted in New York in 1932. Those notes became the basis for a book that the Library published in 1962 with Gifford’s notes about most of the paintings on the walls there.

The 1962 book is available in the Library, but the average visitor doesn’t look at a painting, see (let’s say) the windmills, wonder what they’re doing there, and then search out Gifford’s book to read his explanation. So we’ve created this website as a way to introduce everyone — even some of you who may never get to Woods Hole — to Gifford’s paintings and to a bit of the history of our village.

That this is a website also makes it possible to go beyond Gifford’s notes. For example, Gifford identifies a steamboat arriving at the wharf in Little Harbor as the “Marco Bozzaris,” but he doesn’t explain the name which has its own intriguing back story connected to two famous poets, a famous merchant, 19th Century European history, and the Greek war for independence. We won’t reveal any more here. Follow the links and discover the story. Or find the story of the bloody battle that led to the capture of a pirate in the waters off Woods Hole. Or there’s a story about the rise and fall of worldwide guano trade and its impact on Woods Hole.

In short, there’s a huge amount of history in these paintings, and much, much more in the web of links that surround them.

So here is a website devoted to the historical paintings of F.L. Gifford. With each painting are the notes Gifford himself provided plus, where possible, a map of the location of the painting, and a photo of the approximate setting of the painting now, in 2009. There are also (or will soon be) links to relevant articles from Spritsail, the historical journal published by the Woods Hole Historical Collection. Gifford’s map of Woods Hole in 1845 is here, as well as various other notes and links relating to topics that were of particular interest to the webmaster.

Enjoy the website and, if you possibly can, visit the paintings themselves. As mentioned, more than twenty of them are on the walls in the public library in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. In addition, there are two more on display at the nearby Falmouth Historical Society.

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Foreword from the 1932 Gifford Catalog
While this booklet is primarily a condensed catalogue of some of the paintings of Franklin L. Gifford of Woods Hole, with the descriptive backgrounds given for some of the pictures having historic significance together with some of the special articles, it constitutes a brief history of Woods Hole by one of its oldest residents.

William Gifford was one of the first settlers in Woods Hole. Braddock Gifford, a descendant of William, was the Village Smith the early part of the 19th century. His son, Barzillai Gifford was a leading citizen of the village, and the Ship's Carpenter and expert on interior work. Franklin L. Gifford, now one of the oldest residents of Woods Hole, is the son of Barzillai. Mr. Gifford was born in Woods Hole on July 18, 1854. With the exception of three years spent in New Bedford, learning his trade, and three years in business in Attleboro, Mr. Gifford has spent all of his life in Woods Hole.

For 54 years, he conducted a thriving business as a house painter and interior decorator. In 1930, Mr. Gifford retired. While he has for a number of years dabbled in oil paintings as a pastime, most of his paintings have been done recently, since he has been able to devote his entire time to this avocation.

With a keen, alert mind, a remarkable memory, and a steady hand, "Frank" Gifford has recorded for posterity much of the early history of Woods Hole through his paintings, and the descriptions given as a background to some of them.

Mr. Gifford's artistry is entirely self-made. He never had a lesson of any kind to guide him in his paintings in oil and water-color. All of which makes his productions the more remarkable.


Woods Hole, Mass. September, 1932.

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Introduction to the 1962 Gifford Catalog
This little volume contains a selection of Mr. Gifford's paintings which were donated to the Woods Hole Public Library by his children, Ellen Franklin Griffin, William Maxson Gifford, and Charles Edmund Lloyd Gifford, in accordance with his wish that those pictures of historic value be preserved for the benefit of posterity in Woods Hole. These pictures together with the descriptive material given partly by Mr. Gifford himself and added to by interested friends constitute an historical record of Woods Hole as recalled by a lifelong resident. The earlier scenes are an imaginative reconstruction of historical tradition but the majority represent the memory of an eye-witness assisted in some instances by sketches made at the time.

In 1932 one hundred and forty of Mr. Gifford's paintings were exhibited in New York. The notes and descriptions of the scenes in the pictures that follow are based on the catalogue prepared for the occasion under Mr. Gifford's supervision: “Historic Woods Hole, a catalogue of the paintings of Franklin L. Gifford,” Woods Hole, 1932.… The descriptions have been edited to bring up to date the history of houses which remain standing and to add a few small bits of information whenever these could be obtained on good authority.

William S. von Arx, Woods Hole, Mass. 1957

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Additional Information
In addition to the paintings that Gifford's family donated to the Woods Hole Library, they donated several paintings relating to the history of Falmouth to the Falmouth Historical Society. The Woods Hole paintings are on display at the Woods Hole Public Library. Two of the Falmouth paintings ("The Battle of Falmouth" and "The Launching of the Status Ante Bellum") are on display at the Falmouth Historical Society. Others are currently in storage.

Woods Hole is a village in the town of Falmouth and is located on Cape Cod in Massachusetts.

This website was created during summer, 2009, by Jim Green with the assistance of Susan Witzell and Jennifer Gaines of the Woods Hole Historical Collection. Cipperly Good and Mary Sicchio of the Falmouth Historical Society also provided assistance. For more information, contact the Woods Hole Historical Collection through the link at the left or by clicking here or the Falmouth Historical Society by clicking here.

This website is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License by the Woods Hole Historical Collection.

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