From the Archives — Prosperity from Whaling Created New-Style Houses in the 1840s

By Susan F. Witzell, Archivist

In 1842 two new homes were built on the main road into Woods Hole village. One was near the Fays’ “Homestead” (Challenger) and the other was on the high corner where Water Street descends down the hill to School Street and Luscombe Avenue. They were both built in the new Greek Revival style, inspired by Greek temples, gable-end facing the street, wide corner boards and gutter returns, solid-looking window frames with little hollow squares on the upper corners and classically detailed front doors with pilasters. Both houses were faced with clapboard and painted white or light off-white colors.

The Eldridge House

Eldredge house, c. 1900, Fay Family Collection

Thomas Davis, his brother Jabez Davis and their cousin Owen Eldredge (or Eldridge) were in business together as ships’ suppliers, probably starting in the 1820s when the Swifts began building whale ships in Woods Hole and provisions and supplies of all kinds were needed for the long voyages. By 1842 the partners, Davis and Eldredge, were well-to-do enough to build brand new homes. Prosperity from whaling caused an explosion of construction in the village. New buildings, stores and houses were built all up and down Water Street. Continue reading

From the Archives — The Loose, Untailored Fabric of History—the Treasure Trove in the Archives

By P.K. Simonds

Fans of the Woods Hole Historical Museum are sometimes confused to see signs, postcards or old issues of Spritsail referring to us as the Woods Hole Historical “Collection” instead. We can settle the issue right now: we are both. We are the Museum and the Collection. But the way we are known has evolved over the years, and the reasons for that speak to a very important part of our mission.

The “Collection” refers now mostly to the Archives, that treasure trove of historical records, etchings, paintings, letters, manuscripts, oral histories, calling cards, vintage nautical charts and the like which occupy the top of Bradley House (as well as some space in the library).

When you visit the museum, much of what you see exhibited is from our collection. But the archives are more than a larder to stuff with whatever’s not up on the walls downstairs. Much more. Continue reading

From the Archives — New Accessions and the Wreck of the City of Columbus

By Susan F. Witzell, Archivist

Milk Mug

Bread and milk mug of Sarah Bryant Fay (Photo by Susan F. Witzell)

The archives received several very interesting artifacts this summer. From Dr. Elizabeth Gardner, great-granddaughter of Joseph Story Fay, we received a child’s “Bread and Milk Mug”, belonging to Sarah Bryant Fay. Sarah Bryant Fay (1855-1938) was the daughter of Joseph Story Fay. Later she was the patron of Michael Walsh, who developed the rambler rose, and her rose garden was known all over the country. The mug is a typical example of hand-painted English china of the early 19th century. It has blackberry flowers, vines and leaves. Mugs like this were popular items for small children, each child having their own mug for drinking milk or bread soaked in milk or other treats.

Sugar Bowl

Sugar bowl from the City of Columbus (Photo by Susan F. Witzell).

And from Ann Crowell Morrison, we received a beautiful white and gold sugar bowl. The bowl had been salvaged from the wreck of the steamer City of Columbus.

On January 17, 1884 the steamer City of Columbus left Boston for Savannah, Georgia. She steamed around Cape Cod and into Vineyard Sound. At approximately 3:45 AM she struck rocks on a ledge called Devil’s Bridge off Gay Head on Martha’s Vineyard and immediately began to sink with her port side under water. A few officers and strong men were able to climb into the rigging of the two sail masts. Two lifeboats with crew and some passengers got away. Continue reading

From the Archives — The Hurricane of 1938

by P.K. Simonds

75 years ago this September a hurricane with no name slammed into our shores and wreaked more devastation than any storm had in 70 years — or has since. It had no name because storms didn’t then, but it’s picked up a few catchy handles in the meantime: “The Yankee Clipper”, “The Long Island Express”, “The Great New England Hurricane”, or the one we hear most often today: “The Hurricane of ‘38”.

The storm also had no name because no one expected it. 1938 was the end of New England’s hurricane innocence, when a nascent but still hidebound national weather bureau was content to ignore junior re- searcher Charlie Pierce’s correct storm track prediction because, in a nutshell, “hurricanes never do that” — they “always” curve out to sea. In ‘38, before computers and satellites, we relied more on instinct, and instinct relied on experience. Few if any had experienced the brutal 1869 Saxby Gale, let alone the 1821 Norfolk and Long Island Hurricane or the Great Colonial Hurricane of 1636.

How bad was it? As the category 3 hurricane tore a path across Long Island, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont and into Quebec, it left 63,000 homeless, took almost 700 lives, wiped entire seacoast towns off the map and downed an estimated 250 million trees — including one third of Vermont’s sugar maples and half of New Hampshire’s white pines. For Woods Hole and Falmouth the losses — in life, limb and property — were proportionately worse by far than in any storm since. Continue reading

From The Archives — The Story Of Some Cannon Balls, A Tale Of Cooperation, Not War

by Susan F. Witzell, Archivist

During late 1813 and early 1814 the British war ship Nimrod spent a great deal of time and effort patrolling, blockading and marauding Vineyard Sound, Nantucket Sound, Block Island Sound, the entrance to Narragansett Sound, the eastern end of Long Island Sound and the coast of Cape Cod, the Elizabeth Islands and areas around Buzzards Bay during the War of 1812 between the English crown and the young American republic. The blockade was a cause of great harm to the economy of the young country

Often using the ships’ refuge of Tarpaulin Cove on Naushon Island as a starting point for raids, the English learned fairly easily what was going on nearby. Ships on the high seas were captured, their crews impressed or imprisoned, the cargo seized and the ships themselves sent to Halifax in Nova Scotia, the island of Bermuda or burned. Continue reading

From The Archives — Quissett Oral History and the Fay Farmhouse

By Susan F. Witzell, Archivist

Quissett Oral History

In the early 1970s, Molly Willett of Quissett and several friends, Isabel Haigh and Cynthia Coffin, conceived of a project that was a very important contribution to local history. Quissett’s history goes back to the 1600s and some of the descendents of early Quissett settlers still lived in the area, either year -round or as summer residents. The three women spent about five years in the early 1970s recording (on cassettes) taped interviews and discussions among the local residents. Many of the residents were elderly and died soon after these recordings were made, so their timing was critical. In 1974 the first tape cassette recordings were made in Woods Hole, with “conversations” at the Woods Hole Library, a project that is still being carried on to this day by the Woods Hole Historical Museum.

Besides the interviews, equally important was the collection of information about some of the historic houses and properties in Quissett and local families’ genealogies. Hand-drawn genealogy charts were made as well as all that could be remembered about the houses.

After Molly died, her recordings (92 in all), her transcriptions and manuscripts were left with her husband, Herb Willett. After Herb died, the recordings and paper material were given to a local historian to use. They were donated to the museum this summer. Computer transcriptions of the hand-written transcriptions are in process. In the future the recordings will be transferred to digital format. We are grateful to these three women for recording invaluable local history.

The Fay Farmhouse and The Moors

Continue reading

From the Archives – A History Mystery

by Susan F. Witzell

In January 2014, our director Jennifer Gaines received a phone call from Jeff Sauvé, Associate Norwegian-American Historical Association Archivist from Northfield Minnesota. He had been given four photo albums. Three had Norwegian scenes and people and the fourth had images of Woods Hole. One of the names attached the photo album was Vedeler. Jeff’s wonderful volunteer, Dale Hovland, discovered that there was an Arnoldt Vedeler living in Falmouth (Woods Hole) listed in the 1910 Census. And so Jeff contacted us.

I took on the job of helping Jeff with this. Initially he and I talked for a long time on the phone. Then the emails began flying back and forth.

I knew the name Vedeler from our extensive Gulesian-Fish Family Collection. Paul Gulesian had married into the Fish family of Woods Hole. Their house was at 565 Woods Hole Road, now owned by the Woods Hole Research Center and currently occupied by the Penikese Island School. Continue reading

From the Archives — The Younger Joseph Story Fay

By Susan F. Witzell, Archivist

JS Fay in 1896

Joseph Story Fay, August 25, 1896, in Woods Hole. Photograph by Baldwin Coolidge.

When I published the first-ever biography of our earliest summer resident, Joseph Story Fay, in 2013 (Joseph Story Fay 1812-1897, The Life of a Modest Man), the only images I or anyone interested in local history had seen of him were taken in the 1880s or in the 1890s by Baldwin Coolidge in his very last years of life (1896- 1897). Fay looks worn, solemn, even uncomfortable and does not resemble the frequent description of him as a kind, cordial and generous man who was also known to be the life of the party. Doubtless he was not well or he was in some kind of pain at this stage of his life, being 84 or 85 years old.

Just this year, four images of a much younger Fay have been given to the archives by several descendants. Here we see — even in the stiff formality of a 19th century photographer’s studio — a slight smile, a lively curiosity, an engagement that underscores the Fay who was well-known and well-loved in his family, among his friends and in society. His side-burns, popular as a style for men in the 1840s, remained part of his appearance for his entire life.
The first of these new images is a daguerreotype, the first way of making photo-portraits of subjects on a permanent medium. Continue reading

From the Archives – Train Stations and Ferry Terminals in Woods Hole

by Susan F. Witzell

The Old Colony Railroad, originating in Boston, was extended from Monument Beach in what is now Bourne to Woods Hole during the years 1870 to 1872. The train terminal was located out on the steamship wharf itself and contained in a long wooden Victorian building with a monitor structure at the peak to allow steam and gases to vent.

The original wooden shed railroad terminal appears in the center of the photo above. photo by Baldwin Coolidge.

The original wooden shed railroad terminal appears in the center of the photo above. Photo by Baldwin Coolidge.

In 1901 that wooden station was demolished by deliberate burning by the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad, which had absorbed the Old Colony in the 1890s. The fire, which lasted some days, resulted in creosote-laden smoke which spread on the prevailing winds and resulted in the destruction of rosarian Michael Walsh’s entire crop of rambler roses as well as the Fay gardens where he worked. He and Sarah Bryant Fay sued the railroad and settled out of court, winning $20,000 in damages.

Following this, the railroad constructed a brick station some hundreds of feet back from the wharves and docks of Great Harbor. Continue reading

From The Archives — The Old Stone House Rejoins The Old Candle House – or Why I Love Archivists

by Mark Foster

Photo of the Candle House

“View Across Eel Pond No. 3” (usually titled “MBL Site”). Photo by Baldwin Coolidge, ca. 1893. Courtesy MBL Archives.

I could tell you stories about the kindness of archivists and librarians, of requests granted for documents so large or lengthy that this now-seasoned researcher blushes to think of them. But my favorite sort of kindness is that in which, while you pour over one item, the archivist quietly mentions that you might also be interested in this other item. Suddenly you are looking at something you didn’t know existed but now find indispensable. Such was the case last spring when I was doing research on the Swift & Co. candle house at Woods Hole.

This old stone building is a landmark of the village. As its date of construction has wandered about, I here set the record straight: though contemplated as early as 1828, planning was not complete until January of 1841 when ads seeking a builder for a stone building “66 long – 46 wide – and 3 stories tall” were published in the New Bedford Mercury. Construction, likely by a New Bedford builder, had begun by June and was near complete by early October when a hurricane unkindly removed the roof and demolished the top floor. The building was probably finished late that fall and in operation that winter.* Continue reading