Hotels and Boarding Houses


From its very early days when Woods Hole was a departure point for boats going to the islands of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, there had been small hotels and individual households offering boarding for guests. In the mid-1800s and after the Civil War it was common practice for city families to “rusticate” at the seaside and in the mountains. Many households in Woods Hole began to board summer visitors. With the arrival of staff for the U.S. Fish Commission in the 1870s, this became even more common, especially for households around Little Harbor, the temporary location of the Fisheries laboratories. Eventually the Fisheries built its own residence (1884) on Great Harbor. Woods Hole is still a village that fills with scientists and students during the summer months. Local residents still rent out rooms and houses to these temporary visitors.

A number of hotels were built in the mid to late 1800s. Webster House and Dexter House were on Butler’s Point (formerly Parker’s Point, now Juniper Point), all within walking distance of the village center.

One of the oldest was Dexter House, located on the hill above Little Harbor and the U.S. Lighthouse Service station. Leonard Dexter was a whaling captain from Nantucket; he and his wife Sarah built the three-story house about 1850. Sarah was the sister of Captain Calvin Childs whose house was just below. Their son Henry M. Dexter began running the house as a hotel in 1853. Beginning as a typical Greek Revival house with its front façade ending in a gable, the hotel eventually had three stories and a tower. There was a large sign on top of the main house “Dexter House”, visible from the village and probably attracting the attention of potential clients. In the 1880s and 1890s the tenants seemed to have been women and their children, who enjoyed the shade trees, hammocks and sweet sea breezes. In the 1920s it was used by summer investigators from the Marine Biological Laboratory, the men on one floor; the women on another. It was demolished sometime after this period

To the north of Dexter House was Webster House. It was built for John Webster who intended to rent it to Mr. Ticknor of Boston. Ticknor instead went to Europe and it became John Webster’s yearround home. Later it was used as a hotel but burned in 1875. The stable for Webster House shows up at the head of Little Harbor in a stereo view of the area. The only hotel which still exists in Woods Hole is the Woods Hole Inn. It was probably built after 1880. It appears in the Bird’s Eye View of Woods Hole of 1887 but is not listed among the businesses on the map’s key. It had gracious porches above a stone retaining wall. It was first mentioned in 1896 in the business-promoting publication Falmouth-By-the-Sea in which it was called “Hotel Nobska.” By 1901 it was called The Corner Inn and in 1907 it was named “Hotel Avery.” It was owned by Elmer Avery, a conductor on the New Haven railroad. Mrs. Avery ran the hotel.

The roof of Dexter House

The roof of Dexter House photographed from the Eliel T. Fish house next door, showing the sign and the village behind, c. 1890. Gulesian-Fish Collection.

At Dexter House

Women and children boarders at Dexter House, 1880s. Gulesian-Fish Collection.

Webster House stables

In the background, the stables for Webster House at the head of Little Harbor.

On the lawn

A young couple on the lawn of the Eliel T. Fish house with Dexter House behind. Gulesian-Fish Collection.

View of Hotel Avery

Postcard view of Hotel Avery, at times doing business as the Woods Hole Inn, as it is presently.

Dexter House Ad

Ad for Dexter House. From Falmouth-By-The Sea, published to celebrate and promote the Falmouth Board of Trade and Industry, 1896.