Thursday, December 19, 2019

In Their Footsteps: Cape Cod History - The Baxendales and Amrita Island

     Cape Cod hides many fascinating out of the way locations, especially for a place that is less than 400 square miles in size. Nestled snugly in the Cataumet section of Bourne lays an island. Surrounded by Squeteague Harbor and sheltered from Buzzards Bay by Scraggy Neck this island is as difficult to find as a parking spot at the Cape Cod Mall on a rainy summer afternoon. It is a hidden gem with a mesmerizing story. It is Amrita Island.
     Located on the way to Megansett Beach in Cataumet is Baxendale Road. This rural side road heads west toward Buzzards Bay over a creek to an island of roughly 430,000 square feet. Today there are ten homes on the island however at the turn of the 20th century there was only one. It belonged to Thomas Baxendale.
     Born on February 29, 1840 in Blackburn, England, Baxendale dreamed of the American life and emigrated to the United States in 1867. He settled in Brockton where he met and married Esther Minerva Simmons in 1871. Baxendale would make a fortune in the shoe business in the latter decades of the 19th century by perfecting the ‘box toe’ boot. These tougher, rounded toes helped the leather toes of boots last longer and added to their appearance.
     Thomas and Esther made a fortune in business in Brockton with Thomas running the plant and Esther keeping the books. Eventually the couple purchased land along Buzzards Bay in 1890 as a summer residence and christened it ‘Amrita Island.’ The word Amrita is from Sanskrit, the language of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism, and means ‘immortality’ and in mythology it is the name for the nectar of the gods which gave said immortality.
Island Haven

     The Baxendales brought in scholars and deep thinkers of the day to deliver lectures at their estate on the western tip of the island which they named ‘Island Haven.’ One such topic they often hosted lectures on was animal welfare, of which they both cared deeply. The couple frequently donated money to the Animal Rescue League of Boston. Established in 1899, Esther was dear friends with the organization’s founder Anne Harris Smith. Esther even wrote a book written as an ‘autobiography’ of her Italian-gazelle hound Fairy in 1904 entitled Yours with All My Heart. A loving tribute and further proof of her love of animals.
     Baxnedale hired a Portuguese builder named Manuel Brazil in 1908 to add a unique entrance to the island. Brazil was born in the Azores Region of Portugal in 1836 and emigrated to Provincetown in the mid-19th century. He constructed medieval castle towers, eight in all, which beckoned you across the 120-foot bridge leading to Amrita Island. This bridge to this day seems out of place for Cape Cod and creates a feel as if one is heading into a different world.
The Bridge to Amrita Island

     Once the lectures got going the Baxendales made Amrita Island more inviting for scholars by having cottages built for visiting Harvard professors. These had names like Sorrento, Castle-la-Mare, and Guardian. Eventually Thomas and Esther retired from business leaving the reins of the company to Esther’s brother John Simmons.
     In 1909 Thomas Baxendale began having stone carted across the bridge to the island. Reports at the time thought it was for a sea wall, in reality it was for a mausoleum. His health failing Baxendale commissioned the elaborate final resting place that was christened ‘Sunset Terrace.’ It was built on the bluff on the west side of the Baxendale mansion facing the sunset. Sunset Terrace was complete with forty-four steps and three broad piazzas leading to the mausoleum. Thomas died on March 31, 1910 at age seventy at his home in Brockton. He was buried in Sunset Terrace in December of that year with a big dedication of the mausoleum.
     Esther Baxendale continued spending summers at Amrita long after Thomas’ death. She and Thomas loved Harvard so much in fact that after Esther’s death on March 17, 1927 the entire island was bequeathed to the university. Shortly thereafter Harvard in turn donated the land to the Animal Rescue League of Boston in 1934 who opened a school of humane education there. Until 2007 there was a summer camp for inner city children held on the island.
The Sunset Terrace mausoleum

     The Baxendales never left Amrita though. They, along with the previously mentioned dog Fairy, are interred in a striking mausoleum on the western edge of the Island Haven property. It faces the sunset and the phrase ‘Love Is Eternal’ is inscribed on the mausoleum door. Beautiful words on a beautiful hidden gem of an island. With no more summer camp held there it is important to remember that the homes across the bridge are private residences and they must be respected.

View my previous blog posts: In My Footsteps: My Cape Cod Roots

Cape Cod Sunsets 2020 Calendar available at Zazzle here: Cape Cod Living Store

Be sure to check out my website: Christopher

My 5th book, Cape Cod Nights, is on sale at and through Arcadia Publishing

Thursday, December 12, 2019

In My Footsteps: My Cape Cod Roots

            I am a 12th generation Cape Codder, my roots are that of the Doane family.  Deacon John Doane, one of the founders of the town of Eastham is my paternal 9th-great grandfather.  My maternal grandfather ran his own successful business, Sullivan's Donut Shop in Hyannis for two decades.  My family is deeply rooted in the history of the Cape, although throughout my childhood I don't think I appreciated where I lived.  Looking back now though I realize how specials those times and the days since have been.

             I feel that I was born at the absolute best time to appreciate Cape Cod for all that it is and was.  I am old enough to remember things ‘the way they used to be’, yet young enough to enjoy the way things are.  For those who are dying to know, I was born in 1977.  I straddle the line between generations that gives me insight into two worlds.  I am of the age where I was able to see and experience a little bit of Olde Cape Cod and watch as my home changed and adapted with the times.

              During my childhood landline telephones and phone booths were common.  I remember waiting for friends to call, and actually having to remember people’s phone numbers.  Yet as an adult I love the convenience and technology of smartphones.  I do not believe I could recite anybody’s phone number today.  However I could still rattle off my old home phone number, my Nana’s number, and a few friends from middle school as well.

            Throughout my childhood I would be tossed outside by my mother during summer to go off and play with my friends, only coming home when it was almost dark.  I do not believe we ever feared being abducted, though I am sure the bad people were not something invented in the last twenty years.  The Cape seemed more innocent though I am sure that it was not.

            I was born at a time when vinyl albums were mainstays.  I had a collection as a seven-year old that might shock people today with artists like Ratt, Twisted Sister, Quiet Riot, Van Halen, and Motley Crue lining my shelves.  Of course I had the first pressing of Michael Jackson’s Thriller as well and used to play it loudly out of my window on my Fisher-Price record player so all of the neighborhood kids could dance in the yard.  I had young hip parents which influenced my style growing up.  However as much as I loved making cassette mixtapes off of stations like Cape 104 and 96.3 The Rose I can honestly say I prefer MP3’s and iTunes to Maxell and Memorex.

            I am old enough to remember walking, or driving, to the video store to rent VHS tapes.  Yet I am young enough to fully enjoy Netflix and Hulu and the instant gratification they provide.  Sure I played Atari 2600 and the original Nintendo but they were bit parts of my childhood.  Admittedly I did spend a good amount of time at the arcade but Rampage wasn’t going to beat itself!  It was a time when walking seemed more common, like after family meals on holidays.  There was always a place to walk as a family.

            I am old enough to have seen the first two schools I attended close.  I went to South Yarmouth Elementary School on Route 28 with Laurence MacArthur as my principal.  The school would eventually bear his name before being closed in 2013 and reopening as a campus for Bridgewater State University in 2015.  I then attended John Simpkins Elementary located on the same plot of land.  It served as the town’s first high school before Dennis-Yarmouth opened in 1957 and housed Grades 3-5 after.  It closed in 2006 and was transformed into the Simpkins School Residences, senior housing, opening in 2014.

The former John Simpkins Elementary in South Yarmouth

            I am old enough to remember the Cape Cod Mall in the days before it expanded.  In those days it was anchored by Woolworth, Filene’s, and Jordan Marsh and had a separate cinema on the property.  I remember spending Friday evenings searching Record Town and Tape World for my next musical interest.  However I am also young enough to enjoy the convenience of what the expanded Mall has brought with so many stores under one roof.

The Cape Cod Mall entrance circa 1995

            I am old enough to remember Cape Cod icons such as Thompson’s Clam Bar, Mildred’s Chowder House, Joe Mac’s, and Mill Hill Club.  There were fewer Shaw’s and Stop & Shop’s and more Angelo’s, Purity Supreme, and A&P’s.  I frequented Bassett’s Wild Animal Farm in Brewster and visited the legendary Cape Cod Coliseum, although it was to see Sesame Street On Ice.

            I am old enough to remember the grounding of the 473-foot freighter Eldia at Nauset Beach in March 1984 and not believing how big it was.  I saw the breach of North Beach in Chatham in January 1987 and am amazed at seeing it healing itself.  In 1991 Hurricane Bob in August and the ‘Perfect Storm’ of October made me appreciate the wonders of electricity after losing power for many days.

The Eldia aground on Nauset Beach in March 1984

            My childhood was a time when drive-in theaters were still the norm.  At their peak there were nearly 4,000 drive-in theaters in the United States, as of 2017 that number has dwindled to 338.  The Wellfleet Drive-In is all that remains of their legacy on Cape Cod.  However I have fond memories of being elementary school aged and visiting the Yarmouth Drive-In across from Captain Parker’s Pub.  I was lucky enough to see movies like E.T., Return of the Jedi, and Flash Gordon in the warm summer air.  Other drive-in theaters in Dennis, Hyannis, and Falmouth once dotted the Cape decades ago as well.

            I remember there being more salamanders and fewer turkeys and coyotes.  I was warned about jellyfish stings when stepping into the ocean, Great White sharks not so much.  I remember the noon whistle in Yarmouth scaring me on numerous occasions.  I remember more Friendly’s and fewer Dunkin’ Donuts, Bradlees instead of Walmart.  Cape Cod seemed much larger then.  A family trip to Edaville Railroad in Carver felt like a drive across the country.  Today Chatham, Provincetown, and Falmouth feel an arm’s length away.

            Amazingly for all of the changes I have seen in my time there are some things which remain the same.  The scent of Cape Cod Potato Chips cooking as you pass along the Mid-Cape Highway between Exits 6 and 7.  106 WCOD on the radio.  Delicious ice cream during the summer from places like Four Seas, Lil’ Caboose, and Ice Cream Smuggler.  Kids and families sledding on the golf courses during winter.  The Barnstable County Fair in July, the Cranberry Festival in Harwich in September, the Yarmouth Seaside Festival in October.

            Then there is the natural beauty of Cape Cod.  It is everywhere.  The National Seashore is as close as one can get to how the Cape must have looked when it was first discovered.  Summer drives along the shore routes in Eastham up through Provincetown are heavenly.  Route 6A is a blast to the past with its historic homes and tree shaded scenery, just like I remember as a child.

            Yes I feel I was born as the absolute perfect time when it comes to the history of Cape Cod.  I have watched the Cape change in some ways and stay the same in others.  This is only my story though, what things do you remember about Cape Cod as children?  What changes have you enjoyed?  What changes have you not liked?  Thanks for reading.  

Thursday, December 5, 2019

In Their Footsteps: Cape Cod History - Cape Cod's First Radio Station

     In 1903 the first transatlantic wireless communication took place in Wellfleet thanks to the invention of Guglielmo Marconi. It was the beginning of radio. 2020 will mark the 100th anniversary of the first commercial radio broadcast. However it did not take place on Cape Cod but from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. There have been many legendary radio stations on Cape Cod. 106 WCOD is still going strong since debuting in 1967, others like 99.9 WQRC and 107.5 WFCC have been supplying music to various audiences for decades. In 2019 there are an estimated 15,330 radio stations in the United States. Did you know that Cape Cod’s first radio station came in with a bang, make a quick splash, and left with barely a whimper?

     On November 2, 1920 Pittsburgh radio station KDKA aired the first commercial broadcast. The station had chosen election day in America so listeners could hear the results of the race between Warren G. Harding and James M. Cox which Harding won. The broadcast was a huge success. Within four years there were 600 commercial radio stations in the country including WNAC in Boston, the future WRKO, and WEEI. These stations, and infrequently WEAF out of New York, could be tuned in to on Cape Cod.

     News programming and musical shows were the norm with special guest performers. To offset the costs of paying the performers plus improving the radio station equipment stations turned to advertisers. The very first radio advertisement, a fifteen-minute real estate ad about apartments in Jackson Heights, aired on WEAF New York on August 22, 1922. Radio became big business with advertising and networks developing and sharing programming among affiliates.

     The rising popularity and profitability of radio led to Cape Codders longing for their own local station. Boston and New York stations were accessible to varying degrees however lacked the local feel and coverage. In July 1926 their wish came true. A station was created in Osterville through the efforts of James Henderson, the president of the firm of Henderson & Ross. It was a 200 watt station located at the Seapuit Golf Course, one of the first built in America, along South County Road. The station, which would operate on the 250 meter band, was to be known by the call letters WJBX, however it debuted with the letters WSGC possibly as a nod to Seapuit Golf Course.

     The job of running the new radio station fell to William Harrison who had been working as a broadcaster for WEEI in Boston. The hype for the opening night of Saturday July 24th was palpable in all of the local newspapers. Harrison stated the station’s signal was strong enough to be heard throughout Cape Cod and Southeastern Massachusetts. An additional promotion was begun by James Henderson, it was a cash prize of $25 for the telephone call received at the station from the furthest away by midnight of the first day on the air. All other telephone callers would receive complimentary copies of Cape Cod Magazine (the original version which was in print from 1915-1927)

Aerial view of Seapuit Golf Course from 1892, courtesy of Marstons Mills Historical Society

     Opening night of the new WSGC began at 7:30pm with a half-hour performance from Joe Rines and his Sunkist Garden Orioles orchestra. Sunkist Garden was briefly the name given to the Mill Hill Pavilion located where DiParma Restaurant currently stands in West Yarmouth. The music was followed by a brief introductory discussion by founder James Henderson. He then threw it to a discussion featuring Massachusetts Amateur golf champion Freddy Wright and golf course architect Donald Ross among others. It was fitting for the station’s headquarters. From 9-11pm there was a collection of dance music featuring the likes of Jim Moynihan’s Orchestra, soprano singer Jean Hinkle, and pianist H.C. LeBrie. The night was deemed a success. More than 200 telephone calls were received by midnight with the furthest point heard from being Lexington, Massachusetts approximately seventy miles away.

     WSGC was to be on the air every evening except for Monday between 7:30-11pm typically following the same format of musical interludes and discussions of topics central to life of Cape Cod. The programming found an audience with letters coming in from as far away as Concord, New Hampshire by the middle of August. William Harrison continued to bring in big time local musicians like Chet Copp and the Eagleston Inn Orchestra out of Hyannis. On August 17, 1926 Harrison was contacted by the Department of Commerce from Washington D.C. informing him that the station’s call letters were originally supposed to be WJBX not WSGC and that the department was immediately changing them.

Program Listing for WSGC's Opening Night, courtesy of Boston Globe Archives

     The new WJBX continued on with its successful programming six nights a week throughout the remained of the summer. It was announced that as Labor Day passed the radio station would cease operating until the following spring. The final night of Sunday September 5th featured a worship service led by Reverend H.P. Almon Abbott and finally a short recital featuring Jean Hinkle. WJBX closed for the season at 11:30pm. On September 13, 1926 the Radio Corporation of America (RCA) created the first national radio network, the National Broadcasting Company (NBC).
William Harrison stated that due to the station’s success he was excited for the second season in 1927, promising new shows from outside the confines of the Seapuit Golf Course station. The likely relaunch was set for June 1927. Unfortunately the relaunch never came. It is unclear why but WSGC/WJBX ended up being nothing more than a flash in the pan, a test run for what would be coming in the decades that followed.

     James Henderson went back to focusing on his real estate while Harrison went back to Boston to continue his radio career. The Seapuit Golf Course slowly declined through the Great Depression before the entire property was purchased by Canadian ‘Aluminum King’ E.K. Davis. The golf course was abandoned after severe damage during a hurricane in 1944 and today there are very few, if any, reminders of the golf course left.

     Cape Cod would not see a new radio station until the formation of the Cape Cod Broadcasting Company in 1937. Two years later came a proposal by Joseph Goulding for a station on 8 ½ acres of land on South Sea Avenue in West Yarmouth in June 1939. He said the station would have the call letters WOCB for ‘Only Cape Broadcasting.’ A 195-foot tall radio tower was erected and the second-ever Cape Cod radio station went live on October 2, 1940. It ran out of money and folded in May 1943 before being brought back to life by new owners E. Anthony and Sons in May 1944.

A postcard for WOCB from the early 1950's, courtesy of American Radio

     In May 1948 WOCB became Cape Cod’s first FM station. It remained in business until Hurricane Bob felled the radio tower in August 1991 and the owners could not afford to rebuild. The station was purchased by automobile dealer Ernie Boch Sr. to become the flagship station for his Boch Broadcasting. Its call letters were changed to WXTK and the station is still on the air today.

     Despite being the first radio station on Cape Cod nary a word is spoken about WSGC. Perhaps because it only last two months. Perhaps because its home base the Seapuit Golf Course is long since gone WSGC lends itself to being a mere footnote in the long history of Cape Cod radio. However in the legacy of radio stations on Cape Cod there had to be a first and that one was WSGC in Osterville.

In Their Footsteps: Cape Cod History - Angelo's Supermarket                                   

Cape Cod Sunsets 2020 Calendar available at Zazzle here: Cape Cod Living Store

Be sure to check out my website: Christopher

My 5th book, Cape Cod Nights, is on sale at and through Arcadia Publishing