Saturday, August 14, 2021

In Their Footsteps: Cape Cod History - Lawrence's Sandwich Depot, Falmouth Heights

    It served four generations of locals and visitors. It lasted from horses and buggies to smartphones and wifi. Whether a bakery, a sandwich depot, or a straight up restaurant, when it came to eating establishments on Cape Cod there was only one Lawrence’s. This is the long and storied history of this beloved business and the people that helped it last nearly a century.

    The tale of Lawrence’s goes back more than a century and a half to the birth of its namesake. Lyman M. Lawrence was born in Falmouth in 1850. As was common on Cape Cod in the 19th century ‘Lyme,’ as he was affectionately called, took a job on a ship at sea when he was a teenager. He was reported to have done at least one journey around the world in his time on the open ocean. Even after leaving the long journeys on whalers behind Lyme remained a sailor and fisherman. During his young adulthood Lawrence spent ample time on Martha’s Vineyard hunting and fishing. He even was said to have made good money in turtle hunting which included him sending his catch to Philadelphia restaurants.

    The trajectory of his life changed as he entered his 30’s. Lyman married Alice Upham of Bristol, Maine on May 11, 1882. They would remain together until his death. Even before he crossed over into the business world Lawrence was said to have been a habitual practical joker with a keen sense of humor. He was in every sense of the word a people person. The big break of Lyman’s business life came from an interaction with one of his closest friends and fishing buddy Dr. Walter Swazey.

Falmouth Heights 1908(Falmouth Public Library)

    A huge fan of fishing Lyme was typically out on a boat or in his small fishing shack on Grand Avenue cleaning his catch. However one day early in 1892 he was struck with a flare up of his rheumatoid arthritis and thus was not able to go fishing. Lawrence instead visited his friend Swazey and began to measure his fishing shack. It was 12x12-feet. Lyme turned to Swazey and remarked that it was the size of the store he was planning to build.

Falmouth Public Library

    In time for the summer season of 1892 Lyman Lawrence had done just that. Already in his early-40’s Lyme built a small bakery on the corner of Nantucket Avenue and Indiana Avenue overlooking the water in Falmouth Heights. His wife Alice was his first assistant. The initial patrons of Lawrence’s Sandwich Shop were met with a simplistic setup. Inside the tiny shop was a counter, a kerosene lamp, one chair, and a peanut roaster. The food on hand was equally as simplistic. Typically there would be a bunch of bananas, some sliced ham and cheese, and bread made freshly in store by Lyme. He made the ham and cheese sandwiches to order for five cents. The bakery at first was a money loser, even when adjusted for inflation Lawrence was charging $1.50 per sandwich by 2021 standards.

    However as previously stated Lyme was a people person and his personality brought loyal customers back repeatedly. Business began to increase and the building began to expand. Word of mouth spread about the quality of the food with Lyman slicing the bread by hand, slathering on some butter, and filling it with ham and cheese. Naturally later a greater variety of meats came along. A major selling point for those who had never visited Lawrence’s Sandwich Shop was the attention to hygiene and cleanliness. Lyman and anybody he had working for him never touched a customer’s sandwich with bare hands. From the cutting of the fresh bread to the finished sandwich product utensils were used to create the food. At the turn of the 20th century Lyme was ahead of his time.

    In the early 1900’s the business grew, as did the somewhat wacky escapades of its owner. A favorite past time of Lawrence was to get a customer sitting inside eating and while they were doing so he would sneak out, unhitch their horse, and quietly lead it away. The customer would be agitated at first before laughing and realizing they had been pranked by Lyme.

    On many days people would come to have a light lunch and commiserate on beautiful Falmouth Heights. There were equally as many evenings where Lawrence would hold court outside his shop swapping stories. One legendary story consisted of a time that a pair of thieves were seen by Dr. Swazey stealing the dory owned by he and Lyman. After procuring a boat owned by Webster Draper of the nearby Cottage Club Swazey and Lawrence gave chase. One of the thieves fired a shot toward the pair. However Swazey returned fire and shattered one of the oars from the dory. Shortly thereafter the thieves surrendered. They were returned to shore by Swazey and Lyman with a crowd of 50-60 on the beach cheering. It turned out the thieves had escaped from the Barnstable jail.

    In 1912 Lyman hired a young man named Clifford Wood to help him run his increasingly busy sandwich shop. Lawrence typically hired one or two people to help him each summer and learn his sandwich making methods. Wood however was in it for the long haul. After working alongside Lyme for more than a decade Wood made him an offer. Lyman sold the business to Clifford in 1926 and quietly slipped off into retirement in Lake Worth, Florida at 76.

    With Wood running the ship Lawrence’s Sandwich Shop became the Sandwich Depot. In 1931 the biggest change since its inception came when a brand new building was created. Gone was the tiny sandwich shack, here was a building that could seat 350. The business itself enlarged on the corner of what became #24 Nantucket Avenue. It was complete with knotty pine walls, hand-hewn beams, a fireplace, two outdoor gardens for summer, and a pond.

The interior of the new building. (Falmouth Public Library)

    Though it was no longer simplistic Lawrence’s Sandwich Depot kept its roots close. The sandwich making process remained virtually unchanged albeit on a much larger scale. A counter ran the entire length of one end of the building with a soda fountain sitting in front of an authentic ship’s wheel. It hearkened back to Lyman’s fishing history. The main attachment to its past was Lyme himself. Although fully retired he could not stay away. In fact he spent the entire summer of 1933 working full-time hours at the new location. That summer would be Lyme’s last at his former establishment and his last visit to Cape Cod.

    Lawrence’s health began to fail near the end of the summer of 1936. His old friend Clifford Wood made it a point to be there for him in his time of need. Lyman Lawrence died October 12, 1936 at the age of 87. Falmouth and Cape Cod as a whole mourned the loss of a one-of-a-kind character and hugely popular businessman.

    Clifford Wood carried on the legacy of Lawrence’s Sandwich Depot. It held tight to its past while also embracing its popularity as a more traditional restaurant.  The only thing to slow the growth of the establishment was World War II which led to Lawrence’s remaining closed in 1943. Clifford made the Sandwich Depot a centerpiece of summer life in Falmouth Heights. He held the reigns of the establishment until his death in October 1955 at the age of 60. Clifford’s wife Idamae took over for him and continued the success into the 1960’s.

    Lawrence’s Sandwich Depot was passed down to Clifford and Idamae’s son Donald. It was rechristened Lawrence’s Restaurant. Despite the name change Donald was fond of holding nostalgic memorabilia events at the establishment that relived and celebrated its rich history. He ran it until 1986 when it was sold to James Carroll. Lawrence’s Restaurant continued to be a summer favorite in The Heights into the 21st century.

Where Lawrence's once stood. (Google Maps)

    From the days of horses and buggies to the days of cell phones and internet, Lawrence’s was there through it all. Whether a simple bakery, a sandwich shop, or full-fledged summer restaurant, the people came to visit the establishment on Nantucket Avenue. Behind the century of success though was a modern thinker who screamed ‘Olde Cape Cod.’ Lyman Lawrence mixed his traditional upbringing with a contemporary sense of business, added an ample amount amount of good humor and bright personality to create someone still beloved nearly a century after his death. The memory of Lawrence’s will long echo among the people of Falmouth Heights.


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