Friday, June 10, 2022
In My Footsteps Podcast Episode 72: Wild Nights at Guido Murphy's of Hyannis, Giant Pizza Wars of 1993, Passing 90's Fads, Groton CT
Sunday, June 5, 2022
In My Footsteps Podcast Episode 71: Cape Cod's Woodstock, Old School Candy Store Trip, Musicians I Wish I Could Have Seen, New London NH
Thursday, May 26, 2022
Sunday, May 22, 2022
A chain restaurant is an establishment with many locations under the same company’s ownership. A similar business model is that of the franchise where the overall restaurant concept is sold to different owners. In America there are countless famed chain and franchise restaurants from fast food juggernauts like McDonald’s, Wendy’s, and Burger King, to casual sit-down eateries like Applebee’s, Olive Garden, and Chili’s.
Cape Cod in the last half century has seen a greater influx of the chain and franchise restaurants after spending much of the previous half century relying on single-location ‘mom and pop’ type establishments. Today there are well-established chains on the peninsula like McDonald’s, 99 Restaurants, and Olive Garden.
Looking back though there have been some famous chains and franchises that once called Cape Cod home. A few were here recently, a few closed long ago. Do you remember when Cape Cod housed these former iconic chains? Here is a list of some of them that once resided on the Cape.
Est. 1925 – around 1,000 locations at peak This was the original chain/franchise. It opened its very first location in Wollaston, Massachusetts. It was known for its bright orange roof. Owned by Howard Deering Johnson the burgers and ice cream establishment opened its first franchise in Orleans at the junction of Rt. 6A and Rt. 28. Later there would be locations in West Dennis, Hyannis, Bourne, and Falmouth. As of 2022 only one Howard Johnson’s remains in Lake George, New York.
Burger ChefEst. 1954 – 1,050 locations at peak For a time in the 1970’s Burger Chef was the #2 fast food restaurant in America behind only McDonald’s. The first location was opened in Indianapolis, Indiana. Known for signature items like the Big Shef and Super Shef burgers as well as being the originator of the kid’s meal, Burger Chef made its way to Cape Cod in the late 1960’s. Their one location was on Rt. 28 in West Yarmouth and lasted until the early 1980’s. It was in 1982 when Burger Chef was sold, with most locations being converted to Hardee’s, or simply closed down.
Est. 1953 – 1,487 locations in 2021 Denny’s is a powerhouse in the sit-down breakfast restaurant business. Their Grand Slam breakfast is well-known across America. It was originally founded in Lakewood, California by Harold Butler and Richard Jezak. For nearly the entirety of its existence Denny’s has been rivaled by the International House of Pancakes(est. 1958). This came to be on Cape Cod as well when Denny’s opened its only location on Rt. 132 in Hyannis in 1983. IHOP was and still is located a half-mile down the road. Denny’s only lasted a few years before being shuttered on the Cape though. The nearest Denny’s to Cape Cod is currently in Fall River.
Est. 1955 – around 550 locations at peak This spot is shockingly bigger than ever, despite only having one remaining location in America. It was established in 1955 by Harry Winkour. He had worked with his brother-in-law William Rosenberg who had established Dunkin’ Donuts in 1950. Mr. Donut had a pair of Cape Cod locations in Hyannis on Rt. 28 and West Main Street from the late 1970’s through the early 1990’s. As of 2022 there is only one Mr. Donut remaining in the United States, that being in Godfrey, Illinois. However in total there are roughly 5,500 Mr. Donut locations worldwide, with the majority being in Asia.
Old Country Buffet
Est. 1983 – around 500 locations at peak A more recent entry this family-style buffet spot was a staple for decades peaking at about 500 locations in 36 states. In Hyannis this establishment was located in the Festival shopping plaza from 1995-2010. It was a popular and low-cost spot for family meals and gatherings for local sports teams after games. Three bankruptcy filings came, combined with an increasing worry over obesity by many Americans. This spelled the slow decline of the buffet chain. As of 2022 the number of Old Country Buffet restaurants left in the U.S. stood at 17 and shrinking.
Arthur Treacher’s Fish and Chips
Est. 1969 – over 800 locations at peak This chain was named for English character actor Arthur Treacher who had roles in Mary Poppins and was a butler in several Shirley Temple films. The classic seafood fare restaurant began in Columbus, Ohio in 1969 with Wendy’s founder Dave Thomas as one of the principal owners. By the late-1970’s it grew to its peak of over 800 locations. This included 2 locations on Cape Cod. One was on Rt. 28 in South Yarmouth where the Lighthouse Landing strip mall is, which opened in May 1977. The other on North Street in Hyannis opened in 1978. They both last only a few years. As of 2022 there is only one Arthur Treacher’s left in America in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio.
Jack In the Box
Est. 1951 – 2,228 locations as of 2021 The largest active chain on this list Jack In the Box is firmly established throughout the south and west of the United States. Whether for the unique mascot ‘Jack’ or it’s eclectic menu including traditional burgers and fries but also tacos this chain has been a staple for more than 70 years. It was originally founded by Robert Peterson in San Diego, California and sports more than 2,200 locations as of 2022. On Cape Cod Jack In the Box had its one and only location debut inside the Cape Cod Mall upon the shopping center’s grand opening in 1970. It survived for a decade before closing. Today the closest Jack In the Box locations are in North Carolina.
Est. 1983 – 311 locations as of 2021 Another recent entry, Hooters had a location on Main Street in Hyannis. Founded in 1983 in Clearwater, Florida this sports bar type establishment is known as much for its servers known as ‘Hooters Girls’ as it is for its actual cuisine. The Cape Cod location opened in 2003 despite major opposition. It only last a few years before shuttering in 2007. The former location is currently home to Kkatie’s Burger Bar. If you’re craving Hooters wings the nearest one is in Warwick, Rhode Island.
Est. 1957 – over 1,100 locations at peak This once-popular chain, with a controversial name, was founded in Santa Barbara, California by Sam Battistone Sr., and Newell Bohnett. The name was a mash-up of the owners names, however it also was a highly derogatory slur used toward African-Americans. The restaurant was a diner-style chain promoting everything from pancakes to steak and more. By the time Sambo’s came to Cape Cod in 1978 there were already loud cries for the company to change its name. It opened near the Airport Rotary in Hyannis in the same building that would eventually hold Denny’s and Pizzeria UNO among others. In 1981 it changed its name to No Place Like Sam’s before closing in late 1982. The company filed for bankruptcy in late 1981 with all but one of the restaurants closing or changing their names within a year. The last Sambo’s, owned by Battistone’s grandson, finally changed its name to ‘Chad’s’ in 2020.
Dr. Neil Gale/Blogspot.com
Est. 1956 – around 450 locations at peak This classic American cuisine chain was founded in Miami Beach, Florida in 1956. Their signature item was hot dogs steamed in beer. A rapid expansion of the chain led to two Lum’s on Cape Cod opening in Hyannis and Falmouth in 1972. During this same time the chain gained national attention with famed comedian Milton Berle as their spokesperson. Both Cape locations were closed by 1980 as the rapid expansion had stretched the chain thin. By 1982 Lum’s had filed for bankruptcy. The last remaining Lum’s in Bellevue. Nebraska closed in 2017.
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Sunday, May 15, 2022
When one hears the word ‘wildfire’ it typically refers to tragic events that commonly occur in California. The routinely dry conditions, which give the state some of the most desirable weather in the country, also leave it vulnerable to fires. The largest wildfire, in August 2020, burned more than one million acres of land in six counties and destroyed 935 structures. In comparison the entirety of the Cape Cod National Seashore is 43,607 acres.
Despite it not being as serious a threat to the Cape as hurricanes and blizzards are, wildfires have occurred more often than you would think. The worst fire in Cape Cod history happened over seventy-five years ago and this is the story of the perfect storm that led to it.
The seeds of the worst forest fire in Cape Cod history were sown beginning eighteen months prior. The Great Atlantic Hurricane struck New England on September 15, 1944 with heavy rain and strong winds. Needless to say the winds toppled countless trees. By the time the spring of 1946 arrived there were still plenty of those dead trees lying where they fell.
The late-winter and early-spring of 1946 were particularly dry. The threat of potential wildfires was so high that in March State Deputy Fire Warden Ormand Dottridge Jr. warned residents of what could happen. Regulations were put into place for burning leaves and people were implored to be careful and not start anything they couldn't finish.
Watch-tower service and forest fire patrols were put into service. Despite this there were small fires that began breaking out in late March. These were a precursor of what was to come.
Early on April 19, 1946 fire broke out in Sandwich in the area near the Bourne Bridge. Northwest winds gusting up to 35mph combined with the relatively dry conditions were a terrible combination. The fire pushed south and east through the Shawme-Crowell State Forest and toward Camp Edwards(Otis AFB).
|The Bourne Bridge, near where the fire originated.|
Firefighters temporarily got the fire in check by building several backfires a mile from Sandwich center. This was only brief though and by 9pm on April 20th a 15-square mile area of Sandwich and Mashpee was burning or charred. Governor Maurice Tobin closed all public forest land in Southeastern Massachusetts. He also went to the Cape to help direct operations. There was still a few days before a chance of rain and the situation was extremely serious.
|Barnstable County Brush Breaker c.1942(CapeCodFD.com)|
Sandwich, Bourne, and West Barnstable were temporarily left without power as fire scorched the wires. The fire jumped across Route 130 and seemed to be on a collision course with West Barnstable and possibly Hyannis. More than 3,000 firefighters came from fifty-two different communities and worked nonstop building backfires, digging trenches, and working the fire hoses. They were led by John Stokes, the state commissioner of public safety, who left Boston to help. The group set up headquarters the East Sandwich Grange Hall on Old County Road.
At midday on April 21st the fire could be seen and smelled in Hyannis. It was only six miles west of the airport. The State Police barracks in South Yarmouth expressed their concern if the winds did not subside. The flames got to within a quarter-mile of forty homes in Sandwich. Much of Rt. 130 and parts of Route 6A(then Old Kings Highway) were closed to all but fire vehicles. Trains from Boston to Hyannis were diverted to Woods Hole with passengers then being shuttled by bus the rest of the way.
Late in the afternoon of April 22nd the blaze had finally been contained. What turned the tide was the firefighters burning a 1,000-foot wide hollow square around the fire.
When all was said and done authorities estimated 30-35,000 acres of Cape Cod land had burned, though the official number is likely closer to 15,000. More than twenty-five structures were lost and over one hundred people had been evacuated from their homes. The fire traveled a total of 8 ½ miles east from the Bourne Bridge. The price tag of damage was said to be more than $1 million($14.74 million in 2022). It took another 24-48 hours to fully extinguish the fire. In the immediate aftermath it was described as the worst forest fire in Massachusetts history.
The worst part of the entire ordeal was the fact that these fires appeared to have been deliberately set. They were a series of small fires that came together to wreak havoc on the Upper Cape.
On April 26th two Falmouth men, Theodore Andrade and Ruby Antone, were arrested in connection with the fires. Local authorities said that up to twelve fires had been set and that they thought there were more than two people responsible. The two men claimed that they had spotted one of the fires and had stopped to try to put it out.
The dry weather did not subside and less than two weeks later two more massive fires broke out. The fires that occurred on May 7th centered in Yarmouth and West Barnstable ended up destroying 8,000 more acres. Unbelievably officials believed these fires to be deliberately set as well.
In October 1946 Andrade and Antone faced a Grand Jury for their possible roles in the fires. Before they even went to trial they were found guilty for receiving stolen goods and sentenced to six months in jail. That charge was later overturned and the Grand Jury dismissed the charges pertaining to the fires. No other suspects were ever arrested.
The most devastating forest fire on Cape Cod was actually captured on film. The Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation is responsible for the filming and it is broken up into two parts on YouTube. You can see the terrible damage caused and also the tireless work of the brave firefighters who fought to put it out.
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Sunday, May 1, 2022
Cape Cod in the summer can be a slog when it comes to travel. Even on the most picture-perfect days weather-wise the man roads of Rt. 28, Rt. 132, and especially Rt. 6, can be choked with vehicles all looking to visit the same locations.
In the current era where GPS is common even the side-roads that used to take locals away from the crowds are not of as much use. What can be done to alleviate the traffic jams? Unfortunately not much. Route 28, Route 132, and the like are set in stone. As far as Route 6 goes, it’s not as if new exits can just be created to break up traffic jams. Or can they?
For decades the idea to do just that was a major talking point in the Mid-Cape area. The ultimate goal of developing a new exit along the highway has come close to fruition several times. Though not currently in existence it is not far from the minds of those longtime Cape Codders who look for ways to avoid the crush of summer traffic. This is the story of the elusive Exit 6 ½.
|What Exit 6 1/2 could have looked like.|
The story of Exit 6 ½ is intertwined with the history of Hyannis’ Independence Park. Located in between Rt. 132 and Mary Dunn Road, the industrial park was originally 680-acres of highly sought after land. It began its life as Parkland Properties owned by Paul Lorusso in the early 1960’s.
Lorusso, who had risen to prominence on Cape Cod in the 1950’s by creating affordable housing for World War II veterans, had to battle for a decade to get Parkland Properties to officially open as Independence Park in 1975. The first official tenant of the property was Marken Brothers grocers wholesale outlet.
More and more businesses opened up in, or moved to, Independence Park. Being somewhat quieter nearly a half century ago it was only natural that Lorusso would look for ways to increase vehicle traffic through the enormous industrial park. This is where Exit 6 ½ first comes to life.
The first idea Lorusso had to bring more eyes to Independence Park was via extending Old Townhouse Road in West Yarmouth. In 1975 the road ended at an intersection with West Yarmouth Road. Lorusso had the thought to extend Old Townhouse Road west nearly three miles. It would intersect Higgins Crowell Road and ultimately end up connecting to Mary Dunn Road which abutted Independence Park. In an attempt to push the project through Lorusso even offered to have his company foot the bill for the road extension. This would have cost Lorusso an estimated $800,000($4.27 million in 2022).
In early 1979 local newspapers ran stories about ways to alleviate the increasing traffic in and around the Mid-Cape. In addition to mentioning the extension of Old Townhouse Road again the story mentioned the creation of a new highway interchange between Exits 6 and 7 on the Mid-Cape Highway. Preliminary specs called for the so-called ‘Exit 6 ½’ to be constructed at the Mary Dunn Road overpass.
Paul Lorusso was a big proponent of the new interchange as it would shepherd vehicles right through Independence Park. The fact that it was being mentioned as being mostly state and federally funded made it an even better idea. Concrete plans for a new exit went slowly with potential water quality issues around the interchange becoming a major sticking point.
In 1981 the Old Townhouse Road rumor sparked back up. When nothing came from it this time it was shelved. A few years later it was decided to use the open space to create the Bayberry Hills Golf Course which opened in 1986.
A study in 1983 showed there were an average of 30,000 vehicles per day in the summer passing in the vicinity of the Barnstable Airport. The data was there that something was needed to give at least a little relief to the traffic. Momentum seemed to be rising when in 1984 rumors started to swirl of plans to build a new hospital in Hyannis. This was seen as a perfect fit for Independence Park. The addition of the hospital on the grounds could make the creation of Exit 6 ½ a little easier. At the time at least one person interviewed in the newspaper felt confident that at least one next exit would be created for the Mid-Cape Highway within the coming decade.
None of those plans came to fruition and the chatter about Exit 6 ½ quieted down. It bubbled back up in 1992 this time with an idea to remove the Airport Rotary as well. Then-Massachusetts State Representative John Klimm wished to have plans for the maligned highway interchange drawn up to potentially be included in a major state transportation bond bill in 1993. In August 1993 the Barnstable Town Council finally endorsed the creation of Exit 6 ½. A major hurdle had been crossed.
It was rumored that even with state funding that taking the interchange from planning to finished product could take as long as ten years. The rejection of a proposed Sam’s Club store in Independence Park in February 1994 was an ominous sign for Exit 6 ½. Despite that one million dollars was set aside in the state transportation bond bill for design studies and environmental impact studies surrounding the proposed new highway exit.
|The Exit 6 1/2 plans from 1998(Barnstable Patriot Archives)|
Plans changed when in June 1994 the state purchased 357 acres of undeveloped land that was part of Independence Park via eminent domain for $5.2 million. This land was to be protected and threw a huge monkey wrench into where a potential Exit 6 ½ could realistically be built.
A feasibility study was conducted in 1995 and public support was sought. Besides the potential environmental concerns those who lived along Mary Dunn Road and the surrounding neighborhoods felt the new interchange would add traffic to their relatively rural area. Talks would heat up and cool down over the next several years. Alternative locations for the exit were discussed as well as other ways to alleviate the thick traffic along Rt. 132.
Finally in March 1998 an official design for Exit 6 ½ was approved by the Massachusetts Highway Department. It was all systems go. Or so it seemed. Years passed and no movement was made on Exit 6 ½. It remained stalled in the planning stages. By 2002 focus had shifted to widening Rt. 132 and talk of Exit 6 ½ slowly faded away.
Twenty years after talk of Exit 6 ½ faded into the background traffic in Hyannis, and on Cape Cod in general, in the summer has only increased. In a report from the Cape Cod Commission, in 2018 the total number of vehicles crossing the Bourne and Sagamore bridges on an average day was 131,583. With traffic woes as prevalent as ever perhaps the talk of a potential Exit 6 ½ will bubble to the surface again sometime in the near future.
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Tuesday, April 19, 2022
Sandy Neck in West Barnstable is a hugely popular and important barrier beach and ecosystem on Cape Cod. It is 3,800 acres of pristine beauty frequented by countless thousands of locals and visitors alike year round. The north side is the well known beach with the south side being just as important as it is home to West Barnstable’s Great Marsh which extends all the way down to Route 6A. It is here, close to the Old King's Highway, where huge blue clay deposits were plentiful. For this reason the southern area of Great Marsh would become home to several aspiring businesses which took advantage of said clay. The most famous of which was the legendary West Barnstable Brick Company. This is its story.
The history of the West Barnstable Brick Company dates back to 1876. It was in February of 1876 that Levi Goodspeed purchased twenty acres of land along the Great Marsh. The land was part of the estate of Henry Fish. Goodspeed’s purchase was bisected by the railroad track, and just over a mile from the West Barnstable railroad depot. This prime real estate, sitting atop large clay deposits, was to be used for a new brick-making business.
Levi Goodspeed was a well respected man on Cape Cod at the time. In the decades leading up to the creation of West Barnstable Brick Goodspeed had been a Selectman, member of the House of Representatives, and finally Sheriff of Barnstable County.
Goodspeed brought aboard Benjamin and Charles Crocker to form the management of the West Barnstable Brick Company. Ads for their bricks first began appearing in the local newspapers in July 1878.
The company started small, inundating the local newspapers with those advertisements about their product. Slowly they gained a foothold, even being contracted to supply the bricks for a new jail in Barnstable in December 1878. Its first decade saw the fledgling company struggling to make inroads on Cape Cod. The growing pains of the company were only exacerbated with the sudden death of Levi Goodspeed in November 1879. It appeared as though the West Barnstable Brick Company might be destined to fail.
That changed when the company was bought in 1888 by Abel Makepeace the Cape’s resident ‘cranberry king.’ He added more machinery and more workers, many from Portugal and Finland, allowing the production levels to increase.
West Barnstable bricks were used to rebuild the Cape Cod Exchange building in Harwich, the new town offices in West Barnstable, the new Training School in Hyannis, as well as Our Lady of Hope church. The actual physical bricks were of the highest quality due to the arduous process of creating them. It included breaking up the clay and removing pebbles and other debris from it before shaping the bricks and pouring them into perfectly level molds.
The entire factory was essentially self-sustaining. The clay was collected on the property while the finished bricks were shipped out via the railroad tracks that ran through the property. The only thing that needed to be shipped in was the wood for the kiln used to dry the bricks.
Under the ownership of Makepeace the West Barnstable Brick Company became one of the giants of Cape Cod business. By the 1920’s it was reported that the factory could produce more than 100,000 bricks per day and more than thirty million per year. They were widely popular not only on Cape Cod but throughout the state of Massachusetts and even further.
In October 1925 the business would change hands after nearly forty years when it was purchased by Thomas Arden. He enlarged the factory as well as adding electric lights and a telephone. The company would receive another boost when the one and only automobile king Henry Ford paid a visit as he was interested in the brick making process. On October 14, 1926 Ford stopped by the factory. He wanted to buy a pair of antique engines however Arden gave them to him as a gift despite his objections. Ford would set things square by sending a brand new tractor to Arden a short time later.
However as high as the company was riding its demise had actually been set in motion. Unhappy with the fact that brick sizes were not uniform President Herbert Hoover created a universal size for the creation of bricks in 1928. The problem with this was that West Barnstable Brick was an eighth of an inch too large and so new equipment needed to be bought. This meant that the company needed to raise prices to cover costs.
This was only the beginning of the trouble. The October 1929 Stock Market Crash ushered in the Great Depression. This immediately slowed down the need for new buildings. Higher prices to cover costs combined with lower demand for the product forced West Barnstable Brick to cease operations in the fall of 1930.
All was not lost though. Arden, the directors, and stockholders were all meeting and trying to figure out how to get the business up and running again. The venerable brick company remained closed throughout 1931. In September 1931 it appeared as though a new day was dawning. All of the surplus West Barnstable bricks had been sold, and new orders were coming in. Arden and his staff cleaned and oiled the machinery, inspected the boilers, and prepped the clay pits to resume production.
Despite battling bankruptcy plans were in place for the West Barnstable Brick Company to rise from the ashes. By 1932 it had been over fifty years that the rich blue clay had been collected to make millions of high quality bricks. Arden wanted to know just how much clay, and therefore how many years, West Barnstable Brick Company had remaining in its current location. At some point during 1932 a test hole was drilled. This determined that there was roughly fifty years worth of clay remaining. This should have put Arden at ease. Unfortunately though the test hole struck water. This created an artesian well that flooded the clay pits.
The flooded clay pits were the death knell for the company. West Barnstable Brick Company did not immediately close though. Attempts were made to figure out a way to keep going. The remainder of 1932 and into 1933 were a holding pattern. However the Great Depression did not relent. West Barnstable Brick was no more.
In the spring of 1933 West Barnstable Brick Company was sold at auction to the First National Bank of Yarmouth. In the years after the factory was stripped with parts sold off to other Cape Cod businesses while the remaining brick load would be used up. Today all the remains is part of the broken down facade of the building located a few hundred yards off of Route 6A, not far from Our Lady of Hope.
It took more than thirty years for a new business to open on the former West Barnstable Brick property. Florence Ungerman opened The Wind-Ship Shop in July 1967 on Route 6A. The area of the property north of the railroad tracks however remained untouched. Over the nearly ninety years since the brick factory closed down nature has been reclaiming what was not removed.
Today the Orenda Wildlife Trust owns the former West Barnstable Brick Company property. It is a part of conservation land. The factory remains are overgrown and highly difficult to get to. The artesian well created a pond in addition to flooding the clay pits. There are nature trails leading behind the Orenda property but a trip to the brick factory remains in not advised.
For more than half a century the West Barnstable Brick Company was truly a giant among Cape Cod businesses. It bridged the gap from man power to steam power to electric power. Its legacy can still be felt today as authentic bricks created by the company are collector’s items and many of the buildings which used the bricks still stand.
Previous Blog Posts:
Friday, April 8, 2022
In My Footsteps Podcast Episode 64: Cape Cod's Oddest Tourist Attraction; Layne Staley's Death 20 Years Later; Bangor Maine; 1980's Product Flops(4-7-2022)
Friday, April 1, 2022
In My Footsteps Podcast Episode 63: The Paddock of Hyannis; Old School Telephone Problems; Movies That Remind Me of My Sisters; Brattleboro VT
Saturday, March 26, 2022
In My Footsteps Podcast Episode 62: BONUS - Cape Cod's Lady of the Dunes Murder Mystery, Special Interview with Producer Frank Durant(3-24-2022)
Thursday, March 17, 2022
In My Footsteps Podcast Episode 61: Restaurant Storytime 4 - Murder On the Prep Room Floor, MAD Magazine, Cape Cod's First Summer White House, Favorite Childhood Cereals(3-17-2022)
Thursday, March 10, 2022
In My Footsteps Podcast Episode 60: When Henry Ford Bought A Piece of Cape Cod, Nantucket's Great Point, Forgotten Childhood Beverages, My Nana's Favorite Game(3-10-2022)
Thursday, March 3, 2022
In My Footsteps Podcast Episode 59: Cape Cod's Pufferbellies Nightclub; A Vampire in Rhode Island; U2's POP Album 25 Years Later; Top 5 Music Supergroups(3-3-2022)
Sunday, February 27, 2022
Thursday, February 24, 2022
Thursday, February 10, 2022
In My Footsteps Podcast Episode 56: Mike Tyson's Punch-Out, An Island of Wild Horses, Race Point Sunrise, Worst Movies I've Ever Seen(2-10-2022)
Sunday, February 6, 2022
In the 21st century pharmacies, much like all of business, are dominated by a few big names. CVS, Walgreens, Rite-Aid, and more are located in nearly every nook and cranny of America. Even supermarkets like Publix and retailers like Walmart dabble in prescriptions. A century ago things were far different. The local pharmacy was a Mom and Pop operation. It was a friendly and familiar face. It was as much a hangout and general store as it was a place to pick up our scripts.
On Cape Cod there have been many beloved local pharmacies during the 19th and 20th centuries. However one that stands up near the top of the mountain in Cape history is that of Megathlin’s Drug Store. Existing for decades on Hyannis’ Main Street it was the home of operations for Charles W. Megathlin, but it was hardly the only thing he was known for. This is a bit about the man and the business that bore his name.
Charles W. Megathlin was born in Harwich, Massachusetts on April 2, 1872 to Anthony and Mary Megathlin. While attending Harwich High School Megathlin worked in the drug store of Dr. Benjamin Eldredge. It gave him a taste of what would be his future. After graduating from Harwich High School in 1891 and marrying Louise Munsell in October 1893 the young Megathlin set his sights on a career.
An opportunity arose in the form of a drug store on Main Street in Hyannis. The 21-year old Megathlin bought the Hyannis Pharmacy from John P. Bowen. Bowen had run the business since 1890 before closing it in October 1893 to take a job in Boston as a traveling salesman.
Megathlin immediately made improvements, including renaming it to Megathlin’s Drug Store. The grand opening soon thereafter. In order to keep close to his new venture Megathlin rented the former home of Captain Asa Bearse just down the street.
Pharmacies at the time, much like today, sold far more than just medications. Basic toiletries like soaps and tooth powders, chocolates, and rare gifts and novelties were advertised in the local newspaper as being on sale at Megathlin’s. The business was an immediate success. Within two years it had outgrown its current location.
Megathlin leased the building across the street in March 1894. This building had been the home of Louis Arenovski’s American Clothing House. Locals had doubts as to whether Megathlin could fill the large space with products. He did so with ease. The next several years saw Megathlin’s Drug Store dominate Hyannis business. It became the go-to for much of the everyday items that locals needed. In 1900 Charles purchased a building owned by William Lewis. This was converted into a new location for the drug store. It appeared as though nothing could slow the growth of Megathlin’s. However an event out of Charles’ control brought everything to a halt.
|Postcard image of the Main Street fire. (Sturgis Library)|
On December 10, 1904 a major fire broke out around midnight, engulfing much of the business district of Main Street. The fire raged unchecked for hours. In the end several longtime establishments were damaged or destroyed. These included Megathlin’s Drug Store. In addition the Universalist church, Thomas Nickerson’s marble works, James Baxter’s shoe store, Eagleston’s store, the New England Telephone office, Walter Baker’s department store, and more were lost. Though the fire was said to have been accidental it left much of the east end of Main Street in ruins. Conservative estimates at the time had losses at more than $110,000($3.4 million in 2022)
Charles Megathlin pulled up his boot straps and soldiered on though. Since the fire had been slow burning there had been ample time to remove much of the goods from the store. Megathlin got right to work on rebuilding his popular pharmacy. Within six weeks the new store was partly raised and boarded. In the meantime Megathlin took up temporary residence nearby and sold what dry good he had.
|Megathlin's rebuilt store on Main Street(Sturgis Library)|
The new Megathlin’s opened April 20, 1905. He had taken the opportunity to make the new building bigger and better. The improvements included work rooms and laboratory rooms for medications. In addition people came from near and far to see the incredible marble countered soda fountain. The store continued its upward trajectory after the near-tragic fire. The store became an important distraction when Louis died in June 1906 at the young age of forty-one. A year later Charles married Mabel Lumbert.
It got the point where the Hyannis store was seen on the same level as bigger city stores like those in Boston. More changes came in the summer of 1916. Megathlin added a new staircase to the second floor, mahogany wall cases, and a new drug counter with one hundred drawers. The wise businessman added a Japanese shop and Victrola department on the second floor of the revamped store.
Decades of faithful service gave Megathlin’s the status as one of the largest local drug store operations in all of New England. It was during this time that Megathlin began to branch out in the grander scheme of the Cape Cod community. His knowledge of business, banking, pharmaceuticals, and more made him a popular local figure. Megathlin’s kind and genial nature only enhanced his stature.
His new accolades included becoming the President of the New England Association of Rexall Druggists and the President of the Public Safety Committee of Hyannis both in 1917. In 1920 Megathlin added to this by becoming the President of the Cape Cod National Bank of Harwich which later became the Cape Cod Trust Company. His final, and perhaps greatest locally, achievement was becoming the first President of the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce in February 1921. Megathlin only held that title until the organization’s next meeting which was the next month due to his other obligations.
Despite having many new responsibilities Megathlin’s first love was his drug store. By the time he got into his mid-50’s though Megathlin was looking to slow down his life a bit with his second wife. In a major event the longtime owner sold Megathlin’s Drug Store to Louis Liggett also of drug store fame. Charles retained ownership of the building including an office he used on the second floor. Despite his name being removed from the business Charles Megathlin was still highly influential. His banking and real estate ventures led the entire building that housed Liggett’s and a few other businesses to be renamed the Megathlin Block later in 1926.
In a sad irony, only a year after selling his beloved drug store to slow his life down some tragedy struck. Mabel Megathlin died in August 1927 at the age of fifty-seven. In 1928 Charles married for a third time. This was to Marguerite Baldwin. Charles and Marguerite became parents to Charles Jr. in August 1929. Megathlin was fifty-eight at the time and this was his only child.
|The historical marker at Ocean St., denoting Megathlin's. (HMdb.org/Brandon D. Cross)|
Although he remained somewhat active locally Charles Megathlin for the most part faded from the public view. He spent the 1930’s and 1940’s enjoying being a husband and father. Charles did end up becoming President of the Cape Cod Chamber for a second time in March 1949. Entering his eighties Megathlin had carved out an extensive legacy on Cape Cod.
The end came for Charles late on December 2, 1954. During a severe snowstorm Megathlin was driving alone through West Dennis when he lost control and struck a tree. He died instantly.
Though the final act for Charles Megathlin was that of a tragic accident his life was a rousing success. Through tragic deaths, and the near-total loss of his business, Megathlin and his drug store transcended into iconic status. Even nearly a century after Charles sold his store to Louis Liggett the name Megathlin still echoes along Hyannis’ Main Street.
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