For many years, Maurice’s Campground has been one of the first sights on Route 6 as you cross the Eastham Town Line into South Wellfleet. The recent announcement that the Town of Wellfleet has successfully negotiated a purchase-and-sale agreement to acquire the 21 acre site for affordable housing development is good news. But there’s some sadness too as a long-time South Wellfleet business enjoys its final season with the Gauthiers. There’s a plan for six more as a transition time with perhaps another camp operator hired by the Town. The purchase has to be authorized at a special Town Meeting in September this year.
Maurice and Ann Gauthier acquired the site in 1949, purchasing 21 acres from Everett Osterbanks who had assembled considerable land in the 1920s from South Wellfleet owners, the Lincoln and Gill families. An old house doing business until recently as “Farmhouse Antiques” remains there. That building is designated 1850 on the Wellfleet Assessor’s Data Base. The Massachusetts Historical Commission Form B for the property designates it as the home of J.W. Lincoln and later owned by the Gill family.
Maurice and Ann Gauthier and their three sons, Martin, Maurice Jr., and John, ran an upstanding business. Initially, they built “Ann’s Cabins” and later added units that made them a “Ann’s Motor Court.” Eventually, in 1959, they cut down the trees in the back of their land and developed what became a campground accommodating 125 campers.
The Gauthiers were lucky in the timing of their application for the campground. In 1959, the Town had just approved two other sites: Robert Paine’s for tenting and Harry Parkington’s for trailers, adding to the one camping site already approved. Because there was no zoning, the Wellfleet Board of Health could give approval for a site so long as it met health and sanitary regulations.
Charles Frazier, who led the Town’s Selectmen, was concerned about too many campgrounds securing approval and wanted the Town to establish zoning. He was also fighting the federal national park. Frazier did get the Selectmen to come to a general agreement that four sites for tenting and camping were enough.
A recent newspaper search of the Gauthier’s business revealed nothing more exciting than Wellfleet refusing for five years to give them a license for a package store as part of their small grocery store. The package store owner at the South Wellfleet General Store seemed to be able to hold off this competition. Eventually, the Gauthiers got a beer and wine license. In recent years, the family has received kudos for their delicious lobster rolls at a reasonable price.
Looking back to the Gauthiers’ arrival in South Wellfleet in 1949, I thought I’d see what else I could find on South Wellfleet business and places in the late 1940s and into the 1950s. First, I found many places that were NOT there.
There was no Cape Cod National Seashore in 1949 and no Rail Trail bike path. Route 6 had just become widened in 1948 as far north as the Fire Tower. The 1949 season would see the road reconstruction by-passing Wellfleet Center and meeting the old State highway near Gull Pond Road. That Wellfleet history is covered in this post.
The Massachusetts Audubon Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary was not there until 1959. In 1950 a portion of the land Audubon would acquire was owned by the Austin Ornithology Research Center.
The Wellfleet Drive-In Theater on Route 6 at the Town Line wasn’t developed until 1957. That iconic Wellfleet business has also been covered in an earlier post.
Two other projects were under discussion in Wellfleet in 1949. The Wellfleet Board of Trade, along with the South Wellfleet Neighborhood Association and a group called Wellfleet Associates (an organization of summer people) were discussing the best place to put a monument to Guglielmo Marconi. At the Wellfleet Town Meeting that year, discussion was underway to create a “seaside highway” from Cook’s Camps Road to Cahoon Hollow Road —- the road that became Ocean View Drive. Also in 1949, Wellfleet purchased its first police cruiser, a new sedan with the town seal on its doors.
In 1948, the New York New Haven and Hartford Railroad made a stunning announcement that its Old Colony line providing service to the outer Cape would cease operations on October 1. Subsequent advertisements for the railroad almost begged people to take the train, not just on rainy days when they did not want to drive. Something must have happened to keep service running, however, as the schedule for the summer of 1949 included the new “fast Boston train” but only as far as Hyannis.
Looking back, Wellfleet had only one “highway” restaurant, at the “State Road” (Route 6) and Old County Road, owned by Joseph Atwood and his partner Charles R. Adams, and called “Adam’s House.” In 1939 Lancaster Clark bought the site and called the restaurant “the Big Dipper.”
The building was moved to Chequessett Neck Road where it still exists today. In the 1939 Phone Directory covering Wellfleet and several other Cape towns, this is the only Wellfleet restaurant in the classified pages.
In the 1949 Cape Codder the Lighthouse Restaurant in Wellfleet Center is mentioned, along with a new one, the Orchid Grill. Newcomb’s Soda Shop on Main Street was in its 23rd year.
In the late 1940s two other restaurants opened on Route 6. First, “Ma Downer’s” was built in 1947/1948 across from the entrance to Camp Wellfleet, now the entrance to Marconi Beach and the National Park headquarters. The Downer family purchased the Rapp house on Pleasant Point in 1944. In 1947 they purchased the restaurant site from William Fleming which included quite a bit of land from a William Fleming.
My search found only one reference to “Ma Downer’s.” In 2013, in the book by Theresa Mitchell Barbo and Captain W. Russell Webster on the Pendleton disaster, Webster tells of taking his new girlfriend, later his wife, to Ma Downer’s in 1950 in South Wellfleet, describing it as “just a shack” where you could have a coffee or a beer, and one of the only spots open on an evening.
After Mrs. Downer died, in 1954, the land changed hands again, and eventually was purchased by Giulio Segnini, who established “Guilio’s Isle of Elba” in 1955.
In 1968 the restaurant and land went to the Hall family who owns it today doing business as Van Rensselaer’s.
Before he sold to the Downers, Mr. Fleming made small transfers of a portion of his South Wellfleet land to Gertrude Hodges and Leah Joy. Both women had jelly stands. Mrs. Hodges, the sister of Clarence Hicks, may have had an ice cream stand at one point. Leah Joy, who owned one of the houses out on the Old Wharf point, had a Route 6 jelly stand for some years. The Wellfleet Historical Society has one photo of “Gertie Hodges” at her jelly stand, although its location is not named.
The second restaurant I found on Route 6 in South Wellfleet was called “Wade’s” and was owned by Richard N. Wade. A search for land ownership turned up a George Wade, who was Richard’s father. The family lived in Wellfleet for a few years in the 1930s, and were mentioned in the columns of the Barnstable Patriot. I have not been able to definitively place the location of the restaurant. In 1945 and 1946, Wade had purchased a significant number of acres in South Wellfleet from the Baker Estate, land that was around Trout Brook and the land of early South Wellfleet owners, including the Lincolns, the Boyington family, and the South Wellfleet Cranberry Association. He sold land to Manuel Thimas in 1951.
In the 1950 federal census, Richard Wade is living in South Wellfleet with his business partner, Mr. Livingston, and family members. In 1964, Wade transferred his seasonal liquor license to Enio Cipriano, who re-named the location “C-Side.” Both advertised in the Cape Codder. Perhaps someone reading this can identify the site.
Thanks to the recent release of the 1950 Federal census, I was able to look at Wellfleet’s population in April 1950. For the first time, the census enumerator noted “vacant” houses (separate from “no one home” listings); no earlier census had done this. In the two census districts for Wellfleet, Numbers 66 and 67, there are 558 dwellings noted as “vacant.” Our family summer cottage on Prospect Hill must have been included in the count. Indeed, Mr. and Mrs. Barker who, lived nearby year-round are listed, but no one else living on or around the sand roads surrounding Old Wharf Road.
Camp Wellfleet is listed as a “Naval Training Facility” and is enumerated on a separate page in 1950 with an Army man, Russell Temple, living there with his wife and three children, handling “maintenance and repair.” I think that ownership of Camp Wellfleet had passed back to the U.S. Army but perhaps was under Naval ownership when the census documents were constructed. Along Route 6 in South Wellfleet there these families: Irving Hultberg, Mr. Wade and Mr. Long (partners in Wade’s Restaurant), Albion Rich, Oliver Austin, Mr. Cheney on Lt. Island, and Cecil Newcomb.
Looking at the occupations of Wellfleet residents, there seem to be as many listed as plumbers, electricians and carpenters as there are shellfishermen. There are also many residents working at the Wellfleet Curtain Factory.
Wellfleet in the 1950s is a small village with a growing summer population.
Newspaper articles from the The Cape Codder on-line at the Snow Library
Newspaper articles from The Barnstable Patriot on-line at the Sturgis Library
Newspaper articles from the Provincetown Independent
Wellfleet’s Assessor’s Database
Deeds at the Barnstable County Deed database
Barbo, Theresa Mitchell and Captain W. Russell Webster The Daring Coast Guard Rescue of the Pendleton Crew Charleston South Carolina, The History Press 20013, downloaded May 4, 2022.