The first Post Office in South Wellfleet was established in 1829 when Reuben Arey, Jr. was named the first postmaster. Naming a separate post office from Wellfleet’s, along with the establishment of the South Wharf and the Second Congregational Church just a few years later, indicated the growth of the South Wellfleet community. The first post office not located in the postmaster’s home was William Ward’s, starting in 1873, when he opened the office at the railroad depot.
The Deyo History mentions that there may have been very early stores in South Wellfleet: one at Aunt Lydia’s tavern; another at Reuben Arey’s home where he kept the first South Wellfleet post office; and still another at Daniel Higgins’ home, just after the War of 1812. This is the only mention of merchant activity prior to the Cole store described below.
For over 150 years, there has been a store near the head of Blackfish Creek. The first merchant to set up his business there was Collins Smith Cole, who became a respected South Wellfleet citizen over the course of his career, earning the title “Squire Cole”. He was born in 1797, the son of Ebenezer and Sarah Cole. Six generations before him was Daniel Cole, an original 1644 settler of Eastham, and part of the group of settlers that sought to expand Plymouth Colony for the next generation.
We know that Collins S. Cole’s house — still there, and facing Lecount Hollow Road — was there in 1828, because when the Town voted to spend $30 to build the footbridge over Blackfish Creek that year, the record places the bridge “nearly south of Collins S. Cole’s house”. The house faced the Old King’s Highway, but later, as the County Road became the focus of the community later, it turned its back to the owner’s merchant activity.
The Hurd history of Barnstable dates the building of Collins Cole’s store to 1844. The building referred to was the two-story frame building pictured here. The door was in the middle with a sign over it and there are two windows on either side of its door. The Deyo History mentions Collins S. Cole first in 1844, when he and Alvin Paine bought the South Wharf and Cole “took the store.” We know there was a fire that partially destroyed the South Wharf about that time. While the store was originally at the Wharf to supply the mackerel boats, it appears that either a separate store was developed over at the head of Blackfish Creek or the Wharf store was moved. The record is not clear.
The building of the County Road in 1846 certainly improved the situation for the owner. Now the road came right to the store. One account says you could get whatever you needed there, from a paper of pins to a gallon of molasses. The farmers brought their butter and eggs to sell there.
Collins S. Cole married twice, first to Mary Jenkins Holbrook, whom he married in 1824. Their first son, William Henry Cole, was born in 1825, and was the grandfather of Charles Cole, whose memory book I have been using to document the history of South Wellfleet. A second son, Collins Smith Cole, died as an infant. Mary died in 1828 and is buried in South Wellfleet Cemetery.
In 1831, Collins Cole married Ann Gibbs Hapgood, and, in 1832, they had a daughter, Julia Ann Cole. In 1833, Mr. Cole purchased a pew in the new Second Congregational Church being built in South Wellfleet.
Until he became one of the owners of the South Wharf, Collins Cole was a mariner. After he became a merchant, he also became a Justice of the Peace, according to an 1850 listing which notes both he and Reuben Arey held this title in South Wellfleet. He appears to have funded the sale of a house in South Wellfleet from Reuben Arey to Captain Scotto Foster and Jonathan Doane, a house that still stands today. In the 1850s he gave a mortgage to Captain Foster on his home; perhaps the fishing had been less than optimal that year. Captain Foster named his second son Collins Cole Foster, honoring his neighbor. In 1861, Mr. Cole was listed as a County Commissioner in a news article.
Collins Cole died in 1868 at age 70, and the South Wellfleet Cemetery has an obelisk making his grave, those of his two wives (Ann Cole died in 1882), and his infant son. In Charles Cole’s memory piece, he remembers that Collins Cole left his family an estate valued between fifty and sixty thousand dollars.
Initially, the Cole family ran the store. One source indicates that William Cole built a house next door to his father’s — that would be today a second historic property on (now) Lecount Hollow Road. But in Charles Cole’s memory piece, he notes that his father, William H. Cole, built a carriage house, which his daughter Mary Ann and her husband Isaac R. Paine later converted into a dwelling house. It should be noted that this Isaac Paine is Captain Isaac R. Paine, not the Isaac Paine mentioned below. In 1871, before he turned fifty, William Henry Cole died of typhus that infected the family when Isaac R. Paine brought it back from a trip to the south to “freight oysters.” Despite their father’s death, the family was well taken care of with the grandfather’s legacy.
In 1872, the South Wharf Company took over the Cole store. They built the ell on the south side that became the separate post office. In 1880, they sold it to Alvin Paine, and the sign over the door changed again, and a north ell was added for his grain business. Of course, by this time, there was another building in the “South Wellfleet business center” – the Old Colony Railroad depot.
Alvin Paine was one of the influential South Wellfleet Paines. He was the grandson of Thomas Paine, the Wellfleet family founder who started out in Truro and then came to Wellfleet. Alvin Paine, born in 1837, was married to Eliza, the daughter of Captain Scotto Foster.
He purchased the Reuben Arey, Jr. home from the heirs of Reuben (3) in 1877 – the Areys having moved their lives to many other places off-Cape by that time. For a while longer, however, Oliver Arey kept the first Arey home.
A Barnstable Patriotarticle in 1884 announced that Alvin Paine was “having the grounds graded and sodded in front of his store” and noting that this work would make a great improvement.
Alvin Paine died in 1889 or 1890 and left his store to his son, Isaac Paine (born in 1867) who over his lifetime became known as “Ikey Paine.” One of the famous stories about Ikey Paine is that he would not sell the locally bottled Pilgrim Spring beverages because he did not want children to learn to drink out of bottles, perhaps teaching them about drinking liquor!
Another property became a store in the “South Wellfleet Business District”. Amos Rideout transferred the “property opposite the Alvin Paine store” to Jeremiah Rich in 1904 and discharged their mortgage in 1907. But when the property was sold to David Buitekan in 1914, it was Mr. Rideout who made the sale. This is what became known as “The Little Store” that appears in several early 20thcentury photographs. Initially, there are horses and wagons in the photos, and later there are gas pumps here. In 1914, Buitekan became the postmaster for South Wellfleet. In a 1916 photograph, the post office sign is hanging above the door.
There’s one mystery about the stores that I have not solved. In an undated photograph, pictured here, with the Marconi Towers in the background, there is another building behind the Paine store but I have not figured out what this is. We know at some point the Little Store disappeared, and one person has remembered “another store up the hill”. Is this that store?
In 1923, Isaac Paine transferred the General Store to David Buitekan. Ikey Paine lived in South Wellfleet in the Reuben Arey Jr. house until 1943, when he died fighting a fire in his barn.
In a memoir by Holman Spence that appeared in The Cape Codder in the 1970’s, he describes life in South Wellfleet when his parents bought land and built a cottage on Indian Neck. By this time, Spence describes the “Little Store’ and its old gas Socony pumps as belonging to Emanuel J. Davis, while Buitekan owns the (former Paine) store and runs the post office, with his wife Annie Buitekan.
The Buitekans are in the 1920 Federal census for Wellfleet; Annie is 52 years old, with parents born in Scotland; he is 47 years old, with parents born in Holland. Her maiden name “Ross” appears in one of the deeds; Monroe Ross, presumably her brother, is living with them in 1920.
Holman Spence, in his 1970s’ memory piece of South Wellfleet, describes the Little Store as carrying “every need of the whole little community down to items that were called for once in every three or four years. In the glass cases on the counters was everything from rubberized gloves to mousetraps, harness parts, candy, 3-in-1 oil, lamp wicks, shoe laces, Beeman’s pills, scythe stones, boat caulking and “Never Leak.” The walls were hung with more items; sometimes a customer really had to search for an item, and then left the store in even more disarray.
Spence describes the almost-ceremonial moment of the day when people would gather at the stores waiting for the mail that came in on the train. Frank Fisher would light a street lamp, and the train whistle could be heard from further up-Cape. Buitikan would be ready with his wheelbarrow to receive the bags, and would sort it while everyone waited. Eventually, everyone would drift away, the kerosene lantern would go out, and darkness would fall.
Sadly, David Buitekan committed suicide in 1928. The story was that he was in arrears in his post office accounts, and he shot himself in the store. In 1930 his wife, Annie, sold the old Paine store to Emanuel J. Davis in 1930, and the ”Little Store” to George M. Davis – no relation between the two men.
The Mr. Davis who purchased the Little Store converted it into a memorable doughnut store – the “Downeyflake Doughnut Shop”. The two people who told me of their pleasant memories of those doughnuts sound a bit like the way I imagine someone describing the croissants we enjoy at a nearby location today! Holman Spence, in his memoir, said that the doughnut shop lasted until the highway was widened – which may have been the early 1950s change. Or perhaps he moved into the mystery building?
Meanwhile, E. J. Davis had the old Cole/Paine store moved — “to a lot east of the Squire Cole house,” according to a 1930 article in the Hyannis Patriot. I think when I look at a Wellfleet Assessor’s Database contemporary photo, I can see the old store shape in the rebuilt property.
Emanuel J. Davis was from Provincetown, born in 1884, the son of two parents who were immigrants from the Azores. He was “Manuel” in the 1900 census, 16 years old and working as a “hack driver.” His father was a mariner, but it appears the son was choosing an alternative life. He married Elmena Avila on July 14, 1914. In the 1920 Federal census, he is a retail merchant for “provisions.” In the 1930 Federal census, he and his wife have a niece, Charlotte Silva, living with them. There is no record of any Davis children.
Emanuel J. Davis built a new building for his General Store, the building we have there today. For a number of years, the post office was located at a window in the store, a feature I remember from my childhood. Mrs. Davis was appointed postmistress after Buitekan died, and continued in that role until 1953. In 1955, a separate post office building was constructed next to the General Store.
Frank Fisher, the man lighting the lamp mentioned earlier, pumped the gas for Mr. Davis. In Federal census documents, he is a single man, sometimes described as a dealer in ice. He was a small man, known as Frankie, whom I remember as a fixture at Davis’s as we called the store. Mr. Fisher died in 1963 at age 74 and is buried at the South Wellfleet Cemetery.
Obviously, the arrival of the Old Colony Railroad in South Wellfleet and Wellfleet in 1872 had an enormous impact on activity around the General Store and Post Office. I’ll write about the railroad in a separate post, as well as information about other South Wellfleet stores that has turned up in my research.
Deyo, Simon. History of Barnstable County, New York, 1898. Wellfleet chapter on line at www.capecodhistory.net
Barnstable Patriot (various) online archive: http://www.sturgislibrary.org
“Federal Census Collection” database. Ancestry.com http://www.ancestry.com
Newspaper account on line at www.genealogybank.com
Hurd, Simeon D. Hamilton “Wellfleet Mass.” From History of Plymouth, 1884 online at http://history.rays-place.com/ma/wellfleet.htm
“Town Meeting Highlights” list supplied by Dawn Rickman, Wellfleet Town Clerk in 2007
David Kew’s Cape Cod History site: www.capecodhistory.us.
Barnstable County Deeds available at www.barnstablecountydeeds.org.
Holman H. Spence “Only Yesterday on Cape Cod” , multi-part article in The Cape Codder, 1970’s.