Prospect Hill Development 1890s to 1960s

There was no “Prospect Hill” until George Washington Barker had the land surveyed and cottage lots drawn in 1892. He entitled his plan, shown here, “Plan of Prospect Hill.” Mr. Barker and his father, Isaiah Barker, purchased the land in 1866, just after the Civil War, from John Stubbs, paying $62.00.

John Stubbs, son of John Stubbs and Bethiah Ward, was the grandson of Richard Stubbs and Eunice Knowles, she of the prominent Eastham family. This was the branch of the Stubbs family that remained in South Wellfleet. In an earlier blog post, I described the branching off of the Stubbs family, with one branch departing for Maine, and then returning to South Wellfleet generations later. That part of the family includes Joseph A. Stubbs, with his successful shellfish company that operated on Blackfish Creek.

The Richard Stubbs family produced sons John (mentioned above), Simeon, Ephraim, Richard, and Elkanah. As I study deeds for the South Wellfleet area, their names are frequently noted. Ephraim married two Arey daughters, first Nancy, and then Rebecca, after Nancy died. He may have secured some land through those marriages. Ephraim purchased half of Mill Hill along with David Wiley. He served as Lydia Arey Taylor’s attorney when her land holdings were dissolved. (She was married to the first Reuben Arey, and, secondly, to John Taylor, Revolutionary War soldier – I’ve also covered them in a previous blog post.)

Richard Stubbs grew up in South Wellfleet to become “Deacon Stubbs,” playing a leading role in the Temperance Movement of the nineteenth century. Richard married Phoebe Arey Wiley, daughter of David Wiley and Ruth Arey, who also lived in the area, south of the Barker/Arey farm.  It was Richard’s house and land that Joseph A. Stubbs purchased, and then moved to the head of Blackfish Creek and established it with surrounding outbuildings — becoming known as “Stubbs Landing.”

The deed from John Stubbs to the father and son Barkers did not mention any buildings.

Like Robert Howard, who was actively engaged in buying land in Wellfleet and laying out cottage lots, George W. Barker also hired the Brewster surveyor and attorney, Tully

Prospect Hill Development, Tully Map

Prospect Hill Development, Tully Map

Crosby, to survey and lay out a plan for Prospect Hill. Isaiah Barker died in 1885, and his

wife, Betsy Higgins Arey Barker, in 1887. The Barker land, much of it surrounding their farmhouse, as well as the Prospect Hill property, was held jointly by their children, Isaiah Jr., George Washington, and Lewis Cheever Barker. Isaiah Jr. had become a mariner, owning a schooner for a while. He eventually settled in Norfolk, Virginia, where he became engaged in the shellfish trade. Lewis Cheever Barker had a rather sad life, losing a young wife, who left him with a small child, and leaving the Cape to remarry. He moved around, and, on one deed, is listed as living in Australia. I wrote about the family in several blog posts last year.

George Washington Barker married Clara Bell in 1864, and became a mariner — until the diminished fishing caused him to leave the Cape and settle in New Hampshire. From census records and deeds, one can see George becoming the family’s land manager, using this opportunity to sell the family’s South Wellfleet holdings as interest in Cape Cod as a tourist destination began to take hold. George and Clara’s children were Scotto, George Jr., Clara, Ralph, Walter, Edward, and Beulah. There are numerous mentions of these family members visiting their grandparents at the Barker farm and, later, their parents, who eventually returned to South Wellfleet. However, it is George Washington Barker, Jr. who came to take over from his father as the family’s property manager. George Washington Barker died in 1917, and Clara Bell Barker died in 1933.

George Washington Barker developed a Prospect Hill Prospectus in 1893 describing

Prospect Hill Prospectus

Prospect Hill Prospectus

theland, the locale, and the transportation. He particularly mentions the hill — as grass covered – and lending itself to the growth of trees. Even later photographs do not show much grass nor many trees. Barker describes the ten-minute walk to Church and the School, and the close proximity of the General Store and Depot. He mentions plans for a hotel to be built by “Nashua parties.” Indeed, there were property purchasers from Nashua – they bought land on Old Wharf Point as well – but no commercial property was ever developed. Perhaps the economic recession of 1893 — quite a severe one — ended those plans.

John Edward Irvine, a cabinet maker and my great grandfather, purchased his first lot in the Prospect Hill development in 1892. We do not have a diary or even family tale as to how he came to find Wellfleet and purchase a lot of land there. We do know that he and his family rented the Robinson cottage out on Old Wharf Point in 1893 – and we can only imagine that he must have walked over to Prospect Hill to plan his own cottage. Eventually

Prospect Cottage

Prospect Cottage

he purchased three more lots and built two cottages, one in 1910 and one in 1915. Both are still standing.

A recent Barker family interview revealed that George W. Barker, Jr. invented a device related to the sewing machine and was thus able to retire from full-time employment. Perhaps this free time gave him the chance to focus on the family’s property. Not many sales of lots in the Prospect Hill Development occurred in the 1920s. In the 1930s two important land transfers took place. Mr. and Mrs. Sexton purchased land on the “bluff” overlooking Blackfish Creek and built a large house. My family sold their second cottage in 1920 to a couple named Mackernan. Mrs. Mackernan was Mr.

Sexton House

Sexton House

Sexton’s sister, so our long-time family friendship started here.

George Barker’s first marriage ended at some point in the 1920s — either Mrs. Barker died, or they divorced. The Mackernans rented their cottage to a Mrs. Nobles and her sister, Harriet Werts. Miss Werts was an older woman who had remained single and pursued a career as a legal secretary at a law firm in New York. Her father served as Governor and Supreme Court Justice of New Jersey. Our family tales include the supposition that she had money, and built the Barker home.  Those same family tales note Mr. Irvine’s interest in Miss Werts also.

In 1932, the Barker family created a spacious lot and transferred its ownership to George and Harriet Barker; they were both still single in 1930 (Federal census), so their marriage must have occurred around the time of the land transfer and house building. The house is a Sears catalogue home, and the assembly instructions on the beams are still visible. Besides the house, they built a small cottage on the property.

George W. Barker Jr. died in 1947, and in his will left around twenty five acres on Prospect Hill — all the land that had not been sold in the past fifty years — to his widow, Harriet W. Barker. The family had transferred ownership to him while retaining the land and buildings that made up the “Barker homestead.” Mrs. Barker, who the adults called ‘Skippy,’ died in 1952 after a long illness resulting from a stroke. I remember her from my childhood as the pretty white-haired woman with two dogs living in the “the big house.” She was cared for by a local woman, Sarah Francis, from a large Azorian family living in Truro. We called her a nurse, but I think she was more of a caretaker, as she was for another Wellfleet woman listed in the 1930 federal census.

When Mrs. Barker died, she left all of her property to Sarah Francis, setting off a court battle with Mrs. Barker’s nephew, Elon Nobles. Eventually, he gained control over the land, and Sarah Francis kept the home and the cottage. At this point, another phase in the development of Prospect Hill began.

On the top of the hill, my mother and her sister purchased more property, built a second cottage, and divided their interest. We kept the old cottage, and, later, bought back the second one that John Edward Irvine had built. Two of my father’s brothers bought lots from Elon Nobles and put up cottages; another brother had built a small cottage in the late 1940s.

In 1957, Elon Nobles sold several lots to Charles Zehnder, an architect who established himself in Wellfleet, and became one of the key figures in what is now called the “modernist house” movement. Mr. Zehnder built such a house for himself first, tucked away at the edge of the Prospect Hill landscape, near Old Wharf Road. Later, Mr. Zehnder owned one of the original houses out on Old Wharf Point. Mr. Zehnder owned enough land in the original Prospect Hill development to create his own “Zehnder Plan” in 1964, and developed a number of home sites. Mr. Zehnder unfortunately was killed in an automobile accident in Wellfleet in 1985.

Another purchaser of a significant amount of land in the late 1950s was Frank Beckerer, who also bought property out on Old Wharf Point. One of his sales within the Prospect Hill development was to Lincoln Almond who served as the Governor of Rhode Island in the 1980s.

The original Prospect Hill homes passed along to other families. The Barker house was owned for a number of years by Charles Philbrick, the poet, who created a number of poems that were set in Wellfleet, including “At The Wellfleet Historical Society, During A Moderate Tempest.”

The Sexton house changed ownership only a couple of times. The family had acquired extra land in the late 1930s, bought the old South Wellfleet depot and moved it over to

South Wellfleet Railroad Depot moved to Sexton property and made into a garage

South Wellfleet Railroad Depot moved to Sexton property and made into a garage

become a garage. Today it is a home. The next generation of the Sexton family purchased more land and still own another home on Prospect Hill.

This 1946 photograph of the Prospect Hill families enjoying the beach at high tide on Blackfish Creek represents the ambiance of the Hill — several families, meeting during the summer season and enjoying afternoons together at the shore.

Prospect Hill Families at high tide on Blackfish Creek 1946

Prospect Hill Families at high tide on Blackfish Creek 1946


U.S. Federal Census collection at

David Kew’s Cape Cod History site:

Barnstable Patriot (various) online archive:

Barnstable County Deeds available at

Barker Family interview.



Family history researcher living in New York City.
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2 Responses to Prospect Hill Development 1890s to 1960s

  1. Jude Ahern says:

    Am I the first to read this because of the time difference?! That’s your house, right? Prospect cottage? Well done! Thanks again for taking the time to meet with me the other day, always fun to see you. Sincerely, jude

    From: “South Wellfleet, Massachusetts” Reply-To: “South Wellfleet, Massachusetts” Date: Saturday, October 12, 2013 1:10 AM To: Jude Ahern Subject: [New post] Prospect Hill Development 1890s to 1960s posted: “There was no Prospect Hill until George Washington Barker had the land surveyed and cottage lots drawn in 1892. He entitled his plan, shown here, Plan of Prospect Hill. Mr. Barker and his father, Isaiah Barker, purchased the land in 1866, just after t”

    • Hi Jude,

      Hope all is well in London. Re: Prospect Cottage — no, that’s the first cottage Great Grandpa built, mine is the second one. This cottage is the one where our walking tour began, now owned by the Feldmans.

      Stay in touch,

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