The Beach Times

Have You Heard These Hidden Wellfleet Facts?
Posted by Kinlin Grover | Monday, January 14, 2019


Enter Wellfleet

When vacationing in Wellfleet, Massachusetts you'll surely check out popular attractions like the Cape Cod National Seashore, the Massachusetts Audubon Society Wildlife Sanctuary, and Wellfleet Harbor. You might also eat at some of the great restaurants in the downtown area or do some fishing on one of the town's kettle ponds and experience a quiet refrain from the ocean-side beaches, which you’ll also likely visit.

While the mainstream, touristy characteristics of Wellfleet attract visitors every year, the area has some interesting stories that are worth looking into because they provide off-the-beaten-path locations to explore from your vacation rental. The following facts also present insight into how Wellfleet became what it is today, so read on if you’re interested in learning more about this quirky Cape Cod town.

 

A Wellfleet Resident Brought Bananas to America  Captain Lorenzo Dow Baker

You're probably aware that bananas aren't native to the United States, as they are an imported tropical fruit. Did you know, however, that Captain Lorenzo Dow Baker, the man responsible for mass-scale banana importing in the country, was born and raised in Wellfleet?

In 1870, Baker took his ship to Venezuela, and on his way back to New York City, stopped in Jamaica to pick up a few bunches of bananas. Unfortunately, the produce spoiled by the time he reached the United States. Undeterred, Baker returned to Jamaica the following year and picked some green bananas, which ripened on his way home.

Baker earned a substantial profit from these bananas, as he could purchase a bunch for 25 cents and then sell it for $3, the equivalent of nearly $60 in 2018 prices. He would turn this practice into a very successful business where he'd make his fortune.

 

Eventually, Baker would form the Boston Fruit Company, an entity that has since become the United Fruit Company, a corporation that imports the Chiquita brand bananas you see in grocery stores today.

 

Wellfleet Harbor Had a Grand Hotel

Chequesset Inn c1886 photo courtesy of Wellfleet Historical SocietyBaker’s influence on Wellfleet didn’t stop at bananas, as his sudden wealth and status led to the area becoming a summer hotspot for the rich and famous. In 1886, Baker, now known as The Banana King, opened the Chequesset Inn, a large hotel that sat on the old Mercantile Wharf and extended 400 feet into Wellfleet Harbor. Baker envisioned the resorts he had seen in his travels through Florida and the Caribbean when he built the inn, and made it an all-inclusive property that catered to high society.

The inn, a four-story-tall building with 62 rooms, collapsed into Wellfleet Harbor during an intense winter storm in 1934. There is a plaque near the spot the hotel stood, which is near Mayo Beach off Kendrick Avenue, and you can still see pieces of the pier in the water during low tide.

The Chequesset Inn is chiefly responsible for developing the early tourism industry in Wellfleet, as it gave people a reason to visit. As our next fact suggests, the industry has taken off exponentially since the late 1800s, to the point that Wellfleet is an entirely different place in the summer.

 

The Population Grows to Over 17,000 in the Summer

Wellfleet is a relatively small town, with an estimated population of about 3,500 people during the offseason. In the summer, however, the community swells to over 17,000 residents, many of whom own or rent Cape Cod vacation homes.

Although this temporary growth is an inconvenience for many locals, as it leads to lines and crowds everywhere, it is responsible for keeping the economy afloat. Cape Cod businesses rely on seasonal residents spending money in the area and, thus, the influx of visitors is essential for the survival of the town in its current form.

 

Marconi Beach is Named After an Italian Inventor

Marconi Beach is one of the more popular places to spend time in Wellfleet during the summer, but did you know that it got its name from world-famous Italian inventor and engineer Guglielmo Marconi? Marconi is known for his work with long-distance wireless telegraphs and credited with inventing our current system of using radio waves for transatlantic communication.

As the story goes, Marconi chose the area that is now Marconi Beach to set up Marconi Station in 1901, where he planned to make the world's first wireless transatlantic communication. He chose the beach because it is elevated without much vegetation, providing a clear shot across the ocean.

Marconi ultimately ended up sending the first communication to cross the Atlantic from Glace Bay, Nova Scotia. But on January 18, 1903, a message from President Theodore Roosevelt was sent to King Edward VII using his station in Wellfleet in what was the first transatlantic wireless communication to emanate from the United States. Pieces of the first wireless tower are still visible at the beach.

 

Town Clock Remains on Ship's Time

When you're in Wellfleet's downtown area, you're sure to hear the bells at the First Congregational Church on Main Street ring every half hour. This tradition occurs because the church is home to the only bell clock in the country that remains on ship's time.

On a ship, time is broken down into four-hour shifts that start both in the AM and PM at 12:00, 4:00, and 8:00. There is then one bell-ring for every half hour past the start of a shift. For example, the bell clock will ring once at 12:30, twice at 1:00, and three times at 1:30 for a shift starting at noon.

This quirk means that bell clock at this church in downtown Wellfleet rings all day and all night, but it'll never tell you the correct time unless you know how to decipher ship's time. When you head down to Main Street on your Wellfleet vacation, see if you can figure out what time it is just by listening to the bells.

 

Explore These Wellfleet Facts

If you spend any amount of time in Wellfleet in the coming months, take the time to explore the stories and locations behind these hidden facts. Some, like Marconi Beach and Town Clock, are easily accessible, while others, such as Captain Lorenzo Dow Baker’s plaque, will take some digging to find. Wellfleet is a special place for those who live and spend their vacations there, and these hidden facts add to the allure of this quintessential Cape Cod town.



Bananas Chequesset Inn Marconi Beach Wellfleet Wellfleet Town Clock

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