The Edward Penniman House is the finest example of Second Empire style in Eastham, and is one of the finest examples of this architectural style on Cape Cod. The grand home was designed and occupied in 1868 for Edward Penniman (1831-1913), one of the most successful whaling captains in New England.
Born in 1831 in Eastham, Edward Penniman set sail for the first time at age 11. The voyage was to the dangerous and unpredictable waters of the Grand Banks, a rich fishing ground off the coast of Canada’s Newfoundland. Nantucket had a flourishing whaling industry as early as the late 1600s, but it was New Bedford with its deep water harbor and railway system that would become New England’s whaling capital. In 1852 at the age of 21, Penniman would journey to New Bedford and sign on to his first whaling expedition. Later when Penniman became a captain he would select New Bedford as his home port setting sail seven times to hunt whales.
With whale over-harvested in the Atlantic along the shores of New England, whalers were forced to go further and further from home to hunt. Whaling expeditions often spanned three or four years, and it was not uncommon for wives and families of ship captains to go along on the trip. Penniman’s wife, Betsy Augusta Penniman, called “Gustie” by her husband, went on three such voyages often assisting with navigation and other shipboard matters. In addition, each of the three Penniman children accompanied their parents on various journeys with eldest son Eugene eventually becoming a whaling captain himself.
After the Captain’s death in 1913, Mrs. Penniman and their daughter, Betsey, continued to live in the home. Mrs. Penniman’s died in 1921. Betsey Penniman, who never married, stayed around and raised her niece, Irma. Upon Betsey’s death in 1957, the home was left to Irma Penniman Broun. Irma and her husband sold the house with twelve acres to the National Park Service in 1963 when the Cape Cod National Seashore was formed.