The gorgeous Reuben Nickerson House on Bridge Road in Eastham is an excellent example of a transitional Greek Revival home with hold-over features of the Federal style. Reuben Nickerson was born in 1814 on Cape Cod and worked as a farmer and saltmaker, he later served as a senator, school committee member, and representative. He was married twice; first to Elizabeth Doane who died in 1849, and he remarried Elizabeth’s sister Sarah Doane just a year later. By the 20th century, the home was operated by descendants of Reuben as a funeral home and residence. After WWII, the home was a bed and breakfast and has since been reverted to a single family home. Detail on the home includes: wide, paneled pilasters, boxed, molded cornice, a pedimented gable, a 2-part wide frieze, and a fanlight at the entrance.
Located at one of my favorite beaches in New England, the aptly named Coast Guard Beach, the Nauset Coast Guard Station is an imposing Colonial Revival structure perched upon the bluffs providing sweeping views of the shoreline. The Nauset Coast Guard Station was built in 1936 to replace a late nineteenth century Coast Guard Station which had stood further eastward and north, on land which has been eroded away by the ocean. The present structure was reportedly commissioned after Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morganthau Jr. and his fellow picnickers were driven in 1935 by a summer thunderstorm to seek shelter in the old and antiquated Coast Guard Station, built after the Civil War. Construction of the new station was authorized several weeks after this incident as Morganthau, who spent summers on Cape Cod, took a personal interest in the building’s construction, visiting the site during the summer of 1936.
This area of beaches has had a tradition of assistance to shipwrecked sailors. In 1802, the country’s first all volunteer life saving organization, the Massachusetts Humane Society, erected a hut on this beach. It was replaced by a larger one in 1855 and by the Nauset Life Saving Station in 1872. The building was added on to and moved twice before it was replaced by the present structure in 1936. The building was occupied by the Coast Guard as a station until 1958. It now is home to an education center as part of the Cape Cod National Seashore.
Built in 1793, the Eastham Windmill on the old Town Green is the oldest workable gristmill on Cape Cod. Typical of Cape Cod, Eastham’s windmill is an octagonal , “hat and smock” or Flemish design in which the revolving top or hat can be rotated to direct the sails into the wind. Local historians contend that Thomas Paine, a noted early millwright and resident of Eastham, most likely built the Eastham Windmill in the late eighteenth century. Some sources state that the windmill was likely built in Plymouth and later moved to Truro and eventually to Eastham in 1793. In 1895, the women of the Village Improvement Society raised money to purchase the windmill and two adjoining properties from private ownership for $ 113.50. Around the turn of the twentieth century, the windmill became a local tourist attraction and the subject of postcards and souvenirs. The windmill is now the main attraction of the annual Eastham Windmill Weekend.
The gorgeous half-cape Knowles Doane House in Eastham is an early example of a traditional Cape home that are synonymous with the peninsula. The modest house features an off-center entry with a solid wood door with a transom above. Clad with wood shingle siding and roofing, the home screams “Cape Cod”. The large central chimney would have provided warmth inside the home during the harsh winter months. The home was likely built for a member of the Doane Family, whos patriarch, John Doane, arrived to Plymouth Colony by 1632. The family eventually settled in Eastham and participated in fishing, whaling and agriculture. By the early 1800s, the home was occupied by Knowles Doane.
Built in 1897, the ever-charming Eastham Public Library has served the town for over 100 years, constantly adapting and growing to meet the needs of the community. Originally constructed as a one-room hipped-roof shingled library building, the tiny space was appropriate for the town of just 500 people in 1900. By the 1960s, the rear ell was replaced with a large addition, effectively quadrupling the square footage of the library, but keeping the original structure intact. The 1960s addition was eventually deemed insufficient and was replaced in 2016 with the gorgeous modern addition by Oudens-Ello Architecture of Boston. The addition compliments the quaint one-room original structure with the use of materials, yet clearly distinguishes itself as 21st century design.
Located just a stones throw from the Penniman House, the c. 1780 Knowles House stands at the historic end point of Fort Hill Road. Accounts differ on its history. Some sources explain the home was built in c.1790 by Seth Knowles (who died in 1787) a prominent citizen of Charlestown, Mass., and one of the original members of the Bunker Hill Monument Association and of its board of directors. From my research, the home appears to have been built for Thomas Knowles, Seth’s son, and was later willed to his son, also named Thomas. Thomas Knowles Jr., was born in 1803, in Eastham, and in early life settled at New Bedford, engaging in the whale fishery industry. Deed research would be required to find out more. The gorgeous Federal home features a large, center cross gable with dentils at the cornice.
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.
In 1838, three brick lighthouses served as aids to navigation off the Nauset Beach shores in Eastham on Cape Cod; these lights were replaced by three wooden towers in 1892. From 1911 to 1923, only one of these Beacons were used, as technology had evolved sufficiently enough to install a revolving light. Nauset was thus distinguished from the single light of Highland to the north in Truro and the twin lights of Chatham to the south. The forty-eight-foot-tall, brick-lined, cast-iron Chatham tower, originally built in 1877, was dismantled, hauled up the cape, and rebuilt atop a cement foundation 200 feet from the cliff’s edge at Nauset Beach. To provide accommodations for the keepers of the relocated cast-iron tower, the 1876 dwelling built for the Three Sisters was relocated farther away from the edge of the bluff. The cliff continued to fall into the sea over time and the lighthouse and dwelling were moved again in the 1990s. Both structures are owned and maintained by the Nauset Light Preservation Society.
Learn more on the history of the site in the Three Sisters Lighthouse post.
The Chapel in the Pines church had its origins in the growing desire by many late-19th century New Englanders to move away from the strictures of fundamentalist religion. A Universalist Society was formed in Eastham on the Cape for the erection of a new place of worship. Local families and esteemed citizens pooled resources and constructed the building themselves over five months, under the direction of an Elkany Hopkins (though sources state he died in 1885). The Victorian Gothic church has a certain flair with the turned posts at the entry, bell tower, and roof cresting. After serving various congregations and uses (including once as a coffee shop), the building was purchased by the Nauset Fellowship. In 2017 and 2018, the Chapel underwent a renovation with money raised from the community along with two grants from the Town of Eastham’s Community Preservation Act funds.
The first lighthouse station for Eastham, known as the Nauset Beach Light Station (nicknamed The Three Sisters), was completed in 1838. The name Nauset, which came from a local Native American tribe, formerly referred to the fifteen-mile stretch of Cape Cod from what is now Brewster almost to modern-day Truro. The lighthouse station actually consisted of a group of three lights atop 15-foot high brick towers located on a bluff looking over the Atlantic. Even though there were three lighthouses, the station was staffed by only one keeper up until 1867, when the position of assistant keeper was added. The assistant lived with the head keeper and his family in the station’s one dwelling (talk about cozy)!. The Lighthouse Board in 1873 noted the inadequacy of these accommodations in a report stating, “The dwelling-house should be enlarged, or a small cottage built for the accommodation of the assistant keeper, as the building now occupied is entirely too small”. Congress allocated $5,000 in 1875 for a keeper’s dwelling at Nauset Beach, which was erected in 1876.
After the relentless Atlantic Ocean brought the three brick towers to the brink of disaster due to the eroding land under them, in 1892, three new towers were constructed thirty feet west of the originals along with a brick oil house. The replacements were constructed of wood so they could be readily moved if the need occurred again. By 1911, it was determined that there was a need for only one lighthouse (as three could get confusing), and two of the three lighthouses were auctioned off, the third was attached to the keeper’s house. The two towers (minus their lanterns) were sold in 1918 to the Cummings family of Eastham for $3.50. The family moved the two towers to a nearby location and joined them together as a summer cottage called “The Towers” on Cable Road. In 1923, the smaller wooden lighthouse was retired and replaced with the current Nauset Light. In 1983 after much uncertainty as to their future, the National Park Service united the Three Sisters in a park, just west of their original location for history geeks like us to enjoy!