Orleans: A Small Town with an Extraordinary History

g12c000000000000000b05e258ee9dac5b0134b3ef7aa47726f8e590013On Tuesday October 15, 2013 at 6:30pm, the Orleans Conservation Trust (OCT) hosted the second of three presentations associated with our Third Tuesday Fall Lecture Series at the Orleans Yacht Club. Bill Quinn, historian and local author, charmed over 70 local residents and visitors with his lecture entitled “Orleans: A Small Cape Cod Town with and Extraordinary History.”

Bill began his presentation by informing the crowd that while he spent the better part of his life in Orleans, he was actually born in Eastham. Bill told the attendees that as he became a young man, his father inquired whether or not he was going on to college, and Bill replied, “Nah, I know everything already.” As the audience chuckled, Bill went on to explain that he decided to quit high school to serve in the Navy during World War II. At the end of the War, he finished high school and attended Tufts College (now Tufts University). After graduating he became a TV news photographer, which led to a lifetime of unique experiences and stories.

Bill continued with a series of slides showing the numerous monuments and historic markers around Orleans, associated with significant historical events that have taken place in Town, some dating back hundreds of years. These included the “Sparrowhawk” wreck off Nauset Beach in 1626, “Jeremiah’s Gutter”, now known as Boat Meadow Creek, Rock Harbor, where the Orleans Militia defeated the British Red Coats in the War of 1812, and a marker off 6A, where Higgins Tavern once stood, a popular stage coach stop in the late 1800’s.

Bill then shifted his presentation, focusing a bit more the daily life in historic Orleans and how residents in the mid-1800’s to early-1900’s lived. Bill showed historic photos of the Jonathan Young Windmill along the shores of Town Cove (with no trees anywhere), the first train arrival in Orleans in 1893, the first Model T car owned by Dr. J.P. McCue driving along Main Street, which was dirt at that time, the first town fire engine in 1893, and students getting out of school to help with the cranberry harvest and add to the family income.

During the latter half of his presentation Bill came full circle and talked a bit about how his family came to the Cape and some of the town’s unique features during his lifetime. Bill told a delightful story about how in 1878 his grandfather, William H. Quinn, was traveling from Nova Scotia to New York on a lumber vessel, on a foggy night, when the boat ran aground. Young William was asked by the Captain to take a smaller boat to shore to get help , but on his way in the waves flipped his boat and he was rescued by coastal servicemen, who kept a watchful eye on the coastline at that time. Once William was warmed up a bit and on his way back to the ship, the tides had already come up and the ship was already on its way to NY. William decided he had had enough of the ocean and chose to stay in Eastham/Orleans.

From there Bill talked about remembering going into Snow’s Hardware Store to purchase nuts and bolts for his bike in the early 1930’s, and showed slides of both the inside and outside of the early school buildings. Bill also showed a slide of the Reno Diner, a fixture in Orleans in the early 1900’s. When asked why it was named Reno, Bill informed the group that it was supposed to say Orleans Dinner, but a number of the letters were damaged when being transported, so they used the letters that were left to create “Reno”. “A true example to the residents’ adaptability” Bill stated with a laugh.

Lastly Bill talked about his experience flying out of Skymeadow Airport, located near Skymeadow Drive today, to take the first images of the collision of the MS Stockholm and passenger liner SS Andrea Doria in 1956. Bill also discussed taking photos of the grounding of the oil tanker Argo Merchant in 1976 from the air.

Over the years Bill has written several books on maritime and Cape Cod history. To learn more about Orleans, purchase or check out at the Orleans Snow Library his most recent book entitled “Orleans: A Small Town with an Extraordinary History.”

The lecture was a big success and we will continue with our lecture series on the third Tuesday of each month at the Orleans Yacht Club through the end of November. Join us on November 19th, 2013 at 6:30pm for the next lecture entitled, “Right Whales, Protecting Our Endangered Neighbors,” given by Stormy Mayo of the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies.