On Thursday, February 5, at 6:30 pm, the Orleans Conservation Trust (OCT) hosted the second of five presentations in our 2015 Winter & Spring Lecture Series at the Orleans Yacht Club. For an hour, Bonnie Snow, long-time Orleans resident and historian, astonished more than 50 attendees gathered on a cold winter night with her knowledge of the history of the preserved land and structures situated along the coast of Town Cove. With much to cover in just one hour, Bonnie dove into her presentation.
First Bonnie discussed the the Jonathan Young Windmill. Known also as Elisha Cook’s Mill and Captain Hunt’s Mill, it was first noted on the 1798 survey map of Eastham (now Orleans) on Kendrick’s Hill, South Orleans. Bonnie noted that the Jonathan Young Windmill must be one of the oldest if not the oldest windmill in the United States. In 1839 the mill was moved to Young’s hill (the present site of the Governor Prence Motel) next to D. L. Young’s store.
In 1897 Captain Hunt, a wealthy sea captain, bought the mill and had it moved to his estate in Hyannisport. Since Young’s hill was only a quarter of a mile from Town Cove, the mill was moved by oxen to the Cove and then barged around to Hyannisport for around $500.00. Captain Hunt restored the mill and ran it into the early 1900s. In the early part of this century, the Grove family bought the Hunt estate and due to a death in the family the heirs gave the mill to the Orleans Historical Society, who in turn gave it to the Town of Orleans. It has was dismantled and moved back to Orleans for around $5,000.00.
This 18th century smock mill was unique in that there were few windmills left anywhere in the United States to restore. At the time it was relatively intact and was missing only parts of the sweeps and tail pole. The process of dismantling began with a careful numbering and color coding of each separate piece of the mill. Bonnie walked through the steps taken to restore the mill and even showed pictures of the restoration itself. Today the mill has been fully restored and proudly represents the town of Orleans history and exemplifies their respect for their cultural heritage.
Bonnie then moved on to discuss, in detail, the preservation of Sea Call Farm. Bonnie said that in 1921, William A. Fiske and his wife Bertha happened upon the first parcel of land that would comprise Sea Call Farm in the summer of 1921 while on a two-week vacation from his position at the Hartford Railway Express Company. In 1923 and 1924, Fiske bought additional tracts of land to form the present six-acre parcel that remains today, but allowed his abutters to continue farming their asparagus on his land for a few years after the purchase.
In 1931, Fiske was urged to retire from his railroad position because of serious heart disease, and doctors estimated that he had half a year to live. William and Bertha moved permanently to Orleans, but he refused to stop being the hard worker he had always been. Instead of succumbing to his worries, Fiske became a farmer. With some local help, but mostly single-handedly, Fiske began one of the small “trunk” farms popular at the time.
“Fiske became a gentleman farmer,” said Bonnie Snow, “and he did it at his own pace.” Fiske mentions potatoes, greens, cukes, beets, turnips, both string and shell beans, squash, tomatoes, eggplant and cabbages. He eventually grew enough produce and fruits to supply two Main Street Orleans markets, notably the A & P at the present day Watson’s Men’s store and the First National, current site of Westies shoe outlet. Fiske continued to farm until his death in the 1950’s, at which time the land was transferred to their only daughter Gertrude. Gertrude farmed the land for many years, but eventually the work became too difficult so she focused more on bunching flowers and giving them to community members.
After Gertrude died in 1986, the town of Orleans was able to purchase the property for conservation and agricultural purposes. Bonnie said that once antique dealers had gleaned the house of furniture and other valuables, volunteers restoring the building discovered its real treasure. Bonnie noted that she “Had been picking through the pages strewn on the kitchen’s wooden tabletop. I had avoided it, because there was also an old piece of petrified beefsteak left there.” Yet on that surface alongside the rotten meat and strewn on the floors were hand-typed journal pages, account books and logs. The act of chronicling his daily activities at his Orleans homestead and in nearby towns was dear to Fiske, and it gave us a meticulous rendering of life in another era. In one journal he wrote, “Hope the readers will enjoy this jotting as the jotter did jotting it.”
One of the many Fiske’s entry’s Bonnie read was entitled “Shut Up Trip” beginning with a description of the walk from Orleans center to the farm as he and his wife Gertrude had arrived by bus. Fiske wrote “The walk over home was good. We looked at every light in the windows all along the line and longed for the time when we could shine out light of our windows for passer byes to see and be cheered on their way. A home light with people gathered around looks like a most comfortable picture.”
Rounding out the presentation Bonnie informed the group that in 2007 Sea Call Farm was nominated to the National Register of Historical Houses and the Sea Call Farm Supporters, a non-profit organization, are responsible for maintenance and restoration of the Sea Call Farm buildings.
If you missed this lecture, please attend our next presentation on Monday, March 2, from 7:00 – 8:00 pm at the Orleans Yacht Club (39 Cove Road, Orleans). Dr. Jonathan Way, a native and resident of Cape Cod, has spent the better part of his professional life researching coyotes in suburban and urban settings of eastern MA. During his presentation Dr. Way will present the history and findings of his research on the coywolf here on Cape Cod and Eastern MA, his plans to continue those studies and the difficulties he has encountered in obtaining State permits for further research. He will also describe the work he has done on the study of wolves in the Yellowstone National Park and relate the similarities he found in the behavior of those Yellowstone wolves to that of coywolves here in MA.