Saturday, November 10, 2018

Thanksgiving on the Cape

When the last surviving leaves bid us farewell in a torrent of color, and the frost greets us on bare meadows and frigid windshields, we retreat back to Home. The world around us grows quiet save for the squawk of a lone seagull or the soft pedal of leaves scraping the ground. It’s toasty by the fireside and toastier yet by the oven. We invite winter in through our stomachs and reflect on our blessings during this most beautiful time of year.
Photo Courtesy of Coastal Engineering Company

Did you know Cape Cod was the first place that the Pilgrims landed in the New World back in 1620? They anchored the Mayflower off the shores of Provincetown and explored the land for a few weeks before ultimately setting sail for Plymouth. Before they left, the Mayflower Compact was signed here. These events were commemorated in 1892 by Cape Cod’s first non-for-profit organization, the Cape Cod Pilgrim Memorial Association, by building a massive 252-foot monument close to the shore where they might have landed. To date, the Pilgrim Monument is the largest granite structure in the United States.
Photo Courtesy of

The Annual Lighting of the Pilgrim Monument, traditionally held the night before Thanksgiving, is an especially festive event. Each year the monument is adorned in a sparkle of lights which first illuminate on this occasion and shine on through the New Year. It is a time-honored tradition that has been cherished on the Cape for generations.

In Chatham, their annual Turkey Trot, a 5k run through some of the town’s most picturesque roadways, benefits the Lower Cape Outreach Council’s emergency programs. Held the morning of Thanksgiving, it’s a sure-fire way to work up an appetite while giving back to the community.

Speaking of appetite, what would a Cape Cod Thanksgiving be without cranberries? Arguably our most prominent (and striking) crops grow in abundance this time of year and makes a perfect complement for countless dishes. One particularly palatable recipe comes from the kitchen of writer Jennifer Trainer Thompson, resident of Buzzards Bay. Made for Thanksgiving, this simple dish is a must-have for any respectable table on the Cape.

Butternut Squash with Cranberries

  • 1 (2-pound) butternut squash, peeled and cubed

  • 2 yellow onions, cut into 8 wedges
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons melted butter
  • 2 tablespoons firmly packed brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup fresh cranberries
  • 1/4 cup toasted slivered almonds

  • Instructions
    Step 1
    Preheat oven to 500°. Toss first 8 ingredients in a large bowl. Spread squash mixture evenly onto a rimmed baking sheet. Roast, stirring occasionally, 20 minutes.
    Step 2
    Add cranberries, and roast 10 to 12 more minutes or until squash is tender. Toss with almonds, and serve immediately.

    As we hear the echo of geese honking over our homes this Thanksgiving and look up from our bountiful plates out our windows, as we see their fading silhouettes flap hurriedly past the newly bare trees, give thanks. Give thanks for the warm dining room you feast in and for your loved ones beside you. Count your blessings and acknowledge that it really is quite a beautiful world we live in after all.

    Thursday, October 4, 2018

    Haunted History at the Dillingham House

    It’s October and New England has once again blossomed into its most flattering form. Here on the Cape where summer reigns supreme, autumn is our “best kept secret.” The crowds of tourists are long gone, the streets are quiet, the salty air has a crispness to it, and the plump red sight of cranberries begin to adorn the surrounding bogs.

    It’s also the time of year when the shadows stretch just a little further and the days grow shorter. We retire for the night earlier, curling up around the fire and in hushed excited tones tell each other stories of the supernatural and unknown.

    October is the time for Halloween and what better way to kick off this month of the macabre than with a chilling tale of a haunted house (currently for sale!) in our very own Sandwich.

    Dillingham House, Currently Listed by Beverly Comeau, 
    Kinlin Grover Real Estate
    $499,000, 4 bedrooms, 4 1/2 baths

    The Dillingham House was built in the 1650s by one of Sandwich’s founding fathers, Edward Dillingham. In the family until 1926, Edward’s great grandson Branch Dillingham had owned it in the early 1800s with his wife and nine children. His reasons now lost to history, Branch committed suicide in 1813 leaving his wife and children behind. If that wasn’t bad enough, only weeks later his wife inexplicably died as well, forcing the children to fend for themselves alone in their empty house. The proceeding conditions of the children’s lives are hazy but we do know that most lived into adulthood, however difficult that feat might have been for them. In any case, this family left their mark on this house and perhaps even continues to do so.

    After the property fell out of the Dillingham family’s hands, it became a rundown boarding house during the 1930s and 40s, jokingly referred to as “The Ritz.” After that period, it was abandoned for many years, yet neighbors couldn't help but notice the strange occurrences happening there. 

    In the 1970s individuals reported having seen strange lights moving around the rooms within the house, despite the fact it was vacant. A police report from 1979 listed mysterious happenings such as doors unlocking on their own, the sound of small feet pattering across the floor and motion detectors being set off without explanation. A woman claimed to have seen the “glimpse of a stern-looking man dressed in Victorian attire” in one of the windows. The police reports explicitly notes that this activity typically seemed to spike around Halloween…

    In more recent years, the house had been a bed and breakfast.  The owner at the time claimed to have smelled the odor of "gamey" meat pervading the house while it was under renovation.  Some of his guests sweared to have seen children run across the halls, their small footsteps echoing behind them. One guest woke up to the sight of a little girl at the end of their bed watching her, and many others heard nearby footsteps when they were alone in their rooms.  The owners, like the earlier police reports, agreed that the activity seemed to peak around Halloween.

    Is the Dillingham House haunted or has it just been visited by generations of people with big imaginations?  I'll let you be the judge of that.

    Believers and skeptics alike, we can all agree that the month of October is the perfect time to go out and enjoy our community. Here are a bunch of fabulous events on the Cape this month that you won't want to miss:


    Thursday, September 13, 2018

    Dating Your Historic Home

    Historic plaque on my home courtesy of our local historical society
    You know your house is old, but are you certain how old? For many owners of historic homes, obtaining a copy of the original deed or a complete title is not so easy. Records were not kept as diligently as they are now, if there even was an original record to begin with, so historic home owners often need to do their detective work while trying to pinpoint the true origin of their homes.

    Now where to begin? Start by exhausting every possible record your house may have on file with your county or town. Your title, or the property deed, will list the past owners of your house, but if your property is exceptionally old it may not date far back enough to reveal the original owner. Barnstable County has an online database of recorded deeds that saves you the trip to the county clerk’s office (

    An Indenture for the transfer of land from Nicholas Thomas to Lambert Strarenbergh in Albany, New York, circa 1734. Getty / Fotosearch
    If you are still having trouble, visit your local tax assessor. Your tax roll may reveal when your house was built on your property. Another option is requesting a full list of transactions (also known as the “tract index”) involving your property from your county’s Registry of Deeds. You will then be able to see every purchase and transfer of ownership of your house, but again, if your house is older than the mid 19th century, these kinds of records are all too often incomplete.

    If you are lucky enough, perhaps your town’s historical society or library has comprehensive records of the historic properties in the area. Early photographs, newspaper clippings, personal accounts, and census records are some of a few clues to get closer to accurately dating your house. I know in my case, trying to date my 19th century farmhouse on Long Island was incredibly difficult. The records were scarce and mostly unclear. With the help from our town’s historian, I learned that my house was built by a prominent farmer in the area, but he did not live in it. Finding his grave in our local cemetery, I discovered he died in 1849 so I was able to validate that my house was likely built in the early part of the 19th century. Here on Cape Cod, there is a helpful website that allows you to search for gravestones by town and cemetery ( without having to search aimlessly through the cemetery (however fun that sounds!)

    Gravesite of the builder of my house, Obadiah Wells (Setauket, NY)
    The state of Massachusetts has a great online database of historic properties throughout the state called The Massachusetts Cultural Resource Information System ( Simply type in the address and/or city of your property and the results may be able to tell you the year your house was built, in addition to the architect, architectural style, and even perhaps the original significance of your property. Another slightly less reliable database is HABS (Historic American Building Survey) where you can also search for your property by county. If you manage to  find your property on there, consider yourself one of the lucky few! Properties recorded on HABS can include architectural drawings and photographs. Score!

    Once you’ve traced back your property with every record that exists, complete your investigation with the most basic method: your own observational skills. If you can hire an architectural historian, by all means invite them over! But dating your own house to an architectural time period is easier than you think, and quite fascinating, in my opinion.

    Start by looking at the exterior of your house. If it hasn’t been renovated extensively, it should be fairly simple to identify the original architectural style in which it was built.

    Some popular (and by no means is this a full list) early American architectural styles include:
    Buttolph-Williams House, Wethersfield, CT (c. 1711)
    17th Century Colonial Houses (~1630-1740)
    Characteristics include: Wood and stone construction, side-gabled steep roofs, diamond paned windows, plain fa├žade with no trim, large chimney usually placed in the center of the house.

    "Home Sweet Home" Museum, East Hampton, NY (c. 1720s)
    Saltbox House (~1607-early 1700s)
    Characteristics include: Steep roof that peaks at a second story in the front of the building and slopes to a first story in the back, large center chimney, mostly shingled wood exterior (some clapboard), double-hung windows with 9-over-9 or 12-over-12 panes, simple and mostly symmetrical.

    Historical Society of Santuit and Cotuit
    Cape Cod House (~1690-1850) 
    Characteristics include: Wood frame, steep roof, full Capes feature a central door with two sets of windows on either side. A three-quarter Cape features a single window on one side, followed by a door, and then two windows on the other side. 

    Half Cape at Old Bethpage Village Restoration in Old Bethpage, NY
    A half cape features the door on the side of the front and two windows adjacent to them. Full Capes typically have a center chimney, whereas three-quarter and halves typically have their chimney on one side (not on the exterior wall as some later reproductions do.) 

    Georgian in Deerfield, MA
    Georgian House (~1700-1830)
    Characteristics include: Symmetrical design, double hung windows with 9-over-9 or 12-over-12 panes, doors with ornamented pilasters and/or transom lights, brick siding in the south and clapboard in the north, side-gabled or hipped roof.

    Federal in Setauket, NY
    Federal House (~1780-1820)
    Characteristics include: Symmetrical design, square or rectangular building, hipped or flat roof, ornamental doorway with pediment, pilasters, sidelights, and/or fanlights, decorative molding, interior chimneys located on each end of the structure, brick or wood construction

    Greek Revival House (~1825-1860)
    Characteristics include: Typically painted white with black shutters, gables with pediments, elaborate cornices, columns, decorative rectangular windows towards the top of the house, fanlights and sidelights in the doorway.

    Victorian in Setauket, NY
    Victorian House (~1855-1900) Characteristics include: Steep multi-gabled roofs, asymmetrical, textured walls, abundance of trim and detail, pavilions, corner bays, porches, brick foundations. Many physical variations.

    After identifying the architectural style of your house, you now have a broad idea of the time period in which your house was built. To enhance your findings, step inside and observe. Do your wide plank floorboards appear to have hand-hewn nails? If so, it was most likely built before 1800. Hand wrought nails were predominantly made in the 18th century and earlier. By the 1830s, nails were being machine made and became more uniformed in appearance.

    If possible, look at the support beams and framing of your house. Can you see rough saw marks, or do they look milled and uniformed? If they resemble the latter, your house may be dated back to the 1830s or later. Large timber beams connected to joists with wooden pegs or a cavity (also called mortise and tenon framing) is a clear indication of an older home from at least the early 19th century. By the 1830s, balloon framing became the more popular method and is still used to this day. Identifying features include long vertical 2x4 beams that are nailed to each floor frame, essentially creating a skeleton of the house.

    An example of mortise and tenon construction
    There are countless clues your house is willing to reveal to you if you simply acquaint yourself with these methods of dating. There are many books on the topic and articles on the web to help you with your quest.

    A few parting words of advice:
    • Do your homework! Make sure you have at least a general understanding of American architecture before you explore. There are countless sources online as well as in print that illustrate key architectural features for each time period and style for you to reference.
    • Leave no stone unturned! Keep in mind, people did not like to waste anything in the past. Many old houses were built with recycled parts, so while investigating, do remember to compare all your findings before drawing a conclusion. Focusing on one part or feature alone will not give you an accurate picture. Assume nothing! Does your title seem to only go back to 1895 but your house looks Georgian? Toss that title to the side and dig deeper. The record might be incomplete.
    • Last and most importantly, enjoy the quest. Investigating the age of your house is fun and exciting. By studying each nook and cranny, you gain a greater appreciation and understanding of your home’s construction as well as its past. Even if your research does not lead to any definitive conclusions, the knowledge you’ve achieved in the process is priceless.
    #capecod, #preservation