A True Cape Colony
Highfield Hall’s House and Garden Tour celebrates the genuine Cape resort of East Falmouth’s Menauhant.
When it was conceived in the 1870s, the plan for the summer colony of Menauhant called for 700 small lots. Among Cape Cod’s earliest resort enclaves, located in East Falmouth and bordering Bournes Pond and Vineyard Sound, Menauhant soon lured Bostonians—as well as New Yorkers, Rhode Islanders, and Philadelphians—seeking refuge from stifling city summers. A hotel was built which included a bowling alley, stables, and bathhouses adjacent to the neighborhood’s two private beaches. By 1900, a casino, replete with an indoor skating rink, served as the area’s social center.
Menauhant remained only lightly developed compared to such resorts as Falmouth Heights and Megansett, in North Falmouth. The original hotel was destroyed by a fire in 1918, but the Yacht Club, constructed in 1914, has served as the center of the community for nearly a century, playing host to parties, dances, tennis tournaments, and regattas. The area’s other anchor is Grace Memorial Chapel. Built in 1930, the Shingle style structure, adorned with Arts and Crafts stained glass windows and hand-carved woodwork, continues an 80-year summer tradition during its Sunday evening services, when the neighborhood’s children take care of the bell ringing, ushering, and offertory.
By the 20th century, Menauhant was regulated by covenants designed to maintain a genteel residential character in the colony. The Menauhant Land Trust stipulated that building on the granted lots was exclusively for private residences; homes could only have one private garage, which “could not have a flat roof, and could not be sited closer than 35 feet from the street line.” Deeds further stipulated that no part of a house could stand within 25 feet of any street line and that all service entrances, back doors, and bulkheads had to be completely hidden from view, either by shrubs or lattice-work fencing at least eight feet high.
Thanks to the land trust’s edicts, Menauhant was settled much less intensively than the initial plan suggested. And, according to its residents, that’s precisely what makes the area so precious. There are few fences between properties: lush, verdant lawns flow into one another providing unfettered views and promoting an easy rapport between neighbors.
Menauhant’s roads were never paved, so cars amble at a leisurely pace along the rutted dirt lanes. It’s far easier to walk, and that’s what residents choose to do most of the time—particularly the kids who travel in packs en route to their sailing lessons or a pick-up game at the ball field, their laughter conveying an innocence that recaptures a simpler time. During the day, there’s a constant thwack of tennis balls being hit on the Yacht Club’s clay courts. At night, if your windows are open, the sound of the ocean waves will lull you to sleep.
Today, the 61-acre enclave is home to fewer than 100 residences. The architectural integrity of the weathered Colonial Revival, Shingle style, Cape Cod, and Gothic Revival houses that line the streets is notable. A few structures date back to the Menauhant’s inception; many were built in the 1920s and 1930s during the neighborhood’s peak. While other homes are newer, they were designed to honor the vernacular of the rare summer colony. “Menauhant is a distinctive and cohesive group of late-19th and early-20th-century summer residences that, even for Falmouth, is exceptional for its visual harmony,” notes a survey of the area taken of the area by the National Register of Historic Places.
“Menauhant is a magical place,” says Nancy Porter, who with Lynn Goslee and Jocie Greenman, will co-chair the Highfield Hall & Gardens tour “Menauhant & More” on Friday, July 19. The tour will be co-sponsored by Hutker Architects and C.H. Newton Builders, Inc. The committee selected Menauhant as the tour’s locale because of its lost-in-time appeal. “It’s a historic summer colony that exists almost entirely as it did a century ago. There are very few places like this around anymore. Neighbors have known each other for generations. Kids roam the dirt roads. The sailing programs, open only to residents, have more than 100 students enrolled,” says Porter. And while Menauhant’s residents are aware of the precious nature of their haven, without hesitation, they warmly agreed to share the neighborhood with visitors for the tour.