Fun facts about the town of Wellfleet…

  • Wellfleet is located halfway between the Cape’s tip, Provincetown, and its elbow, Chatham.
  • According to the 2010 U.S. Census, the population of Wellfleet is 2,750.
  • At approximately 35.4 square miles, the town is comparable in size to Clinton, Wisconsin and Warsaw, New York.
  • Exploring the area in 1606, Frenchman Samuel de Champlain dubbed Wellfleet, Port aux Huites, which means ‘oyster harbor.’
  • In 1645, settlers in Plymouth purchased from Native Americans the area we know today as Orleans, Eastham, and Wellfleet (known at the time as Billingsgate).
  • In 1763, the community of Billingsgate broke from the town of Eastham, and incorporated as its own town, taking on the name of Wellfleet.
  • Today, approximately 61 percent of Wellfleet’s land area is located within the boundaries of the Cape Cod National Seashore Park, which was established in 1961.
  • Lieutenant Island in Wellfleet Harbor is connected to the rest of the town via a causeway and an old wooden bridge.
  • From about 1690 to 1740, Smith’s Tavern on Great Island—Wellfleet’s westernmost barrier—was a popular watering hole for sailors. An excavation of the site in 1969-1970 uncovered many glasses and pipe stems.
  • Before modern refrigeration, barrels from Nova Scotia were important in Wellfleet as they were used to transport the town’s huge bounty of fish and shellfish. In the 1800s, many Nova Scotians moved to Wellfleet to assemble the barrels, founding a small French colony here; some current residents trace their lineage to these coopers.
  • Sarah Cleverly Atwood (1836-1920) of Wellfleet was the first woman to be appointed a lighthouse keeper by the U.S. Lighthouse Board, following in the footsteps of her late husband, William; Sarah would oversee Mayo’s Beach Lighthouse (I and II) from 1876 to 1891.
  • The Methodist Episcopal Church on Main Street in Wellfleet was hit by lightning and burned in 1891; Wellfleet Town Hall burned in a blizzard in 1960. Both structures were rebuilt.
  • Marconi Beach is named for Italian inventor, Guglielmo Marconi (1874-1937), who completed the first trans-Atlantic wireless communication from the area in 1903; he sent a message of greeting to the King of England, Edward VII, and received a response.
  • A Native American burial site—including the remains of at least 56 men, women, and children—was discovered at Indian Neck in 1979. Slow Turtle (John Peters), a Wampanoag who was working on the property, discovered the site.
  • The Wellfleet Drive-In Theater on Route 6 opened in July of 1957. One of its first feature films was An Affair to Remember, starring Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr. The theater opens for the season in May.
  • In business for more than 50 years, the Beachcomber is the only Atlantic oceanfront restaurant on Cape Cod; while other waterfront restaurants exist on the Cape, they all feature views of Nantucket Sound or Cape Cod Bay.
  • The 2013 Cape Cod Festival of Arab & Middle Eastern Cinema was hosted in September at Wellfleet Preservation Hall.
  • Founded in 1996, Beanstock Coffee began as a small coffee shop on Main Street, but it has grown into a coffee roaster and wholesaler, offering products such as Cape Beach Blend, Nauset Blend, Hoe, Hoe, Joe, and Nicaraguan Organic Segovia.
  • Wellfleet has its own “Atlantis,” Billingsgate Island, which is completely submerged at the mouth of Wellfleet Harbor. During the 1600s, Pilgrim William Bradford described Billingsgate as an isle of about 60 acres. At one time, the island featured more than 30 houses, a school, and a whale processing plant before being completely submerged in the late 1800s by rising seas.
  • Mayflower passenger Constance Hopkins, and her husband, Nicholas Snow, owned Billingsgate Island for a period during the 1600s.
  • In the 1800s, fish and shellfish abounded in Wellfleet waters; one report lists 10,000 mackerel caught in a day’s time. Lobster was so plentiful that lighthouse keepers on Billingsgate Island could just dip into well-known potholes on the shore for a daily meal.
  • Cape Cod’s third lighthouse was built on Billingsgate Island in 1822.
  • Born on Bound Brook Island in 1860, Nehemiah Hopkins was an eye doctor, surgeon, and a missionary to China. He built an eye hospital in Beijing and later established the Peking Union Medical College (in Beijing).
  • Bananas may not have been commercialized in the United States had it not been for Wellfleet resident Lorenzo Dow Baker. Returning from a trip to Jamaica in the late 1800s, the sailor brought with him a load of bananas, which were previously unknown in New England. The fruit caught on, and Dow Baker and a partner formed the Boston Fruit Company, which over the years led to Chiquita Brands International.
  • Luther Childs Crowell (1840-1903) of Wellfleet was a successful inventor, creating various products to improve the aviation and printing industries. He is best known, however, for dreaming up the paper bag.
  • Writers John Dos Passos (U.S.A. Trilogy), Howard Zinn (A People’s History of the United States) and Noam Chomsky (The Fateful Triangle: The United States, Israel, and the Palestinians) lived in Wellfleet at one time.
  • In 1984, Barry Clifford discovered the pirate ship, the Whydah, off the coast of Wellfleet. English pirate ‘Black Sam’ Bellamy had captured the ship in the Caribbean and it had sunk in waters off Wellfleet in 1717. The Whydah was the first pirate ship to be discovered in North America.
  • A resident of Wellfleet and graduate of Nauset High School, Michael DeVito plays defensive end for the Kansas City Chiefs.
  • The Wellfleet OysterFest has been held every fall since 2001; in the contest, participants shuck open 24 oysters as fast as possible, while also leaving the most aesthetically pleasing result.
  • In 2013, the winner of the competition—with a time of 3 minutes, 6 seconds—was Barbara Austin. With the win, Barbara qualifies to participate in the 2014 National U.S. Oyster Shucking Championship in Maryland. Austin is now a three-time winner, having claimed the shucking crown in 2006 and 2007 as well. She is also the only woman ever to win.
  • In addition to Austin, fellow multi-time shucking champs include William “Chopper” Young, Jr., who won in 2002, 2005, and 2009, and James Gray, who took first place in 2008—with a time of 1.47 minutes—and 2012.
  • In 2004, Wellfleet SPAT (Shellfish Promotion and Tasting) published a cookbook, The Joy of Shucking, featuring shellfish recipes from local chefs and residents.
  • According to, oysters are high in protein, low in fat, and contain beneficial minerals such as iron, zinc, and copper. The oyster’s reputation as an aphrodisiac has yet to be scientifically proven.
  • The railroad arrived in Wellfleet on December 28, 1870, via the newly expanded Old Colony Rail line.

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Beach and Dunes at Cahoon’s Hollow, Wellfleet

Beach and Dunes at Cahoon's Hollow, Wellfleet