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.
Menauhant & More House Tour
The proceeds from the “Menauhant & More” House Tour on Friday, July 19 will benefit Highfield Hall & Gardens in Falmouth, an 1878 summer mansion and estate, which was lovingly restored. Highfield Hall now serves as Falmouth’s premier historic site and cultural center.
Tickets to the self-paced tour, co-sponsored by Hutker Architects and C.H. Newton Builders, Inc., are limited to 500. A House Tour Salon, sponsored by Cape Cod Life Publications, will be held at Highfield Hall on Thursday, July 18, from 5 to 7 p.m. Architect Mark Hutker, builder Ralph Cataldo, landscape designer Dan Solien, and interior designer Lauren Huyett will discuss their aesthetic approach to incorporating new with old after an overview of Menauhant history from a local resident. Salon tickets are $40 each; visit highfieldhall.org.
In addition to Grace Memorial Chapel, the tour will showcase eight private residences, including Lauren Huyett’s home on Westminster Road. As a child, Huyett visited her best friend, who summered in Menauhant. “I was terribly jealous,” she recalls. By the time she was married with five children, she and her husband had their own home in Menauhant. After outgrowing a cottage they’d purchased in 1998, Huyett, a Concord, Massachusetts-based interior designer, and her husband leaped at the opportunity to buy their current 1910 bungalow.
The home had lovely bones, but was dark and too cramped to comfortably accommodate their five children for the long haul. Renovating was essential, but it had to be done carefully, says Huyett, who hired architect Elise Stone to maintain the lines of the house. “We didn’t want it to look like anything had been added on to the house,” Huyett explains. Space was added on one side of the house to expand the kitchen and family room, creating a mudroom, laundry area, and an office out of an awkward back bedroom. A master suite was created, along with an additional second-story bedroom.
To bring in light, several motley windows were replaced with new designs in a consistent style, and aged dark bead board was painted bright white. The new floors were matched using old barn wood throughout. “We’re surrounded in the neighborhood by members of the family who owned the house, and we really wanted them to be happy with the renovation,” says Huyett. “They all loved what we did to the house, and that really makes us feel good.”
A new home designed by Hutker Architects, the striking residence on Zell Street can be seen, says project architect, Kevin Schreur, as a contemporary rendition of the older beach houses that defined the Menauhant community. “Floor spaces entertain all the activities of living on the waterfront, with an openness that expands the spaces to outside decks and the waterfront beyond,” he says. “In contrast, the second floor is meant to accommodate individually contained spaces, providing areas of privacy separate from the active bustle below.”
The exterior is clad with white cedar shingles, while red cedar boards were used for window trim and accent surfaces. Sited directly on Bournes Pond, the house was oriented to capture the view from every possible outlook. A back deck is shaded by a pergola suspended from the home with stainless steel tension rods.
“The angled slats let you view up and out from within the great room, a more open gesture than would have been provided by a solid shade structure,” says Schreur. An adjacent porch is screened-in, a common attribute of 20th century summer homes. Nearly 10-foot-high ceilings in main living spaces accommodate oversized windows with transoms and doors that soar from the floor. The best view, however, is seen from the second floor master bedroom, which, with its long hall of built-in cabinetry and exclusive access to a third floor office area, is, a true retreat.
The gateway to Menauhant can be marked by the 1931 home on Central Avenue, with its wooden footbridge over Bournes Pond. So pristine and idyllic is the setting that cars slow to stop when passing. Brides, recalls former owner Wendy Bigelow, frequently ask to be photographed on the iconic bridge.
The house started out as a compact Cape Cod style and remained that way for nearly 50 years. The Bigelow family transformed the house in the 1980s, raising the roof and adding a full dormer, which allowed for two large en-suite bedrooms over the original footprint.
Twelve years later, a larger renovation was initiated that involved completely gutting the kitchen, creating a new stairway, readjusting the garage and deck, and replacing a potting shed to create a first-floor master suite and another large bedroom and bath above. Initially, windows were few and spare, so the project involved increasing access to sunlight and views: a former stairwell was taken out to make way for a skylight in the family room and the kitchen was opened to the dining room, which allowed for a more open, unified area as well as unobstructed views of Vineyard Sound.
Yacht Club Road
Wendy Bigelow has spent each of her 72 summers in Menauhant. After owning a home on Central Avenue for many years, she and her husband, George, decided to build a new home that would accommodate their children and grandchildren. Through word of mouth—how most of the neighborhood’s properties become available for sale—Bigelow learned that the existing cottage on Yacht Club Road was on the market. “It was lovely 50 years ago, but like some of the homes in the area, it had become very neglected,” says Bigelow. In the original structure’s place, Bigelow contracted Denise Bonoli to design a Cape-style gambrel with a front porch punctuated by gracious white columns. Dormers maximize the second story rooms, and the living areas have lofty ceilings that promote a spacious, airy flow. Windows are large and topped with transoms to capture the light. Interior window treatments are simple, allowing views of the lush landscape and ocean beyond.
“I walk out my door onto the same dirt road that I’ve walked since I was a child,” says Bigelow. “It’s the same contiguous area, a very special, close knit community of people. The kids all hang out together, never leaving the neighborhood. Some of them even intermarry.” However, that’s not what Bigelow did: her husband George was a Falmouth native. “He was a ‘townie.’ I brought him into the group,” she recalls. “My friends were wary at first, but soon they welcomed him.”
Although the sign on the front door reads “It’s only a summer house … it doesn’t have to be perfect,” the careful thought that went into the renovation of this house says otherwise. With a pickle ball court in the front, and rooms inside designed to comfortably accommodate summer activities, this house is a gateway to the perfect family vacation.
For over 80 years, families have been worshiping under the gracefully curved roof of this Shingle style chapel. With oak pews, stunning Arts and Crafts stained glass windows, and a newly installed air conditioning and heating system, year-round Sunday services are both beautiful and comfortable.
Original in many aspects, but still updated to accommodate modern day living, this 1874 Gothic Revival cottage is characterized by smart design choices bringing it into the 21st century without removing any of its historic charm.
Crescent-shaped and featuring a beautiful garden, this house is generously sized and expertly designed. While the inside is something to see with its intricately beamed ceilings and beautiful onion glass chandelier, the stunning view of Bournes Pond from the stone patio is also not to be missed.
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