A look at the rich history of Baxter’s
Captain Baxter commanded the transport Promethus as well as two gunboats, the Vedette and the Chasseun during the Civil War. Later, in the merchant service, he commanded the ships Nearchus and John N. Cushing, trading on the East India coast. At one point, writes Harris, the Cushing was dismasted in a typhoon. Determined, Baxter “managed to sail it into a river, rigged a jury mast, with his crew, and sailed it to its destination, after it had been given up for lost.”
But it was his command of the Gerard C. Tobey for which he gained further esteem and “perpetuated the fame” of the bark with his speed records. Barks (derived from the French barques) are sailing vessels with distinctive rigging (three or more masts, having the fore and main masts rigged square and only the mizzen rigged fore and aft). During the golden age of sail in the mid-19th century, barks were the workhorses of the sea. These boats were smaller than ships, thus they could sail with fewer crew and were cheaper to operate. On the first leg of one of its last voyages, Baxter sailed the Tobey from Wiscasset, Maine to Cardiff, Wales in only 18 days.
Captain Baxter had four daughters and one son. Benjamin D. Baxter Jr. became a stevedore and U.S. Shipping Master. Notably, on November 4, 1904, he was appointed by the U.S. Director of Customs as Deputy Collector and Inspector for the District of Barnstable. In these roles Baxter oversaw much of the maritime commerce in the port. Given the circumstances, he must have seen the potential at the end of Pleasant Street, where the family had been operating the dock since the early 1900s. He bought the property in 1919.
Benjamin D. Baxter Jr. and his son Warren Baxter were fixtures on the Hyannis waterfront. By the 1940s their fish market was thriving. Then Baxter’s Fish N’ Chips opened in 1957, after Warren’s wife started frying local fish. The fish market closed in 1966 as supermarkets became the primary retail distribution channel, and the next year Baxter’s Boathouse opened as a more formal dining and drinking option to the casual fried fish counter. The only alcohol served was Budweiser on tap. And vodka with cranberries. Nothing else.
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