The Chequesset Inn was Wellfleet’s Grand Hotel
Built in the 1880s, this attractive hotel inspired tourists to visit the Outer Cape
With the opening of the Chequesset Inn in 1886, Captain Lorenzo Dow Baker, a.k.a. “The Banana King,” thrust the town of Wellfleet into the new leisure pastime that began in The Gilded Age of wealth and prosperity. Intrigued by the resorts he saw in Florida and Jamaica, Baker resolved to bring the world to the rustic beauty of his native town.
Wellfleet’s first, and only, “Grand Hotel” was advertised as the “Hotel Over The Sea.” Built on the old Mercantile Wharf, the inn extended 400 feet into Wellfleet Harbor. The four-floor hotel was designed to resemble an ocean liner with 62 guest rooms reminiscent of ship’s cabins. Ironically, it wasn’t ships that brought guests to the inn; it was the railroad, which reached Wellfleet in the 1870s, providing fast, convenient access to the remote Outer Cape community.
The Chequesset Inn was more than a hotel; it was an all-inclusive resort. A brochure for the inn touted “sea and lake fishing, boating, tennis, billiards, bowling and orchestra.” Skiffs tied to a float alongside the pier were available for guests to row. The powered launch, Osprey, could be chartered for deep sea fishing or picnic clambakes on Great Island or Billingsgate. On shore, Mayo Beach provided a calm, Cape Cod Bay bathing beach for families. There were bathhouses and changing rooms, a tennis court, a bowling alley, and a stucco garage that housed carriages, and later automobiles, that transported guests to Wellfleet’s inland fresh water ponds. Fresh water was gravity-fed to the inn from a water tower on the sand bluff directly behind the hotel. A viewing platform stood atop the tower, providing scenic vistas of Wellfleet Harbor and shorelines extending to the Upper Cape. Visiting guests signed up for the “American Plan,” a package that provided three meals per day as well as access to all the inn’s amenities.
In his 1974 book I Remember Cape Cod, author E. C. Janes recalls his boyhood summer vacations in Wellfleet starting in 1913. He writes that the “orchestra” mentioned in the inn’s brochure was a trio that provided background music during meals, and musical performances were provided on “amateur nights,” when guests and staff performed to the delight of the audience. “The price in 1916 came to $15 a week per person on the American Plan …,” Janes writes. “As everyone knew … a whole family could live for two weeks or more on less than $15. It was clear … that to stay at the Chequesset Inn you had to be rich.”
Janes recalls the gas generator that produced electricity was shut down nightly at 10:30 p.m. in keeping with Baker’s Methodist views of economy and propriety. After that, the only lighting to be found was in the spacious bathrooms. So, it was in the bathrooms that male guests conducted secretive, late night poker games.
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