The Chequesset Inn was Wellfleet’s Grand Hotel
Just west of the hotel on Chequesset Bluff, spacious summer cottages were built to accommodate larger families. In 1933, Edward Hopper, the renowned artist, painted them in his watercolor “Cottages at Wellfleet,” which propelled them to artistic immortality.
Captain Lorenzo Dow Baker (1840-1908) was the founder of what became United Fruit Company, known as Chiquita Banana. Born in the Wellfleet village of Bound Brook, Baker went to sea as a cabin boy at the age of 10, was a captain by 20, and soon after owned his own ship. In 1870, Baker’s Telegraph delivered a cargo of mining equipment to Venezuela.
Admont Gulick Clark, Captain United States Coast Guard, retired, describes the journey in his 2000 book, Sea Stories of Old Cape Cod and the Islands. On the return trip, the empty ship was damaged by a storm and limped into Port Morant, Jamaica. Merchants were reluctant to provide goods for his repaired craft, but eventually he filled the empty hold with coconuts and green bananas. Running his bilge pumps all the way to New York, Baker sold the remaining, unspoiled bananas that had cost him 25 cents per bunch for $3 per bunch, thus beginning the lucrative trade that would establish his fortune.
Baker partnered with Jesse Freeman, his Wellfleet boyhood friend, and together they dominated the tropical fruit industry for decades. Based in Boston, Freeman handled marketing and distribution, while Baker, his Wellfleet wife, Martha (Hopkins), and four children (Loren, Joshua, Martha Alberta and Reuben), moved to Jamaica, where he expanded fruit production. The sugar cane industry had collapsed following the British Empire’s abolishment of slavery, and Jamaicans were eager for a new cash crop. Baker purchased many of the decaying sugar plantations and converted them to grow bananas.
David Wright, staff member of the Wellfleet Historical Society and author of The Famous Beds of Wellfleet: A Shellfishing History, says the impact Baker had on the community can still be observed today. “Baker and the inn contributed to the two things Wellfleet is known for now: shellfishing and the hospitality industry.” In 1902, Baker built the first gas-powered trawler, The Cultivator, and Mercantile Wharf became home to the Massachusetts Department of Fisheries Shellfish Laboratory and Quahog Hatchery. Starting in 1905, using the shellfish laboratory as his base, Dr. David Belding conducted a research study on the shellfish beds of Wellfleet Harbor. A present-day shellfish grant holder, Mike Parlante, Jr., states that Dr. Belding’s research is still used today by the thriving aquaculture industry.
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