The Chequesset Inn was Wellfleet’s Grand Hotel
Baker was named after a Methodist preacher, and he remained a devout Methodist and non-drinker throughout his life. He installed a pipe organ onboard Telegraph and hymns were played at meals and Sunday services. A resident of Wellfleet, Jeff Tash teaches a course on Wellfleet history for the town’s Open University, and lives in a newer house at Chequessett Bluff. Tash says Baker’s personal teetotaling philosophy also extended to the inn. “No liquor was allowed at the inn,” says Tash, “and this may have limited the inn’s clientele in its competition with other Cape resorts, such as the Chatham Bars Inn,” which was founded in 1914.
Baker’s family lived in Jamaica, but spent summers in Wellfleet. Baker built an estate, Belvernon, on several acres of land behind Wellfleet’s town center. Jean Baker is his surviving granddaughter by her marriage to Captain Reuben Baker, Jr. In an interview for this article, she shared her memories of the property. “Belvernon—meaning beautiful green lawns—was a combination of three houses put together, a total of 32 rooms,” she says. Among Baker’s properties in Jamaica was a resort hotel, the Titchfield. “When Grandfather closed [the hotel] in Jamaica, during the hot summer months, he brought the hotel staff here for the season,” Jean Baker says. The family estate had its own bowling alleys, tennis and croquet courts, and extensive lawns and gardens. Bunches of bananas hung on the porch and guests were encouraged to help themselves. Today, most of the estate land has been sold, and the Baker family no longer owns the home. The original house, however, still exists on Baker Lane behind Wellfleet’s town center.
Baker’s eldest son, Loren, built his own summer home on Chequessett Bluff. Its unique design was based on a house Loren had seen in his travels. Unlike anything on Cape Cod, the curved, sloping roof and domed turret gave it the nickname, “The Elephant House,” most likely due to its appearance from the sea. The home is on the western edge of Baker’s original Chequessett Cottages off of Chequesset Neck Road.
In 1908 Captain Baker developed a serious lung infection and left Jamaica to receive medical treatment in Boston. Soon after his arrival, he died at the Parker House at the age of 68. By then, United Fruit Company had been incorporated and Baker’s role had been reduced to a mere figurehead. However, the family continued his other enterprises, including the Chequesset Inn.
In 1934 New England suffered a brutally cold winter that froze much of Wellfleet Harbor. When a major blizzard struck the Cape, ice floes battered the pilings of the aging Mercantile Wharf. The pier shifted, the hotel buckled, and portions of the inn collapsed. In the midst of the nation’s Great Depression, rebuilding the pier and hotel was deemed out of the question, and so Wellfleet’s “Grand Hotel” era came to an end. Today, all that remains of the Chequesset Inn are the rotting stubs of pier pilings that only appear at low tide, and a plaque on a boulder at the corner of Kendrick Avenue that honors Captain Baker—and the hotel that started Wellfleet’s tourist trade.
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