Days & Nights
Days Cottages, those barebones structures placed in a row along Route 6A, are relics of Depression-era Cape Cod. For devoted visitors, they are also an important setting for a summer in Truro.
The distinctive, gabled bungalows first appear as you reach the crest of the hill on Route 6 in Truro. In the distance, silhouetted against the sea, stand 23 identical sea green-and-white cottages.
Poems have been written about them. Artists are stirred by them. Photographs of them adorn walls around the world. “My son saw a photo of one of the cottages when he was in Greece on the island of Mykonos,” says Marie Jones of Enfield, Connecticut, who has journeyed to Truro’s Beach Point every summer since she was a baby, some 74 years ago.
Days’ Cottages turn 80 this summer. They have survived coastal storms and historical Nor’easters, including the Blizzard of ‘78 that washed away the seawall but left the cottages undamaged. Their appeal is ageless and their customers are seemingly forever faithful, many returning every summer, renting the same cottage, and settling in next to the same tourists. Through the decades, strangers have become friends, sometimes almost family. “It’s been passed down from generation to generation,” says Joe Days, who now operates the business started by his grandfather. “We put them in the same cottage every year, and they’re next to the same people. So it’s like an annual reunion.”
Jones says, “My son was in the wedding of someone he met there.”
What is it about this modest resort—with no televisions, room service, tennis courts, fitness rooms or ocean-side cabana bars—that attracts a loyal clientele summer after summer?
According to Days, who took over when his father, Bernard, passed away in 1990, it’s just that absence of frills that draws them back. “People like the simplicity of it,” he says. “It’s not real fancy, although we do have cable for people who want to bring their own TV. But most people don’t care that there isn’t a TV. They come as families to get away. This is their week to be with the kids, to play games, to lie on the beach and to do the simpler things.”
The cottages stand 18 feet apart, all with identical dimensions and design. There are two bedrooms, a living room, a bathroom, a kitchen and a glassed-in porch overlooking the water. The only way to separate them (and perhaps to remember which one to head home to after a night on the town) is by the names of the cottages. Each one is named after a different flower, an idea that was the brainchild of Amelia Days, wife of the original owner, Joseph A. Days. Determined to provide each of the cottages with a unique identity, she labeled them Zinnia, Dahlia, Peony, Tulip, Lilac, Marigold, and so on until all 23 were distinguished by a flower. Her husband then had yellow signs with black lettering made for each cottage.
The iconic image of Days’ Cottages has been used in national commercials, magazines, and television shows. In a Chevrolet commercial filmed in the mid-1980s, a tenant rushes out the door of a cottage and hops into a Camaro. The TV game show, “The Price Is Right,” once used a shot of the cottages while describing a dream vacation on Cape Cod. Vogue magazine photographed one of its models with the cottages as the backdrop in 1988.
The cottages were built in 1931, but the foundation for the business was laid nearly 20 years prior when Days purchased a strip of land along either side of what is now Shore Road in Truro. The desolate road was mostly packed-down dirt and beach sand, prompting locals to label the purchase “Days’ Folly.”
The spot remained dormant until the Depression hit when Days, who owned a construction company, saw an opportunity to put people back to work. Providing all the materials, he hired workers to build five cottages.
“He saw the chance to give employment to people, and I guess he had the money to do it,” said his grandson Joe. “I’m sure he never imagined what it would become.”
As the original cottages were being built, Days discovered that none were actually on his property. So he bought that land, and enough additional land to add four more cottages. Across the street he built two more structures, with one building serving as a rental office, seasonal grocery store and summer residence for his family. He continued purchasing land and the following year tacked on 13 cottages, bringing his “folly” to a count of 22. His 23rd and final cottage was added in the late 1930s.
Marie Jones was an infant when her family first rented a cottage in 1937. “I remember when they were new and the road was sand. And I’ve come every year of my life since,” she says.
Jones recalls swimming to a raft in the water, bonfires on the beach and nighttime movies shown outside. Her parents, grandmother, and two brothers would share a cottage. As the family grew, and the children had children of their own, they rented additional cottages, with uncles and aunts joining in on the fun.
“We had 20 family members renting at its peak,” she says. “It was like a compound.”
This summer will find her in Truro once again renting a Days’ Cottage.
“It’s the people that bring me back, being on the water, and the fact that the cottages haven’t changed over the years,” she says. “It’s like going home.”
Rob Duca is a freelance writer living in Plymouth.
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