Grand Hotels of the past and present

Venues that helped shape the Cape and Islands as a vacation destination

The peninsula of Cape Cod and the islands of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket have long served as sanctuaries of rest and relaxation for those seeking escape from the heat of the cities and the pressures of everyday life. For instance, in the 19th century the town of Sandwich and its surrounding area attracted Daniel Webster to vacation here. President Grover Cleveland and stage actor Joseph Jefferson, who were fishing buddies, each have an island named for them in Mashpee’s Wakeby Pond as evidence of their visits to the area. Though Cleveland and Jefferson had summer homes in Bourne, Webster was known to frequent the Fessenden Tavern in Sandwich.

During the 18th and 19th centuries, local taverns and inns provided a convenient respite for travelers. These establishments were typically situated along the stagecoach routes from town to town, and from village to village. As the area became a vacation destination, grand hotels were built to accommodate the growing number of visitors. Some of those hotels still exist today, while others have fallen away to the pages of history.

As one example, the Quissett Harbor House was a popular spot in Falmouth even though it was not a luxurious hotel. Built in the early 19th century, it was first a private home, known as the Jenkins House, which in the 1870s was connected to a nearby farmhouse, the Hammond House, to produce a hostelry.

In its early years the place had a somewhat discreditable reputation, but in 1881 management changed, as did the hotel’s reputation to a more family oriented resort. It presented a casual atmosphere with somewhat Spartan conditions, such as simple room furniture, limited running water, only a few toilets, no bathtubs, and a front desk service which encouraged guests to retrieve their own key and mail.