Room with a View
For 45 years, a one-room waterfront shack in West Dennis provided a getaway for a group of Marlborough outdoorsmen.
It was called “The Shooting Shanty,” and weathered, sepia photographs taken at the turn of the 20th century tell its story in a series of vignettes. One photo shows a spartan building with game birds hanging over the entrance, middle-aged men dressed in camouflage posing proudly with their heads thrust toward the sky, rifles resting at their sides. In another photo, they relax around a table—playing cards or reading or entering notes into a journal. In still another, they look at the camera, comfortable on rough bunk beds.
The Marlborough Brant Club was a one-room shanty constructed more than a century ago on a prime piece of Cape Cod waterfront real estate. Merely a stone’s throw from the shimmering waters of the Atlantic Ocean, the club once stood on five acres in the middle of West Dennis Beach on a spit of land off Davis Beach Road. But it was a club in name only—there weren’t any memberships, and no one who wasn’t already a member could join. But the five original landowners—all residents of Marlborough, Massachusetts—had access to a mile of beach on Nantucket Sound and the marshes on Bass River for hunting, fishing, and clamming. This was their treasured getaway destination to shoot brant (a kind of geese), play cards, and escape the stress of everyday life.
For nearly 50 years the club stood alone, with no other structure in sight except for the Lighthouse Inn far off in the distance. It survived winter nor’easters that sent the ocean’s waves surging against the structure. But it was blown away by a strong hurricane in September 1944. “I heard people say they saw it floating down Bass River,” says John Mason Carpenter III, 83, grandson of one of the original owners.
The interior of the shanty featured wide pine floors with exposed beams, and included bunk beds to accommodate six people. It had a pump that spewed salt water and a barely functional stove. It did not have electricity. An outhouse in a shed was attached to the bunkhouse, where a dory was stored. “My mother hated the place,” recalls Carpenter, who spent weekends there as a child and later came to the camp with high school friends. “You had to shake the mattresses and blankets when you got there to get the mice out—so we didn’t go much as a family. We thought it was a great place to go as kids; there were fiddler and horseshoe crabs, and a beautiful beach. But we were in the minority.”
Carpenter’s grandfather, the first John Mason Carpenter, purchased the land along with four fellow Marlborough residents in 1899 for $75. The friends built the bunkhouse in 1901. It could be considered one of the first timeshare properties. The five men, either together or at separate times, would drive three hours to West Dennis in the days before highways could slice that journey in half. Their passion was hunting and fishing, and there was ample opportunity to do both at this unspoiled, isolated spot. “He was a real sportsman,” Carpenter says of his grandfather. “We had some of his guns and rifles when we were kids. He owned some beautiful shotguns.” When the sun set, the men gathered around a long kitchen table, broke out the cards and the beer, and told stories late into the night.
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