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Endless Summers at Craigville Beach

Postcard of CBA, c. 1960s.

Some moments in a family’s history are especially significant, shaping the family’s destiny and reverberating through generations. For my family, my dad’s arrival at Craigville Beach in the fall of 1938 was just such a moment.

My father, Joe Shortsleeve, was a freshman at Holy Cross College in Worcester when a buddy invited him on a road trip. There had been a hurricane that September on Cape Cod and my father’s friend wanted to see if any damage had been done around his summer haunt on Craigville Beach. As the proud owner of a 1935 Ford Coupe, my dad was the right guy to ask.  There were no modern highways, so the drive would take a half day, stop and go all the way, along Route 9 to Boston, then south eventually onto the old Route 3, through Plymouth center, and on up and over the three-year-old Sagamore Bridge. 

Joe Shortsleeve, c. 1938.
Photography courtesy of the Shortsleeve family (unless otherwise noted)

Being from Western New York, my father might never have seen the ocean before his arrival at Craigville. What is clear is that he never forgot the moment. All his life he talked about that first trip to the Cape, about the quaint cottages in Old Craigville, the view of the Centerville River, the beach at the Craigville Beach Association (CBA) and, above all else, the southwest wind that blew in off Nantucket Sound.

Craigville, like Oak Bluffs on the Vineyard, began as a religious summer retreat, founded in 1871 by preacher, Dr. J. Austen Craig. Parishioners set up tents, attended services, and enjoyed the beauty of the natural surroundings. The original tents quickly gave way to gingerbread cottages, forming the first vacation community on Cape Cod. By the 1880s there was a public green, an inn, and a tabernacle.  In 1888, the community bought an 800-foot stretch of the shore, and CBA was born. By 1908 it sported a pavilion and a row of changing huts.

My father had stumbled on a gem; by the time he “discovered” Craigville, it’s fame was already spreading. In the 1920s and 1930s the Kennedy family were regulars at CBA, and a young John Kennedy is remembered to have performed well at Race Day in 1926. 

My dad graduated from Holy Cross in 1942 and Georgetown Medical in 1945. He met my mother, Peggy Kelley, in Washington, D.C., and they moved around as their young family grew: Oklahoma, Boston, New York, and, by 1952, on to his hometown of Elmira, New York, where he became Chief of Medicine at a local hospital. But as my mother attested–through all these moves, he never stopped talking about Cape Cod and Old Craigville.

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