A Century and Counting

Cape Cod Life  /  June 2020 /

Writer: Allyson Plessner

Percy Patterson purchased their Craigville cottage in 1919, and their descendants—now the sixth generation in the house—proudly celebrated the home’s centennial last year. photography courtesy of Cindi Crain
Celebrating 100 years in Craigville, one family looks back on their treasured memories with a book filled with history, nostalgia and joy.

Who among us is not intimately familiar with the bittersweet moment when you finish reading a book—that sense of accomplishment mingled with a longing for the world in which you have become so entrenched. In just the span of a few pages, a few hours reading in the garden or under the covers late at night with a flashlight, you become enraptured by the thoughtful words of an author or the carefully placed photos of a story. A book holds you in its grasp even after there are no more words to read, and as you shake off those lingering tendrils of alluring influence, you find yourself wishing, quite simply, for more. Luckily, Merrilee Patterson Crain’s book, “The Cottage,” doesn’t end on the last page. Her literary dive into the wonders of Craigville and the joys of a family cottage on Cape Cod lives on in every scoop of ice cream from Four Seas, every salty splash of a wave along Craigville Beach and every squeal of a child with a summer tan and unyielding determination to outrun bedtime. 

“My mom was passionate about our family’s history, and she loved spending time with her grandmother Mabel at the house in Craigville,” says her daughter, Cindi Crain. “Mom wanted to preserve the memories and the history of that place, and she was the perfect person to do it because she was so detail oriented.” Merrilee presented her book to her family on Christmas day, 2008. She passed away just four years later. To honor her, as well as the 100th anniversary of the Patterson family home in Craigville last year, Cindi reproduced Merrilee’s masterpiece, adding photos and gently editing Merrilee’s treasured memories. “The Cape still doesn’t feel quite right without her,” writes Cindi in the forward to the reissued book. “Perhaps it was she who loved the cottage the most. We know she would have thrown the party of the century honoring our family’s 100th anniversary, so mom this milestone celebration is for you.”

Merrilee’s grandparents, Mabel and Percy Patterson, purchased their Craigville cottage for just $4,025 in 1919. Since that day, six generations of Patterson descendants have spent long summer nights listening to the nearby waves along the beach, reveling in the peaceful moments, and enjoying the special affinity the Cape has for bringing families together. Merrilee’s earliest memories of arriving at the cottage are likely familiar to anyone who has spent time—however short—breathing that distinct Cape Cod salt air. Her recollections carry echoes of what it truly means to adore the Cape, and beyond that, to care for a Cape home and all of the unique history that comes with it (read: shag carpets, weathered shingles and well-loved porches). “Driving along the roads, sand increasing on the shoulders of the road—telling me we were getting closer to our beloved beach—and the Cape Black Pines getting thicker and thicker as we drove on to Craigville,” she writes. “My heart would be pounding with excitement as we pulled up to the shingled cottage’s façade with light aqua-green shutters; seeing the cement steps leading to the porch that went the full width of the little cottage and then bent around the corner to create a side porch; seeing the lawn, usually dry with tufts of coarse Cape grass poking through the sand, and finally opening the front screen door, then the Dutch door, to smell the cottage’s lingering familiar aroma of dark green grass rugs on the floor.” 

“It was definitely a passion project for her,” says Cindi of her mother. “I’m not sure we even realized the scope of what she was putting together until that Christmas morning. I think my mom just had a really happy childhood in Craigville. She was very close with her dad, and the house was such a part of him as well—his roses still grow along the fence. It was their happy place.”

The reissue of “The Cottage” includes what Cindi refers to as a “treasure trove” of old family photos from the 1920s onward that she discovered in the back of a closet (where all the best treasures tend to hide). “That was a fun moment,” she says of unearthing the photos. “I spent weeks going through boxes and boxes of photos. It took on a life of its own, and now I have everything organized by generation. It was an incredible find, and I felt so close to my mother, matching 80-year-old photos to her anecdotes and piecing everything together the same way Mom did when she first wrote the book.” In addition, Cindi combed the internet and eBay to amass an incredible array of old photos of Craigville. Horse drawn carriages traversing the streets of Craigville, antique post cards showing the beauty of Lake Elizabeth, old photos of lifeguards and the Craigville Beach Association, historic news clippings, and more bring Merrilee’s words to life. Cindi explains that since the book has come out, neighbors have come forward with even more photos to accompany the stories they read in the pages of “The Cottage.” The book has become a cherished relic amongst the Craigville community, and Cindi has recently discovered that her family is now, fittingly, the oldest family in Craigville. 

Pat was never more proud than his day as Grand Marshal, leading the annual Craigville Fourth of July parade in 1986. 

To celebrate 100 years of “The Cottage,” Cindi, her sister Heather, Merrilee’s husband Rance, and their family threw a block party complete with a horse and buggy and a walk of historic photos. “I think we did Mom proud,” muses Cindi.

Cindi’s daughter, Atlas, who learned to ride a bike in Craigville, is now entering her teenage years. Cindi’s nieces are married (one wedding was held in Craigville, of course, at the Tabernacle), and a seventh generation is hopefully on the way. Cindi says she’s happy to have the book to show what the house has meant to so many in her family. 

Craigville Beach Association
circa late 1920s. 

“When I was little in the 1970s, it was always so hard to go to bed on summer nights,” reminisces Cindi. “The house is across the street from Red Lily pond, and we’d leave the windows open to the sound of bullfrogs. Inevitably, we couldn’t sleep, so we’d start giggling. Back then, Craigville had a night watchman, and he would shine his light through the windows and tell us—in his fake angriest voice—to go to bed. We would just roar with laughter.” Is there anything that more perfectly describes a summer night in a Cape Cod cottage?

“The Cottage” represents well what it is we all love about stories, that engaging quality that keeps readers longing for more pages to turn: it is a tale with a life of its own. It is a story that reaches far beyond the family it’s about into the hearts of everyone who knows what it means to love Cape Cod.

“The Cottage” can be purchased from the Craigville Old Post Office Gift Shop; proceeds benefit the village.

Read Brian Shortsleeve’s fond memories of Craigville HERE!

Allyson Plessner

Allyson Plessner is a former editorial intern for Cape Cod Life and now works for the publication as a staff writer and digital media coordinator. Born in Florida, Allyson has been a lifelong summer resident of the Cape. She is a recent alumna of the College of Charleston, located in Charleston, South Carolina, where she completed bachelor’s degrees in both English and Spanish. In her free time, Allyson is an avid sailor, beach-goer, and—like her fellow Cape Cod Life colleagues—a dog-lover.