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The Lighthouse of Hyannis Port

One of the Cape’s most iconic lighthouses stands not upon the dunes of the National Seashore but at a bend in the road in Hyannis Port, standing watch over the harbor, the Eugenia Fortes Beach, the yacht club, and the village pier. Since its construction back in 1907, it has borne witness to gorgeous sailing vessels and motor yachts, to movie stars and the extended family of a beloved US President, and to various nautical shenanigans too numerous to count. Generations of young sailors have returned to port by “sailing toward the lighthouse,” and it’s one of those landmarks without which the village would seem incomplete. Only, here’s the twist: it’s not a lighthouse. Certainly locals are aware of this fact, and if any visitor looked closely enough, the truth would be obvious. There’s no big Fresnel lens, no beam of light casting about in the darkness, not even a horn to guide anyone through the fog. Granted, nobody in a large boat would want to sail anywhere close to the structure because the shoals are shallow and dappled with boulders. But anytime someone builds a tower right next to the shoreline, people are going to make associations. Thus, a somewhat elaborate water tower came to be known as a lighthouse.

This particular water tower belongs to a venerable home that is itself well-known in the village: the Holbrook Cottage, a grand house with 9 bedrooms, stucco siding, and a roof of Vermont 

slate. For over a century, the “cottage,” along with its water tower and carriage house, has occupied a position of prominence here on the shores of Nantucket Sound, a position of individuality, of uniqueness. Stucco homes reference Spanish architecture and are thus common in the American Southwest, but it’s rather uncommon for them to stand amid Shingle Style mansions and white clapboard ship captains’ homes. Also unique to the Holbrook Cottage is its scale in relation to its lot; normally one finds such a large home tucked down a long driveway, surrounded by acres of an estate. Rather than a sprawling lawn or a putting green, the cottage has a seawall, the beach, and the harbor. It sits upon grounds of just three-quarters of an acre and pushes the term waterfront living to a literal end.  

George B. Holbrook was known as Captain Holbrook, a title fitting for the location of his Hyannis Port home but one that was also misleading. Born in New Hampshire in 1846, he joined the Union Army at age fifteen to fight in the Civil War. While he never attained the rank of captain either in the war or upon the sea, he did pick up the nickname. After the war, he moved to Springfield, Massachusetts and worked for the American Writing Paper Company, based in Holyoke. For some time, Holyoke’s mills made the city the paper capital of the country, and the American Writing Paper Company would eventually earn the distinction of producing over 75% of the nation’s “fine paper” for use as stationary and other writing pursuits. In his time with the company, Holbrook would rise to the position of treasurer and later to president. While in Springfield, he connected with architect George Wood Taylor who designed the summer cottage for him; it was built in 1905 and finished in Shingle Style. Taylor also designed a number of other homes in Hyannis Port and was prominent in the Springfield area. Although the home was winterized, the Holbrook family used their cottage as a summer home for the first few years. When the “Captain” retired in 1913, he and his wife Ellen moved to Hyannis Port year round. Holbrook would live there until his death in 1922 at age 76. Prior to their move, however, the main house burned to the ground in 1910. Holbrook was up in Springfield, working, but Ellen and their two daughters were in the cottage and escaped in time. In a feat of efficiency hard to imagine today, the home was rebuilt in just one year, and the family was able to enjoy their perch above the beach again in 1911 — this time with the stucco exterior that would come to define the home. 

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