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Touring history

Brewster: The world of Lyddie Berry

historical walking tours

19th century barn on the property of the Dillingham House, c.1660, is the oldest house in Brewster. Note the outhouse at the far left.

“Brewster is interesting because it’s got architecture from every age,” says Sally Cabot Gunning, award-winning author and president of the Brewster Historical Society. “It’s like a map of all the years.”

Because the town is quieter and less developed than most on the Cape, it’s still possible to find roads lined exclusively with the old, tiny cottages and Capes that once dominated the entire landscape here. “There are pockets of Brewster that are developed, but it’s nice that it’s not all of Main Street,” says Gunning.

Since there is no real downtown, an architectural excursion through Brewster is better suited to a bike or car. The Brewster Historical Society runs two different bus tours every August and September, the Sea Captain’s Tour and the Widow’s War Tour, each focusing on a different era. The Sea Captain’s Tour highlights the Cape’s maritime history, while the Widow’s War Tour follows the 18th-century narrative of Gunning’s popular historical novel The Widow’s War. As the novel begins, protagonist Lyddie Berry is widowed (her husband dies at sea). “As people take the tour, the narrator is telling Lyddie’s story,” says Gunning. “People come because they’ve read the book. People come because the tour sounds interesting, and they want to read the book when they are done.”

Many historic homes and landmarks that Gunning mentions in her novel are stops on the tour, as the bus retraces Lyddie’s fictitious steps. It’s an imaginative game to play. Where would she have gone to church? Where did she live? What harbor would she have walked to? At several stops guests disembark from the bus to walk in and around the antique buildings. One stop is Hopkins Bakery, which offers not only complimentary baked goods but also a mini-tour of the Stephen Hopkins house, owned by the grandson of the famous Mayflower family of the same name. The bus tour ends at the newly renovated home of the Brewster Historical Society, the elegant Captain Elijah Cobb House, where Gunning herself meets guests in the parlor to chat and sign books.

The idea for the tour arose when the paperback edition of The Widow’s War was being prepared for release. “My editor asked me to include additional historical material in the back of the book. So I put together a driving tour,” explains Gunning. “They were selling the book at bookstores in town. They said, ‘We need the tour! People are asking for the tour!’ It’s one of our best fundraisers for the society.”

For the do-it-yourself visitor, the Brewster Historical Society also offers a map with a self-guided driving tour, available for sale at the museum.

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