One of my favorite parts of running the Woods Hole Inn is building a team of people who come together to deliver a fantastic guest experience. I am particularly blessed this summer with a great group who have worked seamlessly together all summer. As we approach the dog days of August, I reflect on how lucky I am to work with such a talented, committed, knowledgeable and thoughtful crew.
Thank you to each and every one of you who made and is making summer 2013 memorable for all our guests. You make it look easy!
Despite setbacks including intermittent rain and no power to the building for at least an hour mid-day, our James Beard Foundation Celebrity Chef dinner called “Starry Starry Night” came off in style this past Tuesday evening August 13, 2013.
We started the night before, renting a truck and emptying the restaurant of all it’s furniture to make room for the chefs to work. Early in the morning, our parking lot was emptied of cars, the dramatic Sperry Tent raised, True North’s gorgeous farm tables assembled, glassware and plates and table dressing delicately placed with guidance from Susan Ryan Ackell and Jen Chagnon of the Pink Polka Dot.
With celebrity chef Cal Peternell of Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkeley, CA and Anna Kovel former food editor of Martha Stewart Living at the helm, the kitchen was an incredible thing to witness. Cal held a meeting of staff at 9 am and the Quicks Hole crew led by our executive chef Stephanie Mikolazyk jumped into action prepping lobster, roast fennel, fish stock, fresh mozzarella and much much more. All day was spent bustling, chopping and prepping but the tone of the kitchen was calm, relaxed, jovial even.
All key ingredients for the meal were sourced from local farms, fisheries and the Falmouth Farmers Market. Running short on fish bones, I dashed to the Clam Man early in the morning where our friends there had saved this key ingredient for excellent stock, the critical base of the fish and lobster bouillabaisse.
One hundred lucky guests gathered on the deck of the inn with Woods Hole harbor twinkling beyond to enjoy bellini’s while noshing on passed appetizers like Washburn Island and Island Creek oysters with mignonette, smoked bluefish toasts with roasted fennel, fried panisses and summer vegetable fritters. Moving to the tent below, we were seated at farm style tables and the courses started arriving, first a salad of heirloom tomatoes and freshly made mozzarella, then this incredibly light saffron and tomato bouillabaisse with scallops, lobster, mussels, cod and a Maison Villatte grilled bread topped with rouille.
Nectarine galettes (along with all the delicious breads) were provided by chef Boris Villatte of Maison Villatte an authentic french bakery here in Falmouth and dressed up by Chef Peternell with creme fraiche. Lavender chocolates from Sirenetta Seaside Chocolatier were passed with gooseberries.
Oooh La La!
We gathered to support both the James Beard Foundation and our local Falmouth Hospital which is in the process of raising money to expand it’s emergency room. Representatives from both organizations attended the dinner, and I spoke briefly about how important that emergency room is to the community, and how lucky we are to have such a good one. Jeff Black spoke on behalf of the James Beard Foundation.
Our celebrity guests included captains of industry from Boston, Providence, Newport, Falmouth and Woods Hole. Artists in the crowd were directors Mark Levin and Jennifer Flackett, singer China Forbes of Pink Martini and actor James Waterston, all dear friends of mine who made the evening special.
As guests trickled from the tent at the end of the night, I enjoyed the gushing about this unique venue and Cal’s amazing food. After months of planning and the gauntlet of the day, it was really satisfying to have made people happy. I am also so grateful to the event sponsors including Cooperative Bank of Cape Cod, Bank of Woods Hole, Robert Paul Properties and the Sea Crest Beach Hotel and hope they will join us next year as we build on the success of this evening.
James Beard Foundation rep Jeff Black told me that despite seven years of circling America hosting 20+ dinners like this one per year, he had never hosted a celebrity chef dinner with anyone from Chez Panisse as the restaurant tends to stay focused on it’s roots. We are so grateful to Chef Cal Peternell for coming and falling in love with Woods Hole!
I am deeply grateful to the farms and vendors who supported this event, plus our volunteer staff who served so beautifully and made the night incredibly special: Allen Farm, Cabo Cado, Cape Cod Beer, Cape Cod Saltworks, Carolyn’s Sakonnet Vineyards, Carpet Barn, Clam Man, Courtney’s Floral Creations, Edible Cape Cod, ElizaJ, Eva’s Garden, Fishmonger Cafe, Half Shell Co, Island Creek Oysters, Jacquelines Catering, Kayak Cookies, LKnife, Mac’s Seafood, Wellfleet Fish Co, Mahoney’s Garden Centers, Maison Vilatte, Mionetta Prosecco, Moonlight Rose, MS Walker, Narragansett Creamery, Newport Winery, Peachtree Circle Farm, The Pink Polka Dot, Pocasset Pretzel Co, Polar Beverage, Rentals Unlimited, Running Brook Vineyard, Shy Brothers Farm, Sid Wainer and Sons, Silverbrook Farm, Sironetta Chocolatier, Sperry Tents, Stella Artois Beer, Travessia Urban Winery, True North Event Rentals, Vermont Creamery, and Washburn Island Oyster Farm.
Finally, it must be noted that it takes a village to put something like this on, and the village of Woods Hole rallied to make this possible. Every business in the village helped out in some important way — offering sandwiches to feed our staff, extra parking places to wash dishes and clear up, walk in cooler space when we ran out, cocktail napkins that we forgot to buy and so much more. We are so lucky to work next door to places like the Landfall, Pie in the Sky, Jimmy’s, Coffee Obsession, Fishmonger, Phusion, Captain Kidd, Woods Hole Market, and Shuckers — could not make it through the summer without the support of our terrific peers. When you come to the food mecca of Woods Hole, you must try all these special spots. Thank you all!
Here are a few more photos of the evening for you to enjoy.
Meet Phil Stanton, a friend of mine and local fisherman extraordinaire. Phil has won more fishing derbies than most people have collected parking tickets, is renowned for having re-located a raft of eider ducks from Maine to Penikese Island (not to mention being a world-expert on the species), and is a dedicated participant in all elements of the Woods Hole community from auctioneer to fishing guide to horse wrangler to deer hunter to welcome wagon. It’s not an exaggeration to say Phil is the ultimate renaissance man, Woods Hole style.
Phil took my son fishing last summer and showed him a secret spot where the squid gather in the Woods Hole current at certain tides. “Cast right in there,” he said, pointing to a swirl near the rocks about 10 feet in diameter. Ten minutes and several large Stripers later, the fishing trip was over and my twelve-year-old came home with a huge catch and a huger smile on his face. Phil’s generosity and knowledge inculcated another young convert to the secret joy of fishing.
Last winter, Phil offered to build a stone bench to honor his mother on the side of the Community Hall. There has been much hoopla in town about the new Rachel Carson statue, and tongues wagging about a new MBL whale-tail sculpture that is possibly dangerous for climbing children. But to date I have seen no notice of this wonderful bench Phil financed which might be the best addition to town in decades, perched as it is on the edge of the channel into Eel Pond at just the right spot to catch both the view and the breeze. (Of course, Phil would know that!)
With a stunning view out toward Nonamesset Island, this bench is the perfect place to watch the drawbridge go up and down, with boats large and small flowing in and out of our protected harbor. You will enjoy the view, the constant southwesterly breeze… and if you are patient, you will see Phil heading out in his boat, as he goes fishing most everyday.
Woods Hole has the most distinctive Fourth of July parade in America. Organized by the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL), this gathering of young scientists celebrating our nations birth is filled with costumes, dancers, and balloons. Representing things like cell reproduction, neurobiology, marine resources and much more, student laugh and dance their way down a spectator-packed Water Street.
Tossing candy along the path, the parade takes starts at noon every year and takes about fifteen minutes. One fun tradition is that after students cross the drawbridge, they break into a serious water-balloon fight, a nice respite from a hot Cape Cod day.
On the porch of the Woods Hole Inn, we offer cool lemonade, iced tea and Charlene’s fresh baked cookies to as many people who will fit. It’s a great birds-eye view of the whole event.
Half hour later, the streets are empty as people dash back to the beach. Ahh, Cape Cod summah.
Hope to see you there next year! Happy Fourth.
But they could never have imagined that baby Noelle, born at Mass General Hospital yesterday on 12.12.12 at 12 minutes past 12 noon would end up on yesterday’s TV news and splashed all over the local papers with happy Mom proudly wearing her Woods Hole Inn t-shirt in every shot!
When guests check out of the inn, we encourage them to enter our annual photo contest and say “Wear it in an interesting or unusual location and the most interesting will win a two night stay at the Inn.” You can see photos from prior years here.
Last year’s winner was on top of a mountain near McMurdo Station in Antarctica. Another group of happy guests wore their t-shirts on the Times Square Jumbotron for their 15 seconds of fame — inventive, we thought and they received a prize.
Wow! The Klingers have taken our contest to a whole new level. Game on! We are still accepting entries, and will do so until end of March 2013. Keep the photos coming people, or check this link out to vote. It’s not over til it’s over…
We are sending our very best to the Klinker family as they settle into their lives with this gorgeous new baby.
What a joyous way to ring in the holidays!
Everyday, interesting people walk in the front door of the Inn — people from all over the world, coming to get a glimpse of the New England seashore, or experience first hand the heady smell of salty marsh air that comes up off the beach at low tide, or walk in the footsteps of Presidents by touring the island of Martha’s Vineyard.
Sometimes they make plans to come a year in advance, and other times they just walk in the door in the late afternoon looking for a place for the night. In late September, a couple “walked in” (to use the innkeepers jargon) from upstate, New York. They had been touring the area and taking their chances…we were happy to have one room left, which they booked.
As they wandered around the inn, they saw an antique kerosine lantern that sits on an old metal safe in one of our living rooms and they asked me a bunch of questions about it. This lantern actually came out of my grandfather’s barn. My grandparents lived most of their long lives on a farm in coastal Massachusetts, and they kept a herd of dairy cows there from the 1930s through the late 1960s.
My grandfather bred the cows, and had pictures of his winners hanging on the walls of his 1700’s-era house. I remember the one called “Larches Pat” posing with her handler, all curried and groomed to perfection with a big ribbon on her halter at the Topsfield Fair. My grandfather was committed to these cows, he really loved them, and he always said one of the saddest days of his life was in the late 1960’s after the milk distributor stopped coming (“you’re too small to warrant a stop,” they told him); after months of pouring the milk onto the fields, he realized he had to sell his prized herd.
When the barn was cleared out after his death (at the age of 97!), this lantern moved into my mother’s basement. I liberated it a few years ago and it sits in one of the dining rooms at the Woods Hole Inn, reminding me of my wonderful grandparents and their beautiful farm, where I was lucky enough to spend holidays my whole childhood.
Now enter my walk in guests! (I bet you were wondering when I might get back to that:) No one has ever asked me about this lantern before, but these guests were very curious, remarking on it’s size and style. Very unusual, they said. Don’t see them that large, they said. Well, there were tons of them in my grandfather’s barn before it was wired for electricity, so they were common at some point, I explained.
Honestly did not think much more about this interaction until this week when this cool Trainman’s Lantern arrived in the mail, one for me and one for Amanda. It came with a thank you letter from the above-mentioned lantern-curious guests, who it turns out own a lantern company in upstate New York. The letter tells me that the Dietz Company went out of business many years ago (maker of my grandfather’s lanterns), but their company Star Headlight and Lanterns, has been around for 123 years and is still going strong. In fact, the owner (our guest) is the fourth generation of his family to run this business!!
Here are some highlights from this delightful letter:
“Anne and I really loved staying at your lovely place. It was the end of a memorable trip. Your MapQuest got us perfectly to our sons house, where we saw our grand kids, then flew home. The enclosed lanterns are used daily by all railroads. Put one next to your Deitz. Please see Amanda gets one, she was most helpful. We look forward to seeing you again sometime.”
Well, so do we!! These lanterns are sure to be useful in a winter storm when the lights go out! This is the fun of inn-keeping, meeting interesting people and continually learning things about our fascinating world. And creating this dialogue between new people, and returning guests, where they can share with us the important things in their lives, while we can offer a restful place to return, hopefully year after year, to find peace and tranquility from the crazy buzz of modern life.
So thank you so much, David and Anne (and all the nice people at Star Headlight and Lanterns), — we hope to see you soon.
Summer is always too short, and the days and weeks are as fleeting as signs of the season – beach days, blooming flowers, and warm midday rainstorms come and go as fast as they arrived. My summer in Cape Cod has been too short, but entirely fantastic and memorable.
Living in and becoming apart of the town of Woods Hole has been wonderful. Before my time on the Cape I have always lived in larger cities and I was originally unsure about spending three months in a “small, sleepy” town. However Woods Hole has surprised me again and again and kept me very busy for the last couple of months.
While the list is long, some things I will miss most about living here are,
The smell of the Inn breakfast in the morning and my hot cup of coffee.
Every morning a delicious, gourmet breakfast is prepared in the Woods Hole Inn for the guests and I love starting my day with the warm smells of freshly baked muffins and just brewed coffee. There is something inherently comforting about walking down the stairs to the heartening smells of a hot breakfast.
Being less than a five-minute bike ride away from the beach.
Coming from landlocked Minnesota, it’s been an extra special treat living near the ocean. I can see it out my bedroom window, smell it when I walk outside and whenever its sunny and I have an hour or two to spare I go for a quick midday swim. I haven’t swum this much in ages and being in the sun almost everyday makes me feel like a kid again.
The small-town charm of Woods Hole.
Coming from Minneapolis, and having attended large universities both there and in Copenhagen, I’ve never lived somewhere that had the same feeling and atmosphere as Woods Hole. I love that I can go almost anywhere and run into someone that I know. It’s been interesting to feel apart of a community so easily and I’ll miss the sense of familiarity and friendliness that Woods Hole now has for me.
I’ll miss living in Woods Hole, and working at the Woods Hole Inn. It really has become a home away from home for me. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about my perspective on the Cape, and all the wonderful things there are to do, see and try here.
Thanks for reading and all my best to my friends in Woods Hole,
Early this morning Woods Hole went from a bustling village to a packed-to-the-brim racetrack. Runners, and their family, friends and coaches all came for the 40th Annual New Balance Falmouth Road Race. The dark clouds and rain couldn’t dampen the excited spirit felt this morning. Donning garbage bags and raincoats participants came in droves to take part in the race.
Over 11,000 runners were present for this seven-mile race beginning in Woods Hole on Water Street and ending in the Falmouth Heights. At its heart the Road Race is a “fun” run, perfect for all ages and skill levels, however there were elite athletes present.
Watching from the deck of the Woods Hole Inn we were able to see the start of the race, the blur of colors as they ran past and hear the cheer of the crowd. The Road Race really is the event of the summer. Congratulations to all this years participants and especially our own Amanda Benoit who ran this year!
Guest Post by Megan Jensen
The Woods Hole film festival is in full swing this week. Lauren Greenfield, director of the hot new documentary Queen of Versailles stayed with us at the Woods Hole Inn, and she screened her incredible movie to a stunned Woods Hole audience on Sunday night.
Lauren’s gift is capturing the zeitgeist, and she sure did it this time, chronicling the riches to rags tale of the extraordinary Siegel family of Orlando, Florida. The movie opens as the Siegels are building the largest house in America, which they have aptly named “Versailles.” The story turns dark when the crash of 2008 clobbers Siegel’s timeshare business, and we are rapt as these over-consumers are faced with what every American faced in the recession, writ very, very large.
While tiny Woods Hole has it’s share of multi-million dollar waterfront spreads, the currency here tends to be less plastic surgery and more Phd’s, less private plane than leather-bound book, less limousine than yacht. None the less, this cautionary tale hit home as locals talked about it’s themes and colorful imagery for days.
Patrons of the Woods Hole Film Festival were treated to a “master class” with Greenfield on Tuesday afternoon. In a two-hour session, she traced the roots of her work back to her undergraduate years at Harvard, and made connections with images about beauty culture (the subject of a documentary of the same title), current youth obsession with money (kids + money a short documentary from 2008) and our relationship to celebrity and fame. Greenfield also screened Thin – her 2006 documentary and book project for HBO chronicling the emotional reality of life within the halls of a residential treatment center for eating disorders.
Greenfield was joined by her husband Frank Evers (executive producer of Queen of Versailles as well as founder of the photo agency Institute for Artist’s Management) and their two kids for the week. They were spotted at lunch at Quicks Hole, exploring Great Harbor in an outboard, and at dinner at both the Landfall and Fishmonger Café.
Our little village is a mecca of the talented — we may have to start calling Lauren the Queen of Woods Hole.
Fourth of July in Woods Hole is like marine biology Halloween — students from all the local laboratories pour into the streets dressed in patriotic costumes with a science theme. This is your chance to see PhD graduate students clad in balloons, clustered like sporozites or bearded like “G-nomes.”
I love this parade with all it’s quirky glory. Where else would you see blow-up Santa’s with “Year Round Jobs Wanted” signs walking next to the buxom “Brazen Belles,” a local burlesque show.
Or the Ward family in an Italian surrey celebrating 55-years in Woods Hole?
Even the sidelines are a visual treat, with freckle-faced little boys sucking bright red lobster barley pops and grandmothers sporting red, white and blue t-shirts and vigorously waving their flags?
Here are the photos that tell the whole tale, from the dancing lobsters to the vintage American flags. All I missed was the water balloon fight at the end, where as I heard it told, a near-riot broke out and a local police officer called for backup after the science students continued peppering him with balloons and laughter.
While we renovated the inn this winter, we did not renovate our website, SO for the time being, this post will serve as an introduction to the look, feel, vibe of the “New Rooms” at the Woods Hole Inn.
Some general comments: these rooms are all on the second floor of the inn. They all have vintage restored wood floors, the same wood floors that were always here just polished up. All have rain showers and bath tubs. All have views either of the village of Woods Hole, or over the harbor of Woods Hole. All have king beds, luxury linens, ipod docking stations, cable TV with DVD players. air conditioning AND free wireless internet access. Two have private water view decks, and all share a large deck with a great view of the Martha’s Vineyard ferry coming and going.
We continued with numbers on some, and others received names, like the birthing of infants which is not unlike how making them felt at certain moments. So without further ado…here they are:
ROOM 10: private entryway, private bath, king room with peekaboo view of the Eel Pond
ROOM 11: private entryway, private bath, king corner room with views out over the village green
Nobska Room: Delux private bath with vintage bathtub and glass rain shower, king room with killer views of the harbor and Martha’s Vineyard ferries
Penzance Room: Private water view deck, large private bath with twin pedestal sinks, vintage bath and glass rain shower in a large king room with water views
Nonamessett Room: Private water view deck, large private bath with distinctive wall mount sink, vintage bath and glass rain shower in a large king room with water views
So there you have it, pictures and information about the five new rooms! Please use our secure online booking agent at www.woodsholeinn.com OR call 508-495-0248 to book these rooms. We look forward to welcoming you to Woods Hole.
The winter has been unseasonably warm, with Quahog diggers out on the mud flats at low tide in the middle of February. They scatter over the landscape, the afternoon light low on the horizon and it looks like a scene from the Breugel-era, all hand tools, muscle and community. This warm weather is great for long walks, photographing and construction projects. As you know from this blog, I am deeply embroiled in all three, so this continuing good weather is particularly appreciated.
Construction progress is good, and we are on schedule to re-open the main floor of the Woods Hole Inn in April and the new rooms in May. The new rooms are really shaping up — tile went into the bathrooms last week, and the floors were sanded over the weekend so that the vintage tubs can travel up from New Bedford mid-week and find their new homes on shiny wooden floors.
Doors went in this week, decks are finished, and carpenters are working on the trim around the door frames. The painters were there all last week, priming the walls. They will be back next week for a finish coat.
On the third floor, we have been delayed by the insulation sub-contractor, who is supposed to blow this open-cell foam around the edges of the building sealing everything up like a styrofoam cup. I guess he is busy which is great for him, not so great for us. Fingers crossed on this one.
Here are some progress photos:
Doors ready for installation…
So as I take my walks in this unseasonably warm winter, I am gratified by the pace of hard work happening at the Inn. Next winter, these rooms will be full of people taking winter walks and enjoying these incredible sunsets:
Even though it’s Sunday, I feel like today is a real snow day here in Woods Hole. I mean who can pay bills or even watch football (OK, maybe by late in the day football is OK) when it looks like this outside?
My photo essay on the January 21, 2012 snow storm:
The venerable Woods Hole Inn, looking stately and a bit half-dressed while under-construction in the snow.
If you enjoyed this, I urge you to subscribe to my blog (see RSS Feed button at the top right of the page), and become a fan of the Woods Hole Inn on Facebook for daily pictures and updates from our little village at the edge of the world. If you feel there are other people who love Woods Hole who might also enjoy this, I urge you to mail them a link, or share the page with your friends on Facebook.
I really appreciate your help reaching a wider audience.
Figuring out how to restore stuff from a creaky old house is complicated. Who can bring these aging beauties back to life? Where do you have to go to find old-world craftsmen? Who cares about worn and antique stuff anymore?
I am headed down to New Bedford to the workshop of the “Tub Doctor” this week. For $500, the doctor will re-porcelain your worn cast iron tub, and sandblast the exterior to ready it for paint of any color. He is a colorful fellow, the Tub Doctor, and you will learn all about his life when you visit him. He prefers black feet on the tub to chrome, he wishes that women were more faithful, and he is looking for investors in a new business idea that will double your money in less than three months. I am resisting calling his eccentric conversation style over-sharing…. how about peppered with interesting and specific information.
Just finding the studio is intense. Imagine a series of abandoned brick factory buildings, sprawling over acres of empty asphalt behind chain link and razor wire with an old wooden door that might be in a travel blog about Moldova or Croatia.
The workshop is set in the middle of the largely-abandoned mill compound, and this section is littered with debris, broken tile, odd concrete. When they say New Bedford never recovered from the collapse of the Industrial Revolution, they are talking about places like this.
On the inside, vast chambers disappear as far as the eye can see and you can feel the spirit of the mill girls from the 1890’s, giggling and laughing at their sewing tables, even in today’s dank and empty silence.
Once you get into the Tub Doctor’s lair the heat is on, a radio plays and the smell of cigarettes mixed with paint fumes makes you feel like you are back in the 21st century. The Doctor is friendly and chatty, telling me about his baby, his son’s landlord and the price of the lunch he plans to eat later today.
We debate the cast iron tub feet and I defer to his taste about the chrome — never looks good, he tells me, chrome paint just looks like chrome paint. I like how the feet look like chess pieces, pawns clustered in a corner for safety. Maybe the ghostly mill girls play with them after dark, I think to myself.
I pay him cheerily, genuinely happy to have stumbled upon this odd corner of the world. I look forward to seeing him again when he delivers the final product to the Woods Hole Inn in a month or so. I drive out of the compound, back in the sharp winter sunshine, and smile.
You can find the old tubs plus the Tub Doctor yourself by calling New England Demo and Salvage. Leave a little extra time for the stories, because let’s face it … the journey is half the fun.
The winds blew so hard on Friday that I had to lean into the railing of the Woods Hole drawbridge as I took this photograph looking out towards Martha’s Vineyard. By the weekend, the bitter Canadian winter had settled over our little village and I worried about pipes freezing on the construction site, not to mention my cheeks as I took my afternoon walks.
But that did not slow the pace of renovations at the Woods Hole Inn. Oh no, we have our eye on the proverbial prize as reservations are rolling in for summer and beyond (book now if you want to be sure and get in summer 2012) .
The place is swarming on the inside with people. One of the things you learn quickly as you renovate an old property is that the stuff required to make it “new” again is pretty high tech, read expensive. I walk around the site and I see dollar signs: ruby-red foam insulation, diamond-encrusted lighting and platinum sprinkler pipes. Even the pipe fittings glitter in the sun like precious jewels.
One notable change is that in past winters when the wind howled (over 50 MPH this weekend I heard), the old Woods Hole Inn groaned and creaked, shuddering with the big blasts and swaying like a salsa dancer in the smaller gusts.
But up on the top floor on Friday, I was struck by the stillness of new windows, and the hush of firm framing. All those new connections — the spider web of wood and joinery which will be hidden by plaster — makes the building sturdier. As sad as I was to see the old lathe walls in dumpsters, this new development reminds me that a renovation of this magnitude will help the building survive another 130 years, well beyond my lifetime.
Ruby red insulation…
low-voltage, recessed lighting …
sprinkler pipe coated with platinum ….
and all the trimmings for sprinkler installation…
The parts that people can actually see look good too, all closed up from the winter winds with nothing needed but a coat of paint:
Which leaves me with this parting thought: You get what you pay for.
There are some weeks when being the innkeeper at the Woods Hole Inn does not feel like work, when I look out at the view over the water and just have to pinch myself.
This was one of those weeks. The new exterior stairs were completed, and I now have an easy way to walk up and gander at this view whenever I feel like it. If only I had the time…
The crew works relentlessly onward, and the plumbers and electricians are getting the rough work in pronto. A mason comes next week to repair the chimney, and then the roof will be re-done, removing three old layers of roofing and putting a fresh new one down. Hopefully that means the leaks will stop for a while, although with an old house like this one you never know.
I am in love with the artistry in the tools that are used, the colors and the shapes. Here is a photo essay on what I see:
And most importantly, the men who use these tools deftly, with confidence, putting an elaborate jigsaw puzzle together board by board. They consult the plans that are staple-gunned to a piece of plywood on the wall, but more importantly, they use their experience to make the building whole again. I am so appreciative of the care with which these dedicated individuals work each day. It is only because of their focus and determination that the Woods Hole Inn will all come back together again, better than before.
As the walls come down at the Woods Hole Inn, new bright lumber is installed next to the aged, dark timbers of 140 years ago — marrying the old with the new. Vintage, restored.
This week, they ripped the second dormer off the top of the building. I always knew these roofs would need to be re-built (as the structure was compromised years ago with the addition of shed roofs improperly installed) but I will admit that when I approved of that concept, I never imagined that the whole thing would come off and look open to the sky like this. It is exciting to watch, and makes one think (briefly) of making it a solarium with a glass roof. And from so high up over the harbor, you really feel like one of the seagulls circling the ferry for scraps.
The feeling of flying is augmented by the steady breeze off the water, and significantly more pleasant on warmer sunny days like this one. The crew looks frequently at the weather forecast, because rain at this delicate juncture would be a disaster for the rooms below. But, knock wood, very sunny all this week with hopes that this will be closed up tight in three days.
I went to visit my next door neighbor Joyce yesterday, to say hello and make sure she was alright with the proximity of all the banging and hammering. She has run the shop next door “Under the Sun” for decades and she lives above it, making most of what she sells in her fabulous workshop filled with lamp shades in progress, metal wire for jewelry making, wool for felting, paints for water coloring and so much more! She bought the property in the 1960s from the McLean family who also owned the Woods Hole Inn at that time.
She said she loved the radio and the sound of the crew singing along (we have one particularly loud crooner on site). She said the sound of those hammers was music to her ears: “I have been waiting for this for thirty years!” She is excited to see what it will all look like when it’s done. Me too!
More photos of progress this week:
And so we continue! To remain sane, I enjoy walks at dusk around Woods Hole with my family. The photo at the top is a panorama shot on Penzance Point where stately houses line the harbor looking out toward Martha’s Vineyard. Divine at dusk.
I have been thinking quite a bit about the people who built the Woods Hole Inn back in the 1870’s. They looked out over the same harbor, probably more big ships in it than now, but for sure ferry service plying Vineyard Sound in the same brisk and predictable fashion. Like us, I imagine that they were happy with the way fall seems to never end on Cape Cod, enjoying the brisk wind that whistles up past the inn on sunny days and bemoaning the rain when it slowed them down. Only about 140 years ago, these guys worked entirely with hand-tools — the grandparents of our grandparents.
So the renovation of the top two floors of the Woods Hole Inn moves relentlessly onward. With each passing day, with every dormer rebuilt or ceiling gutted, we find clues about the people who came before us, the hardy souls who also lived here on the edge of the world.
Yesterday, a shingle was discovered. Every chance this would have been tossed without a glance, but Bruce (one of the framing crew) noticed and nabbed it before it went to the dumpster. Since we have no idea the exact year the building was built, this is a pretty huge clue — hard to imagine they would have re-shingled so soon, so I am going to guess August 11, 1887 is the completion date.
I can’t wait to show this to my new friends at the Woods Hole Museum. Other treasures emerged in the last few weeks. One is a large piece of upholstered furniture, maybe the side of a chaise someone planned to repair? I need to share this with Skinner to see if it has any “significance” then decide what the heck to do with it!
I particularly like this letter, part of it devoured by a nineteenth century mouse. From what I can make out it is a super top secret, highly confidential sales pitch from a pencil vendor offering pencils at an excellent price — The Long Pencil Company of Chicago Illinois writing to Mr. Briggs (a former owner), dated September 11, 1894. Long before email and Google Ad Words…
I love that mackerel is a specialty and my clever friend Nick made me laugh by suggesting that “Stillman was easier to deal with than Griffin.” I suspect the third floor of the inn may have been used by a wholesaler of salt-fish and he kept his labels in the attic. He may even have stored or cured fish up there, as the smell was really strong when the beams were cut out.
And so the clues leave us with more questions than answers, but they are fascinating. All of the building crew — from the plumber to the electrician to the framers — have gotten into the hunt. I will let you know if we find more, and you can come next summer to see the highlights on display in the lobby of the Inn. Here is the whole letter, in closing, in case you can make out more of it than I could. Perhaps someone more accustomed to this old style of writing could write a translation into the comments?
Work continues at the Inn at a breakneck pace, as both my contractor and I are eager to get the place sealed up before the real cold socks in. The Marvin custom windows take longer than you might think — now they are saying early December. Ergh. But everything else seems to be going well, knock wood. The weather has obliged, it is still a balmy 50 degrees in the daytime here. Days are getting shorter and work starts early and finishes at dusk.
The views from the upper floors continue to astound me. Last week the floors were still open allowing a two story view of the place:
Then in an instant (it seemed) down went the third floor, plus new stairs were installed. I wasn’t keen on balancing the rafters like the boys, but now I can walk up there. The structural engineer came by and liked the solid feeling that comes from all this re-enforcement. “Stiff” he called it, while bouncing a bit on the new plywood. I guess that’s good.
Today was a bit of a shocker as I arrived mid-morning to the roof open to the sky. The front dormers had shed roofs added incorrectly decades ago. No wonder the windows eventually blew out — the structure was totally compromised by hacking the roof rafters. It had to be completely rebuilt to come up to code. I guess the good news is that despite the expense, this part of the building will be like new. OK, not just like new. Actually ALL new.
It was a bit glower-y and at one point it started to sprinkle, but thankfully the weather report was accurate and there was no real rain. By late in the afternoon, thanks to a hard-working framing crew, the roof was starting to come back together. I love the way these guys work in concert, moving around and cooperating with so much grace. I guess they study the architectural drawings the night before so that there is no time wasted on site. They have a plan. Best of all, they seem to always be smiling. There is a joy in the work, singing and laughing. I can feel it in the finished product.
And while our crew scurried around on our little ant-hill, the ferries came and went carrying people to the Vineyard, many of whom didn’t notice that say, the roof is gone from that building over there. Across the street at the coffee shop, they were serving lattes to customers who heard a bang but had no idea that a room up there was totally exposed to the harbor. In the laboratories of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (aka “WHOI”) right next door, same thing. Even my husband, back at his desk, totally unaware. We are all in our own little worlds… Micro-climates… Fishbowls…
This blog is about me sharing my small fishbowl with you:) Happy Thanksgiving! May your weekend be filled with the joy of a new roof successfully installed on a New England fall day.
Week three of construction started today. Our crew is still demolishing the interiors, literally peeling back the onion-like layers of time to reveal the bones of the house. Our structural engineer Mark comes every so often to make sure the place is still standing. Today he told me that the wood was in excellent condition, first cut hardwood like you can no longer buy. Who ever built this did it the right way, he told me. Seems a bit unseemly, but I will admit that I beamed with pride. Like the mother of a newborn, projects feel like babies and no matter how ugly they may look, we love them.
I like to come stand in the barn-like space, gaping up two stories, ceiling and floor boards stripped away. It looks like a SoHo loft, or the Parisian atelier of a famous designer. Can’t we keep it just like this? I think. And then I remember that there are not too many fashion designers looking for rental space in Woods Hole. OK, I will stick with the plan and transform it into the weekend getaway FOR fashion designers… Yes, yes, that is it.
The guys arrive at 7 am and they work with crowbars, sledgehammers, saws. Masks are a must as the plaster dust swirls in the ocean breeze from open windows and wheelbarrows of debris head toward a revolving dumpster. There is a majesty to the work, a pace respected to the minute. Breaks are observed, meals shared, and “Lady on deck” shouted when I come close. I secretly wonder what they are saying when I am not there, although they may not be able to hear each other much over the blasting radio and the thud of metal on horsehair plaster. Underneath is the lathe, thin boards that were used before drywall to adhere the plaster to. They are so beautiful, my heart aches as they are carted away.
Being in there now — views of the ocean everywhere you peek — feels like flying inside the bones of a huge feather-less bird. There is a lightness — an airy feeling with the windows open, the roof space soaring two stories above you — that creates the sensation of flying. Maybe it’s just me, as the project flies along, feeling suspended in time, searching for my place in the process.
I pace the dusty boards — this will be the bedroom, here is where the new window goes, oh you can see the ocean from here! — scheming and referencing the floorplans when I get confused. I am desperate to make sure that when the dust settles, some of the majesty of the building itself, it’s strong bones and lithe walls, will still be evident. Check back in to see future progress!
This week, construction began on the new rooms at the Woods Hole Inn. With a crew of five demolition experts, the walls came down on the top floor revealing the majesty of a high-ceilinged space with amazing light and great views…when you can see through the construction dust that is.
Franko and the boys arrived Tuesday with crowbars and mallets to pound it out. Electricians stripped back the wires and a plumber came in to unhook the old claw foot tub. We pulled as much moulding as we could so we can re-use it as we put the place back together again.
I snuck in the day before they arrived and took some “before” photos. Inn guests happily ensconced in the lap of luxury two stories below would be shocked by the state of affairs up here. The windows were blown out and boarded up after various storms years ago. There was a rabbit warren of tiny rooms, accessed by a barn-like stairway. One bath for maybe 10 cubby-sized spaces, some only big enough for a bed roll.
I have met a few people who lived up here summers in the 70s and earlier, but I don’t think it has been habitable for maybe thirty years now. One former waitress at the Landfall told me she paid $25 per week. Another former resident bragged that a lot of pot was smoked up here, back in the sixties when Woods Hole was a real hippie hang out.
The Woods Hole Inn was more flophouse than eco-destination at that point. Summer college kids slummed it with the former chauffeurs of Penzance Point estates and other retired alcoholics. One man told me his mother advised he run past the building, as there were often “unsavory characters” on the front stoop.
Here are a few photos of what it looked like just before the demo crew showed up:
It’s was really hard to photograph because the rooms were small and dark. We had already done some minor demo three years ago while renovating other parts of the building. On top of that, it appears that the piles of old air conditioners were mating with the dusty artificial Christmas trees, or something like that. That the debris was replicating in the dark is the only explanation I can come up for why the junk seemed to grow larger each time I ventured up.
But after three days with a sledgehammer, you could see the old lathe and look through walls to the windows beyond, Cape light streaming in and promising a better future. Franko told me they had found some really old work boots (see above) and other debris — fell down from the ceilings he said. A couple of really vintage brandy bottles, a pair of cotton spats with little hooks for covering the calves when riding (?), a tiny wooden sailboat-toy painted a matte blue, a dusty old stuffed kitty long forgotten by it’s childish master.
I am working on an exhibit of artifacts to trace the history of the inn. Any input from people who know more than I do would be greatly appreciated. The final will be on display in the lobby next summer so come take a look. And come back to this blog for more posts about our progress. The expected completion is spring 2012 when the Inn will re-open with 14 new rooms and suites. See you then!
Late September is often cool and crisp, punctuated by the smell of woodsmoke as people start using their fireplaces to take the chill off rather than fire up the gas-burning boiler. Grass mowing ends as the cool air ends the growing season and the tomato crop withers on the vine.
Not this year.
It has been hot, like middle-of-summer hot here for a week now. Research vessels in to prep for peregrinations to southern climes are lingering to enjoy the fine weather. Even the hard-working scientists are off early to go fishing or ride the bikepath. I know the locals are into it because I see people sneeking off from work in their bathing suits, and heads bobbing way out in Buzzards Bay on long-distance swims. In this calm, warm weather, why not?
I got out in my boat over the weekend, trudging across to Great Harbor with my oars, launching my tiny rowboat from the beach on Penzance and rowing out to my slightly bigger boat to go explore the Elizabeth Islands. I brought a sweatshirt because you never know on the water but, wow, was that unnecessary! It was so hot I was yearning to jump in by the time I had the engine fired up.
Woods Hole Great Harbor is filled with the most wonderful and eccentric boats. I love this one, a tiny tug boat all made of well-polished wood from another era. Not too practical, but adorable.
Clearly, I am a little obsessed with this vessel as I look through my photo-files for other shots of the harbor and find only more of the “Amycita.” I don’t see her off the mooring often, but I do look forward to meeting her owners. Imagine a cruise over to Oak Bluffs (a great destination on Martha’s Vineyard) in this stylish vessel!
And this is NOT the only miniature tug in our little harbor. My friend Kimberly is lucky enough to have this wonderful boat, small as the smallest skiff but ooh, what style. She was seen leaving work early yesterday madly texting to friends about a sunset tug cruise. These are the perks of living so close to the water:)
So I guess this is what you would call Indian Summer. Since my visit to Plimouth Plantation, I may need to re-name that Native People’s Summer. Whatever you call it, it is something to be relished — summer weather long after is it expected to be gone is like a gift from the Gods (the Wampanoags called him/her “Moshop”). Something to inspire us and help us prepare for the long winter ahead.
Off to swim!
In fall, the early settlers of the real Plimouth settlement would have been busy preparing for winter, digging root vegetables into cellars, salting fish caught in the remaining long days and checking the seams on their thatched roofs before the winter storms. Today, a visit to the Plimouth Plantation (a recreated village replete with role playing settlers and native guides) is like a jaunt into another time, when a handful of brave souls clung to a stern version of Protestantism on the edge of a clear blue bay.
Wandering the paths of the faux settlement, you meet men and women who “live” there and who talk directly to you, answering questions simple and complex about their journey to the new world, their motivations and daily life. The pastor told us all about the hardships, 12 years spent in Holland gathering funds followed by an epic sail across the Atlantic where nearly half the pilgrims died. He told us how they grew corn to trade with “Indians” who came from a northern place called “Maine.” These native people, he explained, lived in a place with a short growing season and counted on trade of furs for corn to make it through the winter. The furs were valuable back in England, so the Pilgrims traded them for olive oil, salt, gunpowder and many other staples that they did not have in the new world.
We explored the little clapboard houses inside and out. I was especially taken with a lovely garden, filled with rhubarb and chard and the old fashioned split rail fencing that kept a big black cow grazing in a meadow nearby. It is hard to imagine the isolation of this little community perched on the edge of such a vast wilderness, so separate from their own culture. Many could not handle it and returned to England, we were told. Others were seditious and banished from the community. With so few people, it is no wonder petty issues had the possibility to become major problems.
The occupant of this little house was a feisty lass who told us about pub life in England and all the sacrifice she had made to come to the new world. Her authentic dirt floor, open hearth and simple wooden furniture made for a setting that Vermeer would have painted, and I was pleased how the iPhone captured the limited light from a small window:
Up at the top of the hill is a meeting hall, a church I guess, with a gorgeous view out over Plymouth Bay and the lighthouse in the distance. Built with cannon on the top, it is a fitting metaphor for the fire and brimstone church style of the rigid Pilgrims. This young woman told us she had just been married and was hoping to have children soon, if the Lord saw fit:
Around the bend, Native Peoples dressed in period garb work and play in a series of tents. The “winter house” of the Wampanoag looks like this:
Inside, a Wampanoag descendant sat on furs, weaving a colorful ribbon. The Native Peoples do not role play; rather they describe native lifestyles and culture when asked. There is a sign on the way in reminding visitors to be respectful. Some of the suggestions were so obvious as to be insulting (don’t “war whoop” or call someone “chief” or “squaw” — I mean please, who would do that?) But others are more subtle, for example, don’t ask what percentage native the people you see here are. OK, that’s fair.
We learned that Wampanoags spoke an Algonquin language that had common roots for all Native Peoples on the eastern seaboard. That they had a varied diet of meat in winter, fish in summer plus corn and many other vegetables both cultivated and gathered. That they made canoes from hollowed out tree trunks and larger vessels with pontoons that they used to catch whales off the tip of Cape Cod. Once captured, they would plug the blowhole of the whale and the whale would swell with air so they could drag it inland.
We learned that they lived in a simpler structure in summer, usually close to water they could fish but come winter they moved inland 10 miles or so to larger structures covered with bark. Around the outside of the tent were beds made of saplings lashed together and covered with many layers of fur. Whole families lived together this way, with a cook fire in the middle and a hole in the roof to let the smoke out.
Fall is the perfect time to step back in time and spend a few hours in the 17th century. Plimouth Plantation is about a forty minute drive from Woods Hole, and offers fun for the whole family.
Sunday is already a bit of a blur for me. Mix exhaustion with adrenaline and too much caffeine and you get a solid forget-me drug. I know I made it to the Inn to help with breakfast and there was a large crowd there enjoying the meal after several successful weddings (yes, we had guests with us attending THREE different Woods Hole affairs).
It was rainy, grey, still so very hot the air thick like in a movie but everything seemed normal — hot coffee flowing, baked goods fresh from the oven, halogen cutting the flat grey from outside. Then the electricity flickered and died. Wow, everyone could use a little makeup in the light of those camping lanterns.
By late morning, the wind was really howling, screaming into Woods Hole’s Great Harbor and the tide was high, lapping at the tops of the docks. The Martha’s Vineyard ferries were bobbing visibly on the piers outside our windows. Salt spray was washing over the building, covering the plants whipping in the 40-50 MPH winds.
Inside, many went back to bed, lulled to sleep by the roar of the winds and the dark light. A group from one of the weddings gathered to watch a ten-month old baby crawl across the king size bed. Little Susannah was adorable but I bet if the TV had been on with weather news, that would never have happened. Someone broke out the Jenga and played a few distracted rounds before moving back to the hot tea and cookies. Even the Sunday New York Times held little appeal — it was yesterday’s news and we were in the middle of the story of the week. There really was nothing to do but wait it out.
By mid afternoon, it seemed to be tapering a bit. It never hit the intensity of my memory of Hurricane Bob where the scream of the wind put your teeth on edge and the curvature of the glass windows threatened to bring the storm inside. It didn’t rain a lot, which is a blessing as I watched roof tile whip past me to the street half the morning. For us, several hundred miles from the eye, Irene was downgraded to a “tropical storm” and she was an entertaining but well-behaved actress, like a burlesque dancer from the roaring 1920’s (Irene) compared to a stripper on the “Sopranos.” (a stripper named Bob? I guess on the Sopranos…)
I wandered out in the car. The surf on Nobska Beach was intense, really churning in a way that we never see in Vineyard Sound (protected from the prevailing winds by Martha’s Vineyard.) There was this bright yellow foam whipping off the top of the waves and oozing over the road in strips. I heard that Surf Drive was impassable, covered with drifts of sand and seawater. When I ventured from the car I felt small and vulnerable, the sound of the wind an overwhelming roar, and I struggled to keep my balance.
On the way home, I saw a power line bucking and sparking by the Sands of Time. I later heard that when NStar tried to put our grid back online there was an explosion in a local house, burning it to the ground. Terrible. I hurried home, made a light dinner and collapsed.
Then it was just over. A gorgeous day today, sunny and cool, the taste of fall in the air. Except for the downed branches and the unusual smell of fresh green crushed leaves, you would never know there had been a storm. The ducks were out on their favorite little dock, the only difference that a summer’s worth of duck poop was miraculously gone, fresh scrubbed, as if it was made new by some magic cobblers in the night. I marveled at the small brown birds – so resilient! Where did they hide in all that wind?
Up way too early, I conquered the Inn’s generator system, managing to make warmish showers, hot coffee and freshly baked croissants with one plug and five gallons of gas. I have to admit, I was pretty impressed with myself as mechanical tasks are amongst my most dreaded, and generally least successful. Charlene took the sheets into Falmouth (can you say laundromat?) and Amanda and I cleaned rooms with brooms, dustpans and rags. By three pm, we were still without power but miraculously ready to check in new guests. We even managed a new batch of cookies.
When NStar showed up on the pole right outside the front door of the Inn I knew we were close. Power was restored about 5.30 pm, my trusty generator put away for another day. Irene was relatively sweet to us. We we ready for worse, but so lucky we only got her simple side. Our hearts go out to others out there not so lucky. We know first hand how scary it can be. Now I hear there is a new tropical depression brewing out there…so we take our experience from this one and we wait for another battle. Next time, less florescent camping lanterns and more battery operated candles! I am gonna need that forgiving faux flicker to weather the next one.
The streets are empty, the restaurants deserted and the air completely still. The last of the ferries hurrying out of Woods Hole getting people to their destinations. There is an odd green hue to the afternoon light, muted with a grey low sky. After moving another set of porch furniture in, making two banana pound cakes and allaying the fears of many guests about the storm situation (which appears to be improving), I grabbed a little “me” time. I walked home past the Eel Pond where many parking meters stood empty like sentinels and I went to Stoney Beach.
It was incredibly flat calm down there, the waves so tiny they made a miniscule little whoosh as they lapped the sand. Dead high tide, moon tide which is especially high, leaving the beach a sliver and the distance to the swim buoy more challenging.
I breast-stroked out and floated on my back, toes in front of me in the water like my Dad used to do, and looked back at the houses that line the beach. Many have boarded up. There are shutters closed, or removed to keep from blowing away. But some houses seem to have made no preparations at all.
I thought about what a privilege it is to live so close to the water that I can walk to the beach for a quick after-work swim. But that this same proximity is a huge disadvantage in a storm like Irene. If the surge comes at moon-high tide, there could be 10 extra feet of water. That would turn my street to a canal, my basement to an oily swimming pool and my lawn to seagrass. Floating, I thought about how amazingly mutable the sea is, one minute calm, warm, embracing; the next roaring, foaming, angry.
I thought about my Aunt Ellen who spent her waning years living in the Big House on Wings Neck (a place lovingly described by my cousin George Colt in his book “The Big House”). She loved to bathe in the sea, luxuriating the in the way the salt crunched on the sheets when she fell asleep. In her youth, much of which was in the Great Depression, the Colt children were not encouraged to wash the salt off after swimming, so for her that feeling became reminiscent of long summer days, childhood games and fresh seafood at supper.
I learned at her memorial service last month that when she became too ill to walk down to the ocean to take her daily swim, the nurses brought up buckets of seawater to gently wash her with cloths. “If you can’t come down to the ocean, we will bring the ocean to you,” one of them told her.
I think I will resist showering tonight, for that swim was so sublime I think it may cradle me in a well deserved sleep where I will dream of my father and his sisters, frolicking in the waters of Buzzards Bay so many years ago. And pray that when the sea welcomes Irene later tonight, that perhaps the memory of an woman bathing in her dying days might mitigate the damage.