Found Objects

December 1, 2011

Glowery day at the WH drawbridge in late November, 2011

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.

Shingle from restoration of the Woods Hole Inn.

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…

Another interesting scrap of newspaper was salvageable and dates from the Boston Globe in the late 1800’s:

And another interesting fragment — and we found many of these in the rafters along with the strong smell of fish as the wood was cut out:

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?

Letter from pencil company 1894.


  1. Gail

    This is such a wonderful adventure! I hope that you will have a display of all your findings!

    1. Absolutely! I am working on the Woods Hole Inn museum exhibit as we speak. Looking forward to guests helping me fill in the blanks:)

  2. Reply

    This from Karen Keane of Skinner Inc. an expert on American furniture:

    “It appears to be the back section of an American Eastlake recamier sofa also know as a fainting couch. Eastlake was an English designer from the mid to late 19th century. His design ideas became very popular in the US in the 1870’s. There still exists a large body of furniture based on his styles from that time period. Recamier refers to the Inges portrait of Madame Recamier. She is reclining on a similar couch. I don’t know if the form was called a recamier in the 19thc or whether it picked up the name later. Furniture fragments in general have little commercial value but it certainly qualifies as a conversation piece! ”

    Thanks so much Karen — I appreciate your expertise on this subject. Now I just have to fiqure out what to DO with it!! Any suggestions, dear reader?

  3. Nancy Linehan Charles

    So wonderful, Beth, to follow your adventures
    In the east. We’re in the car DRIVING to
    Texas for Christmas. We read your latest
    missal (?) with delight. Will and I were both
    Arrested in the Occupy demonstrations
    and spent 13 hours in jail!! Where I
    performed Shakespeare for my cell mates!!
    Wild time. Go to
    and follow our adventures, flash mobbing
    the Bard all over L.A. All our love to your
    family, Beth. Nancy

    1. Nancy – I think of you and Salty Shakespeare all the time. Good for you for bringing the bard into our political dialogue! Sending all Xmas love to you and Will. I miss you both! — B

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