Indian Neck developed much later than the other South Wellfleet neighborhoods surrounding Wellfleet Harbor. Its sandy edges were just waiting for the city people who began vacationing in Wellfleet in the 1890s. Lieutenant’s Island, Old Wharf Point, and Cannon Hill were already prepared with development plans, but it took until 1922 for the “Indian Neck Heights” land plan to be offered.
The Indian Neck development is really the story of two families, the Crowells and the Bakers—not the other prominent Wellfleet Baker, banana importer Lorenzo D. Baker.
But before we get to Luther C. Crowell, who had extensive land holdings on Indian Neck around his mansion and all the way to the sandy beach land overlooking the Bay, another investor assembled land there. Starting in the 1870s, Dr. Henry Hiller who had made his money selling patent medicines, and his wife, Dr. France Hiller, purchased numerous tracts of land from Wellfleet residents. The mackerel fishing was in a downward spiral and many people were leaving the Cape for Boston or its suburbs, selling the “worthless” family land to raise some cash.
Dr. Hiller emigrated to the United States from Bavaria in 1865, and married France Buryace De Sepora Bereford in Detroit in 1868. He became a naturalized citizen in 1870. The couple were living in Wilmington, Massachusetts, in 1880 when the federal census was taken; other records indicate that she was either from Latin America or the West Indies. The Hillers impact on Wellfleet must have been significant; in 1883, a new schooner named “France D. Hiller” was built in Essex, Mass., and launched with plenty of bunting draped on the Central Wharf, the schooner’s owner. She may have paid for it. In a book about Wellfleet in the 1920s, Mrs. Hiller is noted as the owner of the beautiful home “Morning Glory” overlooking the harbor.
Dr. Henry Hiller died in 1888 of Bright’s disease according to the death certificate issued by the state of Massachusetts. France Hiller continued to buy and sell Wellfleet land, purchasing much of Griffin Island. Her husband “Henry Hiller” mysteriously continued to be named in the deeds. A review of newspapers reporting her death in 1900 solved this mystery: she had married again, and insisted that her new husband change his name to Henry Hiller. She was 54 at the time of their marriage, and her 28-year-old new husband, Peter Surrette, was an illiterate Nova Scotian who served as her “coachman.” Her behavior—and reported use of morphine and liquor—caused her will to be contested, but the young husband inherited eventually. By the time this happened, however, the Hiller land had been sold: two large tracts of Indian Neck land totaling more than 200 acres in 1895 to Crowell, and the Griffin Island land to Lorenzo D. Baker. The Crowell sale gave him nearly all of the “Neck” with its bay views and proximity to the beach. (See an additional note on the Hillers at the end of this blog post.)
Luther C. Crowell, from West Dennis, Massachusetts, married Margaret Doane Atwood Howard, in 1864. She was a widow, thirteen years older than he was, who had grown up in Wellfleet. In 1874, Luther Crowell purchased his first land (and house) in Wellfleet, from John and Hannah Smith, Margaret’s sister and brother-in-law. Eleazer Atwood, named as an abutter in the deed, was Margaret and Hannah’s father. Several additional purchases led to the Crowells assembling a significant amount of land.
Luther Childs Crowell became a resident of Wellfleet in the mid-1890s and lived there until his death in 1903. Margaret Crowell had three children with her first husband, Jeremiah Howard, and subsequently had three children with Luther. A daughter, Elizabeth, died when very young, but their sons Luther F. and Edgar D. Crowell, her son Robert Howard, and her daughter’s son, Mr. Mitchell, all played roles in the development of Wellfleet real estate.
Luther Crowell had become famous before he built his mansion in Wellfleet. After a few years as a merchant seaman, he moved to Boston and became an inventor. His early work, 1867-1879, produced patents for a square-bottom paper bag, the work he is most famous for and the work that Wellfleet claims as a noteworthy part of its history. His interest in paper folding and production led to patents involving the printing press, in particular the rotary folding machine that produces multiple-page newspapers as a complete product. A company in New York, R. Hoe & Company, developing similar processes, purchased his patents and put Crowell on their payroll for $10,000 a year to supervise their production. He worked there for the rest of his career.
The Barnstable Patriot reported regularly on the Crowell family’s visits to Wellfleet, first as summer visitors and then as permanent residents. The earliest article, in 1888, reports that the Crowells moved the Ebenezer Cole house to “Pilgrim Spring” and used it as a summer residence. The mansion they eventually built was far larger than any other developed by the city people who were beginning to spend leisure time in Wellfleet, often buying an old original house or putting up modest cottages. The Crowell mansion had a windmill for pumping water and a three-level barn. The road off Paine Hollow Road, today’s Baker Road, was the rose-lined driveway to the mansion which looked out over Indian Neck to Wellfleet Harbor. The Crowell’s oldest son, Luther Francis Crowell, was the architect, and John Bettison the contractor.
The earliest mention of bottling the fresh spring water at “Pilgrim Spring” —a feature of the landscape between Route 6 and Indian Neck—was reported in 1882 when The Barnstable Patriot reported that the machinery for bottling the water had been installed and would be up and running under the direction of a Mr. C. Walker, Superintendent. There’s no further report on the company until 1893 when the Patriot announced the partnership of John Smith and Samuel Atwood (Margaret Crowell’s brother and brother-in-law) to manufacture ginger ale and sarsaparilla from the “famous Pilgrim Spring water” during the summer of that year. Soon, a “fine wagon” for the company was seen around the town. In 1901 The Barnstable Patriot reported that the Adams Pharmacy in Provincetown had a display of the “Ye Cape Cod Pilgrim Spring Company” of South Wellfleet. Luther Crowell’s youngest son, Edgar Doane Crowell, got involved with this venture of bottling the mineral water. One of Luther Crowell’s last patents was for a bottle labeling machine, perhaps invented for the company. One writer notes that the high cost of sugar during the War caused the shut-down of the operation, and it was completely destroyed by fire around 1921. One bottle is in the collection of the Wellfleet Historical Society and Museum.
Luther C. Crowell died in 1903, followed by Margaret Crowell’s death in 1911. The first mention of M. Burton Baker, the new owner of the Crowell Mansion, was made in The Barnstable Patriot in December 1913 when an announcement in its South Wellfleet column reported that the Bakers would be staying in the mansion for the winter. Baker purchased Edgar Crowell’s interest in the Crowell estate in 1913, and Luther F. Crowell sold some portion of his interest in 1915. A number of additional sales of Crowell land to Baker followed.
Marcus Burton Baker was from Brockton, Massachusetts, the son of a Civil War soldier. He and his two brothers grew up there—his brother Horace became Mayor in the 1920s. In the 1900 Federal census, M. Burton Baker was working at one of the city’s shoe factories. Mr. Baker and his wife, Ruth Ella Baker, were married in 1895, and had three children: Richard, Kenneth, and Dorothy. A fourth child, a daughter, died at two years old, in 1908.
Sometime after 1915, the Crowell Mansion became the “Indian Neck Inn” with many mentions in The Barnstable Patriot of guests staying there during the summer seasons. At some point, a dike was built across the marsh separating the property from the sandy Indian Neck beach. There is a postcard image of the Crowell Mansion labeled “Indian Neck Camp for Girls,” but there is no record of such an operation. In a few Barnstable Patriot articles in 1916 the reference is to the Baker’s “Indian Neck Camp.” In that same year, the Chequessett Camp for Girls was also operating closeby, and the postcard-maker may have confused the two.
Events at the Indian Neck Inn were regularly reported. In 1927, the year Dorothy Baker graduated from Wellfleet High School, she had an 18th Birthday party where her guests danced to music from the Bakers’ radio, one of the first in Wellfleet, with dance music coming from the strong Davenport, Iowa station. Dorothy went on to study at the Boston Conservatory of Music. The Baker family also regularly purchased new Studebakers, as reported in The Barnstable Patriot. Both Richard and Kenneth Baker lived in Wellfleet with their wives.
A sad event occurred at the Inn in 1930 when a young man, Ernest Meads, shot and killed himself after leaving a note to Dorothy, who appeared to be an unrequited love interest. Dorothy Baker later married John Snow, a police officer. They lived in Wellfleet for a while, but later moved to Marblehead to run his family’s grocery store.
Burton Baker died in 1933 of tuberculosis; reports in The Barnstable Patriot announced that he had gone to the sanitarium in Pocasset a few years earlier. The Great Depression was in full swing. It appears that the Indian Neck Inn did not survive those years, and the family lost it to foreclosure. There are two different stories of what happened to the building. One is that it was taken down, and parts became cottages at the corner of Hay Road and Route 6 in Eastham, and another portion became “a house in South Wellfleet.” Another version of its demise is told in a note regarding a painting from Wellfleet resident Edwin Dickinson who had painted “South Wellfleet Inn” in 1955-60. The note indicates that Dickinson had made a sketch of the building in 1939 “before it burned down.” However, no other indication of any such fire has been found.
The twenty acres of Crowell estate property that was lost reverted to other owners who acquired it for $250 at a foreclosure sale.
INDIAN NECK HEIGHTS
Burton Baker became a Selectman of Wellfleet and expanded his real estate interests while he ran the Inn. In the early 1920s he hired George F. Clements to develop a plan for the northernmost part of Indian Neck, calling it “Indian Neck Heights.” Baker had acquired this part of Indian Neck from the Crowells. In honor of his role in developing this Wellfleet neighborhood, the public beach to the north of the Heights was named for him in 1961 when Dorothy Baker Snow donated the land.
George F. Clements was a Civil Engineer based in Hyannis with projects involving “high grade land development” in Yarmouth, Centerville, and Dennis on the Cape and in several Boston suburbs. By 1926, according to The Barnstable Patriot, he had developed over 2,000 acres of land.
The mapped streets of Indian Neck Heights were each named for “famous Indians,” not all of them with any relationship to Cape tribes and native people. There was also a Crowell Road. However, Tecumseh, Ione, Hiawatha, Pocahontas, and Cheyenne were surely out-of-place with King Phillip, Nauset, Massasoit, and Samoset. There were restrictions in the deeds of the lots sold: any structure put up had to cost at least $1500 (later changed to $3,000); structures had to be fifteen feet back from the edge of the sand bank overlooking the bay, and toilet facilities had to be part of the cottage or garage—no outhouses were allowed.
In 1927, a Trust organization purchased the southern portion of Indian Neck from Luther F. Crowell and M. Burton Baker. Mr. Clements designed another Indian Neck neighborhood south of Indian Neck Heights. Given the timing so close to the beginning of the Great Depression, it’s not clear if any sales took place, and the history of the Trust is difficult to discern.
In a multi-part article in The Cape Codder in the 1970s, Holman Spence wrote about the development of Indian Neck Heights’ first cottages and his boyhood summers there.. The Holmberg family built the first cottage, and the Spence family the second one.
Carl and Greta Holmberg purchased their lots of Indian Neck Heights in 1924, and acquired additional lots later. The next Holmberg generation appears to have made this their permanent home, and the original cottage appears to be there still. A family tragedy occurred in 1971, when the Holmberg children were playing on an ice floe that moved away from shore, causing the 10-year-old son to drown.
Holman Spence’s parents traveled to Wellfleet from Springfield in 1922 to look at land on the ocean, but found the raw landscape not to their liking. They spent the night at the Indian Neck Inn, meeting Mr. Baker, who showed them the Indian Neck Heights location the following day and made the sale. Since the Spence parents were teachers and a writer, they were able to spend the summer, making a 14-hour trip on their 1922 Buick touring car with “isinglass side curtains.” Spence captures the feel of the family’s arrival after dark with Mrs. Spence lighting the oil lamps, and Mr. Spence hiking back to Pilgrim Spring to get fresh water to prime the pump. Spence also mentions the pastime of collecting “arrowheads and other Indian artifacts” along the beach, further evidence that there had been other inhabitants there before.
The third family to build at Indian Neck Heights was Harold and Jennie Stevens, who later sold to a family that is still there. A fourth cottage built by the Buckman family is also still standing.
By 1940, there were ten structures on Indian Neck, as shown by the dots on the topographical map of Wellfleet of that year. The next wave of development came in the 1950s when there were numerous sales of land by Dorothy Baker Snow. The next four decades saw an ever-increasing intensive building throughout the Indian Neck area. Thankfully, in the 1980s, the Wellfleet Conservation Trust (WCT) was established and a way to preserve open space for the enjoyment of all. From 1998 to 2008, the WCT was able to acquire contiguous parcels, resulting in the largest public conservation property on the Outer Cape—the Fox Island Marsh and Pilgrim Spring Woodlands Conservation Area and Trails. See more information about this area here:
In 1889 France Hiller put on public display in Boston two mammoth coffins that were elaborately carved and trimmed in gold, a project she and her husband had initiated but not yet finished when he died. Even at a time when Victorian society paid extraordinary attention to death, her display was over the top, and widely reported. You can read more about the Hillers here: http://homenewshere.com/wilmington_town_crier/news/article_6c0cace8-1ad5-11e2-913b-0019bb2963f4.html
The Cape Codder available online at the Snow Library, Orleans
Federal Census collection at www.ancestry.com
David Kew’s Cape Cod history site: www.capecodhistory.us
Barnstable Patriot (various) online archive: www.sturgislibrary.org
Barnstable County Deeds available at www.barnstablecountydeeds.org
Newspapers available online at www.genealogybank.com
Rickmers Ruth Wellfleet Remembered Volume 1, 1981
Ward, John L. Edwin Dickinson: A Critical History of His Painting Newark, University of Delaware Press, 2003.