Cook’s Camps has been in Wellfleet since the 1930s. This unique group of cottages is situated right on the ocean, at the top of a 125 foot dune. It is owned by David and Laurie Sexton, through Laurie’s family, the Cooks, who go back to Edwin P. Cook.
The Cook’s cottages are very close to the National Park’s Marconi site. Mr. Cook sold land to Mr. Guglielmo Marconi as he decided where to position the towers that transmitted the first trans-Atlantic radio message in 1902. You can read more about Marconi here.
Staying at Cook’s captures an experience that few vacationers can have today. The cottages are simple: sleeping and living space, small kitchen, bath. Showering is available in the Shower House. Families have been coming here for generations, and hold dear their “privilege” of renting a particular cottage at a particular time, say, the last two weeks of August, perhaps leaving it as legacy to their children. These folks have their own community on the dune. One of their regulars told me that it is this sense of community that makes her annual trip so special.
For some people, having their support systems on vacation may be necessary including electronics, tv/cable, dishwasher, and a Sub-zero refrigerator. But if a vacation is meant to be a kind of letting-go, then you can have such an experience at Cook’s. You can dial it back by decades and live beside the ocean where tides and extraordinary light frame your day.
Edwin P. Cook grew up in Scituate, Massachusetts, across Cape Cod Bay. He was born in 1843 in Cohasset, the son of Ichabod Cook, Jr. and Lucinda A. Cook. His father must have died while Edwin was young, since his mother is listed as a widow in the 1860 census. Edwin arrived in Wellfleet in the early 1860s. In 1864 he married Eliza Franklin Hopkins of Wellfleet, the daughter of a Wellfleet family with deep roots. Edwin and Eliza had three sons: Arthur, Herbert, and Ralph.
Edwin Cook soon developed a number of business interests in Wellfleet: lumber, fish, wrecking, and oil manufacturing, which collected the oil of the numerous blackfish that grounded there. That oil was a lubricant needed by watch manufacturers, giving it great value. Mr. Cook became a Town Selectman, and then the Chair of the Selectmen in 1894. Edwin P. Cook also dealt in real estate, a commodity that was becoming more important as the 19th century ended and Wellfleet began to develop as a summer home and tourist destination. He left behind many tracts of land for his family to sort out over the years.
One of several properties that Cook assembled in creating the land that became Cook’s Camps was an 1894 deed from Simeon Wiley, the Administrator of the estate of Betsey Wiley, a longtime South Wellfleet resident. Another was from Isaac LeCount of the family that gave us the name of LeCount Hollow Road, that takes us from Route 6 to the dunes today.
Herbert Cook and his wife Florence Chellis Cook came to own all the land that is now Cook’s Camps. They were Laurie Sexton’s grandparents.
Besides buying land, Cook also sold it. In 1900 Edwin sold a piece to Lorenzo Dow Baker who at that time was undertaking a number of projects to make Wellfleet a seaside town that would appeal to seasonal visitors. Baker built three cottages on the edge of the dune. News articles in the early 1900s refer to visitors staying in these cottages.
Frederick Dallinger began visiting in the early 1900s. He was a state legislator, then a Congressman, and finally a U.S. Senator by 1926. The area began to be called “Dallinger Heights” and “Dallinger Bluff” in news reports. There is no record of Dallinger owning property himself. Perhaps his “celebrity” status caused the name to be assigned. The name “stuck” until the late 1930s.
The three “Baker cottages” lasted until the hurricane of 1938, when they tumbled over the dune.
There are three additional owners of dune land who purchased from the Cooks. Addie M. Newhall of Montclair, New Jersey, purchased land from Edwin Cook in 1917, after she and her family had stayed in one of the Baker cottages. In 1929, Herbert Cook sold land to Harry S. Young of Cambridge, Mass. Also in 1929, Herbert sold land to Walter C. Guilder and his wife, Grace Davis Guilder. Guilder and Newman built cottages. There is no mention of a Young cottage in the deed transferring the land back to the Cooks.
Adelaide May Newhall (1884-1960) earned her B.A. degree from Smith College, and studied art at Syracuse University along with several artists, including Charles Hawthorne, who was one of America’s most inspiring art teachers. Hawthorne established the Cape Cod School of Art in Provincetown and helped make the town a leading artists’ colony. Perhaps Addie Newhall studied with him there. She painted landscapes, in oil, and her painting “Lighthouse” sold as recently as 2005. As a young “independent” woman and teacher, she was 33 years old when she bought her dune land and built her cottage in 1917.
Walter C. Guilder (1877-1942) was a successful businessman, establishing Guilder Engineering Company, which manufactured motor trucks in Poughkeepsie, New York. Harry S. Young (b 1874) and his wife were born in New York, and lived in the Boston area where he was a salesman for Campbell Soup.
During the summers of 1929 and 1930, a Glider School was established where Cook’s Camps is today – I wrote a blog post about it which you can read here .
Edwin P. Cook died in 1925; his son, Herbert, died in 1934. Before Herbert died, Cook’s Camps was born. The Glider School had built an administration building where the main house is now, plus dormitories, and a hanger. There was a generator and water was pumped to a cistern. These leftovers became the Camp – including the shower house. Herbert and Florence’s daughter, Chellise Cook, now a young woman, helped out too.
Chellise Cook married Laurence Cardinal of Worcester, Massachusetts, in 1938 — a lucky match for Cook’s Camps. Larry was able to build-out the Camp, adding cottages. In 1944, Florence bought back the Guilder property, and those cottages became “Big Gilda” and “Little Gilda,” — so the “Guilder” name lives on in a simplified spelling.
In 1945, Addie Newhall sold her property back to Florence, but her cottage was moved to another spot on what became Ocean View Drive. We can hope the new owner who bought the cottage in 2011 has heard the remarkable history of his summer spot in the dunes.
Harry Young sold his property back to Florence Cook in 1944.
Addie Newhall purchased property nearby to Cook’s, off Ocean View Drive, in 1941. The cottage that was placed there is the same shape and size as the one next to her first dune cottage – in the photograph displayed here. She left it to her sister when she died in 1960. Perhaps it was Mr. Young’s. It is still in the family today, once again demonstrating the generational pull of South Wellfleet on many families.
Cook’s Camps made it through the years of having Camp Wellfleet right next door with its sometimes rambunctious young servicemen there. It transitioned to becoming private property within the National Park. Winter dune damage sometimes meant that a cottage had to be moved further back from the edge of the dune. Summers continued to bring visitors, and regular returning folks through the years.
Today, Cook’s Camps comprises fifteen cottages, along with the Cardinal’s home, built in the 1950s. Each cottage has a name, making it easy for families to identify with “their” cottage. Visitors can enjoy their private beach, accessible by a ladder trailing down the dunes. Like many cottage owners who rent, there are rules, spelled out on a hand-lettered sign in each cottage, gently urging behavior that is respectful of the other people staying there.
Season after season goes by, families come and go, kids grow up and bring their significant others, then another generation arrives. David and Laurie have a list of all visitors since 1940, and the family groups are apparent. Cook’s Camps has created a unique spot near the ocean in South Wellfleet.
U.S. 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
Newspaper account online at www.genealogybank.com
Cape Codder available at www.snowlibrary.org.