South Wellfleet’s Cannon Hill stands near the head of Blackfish Creek, overlooking Drummer Pond where a fulling mill once stood. Cannon Hill is yet another Cape Cod Bay Land Company development. Robert W. Howard and Edward Reed acquired the land in 1889, just as they did for their developments at Pleasant Point, Lieutenant’s Island, and the Old Wharf.
Through most of the nineteenth century, Captain Isaiah Hatch owned Cannon Hill, although it wasn’t named as such until much later. Captain Hatch and his son Isaiah captured a degree of local fame, as I’ve written about previously. Captain Hatch — aged, widowed, and with his son to look after — sold his property to George and Susan Rogers of Orleans in 1879, keeping only the income from a cranberry bog “located near the railroad station at the head of Blackfish Creek.”
Mr. and Mrs. Rogers kept the Captain and his son at the family homestead, as the 1880 federal census shows both families in the same dwelling. Captain Hatch died at age 94 in 1893, and his son died at age 63 in 1894. That family homestead still stands today as one of South Wellfleet’s oldest homes.
Robert Howard moved quickly on developing the twelve acres Mrs. Rogers sold to him in March 1889. By the following month, according to the deeds, people were buying lots according to a plan developed by Tully Crosby in April 1889. The lots that sold first were on the top of Cannon Hill. Two can be traced to the side of the hill that heads down to the Creek, although, without today’s trees obscuring them, all sites had Blackfish Creek and Drummer Cove views. This early photograph shows the treeless hill.
Later, in the 1890s, Susan Rogers sold additional land to Howard, and another plan — this one labeled “Cannon Hill” — was created that incorporated the first plan.
The name of the hill derives from the oral history of South Wellfleet about the rivalry between the South Wellfleet and Wellfleet boys in the nineteenth century, played out as each group “stole” the Fourth of July cannon from each other. Charles Cole, in his memory piece of mid-to-late nineteenth century history, tells us that Captain Hatch loaned his wagon to the South Wellfleet boys so they could drag the cannon to South Wellfleet. Wellfleet’s Cannon Hill is at the southern end of what is today Uncle Tim’s Bridge which takes you over the Duck Creek marsh to the hill.
We do not know exactly when the theft of the cannon came to give today’s name to the land. In the early 1970s the cannon was dug up, in time for the Bicentennial, and put on display near Town Hall. Myra Hicks, daughter of Clarence Hicks, whose family owned the Hatch/Rogers homestead after 1906, learned of the location of the cannon before her father died. It appears that the secret of the buried cannon was a significant part of the property in South Wellfleet, and came then to bestow the name to the hill.
One of the differences between the development of Cannon Hill and the other bayside developments in South Wellfleet — perhaps because of its proximity to the railroad station — was the development of guest houses in the early structures. Even Mrs. Rogers saw this potential, as she turned her homestead into a guest house named “The Willows.”
We know about the guest houses on Cannon Hill thanks to researchers’ notes from the early 1980s documenting historic houses in Wellfleet, and available at the Wellfleet Historical Society and Museum. The collection of 1890s homes on (now named) Cannon Hill Road, at the top of the hill, all still standing, appears to have served as “Cannon Hill Camp,” as articles in the Barnstable Patriot noted.
The Hambletts and the Sawyers bought lots on Cannon Hill in 1891. The Barnstable Patriot noted in May, 1891, that Mr. Hambletts and Mr. Sawyer were both looking forward to putting up their cottages that summer.
Joshua and Hannah Sawyer lived in Boston, where they had established a boarding house with nineteen lodgers, as shown in the 1900 federal census. Mr. Sawyer was a carpenter. Their plan was to have a summer boarding house in South Wellfleet — which must have happened immediately after construction, because one of the Boston papers mentions Fred Dallinger staying at Cannon Hill House in August 1891, a few years before he became an elected official. Senator Dallinger later stayed in South Wellfleet on the ocean where Cook’s Camps is located today.
In 1899, Joshua Sawyer advertised in a Boston paper that his summer boarding house was available to rent for the season. Although Mr. Sawyer died in 1901, his widow seems to have carried on with the “Cannon Hill House” until she sold it in 1910. Based on advertisements in 1901–1904, a Mrs. Adie, along with Mrs. Hamblett, were the Cannon Hill House operators. In 1903, an ad noted the proximity of the Marconi Telegraphy station, taking advantage of the publicity of Marconi’s first wireless transmission earlier that year.
The Sawyer’s house came to be known as “Cannon Hill House.” The two cottages next door, belonging to the Hambletts, expanded the number of guests, and meals were served at Cannon Hill House. Another house nearby, owned by two sisters, served the same purpose.
There were two Hamblett brothers, Albert and Arthur. Albert acquired his property through his own purchase, plus a lot transferred to him through his wife’s mother, Mary Thissell. The Hamblett family of Dracut, Massachusetts, had a long history in Lowell/Dracut; today many members are buried in an old family cemetery that bears their name. Albert and Arthur were stonemasons, as their father had been. Albert and Henrietta had a son Charles, who married Jennie Hilton in 1890, and had one child, Alta Hamblett, born in 1893.
Sometime after 1900, Charles and Jennie divorced. Since there was a stigma to divorce, Jennie Hamblett is often referred to as a “widow” in the census and in news articles. Charles Hamblett married again and spent the rest of his life in Los Angeles. Jennie Hamblett’s in-laws appear to have kept their relationship with her, and she appears regularly in the Barnstable Patriot as arriving in South Wellfleet each summer to open “Cannon Hill Camp,” the two Hamblett cottages next to Cannon Hill House.
Jennie Hamblett and Hannah Sawyer kept their relationship through the merging of the Hamblett and Sawyer houses into a single summer operation. The Barnstable Patriot has regular coverage of Jennie through the second decade of the 1900s. Hannah Sawyer sold her property in 1910.
An artist named Anne Wells Munger of Worcester, Massachusetts. purchased Cannon Hill House in 1912. She subsequently bought other property in South Wellfleet, but kept Cannon Hill House through 1923 when she sold it to Annie Gardner. Perhaps she allowed Jennie Hamblett to manage the guest house through those summers. In Barnstable Patriot articles in the 1920s, Annie Gardner is mentioned as welcoming guests to Cannon Hill House, so the tradition lived on for a few more years.
In 1913, Jennie Hamblett advertised in the Springfield Republican:
South Wellfleet, Mass. Cannon Hill Camp opens June 15th, country and seashore combined; excellence of table board well known. $9 per week. Mrs. J. Hamblett
Jennie Hamblett’s daughter, Alta, married Wellfleet’s Simeon Atwood, Jr., in October 1914, with the wedding taking place at her aunt’s home in Maine. Soon the Barnstable Patriot was reporting her visits to her mother’s in South Wellfleet.
Simeon Atwood’s father had relocated to the Boston area where he had a fish business, and the younger man was born in Dorchester. He was educated at Groton and Phillips Exeter, according to his 1949 obituary. Simeon Atwood, Jr. was helped by his father to have his own fish company. He got into legal trouble during World War I when he was convicted, along with many others, of price-fixing during wartime. It wasn’t until the 1920s that he actually served some prison time, and then resettled with Alta and their son (Simeon Atwood III) in Orleans.
The Hamblett in-laws died in the early 1920s, and the Cannon Hill property was sold. Simeon Atwood, Jr. had a real estate business in Orleans and became a well-respected member of that community. The son, Simeon Hilton Atwood, died in a plane crash in Texas in 1943, where he was in training for the Army Air Corps.
The Wellfleet historic house researchers noted that Cannon Hill House came to be called “The Ark,” perhaps at a later date, and provide details as to how it was managed as a guest house. Visitors and their trunks were taken to the houses from the railroad station by Charlie Paine, famous for not hurrying his horse from the Marconi Station the night of the famous first wireless transmission.
Food was supplied by wagon from the Wellfleet Market. A fish wagon came twice a week and ice came daily. Mr. Hicks (now in the former Rogers/Hatch house) supplied milk. Isaac “Ikey” Paine, who owned the South Wellfleet General Store at that time, also supplied fresh vegetables from his garden, and eggs. All water was pumped, and all the cooking was on an old black stove. There was a two-hole privy in the shed behind the house.
Another early house on Cannon Hill, originally built by the Cliffords, also became a guesthouse which used Cannon Hill House for meals. Two sisters divided the house, making it available to two families at one time. According to deeds, Abbie Clifford of Lowell purchased the property, and then either sold or financed it with Ann Haseltine. Abbie Clifford’s marriage record reveals that her maiden name was Haseltine, so presumably these are the two sisters who owned the house. This Dickerman postcard shows the house somewhat separate from the three on top of Cannon Hill. (Dickerman postcards, printed in either black-and-white or color from 1907 to 1936, dominated the Cape Cod market.)
Later, the sisters’ house was sold to Alice Stacy, and while her arrivals and departures were reported regularly in the Barnstable Patriot, the house ceased operation as a guesthouse.
Not every early settler on Cannon Hill took in boarders. Jabez Stanley of Lowell built another of the cottages researched in the 1980s, down the hill toward Blackfish Creek. Born in England, he and his wife Ada, and their daughter Bertha, enjoyed summers there until one August day in 1903, when Captain Stanley died of a heart attack while walking up the hill to Cannon Hill House. Wellfleet’s doctor, Edward Perry, also the Medical Examiner, signed the death certificate. Captain Stanley’s body was removed to Lowell on the next day’s morning train. Bertha Stanley continued spending her vacations at the cottage for several years.
George Stedman and his wife built their “Bayview Cottage” in 1891, and it still stands today overlooking Drummer Pond.
Another Cannon Hill house is one that I’ve been looking at my whole life, across Blackfish Creek. It sits on the bluff of Cannon Hill, as shown in this view in the 1940s from our family album.
In 1889, Charles W. and Mary French of Milford, New Hampshire, purchased the lots of land on the bluff. At the same time, they also purchased a couple of lots on Lieutenant’s Island. By 1900, according to the federal census that year, Charles and Mary French were living in Wellfleet. That census reported their offspring: the five French children at their farm in 1880 only two were now living, a son and a daughter. A June 1891 article in the Boston Globe notes that Mr. French was using the cottage he built on the bluff to enjoy Wellfleet’s gunning and fishing. When they moved to Wellfleet they lived in a more substantial home; one article referred to their home as the “Harding House.” Mary French died in 1915 from a broken leg that never healed properly. Mr. French sold his property later that year and went to live with his daughter back in New Hampshire.
The Cannon Hill bluff property was sold by the Frenchs in 1907 to John E. Hopkinson. When it was sold, there were buildings on the property. The researchers of the Cannon Hill historic houses indicate that the owner worked for the Old Colony Railroad; indeed, Mr. Hopkinson is listed in various census documents as railroad brakeman, and then a conductor.
According to the researchers, this cottage was used by employees of the railroad for fall gunning parties, a popular Wellfleet activity, when groups of men would gather to shoot birds. Railroad employees also used the cottage in the summer when they could bring their families.
Mr. Hopkinson only owned the bluff cottage for two years, and then resold it. He moved to Wellfleet and had numerous real estate dealings, including establishing his own home overlooking Drummer Cove, property that his daughter and great-granddaughter enjoyed. This house is one of three historic South Wellfleet homes located between Route Six and Drummer Cove which I hope to cover in another post.
By the 1930s, it seems that the houses on Cannon Hill ceased serving as guesthouses for various boarders, and were owned by families staying for their summer vacations.
Wellfleet Historical Society and Museum: Massachusetts Historical Commission historic house listings, known as Form B
U.S. Federal Census collection at www.ancestry.com
New England Historical and Genealogical Society, online publication of Mass. Vital Statistics
Newspaper archive online at www.findmypast.com
Barnstable Patriot (various) online archive: www.sturgislibrary.org
Barnstable County Deeds available at www.barnstablecountydeeds.org
Newspaper account online at www.genealogybank.com.