Driving tips for a solar eclipse

By Jack Sheedy

In the previous entry we considered April events which saw some Cape Codders witnessing an earthquake and a partial eclipse of the sun within just a few days of each other. The story then took a closer look at a number of Cape Cod earthquakes over the centuries, with a promise to revisit the subject of eclipses in a future entry.
Well, there’s no time like the present. In this entry, we’ll examine three total eclipses which occurred on Cape during the 20th century.
Consider for a moment the rotating and revolving relationship between the earth and its sun and moon. The three have participated in a cosmic dance for several billions of years. Occasionally in this celestial ballet one dance member accidentally steps on the foot of another, as happens during a solar eclipse. Such an event is rare, and typically amounts to a partial eclipse as we witnessed here on Cape Cod on April 8th. A total eclipse is seen by only a small percentage of the population who happen to exist within what is termed the “path of totality.” On this narrow peninsula the odds of being within this path are remote. And yet, that scenario happened in 1925, 1932, and 1970.
On January 24, 1925, as millions of folks in the northeast prepared to witness the total eclipse of the sun, Cape Codders were trying to find out how they, too, could get in on the action. That day’s Yarmouth Register newspaper indicated that totality would only be visible “at those places south of a line drawn from Cataumet harbor on Buzzards bay through the village of Cotuit.” It was further stated that nearly all of the town of Falmouth resided within the eclipse’s path, which would begin around 8:03 a.m., peak at 9:16, and conclude at 10:40. The January 29th Hyannis Patriot reported in its Marstons Mills news column that “Quite a number of people from this place viewed the eclipse from Cotuit Highlands. The combination of earth covered with snow, the icy sea and marvelous sky, was something to be remembered.”
The year 1932 saw the next eclipse, with the entire forearm of the Cape falling within the path of totality. Just days before, the August 27th Yarmouth Register newspaper reminded readers of the upcoming event, and where and how to see it: “Shortly after 4:30 on the afternoon of August 31 thousands of lower Cape residents and many more visitors from Southeastern Massachusetts will stand in awe as the moon devours the sun. The total eclipse, predicted at 4:32:58 at the Cape tip, will last 52 seconds while the total at Chatham Light, starting at 4:34:32, will last only 32 seconds.” The article explained that the 100-mile-wide path of totality would pass from northern New England across a swath to include the Cape Cod towns from Provincetown southward to Chatham, and including portions of Brewster and Harwich. The remainder of the Cape, including Barnstable, resided within an area of 99% totality.
The newspaper warned readers of the risk of looking at the sun without eye protection, suggesting that the eclipse should be viewed through “smoked glass or a square of photographic film that has been exposed to full sunlight and developed.” Also, driving tips were provided for the periods just prior to, during, and just after the event, indicating that for “safety and convenience” cars should be parked by 3:30, and that headlights should not be used despite the darkness as it would spoil viewing for those in the surrounding area. Motorists were advised to wait until the sun’s light was bright again before departing. And the Register further warned, “Needless to say, no one should try to drive a car and look at the eclipse at the same time.” Good tip!
Thousands of people in automobiles arrived on Cape, many from out of state, leading to unprecedented traffic jams all heading for a glimpse of the celestial event. “Never in its long history has the lower Cape seen half the crowd that came by automobile, bus, train, boat and airplane to witness little more than one-minute’s wonder in the skies,” reported the Yarmouth Register in its September 3rd issue. It was estimated that between 1,000 to 2,000 cars an hour passed through the town of Orleans that morning as visitors secured an ideal viewing spot. Cape roadways were jammed for miles and miles, requiring the services of added police officers and state police to manage the traffic flow.
This influx of tourists at the end of the summer, with the Great Depression lingering, helped to bolster receipts for the season. According to the September 1st Hyannis Patriot, “Without a doubt Wednesday’s eclipse proved a ‘break’ for the Cape as the thousands of dollars spent here by people who visited the Cape to see the eclipse takes the edge (off) what otherwise was a rather poor season. A great deal of money was left here in one form or another, the hotels and over-night camps getting their bit as well as restaurants, lunch stands and filling stations.”
The final total eclipse to visit the Cape during the 20th century occurred on March 7, 1970. Its path of totality came up the east coast of the United States as if tracing the path of a hurricane, just skirting the Cape before heading off past the Gulf of Maine toward the Canadian Maritimes. Here on Cape it could be seen only at the extreme southeastern edge of the peninsula, at Monomoy, or on a boat off the outer Cape coastline.
An internet search reveals that the next solar eclipses scheduled to visit the contiguous United States will occur in 2044 and 2045, so you’ll want to store that info away in your tickler file. And, of course, don’t forget the driving tips!

Earthquakes in Cape Cod’s past

By Jack Sheedy

In recent weeks, over the span of a handful of days, some Cape Codders witnessed an earthquake on the morning of April 5 followed by a partial eclipse of the sun on the afternoon of April 8. 

This might seem a rare pairing of phenomena, and it would take a fair amount of digging through local history books to determine if two such events have ever occurred within just a few days of one another, from a Cape Cod perspective. Perhaps a research project for another day. So, for the purposes of this story we’ll concentrate on the earthquake and leave the eclipse for another time.

The 4.8 magnitude earthquake of April 5 was centered in New Jersey and was felt throughout the northeastern United States, including on Cape. One witness to the event, living in Bourne, stated that she at first noticed something strange was happening when the earrings on an “earring tree” in her upstairs bedroom began jingling. Then other items, including furniture, began rattling as if someone was walking through the room or a truck was driving by the building. The trembling lasted between 15 and 30 seconds. Although she did not immediately realize it was an earthquake, she did recall feeling that something odd was happening.

This region has experienced a number of earthquakes over the past centuries, all the way back to the time of the first European settlers. Governor William Bradford, in his journal later published as Of Plimoth Plantation, told of the great earthquake of 1638 which rumbled across the local countryside. Based on historical reports it is believed this quake occurred in New Hampshire, with its tremors reverberating throughout the northeast, including at Plymouth (and at Sandwich according to Edward Rowe Snow in his book A Pilgrim Returns to Cape Cod). We’ll let Bradford describe the event in his Pilgrim tongue:

“This year, aboute ye 1. or 2. of June, was a great & fearfull earthquake; it was in this place heard before it was felte. It came with a rumbling noyse, or low murmure, like unto remoate thunder; it came from ye norward, & pased southward. As ye noyse aproached nerer, they earth begane to shake, and came at length with that violence as caused platters, dishes, & such like things as stoode upon shelves, to clatter & fall downe.” Bradford indicated that the shaking was so intense some folks had to grab hold of steady objects nearby to keep from falling over. Edward Rowe Snow described a similar story at Sandwich.

We’ll skip ahead a couple of centuries to 1860 when, according to the March 20th Barnstable Patriot newspaper, an earthquake was recorded throughout eastern Massachusetts from Fitchburg to Provincetown at around 10:00 upon a Wednesday evening, awakening people from their sleep. “The shock was sensibly felt in almost every town on the Cape,” including Barnstable, reported the newspaper. The experience was described as seeming “like the very heavy jar of some heavily laden car passing along upon the earth.”

The latter part of 1929 saw folks shaken by two events – the first being the Stock Market Crash in October, and the second, an earthquake in November. According to the November 21st Hyannis Patriot, the quake “rocked many of the houses and buildings here, beginning at 3:36 p.m. and lasting for a minute or more … persons became aware of what was occurring when water in containers was spilled, and articles moved from their resting places.”

This temblor “shook the eastern part of the United States and Canada for several minutes.” At one large office building in Hyannis some people became dizzy while others in the building were completely unaware that anything was happening. In Osterville, dishes rattled and doors swung on their hinges, making things “real spooky for a while in several homes.” The only damage reported by the Patriot was a crack that appeared in a wall at the town office building in Hyannis. The November 20, 1929 Harwich Independent newspaper also made mention of the earthquake, saying that it “was heard and felt by many in this section.”

Three seismic events were experienced on Cape Cod in 1940, beginning on January 28 just after 6:00 p.m. as some local folks were having their dinner. Believed centered somewhere in the region of southeastern Massachusetts, the earthquake was mainly felt in the Upper Cape area and led some along the coast to think that a ship had been torpedoed. Dishes in homes rattled, and in some cases windows were cracked. The quake was felt as far east as Hyannis and Yarmouth, though to a lesser degree. One local woman thought it sounded like somebody knocking at her front door while others thought the rumbling noise was coming from their furnace.

Later in the year, in December, the Cape area was visited by two more earth tremors. At 2:30 in the morning on the 20th of the month, according to the December 27, 1940 Yarmouth Register, “the most severe earthquake ever felt in New England” impacted the northeast from New Brunswick to New Jersey. On Cape Cod beds rocked, doors shook, dishes rattled, floorboards vibrated, and some people suffered a sudden bout of nausea.

Then, four days later, just prior to nine o’clock on the morning of December 24, a second earthquake of comparable size was experienced on Cape. An Osterville man realized something was happening when he observed a chandelier in his house swaying. In a Hyannis woman’s home the tremor caused a crucifix on a wall to fall to the floor. Meanwhile, a Harwich man, as quoted in the December 26, 1940 issue of the Barnstable Patriot, felt that the earthquakes were actually a welcome distraction that helped to “keep our minds off Hitler.” 

Less than a year later, with the U.S. at war with Japan and Germany, the rumbling of an earthquake would become the farthest thing from Cape Codders’ minds.

Cape Struck by “Fifty-Year Blizzard”

By Jack Sheedy

In recounting wild weather events from Cape Cod’s past, we have become familiar with the term “hundred-year storm.” It indicates a storm of such a strength, and creating such an impact, that it typically occurs once in a century. The Portland Gale of 1898 would fit into that category. As would the Blizzard of 1978.

But what of the “fifty-year storm”?

A look at local newspapers from seventy-two years ago points to just such a meteorological event.

Referred to as the “Worst Blizzard in Half-Century” according to the February 28, 1952 Barnstable Patriot, this particular storm struck the Cape with fierce winds and dumped heavy snows drifting several feet high in many areas. On the same day, the headline atop the front page of the Central Cape Press newspaper announced, “Heaviest Blizzard in 50 Years Hits Cape.”

In its wrap-up of the week’s weather highlights, the February 29 issue of the Yarmouth Register provided an account of the storm, saying, “… Starting at around noon, after a cloudy morning and with no special warning from weather forecasters except ‘You might wear your overshoes,’ snow began to fall in big wet flakes, driven by an ever increasing wind from the northeast. In a few hours it was realized this was no ordinary storm. By nightfall the wind was roaring and howling, driving the thick snow in a blinding fury, while houses trembled and shook and windows became so crusted over that it was impossible to see what was going on outside.” That evening the electric lights went out in many villages across the Cape, leaving residents in darkness to face the long, cold, stormy night ahead.

According to the Central Cape Press, the storm was actually two snowstorms “close on the heels of each other” with the second round striking the Cape in the late morning hours of February 27. It dropped a foot or more of snow which was blown by 50-to-60 mile-per-hour winds to produce drifts of between three and four feet. At the Hyannis Airport, two feet of the white stuff covered the runways and “shoulder high” snowdrifts were reported.

The Patriot article reported that hundreds of cars became stranded and their occupants were forced “to bed down for the night where they were.” When the train from Boston arrived at Hyannis there was no place for the passengers to go, so some 32 people spent the night at the station, including a woman in her 80’s according to the Patriot, referred to as “the spryest and most light-hearted of them all.”

At a local country store the storekeeper became stranded, to be later joined by folks who trudged through the snow from their stalled cars. Together they spent the evening keeping warm around the stove. At West Barnstable, an octogenarian woman was stranded for a number of hours in her snowbound vehicle. On Sandy Neck, two 15-year-old boys found refuge during the stormy night at a hunting camp which was, fortunately, equipped with a stove and blankets. Another tale tells of a man who spent the night in his buried car. He was discovered by snow shovelers, who helped him get out through a window.

“A summer cottage at Sandy Neck disappeared, and several others were moved from their foundations,” reported the Patriot. In Orleans, the Snow Library caught fire and was destroyed. Some folks went missing during the stormy night, fortunately turning up later the next day. Sadly, according to the Patriot article, there was one storm-related fatality on Cape Cod.

Great snowdrifts made it difficult for local plows to keep up, so better-equipped snowplows arrived from off-Cape. It was reported that at Cummaquid the drifts were so high that it required a two-hour effort for one plow to clear a half-mile path.

The Barnstable Patriot concluded its article with, “Today a high February sun has been quietly doing its work of melting the snow, a great aid to the human snow fighters.”

And with that, another legendary storm – a “fifty-year blizzard” – was added to the great journal of Cape Cod history.

Tornadoes of Barnstable

By Jack Sheedy

The pages of local history continue to be written, even today in the 21st century.

For instance, the summer events of 2023 were interrupted upon one August day when a tornado touched down in Marstons Mills, taking its place alongside other recent twisters in Yarmouth and Harwich in 2019, and in Dennis in 2021. Which raises the question: Is Cape Cod becoming a Northeast tornado alley?

Despite these more recent events, one would be correct in thinking that tornadoes of the past were relatively rare on Cape Cod. Even so, between 1870 and 1900 three memorable twisters visited the Cape – two within the town of Barnstable – as reported in local newspapers.

 In August 1870, a waterspout formed just offshore near the Sandwich/Barnstable town line and eventually travelled east toward Barnstable Harbor. It struck land at Barnstable where it uprooted trees, kicked up sand and stones, and did a fair amount of damage at a local orchard where it stripped trees of fruit. The tempest also entered a lumber yard, tossing wooden planks about, some out into the waters of the harbor. Before departing it destroyed a bathhouse along the shore, sank a sailboat, and then took a path back across the harbor where it terminated just out beyond Sandy Neck.

 A waterspout formed at Buzzards Bay in July 1880, making landfall at Barlows Landing in Pocasset. The resulting tornado unleashed hail the size of cranberries (some reports indicated the size of pigeon eggs), damaged stone walls, tore up sod from the ground, and destroyed a dory which was lifted some fifty feet into the air before crashing to the ground. According to the report, it also levitated a cow belonging to a local sea captain. Thankfully, the creature was returned to earth unharmed.

 Twenty years later, a damaging tornado struck Hyannis upon a Sunday morning in September 1900. A waterspout was first seen out in the harbor, casting vessels ashore as it approached land. Upon reaching land it followed the railroad tracks, advancing toward the village center. Fierce winds damaged the roofs of nearby homes, crumbled chimneys into piles of brick, shattered windows, toppled fences, and sent objects flying in every direction. Trees were blown down, and telephone and telegraph lines were left a jumbled mess. At least one building was completely destroyed.

Meanwhile, some buildings in the tempest’s path were actually moved off their foundation, and at one Hyannis home the kitchen section was pushed some 10 feet while the family ate breakfast inside.

Fast forwarding to the 21st century, it remains to be seen if Barnstable will continue to be visited by tornadoes in the future and what new pages might be written into the town’s ongoing history

Victorian Shellwork

In the Barnstable Historical Society Museum collection are two unique parlor memorial shell encrusted obelisks, donated by the Crocker family. These shellwork pieces were created from shells collected by sailors from various ports and brought home when their ship returned to Barnstable. It is likely that one sailor was aboard a clipper ship, traveling to the Pacific while the other might have been aboard a smaller coastal ship, sailing up and down the Atlantic Coast. The large obelisk in the collection is elaborately adorned with 35 varieties of shells from exotic places and memorial pictures. The smaller obelisk is adorned with baby mussel shells and thin mica sheets set behind glass panels, giving the mica a shimmering luminosity. The translucent mica sheets are printed with the inscriptions of deceased family members and floral decorations.

Over the centuries, seashells have been prized as beautiful treasures of the sea and symbols of protection, resilience, and the interconnectedness of all living things. The intricate designs and patterns found on seashells have long fascinated artists and designers, and their natural beauty has made them a fashionable decorative element in art and décor throughout history.

Decorative work composed of seashells, known as shellwork, first appeared in the 17th century on boxes and caskets and by the 18th century, shells were one of the principal emblems of the Rococo movement. The shell’s fusion of geometry and irregularity was tantalizing to designers who championed elaborate shell motifs prominently on frontispieces, furniture designs, and architectural renderings. In the 19th century, decorative shellwork flourished as a popular pastime many Victorian society ladies enjoyed as a home craft in addition to needlepoint and embroidery.

Victorians loved the seaside and collecting shells became quite an obsession for many Victorian ladies, not only as souvenirs of their seaside vacation spots but also for use in their shellwork. While some ladies would gather shells for their craft projects on trips to the seashore, those who lived too far away from the sea could obtain them from sailors or purchase them from shell dealers. With the exploration of the Pacific and Indian Oceans and the increase of trade in far-off countries in the 1800s, interest in seashells as decorative elements grew even stronger. As ships brought back entire cargoes of shells, it is not surprising that covering small objects with shells soon became a fashionable pastime many enjoyed, young and old alike.

In addition to the abundance of exotic shells, shellwork craft supplies could easily be purchased in many local specialty shops of the time. During the Victorian Era, seashell art gained such immense popularity, that little shell packets were sold already sorted and accompanied by printed patterns and fanciful designs for creating small decorative objects, such as shell flowers, boxes, mirrors and picture frames, including the hot wax glue used to attach the shells to the object. Popular magazines of the period such as Godey’s Lady’s Book (1830-1878) even offered instructions in creating shell floral arrangements, patterned mosaic pictures made of seashells, and small shell doll figurines.

SAY ‘cheese’……

(Source: A Concise History of Photography by Helmut Gernsheim)

Looking at old photographs is like looking through a window into the past. Photographs spark the historic imagination. They give us a powerful way to visualize the past, with all of its startling similarities and unexpected differences, and they inevitably spark our human empathy. To gaze into the eyes of a sitter who sat before a camera 150 years ago is to recognize the human bonds that connect us to our predecessors. That empathy for the past lies at the heart of every historical inquiry.

Photography was invented in the 1820s, with the first photographs taking up to 8 hours per exposure. As photography evolved, images were taken onto plates of glass which would then be turned into photographs. This was a long and expensive process, and because of this, family photographs were mainly reserved for the rich upper classes. In 1884 however, technology evolved enough to allow photographers to use film in their cameras rather than photographic plates, reducing the cost and allowing more people to have photographs taken.

Most of the earliest photographs were not printed on paper, but on sheets of metal or glass. These photographs capture extraordinary details, and give us a glimpse of life in the 19th century. In Special Collections and Archives there are many examples of photographic portraits that give an incredibly detailed view of fashion, personal adornment, and interior design. While the images themselves are beautiful, the photographic processes used to create the images are equally fascinating.


Daguerreotypes are often considered the first practical form of photography. The process was invented by Louis Jacques Mande Daguerre in 1839, and the richness and detail of the images surpasses even those of modern photographic techniques. The photographic image was made by exposing a silver-plated copper sheet to iodide, which created a light sensitive coating. The plate was then exposed to light for a range of 5 to 70 minutes, held over mercury vapors, and finally fixed with hypo solution. Daguerreotypes are identifiable by their mirror-like surface, and are almost always encased. While the details of a daguerreotype will never fade, the surface is extremely fragile and tarnishing on the silver-plated sheet can completely obscure the image over time. To prevent tarnishing, daguerreotypes were places in box cases and sealed between a backing and a glass cover. These box cases can be very ornate, and are typically made with a variety of materials such as wood, leather, velvet, and metal.


Ambrotypes are often confused with daguerreotypes because they are housed in the same type of case. Ambrotypes were made by applying an iodized collodion coating and silver nitrate bath to glass plates. The glass plate was underexposed to produce a fainter than usual negative image. A black or dark backing made of paint, fabric, metal, or paper was used to make the negative image appear positive. In some cases, the glass plate is a dark color, such as ruby or dark green. The ambrotypes were placed in ornate box cases to protect the fragile glass plates. This type of photography was very popular and widely available from the 1850s through the 1880s, largely because ambrotypes were cheaper to produce than daguerreotypes. If you look closely at the woman here, you can see her cheeks are rosy. Ambrotypes, like daguerreotypes, could be hand painted with color or gold to make the photo more appealing.

The Most Significant Event In The History Of Photography

By far the most significant event in the history of photography was the introduction of the Kodak #1 Camera in 1888 and produced from 1889 to 1895. Invented and marketed by George Eastman (1854–1932), a former bank clerk from Rochester, New York, the Kodak was a simple box camera that came loaded with a 100-exposure roll of film. When the roll was finished, the entire machine was sent back to the factory in Rochester, where it was reloaded and returned to the customer while the first roll was being processed. Although the Kodak was made possible by technical advances in the development of roll film and small, fixed-focus cameras, Eastman’s real genius lay in his marketing strategy. By simplifying the apparatus and even processing the film for the consumer, he made photography accessible to millions of casual amateurs with no particular professional training, technical expertise, or aesthetic credentials. To underscore the ease of the Kodak system, Eastman launched an advertising campaign featuring women and children operating the camera, and coined the memorable slogan: “You press the button, we do the rest.”

Kodak #1 Camera featured an easily removable lens board, and a sector shutter. The shutter was set by pulling a string and tripped by pressing a button on the side. After exposure, the film was wound to the next frame using a key.
The Kodak #1, fitted with a rotating barrel shutter, sold for $25 loaded with a roll of film and included a leather carrying case.

Observing and Interpreting Historical Images

Photographs introduce us to historical sources and the importance of the background circumstances that produced them. Most historians use photographs primarily as illustrations, to reiterate ideas developed from the analysis of literary evidence. But we ought to be mindful of photographs not just as images, but as primary source artifacts in and of themselves. To do justice to nineteenth-century photographs and explore their rich potential as historical sources, we need to ask questions about the photographers, about the photographs as physical objects, and about the ways in which we encounter them across the divide of historical time. By analyzing a photograph carefully, we can gather valuable information from the image:

Keeping Warm in Early American Homes

(Sources: American Institute of Architects; The NY Met Library & Archives)

We all know the joys of living in a house with central heating on cold weather days or the luxury of heated blankets that allow us to wake up to cozy rooms on a cold morning. But what did 18th and 19th century American households do to keep warm?  Let’s look to history for a few ideas. 

Pennsylvania Fireplace Insert


Up through about 1800, the wood-burning fireplace was the primary means of heating a home. Houses built in the 18th century traditionally had a fireplace in all the rooms including bedrooms. In 1742, Benjamin Franklin invented a free-standing cast-iron firebox insert known as the Pennsylvania Fireplace, sometimes called the Franklin Stove. It was designed to fit directly into the opening of a masonry fireplace to help increase safety and efficiency.

Comparison diagrams of Rumford fireplace design

In the mid-1700s, Count Rumford (born Benjamin Thompson in Woburn, MA), realized that the only useful heat generated by a fireplace is radiant heat, and that in traditional fireplaces, much of this heat mixes with smoke and goes right up the chimney. Around 1795 he designed the “Rumford fireplace” so that the firebox was reduced in depth but increased in height. He also reduced the opening to the chimney to aid the flow of air so that the smoke would draw up the chimney instead of into the house. In reducing the depth of the firebox he angled the back walls to radiate the heat out into the room. By the 1800s Rumford fireplaces were made up of two parts – the surround and the insert. The surround consisted of the mantelpiece and side supports, usually in wood, marble or granite. The insert was where the fire burned, and was constructed of cast iron backed with brick or decorative tiles. As well as providing heat, Rumford fireplaces of the Victorian era were thought to add a cosy ambiance to homes.

Sears & Roebuck Victorian Cast Iron Parlor Stove circa 1890s

By the 1820s and 1830s, fireplaces and stand-alone cast iron stoves were the primary home-heating methods which could burn either wood or coal. The cast iron stoves came in various shapes, from rectangular fireplace designs to cylinders and columns to box styles. The parlor stoves that were produced from the 1830s, at the height of cast iron technology, reflect the tastes of the Victorian age and are some of the finest examples of casting known to this day. These stoves were made to reflect the gothic revival architecture of the period and were often adorned with ornamentation characteristics of the period. Later parlor stoves often had a decorative swing top that when opened to the side revealed a flat surface that could be used for cooking. The larger ones had a firebox that could accommodate enough wood to burn through the night.

Hand forged fireplace tools
An English, copper and brass fireside bin, dating to the late Victorian period, circa 1900

Fire tools used to maintain a fire have changed little since the 15th century: tongs were used to handle burning fuel, a fire fork or log fork to maneuver fuel into position, and a long-handled brush to keep the hearth swept. The poker, designed to break burning coal into smaller pieces, did not become common until the 18th century. Coal scuttles appeared early in the 18th century and were later adapted into usually ornamental wood boxes or racks for fire logs. The fire screen was developed early in the 19th century to prevent sparks from flying into the room, and was typically ornamented and shaped to serve decorative as well as functional purposes.

Fuel came in the form of firewood or coal depending on what a family could afford or was most easily available. According to the Lady’s House-Book: A Manual of Domestic Economy (1850) the “best wood is hickory, and the next is oak. Locust is also very good; so are walnut, beech, and maple. Birch is tolerable. Chestnut wood is extremely unsafe from its tendency to snap and sparkle. Pine wood is of little value as house fuel because of its resinous qualities.”  Coal provided a less expensive, more efficient, and more reliable alternative to wood. But change can take time, and people—mostly the women who tended domestic fires—had to learn the new techniques that were required to burn coal. Nevertheless, by the mid-19th century, coal consumption in the home had risen to record levels. Anthracite (“hard”) coal, commonly found in Pennsylvania, was more expensive but was preferred over bituminous (“soft”) coal. An article in The American Farmer (1826) talks about anthracite’s new popularity: “The use of the anthracite, as a fuel, has been so generally approved, that it seems likely to supersede, to a great degree, all other substances, both in manufactories and families. In almost every case, where it has been tried for parlour use, it may be said to have gained the preference over even the best hickory wood; and it is not unlikely that at no distant day, it will obtain an equally firm footing in our kitchens.”


Victorians relied on layers and insulation to keep the home warm. The first line of defense in protecting a household against brutal temperatures were the drapes themselves. If a household could afford it, drapes would have been hung on each window in the home; the thicker, the better. Drapes served important insulating properties, keeping in warm air, and keeping out cold air. Drapes also stopped any unwelcome drafts from blowing in between the cracks and openings in early windows, from between the frames. While the wealthy preferred velvet, silk and lush brocade, the proliferation of printed cotton in particular made curtains not only available but an essential feature for any respectable home. Except for lace under-curtains, which could be taken down for cleaning, fabric and trims used in window treatments were typically dark colored; navy blue, dark brown, burgundy and green. Portières, or doorway curtains were popular from the 1870s until the end of the century. Portières framed the entrances to such rooms as a parlor or dining room to stop drafts and dampen sound between the rooms.

Foot Warmers

Households enjoyed the use of portable foot warmers to add more comfort to the long winter months. Foot warmers were constructed of porcelain, ceramic, or metals and meant to be filled typically with coals, though some did hold boiling water. Many versions were made of tin, punched with decorative holes and held an earthenware bowl inside with the coals. Such devices were highly portable and used mostly by women while lounging in the parlor. When venturing out for a church service the wealthier families would bring them along to add comfort to the pew. Rail companies offered them to first-class passengers well into the 20th century. 

A large foot warmer alongside a rare round foot warmer with their respective metal boxes to contain the coals

Under the Bedsheets 

Americans of the 18th and early 19th centuries slept on a bed made up of several layers. At the bottom was a simple, firm “mattress” pad or cushion filled with corn husks or horsehair. Next came a big featherbed for comfort, plus feather-filled bolsters and pillows. Town-and city-folk would have bought professionally made feather mattresses while people who lived on farms, or close to them, may have made their own from goose and duck feathers. While canopies and four-poster beds come quickly to mind when we think of Victorian bedrooms, we often fail to consider how functional they would have been in the winter months. Indeed, the thick canopies that adorned four-poster beds in many bedrooms were used primarily for keeping warm through cold nights. Made of sturdy, thick fabrics; canopies and curtains would have been extremely effective in creating a cozy sleeping nook. Since privies or outhouses were outside for most average families, large, bowl-shaped containers called chamber pots were used as a toilet to avoid stepping out into the cold of the night.

Cross section of a canopy bed with husk mattress, featherbed, bolster and pillows with chamber pot below circa 1760-1775

Between the Bedsheets 

With or without a four-poster bed, the common method of keeping the bed warm enough to sleep in was employing a bed warmer. Similar to the foot warmers, bed warmers were made of metals (copper and brass being a common ones) with holes punched strategically over the top. Each bed warmer had a lid and was attached to a long wooden pole. This pole allowed the front to be slid around under the covers of the entire bed to warm it up before use. While cozy, metal bed warmers were replaced by hot water bottles when Croatian engineer Slavoljub Eduard Penkala patented them in 1903. 

Brass Bed Warming Pans circa 1810-1830

Exploring Victorian Christmas Traditions

Source: Smithsonian Magazine 

Ever wondered about the origins of your favorite Christmas traditions? Many of the time-honored holiday traditions actually began in the Victorian Era. No era in history has influenced the way in which we celebrate Christmas quite as much as the Victorians. From Christmas trees to cards and gifts, the merrymakers of the 19th century paved the way for a modern American Christmas legacy we recognize today.  Moreover, American Victorians set the precedent of a united holiday. In 1870, President Ulysses S. Grant declared Christmas as a federal holiday, cementing its place in American culture. 

Christmas Trees

Christmas Tree illustration from Godey's Lady's Book, December 1860

The Christmas Tree was a German tradition brought to England in the early 19th century by King George III’s German born wife Charlotte. Queen Victoria wrote in her journal of having a Christmas tree in her room in 1832, but it wasn’t until the 1840s when Queen Victoria’s husband Prince Albert popularized the decorated tree as a key part of the image of the ideal Victorian Christmas.

In America the decorated Christmas Tree gained widespread popularity and became all the rage in the 1850s. American Victorians decorated their Christmas trees with small homemade ornaments made of materials at hand including pine cones, straw, yarn, fabric, or paper in addition to nuts, dried fruit, and other sweets. Later, they began stringing dyed popcorn strands and garlands of berries. Tin, leather, and hand blown glass ornaments were also popular and would become cherished heirlooms. Putting a star or angel on top of the Christmas Tree is also a tradition that began in Victorian times. 

Christmas Trees were often lit with real candles. In 1882, Edward Johnson, who was a colleague of Thomas Edison, hand-strung 80 red, white and blue electric lights for his tree. By the early 20th century, as more homes were fitted with electricity, the first commercially available Christmas tree lights were sold and thus cemented the tradition of a lit and decorated household Christmas Tree.

In 1889, President Benjamin Harrison had the first decorated Christmas Tree in the White House in the Oval Room. In 1894, President Grover Cleveland had the first electric lights on a family tree in the White House. This presidential tradition led to the lighting of the first National Christmas Tree in 1923 by President Calvin Coolidge.

Christmas Gifts

With the addition of festive Christmas trees, American Victorians had a holiday focal point in their homes. People began hanging small handmade presents on the tree; however, over time, as Christmas presents grew larger and more expensive, they began to lay them underneath the tree. Presents were shared on the evening of Christmas Eve, rather than Christmas Day. 

Before the 1800s, gift-giving during the holiday season was modest. The tradition of making a handmade gift was not only to show off one’s craft skills but also as a means of displaying one’s wealth through the ability to have enough free time to make gifts, rather than buy them. Popular handmade gifts were knitted mittens, silk or linen handkerchiefs edged with lace or decorated with fine needlework, button boxes, embroidered aprons, crocheted doilies, and lace Christmas ornaments. 

With technological advances by the mid 1800s American Victorians had unprecedented leisure time and spending money for newly manufactured goods. Consumerism and commercialism across the nation led to an increase in store-bought presents and the custom of gift exchange grew. Popular gifts for women were fans, perfume, Christmas decorations, sewing baskets, sewing scissors or a Victorian Women’s magazine subscription. Gifts for men included smoking caps, braces (a form of suspenders), shaving soaps, slippers, tobacco pouches, umbrellas or cigar cases. Gifts for children consisted of hair ribbons, mittens, books, dolls, stamp albums, board games, clockwork toys, marbles, building bricks, and toy soldiers. 

Christmas Cards

Collecting and displaying greeting cards became a very popular Victorian pastime. The first Christmas card was created in 1843 by Sir Henry Cole in the United Kingdom with the formation of the “penny post.” Cole commissioned the artist J.C. Horsley to design a festive scene for his seasonal greeting cards. Early Christmas cards usually contained images of flowers and animals.

Louis Prang, a printmaker, also known as “the father of the American Christmas card,” saw a market opportunity for these types of posts in America. In 1874, he began creating lithograph Christmas cards at his factory in Boston. Later in the century, improvements to the chromolithographic printing process allowed people to purchase cards easily. 

In 1915, the Hall Brothers Company, which later changed its name to Hallmark, printed the first 4 x 6 folded cards inserted into an envelope. Celebrants found they wanted to write more than what the postcard style Christmas cards allowed. As a result, the Hall Brothers created the “Christmas letters,” or as we consider them, greeting cards, as well as modern gift-wrapping paper. 

Christmas Dinner

The American Victorians saw Christmas as a family occasion and the Christmas Dinner was the highlight of the day. It represented the coming together of people around a table, the celebration of family, and the sharing of bounty – the reward of indulgence that was the essence of the meal. The Christmas Dinner was the biggest meal of the year and the food was often lavish and extravagant. The dining table was decorated with flowers, evergreens, and fine linens. Each place setting had a plate, two large knives, three large forks, a soup spoon, and a water goblet set to the right of the plate. For a fish dish, each guest also needed a fish fork and knife and a small oyster fork. The oyster fork would be placed to the right of the plate, next to the knives, as would the soup spoon; all other forks were on the left side of the plate. A small plate would be placed to the top left of the main plate, for guests to place bread.

Food was to be enjoyed, not rushed, so dinner was to last at least one hour. It was considered bad manners to eat too much of anything, to the point that it was noticed, as was picking up boned meat to clean remnants of meat off the bone. Guests also needed to show decorum by refraining from commenting overtly about any of the dishes – everything should be considered as favorable as the next.

Once the meal was over it was polite for all guests to retire to the parlor and to stay at least one hour afterwards, although two to three hours was the norm, to engage in light conversation and to play Christmas parlor games. 

1897 Christmas Dinner Menu

Oysters on the Half Shell, Turtle Consommé, Custard and Spinach Blocks, Olives, Celery, Lobster Newberg, Deviled Spaghetti, Roasted Turkey, Chestnut Stuffing, Cranberry Jelly, Sweet Potato Croquettes, Peas Served in Turnip Cups, Ginger Sherbet, Lettuce Salad, Cheese Balls, Toasted Crackers, Plum Pudding, Hard Sauce, Sugarplums, Christmas Cake, Mince Pie, Coffee, Wassail Punch, Bonbons, Almonds

1842 Wassail Punch Recipe

24 whole cloves, 1 orange, 8 cups apple cider, 4 cups cranberry juice, ½ cup sugar, 2 cinnamon sticks, 1 teaspoon Angostura bitters, 24 whole allspice, 1 cup dark rum 

Press cloves into orange. Place in heavy large saucepan. Add cider, cranberry juice, sugar, cinnamon sticks, bitters and allspice. Bring to simmer, stirring until sugar dissolves. Reduce heat to very low, cover and simmer 1½ hours. Strain into punch bowl. Ladle into cups. Add 2 tablespoons rum to each cup. 

Eggnog Parties

Eggnog Party from Harper's Weekly, December 1870, drawn by W.L. Sheppard

During the 1800s American Victorians attended eggnog parties to help them get into the holiday cheer by toasting to a happy holiday season and prosperous new year with a festive holiday cocktail. Eggnog has a history that goes all the way back to Medieval Britain, although it’s been associated with Christmas since the 1700s. The drink first made its appearance in the American colonies in the 18th century, where both eggs and rum were plentiful. Eggnog was particularly popular around Christmastime because of its warm temperature and the addition of flavors, like nutmeg and vanilla bean, that embodied the winter season. Since then, eggnog has been synonymous with holiday festivities and a holiday party with a punch bowl filled with eggnog is a welcome sight.

1860 Eggnog Recipe

6 eggs, 4 tablespoons sugar, 5 tablespoons bourbon, 1 tablespoon rum, 2 cups whipping cream, ½ teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon grated nutmeg, 1 vanilla bean 

Separate eggs, keeping whites cold until used. Beat the yolks until light. Add the sugar, a little at a time, beating well as you add it. Then add the whiskeys a teaspoon at a time. It is important to add whiskey slowly so that the egg yolks get well cooked and won’t have a raw taste. Whip the cream, add to mixture, then the well-beaten whites – a grating or two nutmegs according to taste, and the split and scraped vanilla bean. Allow to ripen for at least 12 hours, which improves the taste. Keep in a cool place until ready to use and mix well before serving.

Celebrate Christmas like a Victorian

Hang a Christmas Kissing Ball 

In Victorian times, apples or potatoes were outfitted with sprigs of herbs, greens, holly, flowers, and mistletoe then tied with a pretty ribbon as a hanger. This ball would be hung up over doorways or in a special place at a party. It was said that those who lingered to share a kiss underneath were bound to settle down in marriage — but even if they didn’t, a sweet romantic moment was a sure bet! 

How to make a modern day Kissing Ball

Materials: One 4-or-6 inch Styrofoam florist ball, Clippings/sprigs of evergreens (juniper, holly, ivy, fir) Grey or green Spanish moss, Glue gun, 2 yards of ½” solid red ribbon, craft wire 

  1. Cut evergreen sprigs into 2-3 ½” sections using pruners or wire cutters. Try to get a mix of leaf shapes, and include some with seasonal red berries.
  2. Cut an 18” length of craft wire. String it through the ball from bottom to top. Make a U-shaped hook at the bottom to hold it in place, and a loop at the top for hanging.
  3. Loosely lay the Spanish moss over the foam ball. With the tip of your hot glue gun, make holes all over the ball.
  4. Put a small amount of hot glue in every hole, and then immediately insert a greenery clipping. The clippings will keep the moss in place, but it will be a little fiddly until you begin to cover the ball. Continue adding sprigs and cuttings, alternating greenery types and berries to make an even pattern, filling up the whole ball.
  5. Finish by adding a ribbon bow at the top of the ball, and streamers at the bottom if desired. Use hot glue to keep them in place.

Pop a Christmas Cracker

In the early 1840s, British candymaker Tom Smith got the idea for Christmas Crackers while on a trip to France. There he discovered bonbons, paper-wrapped sugared almonds, and decided to make a sweets-filled version of his own. Legend says that while Smith was sitting in front of his log fire, he became very interested by the sparks and cracks coming from the fire. Suddenly, he thought what a fun idea it would be, if his sweets and toys could be opened with a crack when their fancy wrappers were pulled in half. However, looking into the history of the Smith company, it’s thought that Smith actually bought the recipe for the small cracks and bangs in Christmas Crackers from a fireworks company called Brock’s Fireworks. In 1861 Smith launched what he called “Bangs of Expectation.” The Christmas Crackers, which are now typically filled with small trinkets, paper crowns and toys, have been a staple of the holidays ever since.

Read A Christmas Carol

Charles Dickens Christmas classic was first published in 1843, and its popularity in turn popularized many of the elements of a Victorian Christmas, including a focus on family, charity, and good cheer. The book tells how the mean Ebeneezer Scrooge changed his ways after being visited on Christmas Eve by three ghosts: The Ghost of Christmas Past, The Ghost of Christmas Present, and The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.

Charitable Giving

Gifts of Gratitude 

Charitable giving during the holiday season was a Victorian concept with charitable organizations and newspapers seeking Christmas appeals for the poor, sick, and elderly. Charity is an important component of community life, and giving donations is often incorporated in our Christmas traditions today. 

Please consider giving a Gift of History donation to the Barnstable Historical Society – enjoying a sense of pride in helping to preserve the legacy of our town’s cultural heritage. 

Donate online https://barnstablehistoricalsociety.org/  or send a check made payable to Barnstable Historical Society, 3087 Main Street, PO Box 829, Barnstable, MA  02630.

Celebrate Native American Heritage Month

Sources: The Wampanoag: The People of the First Light by Janet Riehecky; The Wampanoag Indians (Native Peoples) by Bill Lund; The Wampanoag of Massachusetts and Rhode Island by Janey Levy 

In 1990 the official designation of November as National Native American Heritage Month was passed by the U.S. Congress and signed into law by President George H. W. Bush to call attention to the rich histories, diverse cultures, traditions, and contributions of our nation’s original inhabitants and of their descendants.

Presently, there are two federally recognized Indian tribes within Massachusetts: 

  • The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe on Cape Cod. The Mashpee Wampanoag were re-acknowledged as a federally recognized tribe in 2007. In 2015, the federal government declared 150 acres of land in Mashpee and 170 acres of land in Taunton as the Tribe’s initial reservation, on which the Tribe can exercise its full tribal sovereignty rights. The Mashpee tribe currently has approximately 2,600 enrolled citizens. 
  • The Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) on Martha’s Vineyard. The Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) received Federal Acknowledgement as an Indian Tribe in 1987, creating a government-to-government relationship with the U.S. government. Currently 1364 members are enrolled, of which 417 live on Martha’s Vineyard, with the remainder living throughout Massachusetts and other states.

The Wampanoag Nation: A Look Back to the 17th Century

Wampanoag Territory

The Wampanoag Nation is a North American Indian tribe of Eastern Algonquian linguistic stock, whose name means People of the First Light in their native language. They have inhabited present-day Southeastern Massachusetts and Eastern Rhode Island for more than 12,000 years and trace their ancestry back at least 10,000 years to Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. In the 1600s, as many as 40,000 Wampanoag people in 67 villages, each with its own local sachem or chief, made up the Wampanoag Nation in a territory they called Patuxet. 

The Patuxet territory was organized as a large confederation of distinct Wampanoag tribal village communities which were united together as one nation. Within this organization, family and tribal community links were the most important, connecting them to each other and their territory. Each tribal village had authority over a well-defined boundary from which the tribe derived their livelihood. The Grand Sachem, a political leader and intertribal chief, managed the local sachems from each of the tribal villages. Massasoit was the Grand Sachem of all the Wampanoag People who inhabited Patuxet.

Map of the Patuxet territory, c.1620

Wampanoag Community

Like other Algonquians in southern New England in the 17th century, the Wampanoag were a horticultural people and were traditionally semisedentary, moving seasonally between fixed sites. Families lived in the forest and valleys during winter. During the summer, spring, and fall, they moved to the rivers, ponds, and ocean to plant crops, fish, and gather foods from the forests. 

The Wampanoag Nation had a matrilineal system in which women controlled property, and hereditary status was passed through the maternal line. They were also matrifocal; when a young couple married, they lived with the woman’s family. Claims to land were passed down matrilineally through women. Mothers with specific plots of land used for farming or hunting passed those down to their female descendants, regardless of their marital status.

Men acted in most of the political roles for relations with other bands and tribes, as well as warfare. Sachems were selected by women elders and were bound to consult their own councilors within their tribe, as well as any of the “petty sachems,” or people of influence in the region. As tribal political leaders, sachems were responsible for arranging trade privileges, as well as protecting their allies in exchange for material tribute. Both women and men could hold the position of sachem, and women were sometimes chosen over close male relatives. In the absence of a suitable male heir, it was not uncommon among the Wampanoag for a woman to become the Squaw Sachem or queen.

Wampanoag Culture 

The Wampanoag women were farmers and did most of the child care and cooking. Wampanoag men were hunters and sometimes went to war to protect their families. Both genders took part in storytelling, artwork, music, and traditional medicine. Children learned about Wampanoag livelihood and traditions by listening to stories, singing, and dancing. Activities and games were the ways in which they learned the skills to live well as adults. Among other activities, children learned how to swim, shoot and dodge arrows, weave, sew, run swiftly, and play games of skill and chance.

Traditionally, the Wampanoag adhered to a religion known as Spiritualism. This means that the Wampanoag tribe believed in Mother Earth as their god. They believed that the Creator made their People out of the Earth, with whom they shared the breath of Life. Thus, they held great respect for the earth and lived with a close spiritual connection to the land and wildlife. When families went to gather what they needed from the land, they connected with Mother Earth and gave thanks for what they gathered for without the plants and trees the tribe would be unable to live. When the men went hunting, they showed respect for the fish and game. Whenever they took a life, they were sure to thank the Creator and the animal or fish for giving its life so they could live. 

The Wampanoag tribe held many different celebrations throughout the year. The Wampanoag New Year, which happened in the spring, was a time where the Wampanoag tribe thanked the Mother Earth for all her gifts through feasting and dance. In the summer, the Wampanoag held a Strawberry Thanksgiving. During this time, they would hold festivities in honor of Mother Earth’s gift of the strawberry crop by playing games, feasting, praying, and dancing. Midsummer had the Green Corn Festival and Green Bean Festival. When the last of the cranberries ripened in the fall a Cranberry Festival was held which lasted several days as the harvest was done by hand and required all tribal members to help harvest the berries. The Wampanoag also celebrated events like marriages and other things or had clambakes and powwows. Powwows were family gatherings as well as tribal and intertribal gatherings which featured dancing, drumming, games, storytelling, and competitions. 

For the Wampanoag tribe, music was an integral part of their spiritual, social, moral, and cultural life. Music was the medium for their ceremonies, recreation, expression of gratitude, spiritual and healing rituals, and passing down history. Songs served many purposes, from telling stories and relating tribal history, to passing oral traditions down to future generations, or to explaining the reason for a ceremony or ritual. With the addition of dance, epic stories and legends could be acted out in a truly inclusive and dynamic celebration of the Wampanoag tribe’s beliefs and traditions. The beat of the hardwood stick, water drum, rattles, bone whistles, and cedar fluteswas the music of their social or ceremonial dances. Musical instruments were made from plants, animal bones, and other materials. For example, bone whistles were usually made from bird bones, rattles were made from gourds and the water drum was made from a hollowed out piece of wood covered with deer hide.

Arts and crafts were important in Wampanoag cultural life. The Wampanoag tribe was known for their fine craftsmanship relative to their wood carvings of figurines and nasaump porridge bowls as well as their clay pottery for cooking and storing food. Their basket weaving and beadwork were the Wampanoag artists’ specialty. 

Various basketry forms were used for both utilitarian  and ceremonial purposes, ranging in size and shape to carry and store materials essential to the Wampanoag’s daily life. Splint baskets, grass pack baskets, and carrying baskets were used to harvest, gather, process, store and cook food resources and to store personal belongings, clothing, domestic utensils, and tools. Baskets were well suited to a seasonal subsistence lifestyle because they were light and durable. Baskets were made from natural materials such as corn husks, grasses, rushes, bark fibers and plants such as milkweed, dogbane and false nettle; basket weaving was all done by hand using the traditional twining weaving technique. Baskets were often dyed with inedible berries, roots and rocks. In all of their forms, Wampanoag baskets demonstrated the great artistic skill and attention to detail that went beyond their actual usefulness. Important events such as rituals, weddings, and other rites of passage were celebrated with gifts of baskets woven with geometric and decorative elements.

Wampanoag beadwork made from wampum beads – tubular shell beads assembled into strings or woven with imagery – was used primarily for ornamental, ceremonial, diplomatic, and commercial purposes. White wampum beads were made from the inside of the conch shell and dark wampum beads which ranged from purple to blue or black were taken from the quahog shell.  Making wampum beads was difficult and took great skill. The mollusk shell was first broken into small blocks. A stone or reed drill was used to create a hole in the block. The block would be drilled half way through and then turned over to drill through the other side. The blocks were then ground into tubular shapes by rolling or rubbing them against a grinding stone. Finished beads were then strung on plant fibers or sinew and polished to a high shine. The meaning of the symbols and patterns found on wampum beadwork designs was passed from tribe to tribe. Moreover, the color of the beads had meaning. White beads represented purity, light and brightness while purple beads represented solemn things like war, grieving and death. The combination of white and purple represented the duality of the world; light and dark, sun and moon, women and man, life and death. Each set of wampum had a value, the darkest beads being worth twice as much as the white. When a gift of wampum was received an equal amount of wampum was expected in return.  

Wampum beads were traded as a form of currency, but they were more culturally important as an art material. Wampum beads were fashioned into necklaces, earrings, bracelets or other adornment worn with traditional regalia. Culturally the beads were woven into Wampum belts, creating embroidered patterns by alternating between purple and white beads, to create an illustration of the bonds forged between people. Important family occasions such as births, marriages, and times of condolence and remembrance were recorded in Wampum belts by arranging the beads in special designs and pictures which told a story or represented a person’s family. Wampum belts were required in land transactions, because it was not simply a transaction of property, but entering into a relationship with a family community, with the land and its inhabitants. Wampum belts were often created as treaties between Tribal Nations and held a value beyond the material. These belts symbolized ongoing commitments to reciprocity and declaration of good faith, not only in the exchange but in the ongoing promise of mutual respect between distinct groups of people. Strings of wampum beads or belts were also used to send messages to share important information efficiently with neighboring villages and other tribes. The design on each string indicated the type of message being sent and helped the messenger remember the specific contents of the communication.

Wampanoag Food

The Wampanoag tribe gathered food by hunting, fishing, harvesting wild plants, and planting of crops which were irrigated by diverting stream beds. For the most part, foods were eaten when they were available. Some foods, however, were preserved by drying or smoking. Farmed foods such as corn and beans made up about 70% of the Wampanoag diet. Although the Wampanoag favored meat, meat made up less than 20% of their diet. Fresh or dried roots, wild fruits, other gathered plant materials, eggs, fish, and shellfish, made up the rest.

The women cultivated varieties of corn, climbing beans, and squash, commonly called The Three Sisters, as the staples of the Wampanoag diet, supplemented by the fish and game caught by the men. Women were responsible for up to 75% of all food production, and the gathering of wild fruits, nuts, berries, and shellfish. At harvest time, beans would be picked and eaten fresh, or dried and saved for winter food. All corn would be dried on the cob. Some dried kernels would be removed to parch over a fire and then were pounded into nokehig, a fine corn flour used for a traveling food as well as thickening for soups. Squashes were sliced and dried for later use, although some would be cooked fresh as well. Seeds were saved from all the best plants for the planting fields the following year. Many different kinds of nuts, berries, greens, and mushrooms were gathered from the forests. Some of these nuts and berries were eaten fresh, or added to soups and other dishes such as nasaump, a thick and filling food made of corn, while others were dried and stored for future use. Different kinds of bark, leaves, blossoms and roots of plants were also carefully harvested at certain times of the year to be used as medicines. 

The men traveled north and south along the Eastern seaboard for seasonal fishing expeditions in a mishoon, the Wampanoag word for boat or canoe. The vessel was a type of dugout canoe made from a hollowed out white pine log which typically carried three to six tribe members and relied on paddles and manpower. The Wampanoag fished in fresh-water ponds and rivers for herring, trout, perch, catfish and eels and the ocean for cod, tautog, pollock, bluefish, flatfish, bass, sea eels, and mackerel.  Fishing was accomplished by using throw nets and basket nets made of plant fiber, fish traps and weirs made from reeds and grasses, spears thrown from canoes, and lines of twisted plant fiber attached to bone hooks. While the men went on fishing trips for weeks at a time, the women gathered shellfish such as oysters, scallops, lobsters, soft shell clams, razor clams, quahogs, mussels, crabs, conch, and whelks.

The primary game food sources of the Wampanoag were deer, moose or elk, small animals such as rabbit, beaver, skunk, squirrel, raccoon, and wild fowl such as duck, geese, turkey, and partridge. To hunt game, the men used heavy wooden clubs and bows and arrows of stone arrow tips and bird feathers to “fletch” their arrows. This “fletching” process allowed the arrow to fly straight through the air. Whatever was hunted became not only food, but the whole animal was used for other things. Hides were used for clothing and materials for many things, the bones were used for tools, and the sinew for sewing.

Wampanoag Shelter

Dwellings were the hub of family life, providing protection from the elements as well as space for work, recreation, and storage. They offered shelter to guests or travelers and were, at times, used for family prayer or spiritual gatherings. Both Wampanoag men and women took part in the building and making of a home. By working together, they knew the houses they built would be sturdy. Working together also made the people in the tribal village a strong community.

The traditional dome shaped hut of the Wampanoag is called a wetu, which means house in their native language. For the Wampanoag, the circular shape represented many things in Creation that are circular, like the cycles of life. Families erected these houses at their coastal planting grounds and lived in them throughout the growing season. With the coming of cold weather, people returned to the protection of inland villages. Dwellings in the villages were either long, multi-family residences or smaller, round wetuash (plural of wetu.) The multi-family dwellings could house 40 to 50 people, traditionally four or fewer related families. Within these houses, each nuclear family had its own fire. 

Wetuash were usually 8-10 feet tall and 12-14 feet across and were built in the circular shape so as to evenly heat or cool the house. Wetu frame poles were made from red cedar saplings which were bent in an arch to form the round, dome shape of the house and placed in ground holes. The frame of a small house required about 40 saplings, while a large house might take up to 200. A tier of hoops were then fastened around the frame. The poles were lashed together with strong bark fibers of the basswood tree and sheets of birchbark were tied to the hoop framework to form the roof and walls. The wooden framework was covered with large, double-sided mats woven from sun dried marsh reeds such as cattail or bulrush, and other available materials such as tree bark, tule mats and animal hides. These coverings were held in place by braided grass ropes, poles and strips of wood and when laid over the frame of the wetu, channeled away the rain and kept the inside comfortable and dry. Space was left for a small doorway that allowed entry into the wetu. 

A central fire pit was dug, encircled by stones, that served as the hearth and heated the wetu in cold weather, and was used for cooking in rainy weather. A smoke-hole was built into the very top of the wetu which allowed the smoke of the indoor fire to escape, and fresh air to enter. Sheets of birchbark above this hole kept the rain or snow from coming in. The family living there changed the position of this cover as the direction of the wind changed. 

Sleeping platforms were built at least half way around the inside of the wetu. Beds, made with dried grasses and covered with deerskin, were placed on these platforms. Rabbit pelts were typically used to craft blankets for the beds. During the day, the sleeping platforms were used as seats. The space beneath the sleeping platforms was used for storage. Deerskins or woven mats served as floor covering. Woven bulrush mats, decorated and dyed red and black using plant materials, were also hung inside the houses to keep them warm.

Wampanoag Dress

Wampanoag women were responsible for making the clothing for their family, which they made from the skins of deer and rabbit. The basic Wampanoag clothing for men, older boys, young girls and women was the breechcloth. Breechcloths were made from soft deerskin and worn between the legs with each end tucked under a belt and hanging down as flaps in the front and back. Younger boys wore nothing until they were about 10 years old. Men and women wore mantles in cold weather. The mantles, often made of deerskin, fastened at one shoulder and wrapped around the body in various ways. Often, mantles were tied at the waist with a woven belt. During especially cold weather, mantles of raccoon, otter, beaver, and other animals were worn with the fur side closest to the body. 

Women wore knee-length skirts made from deerskin. A woman wrapped a skirt around her waist and tied it with a thin belt. Skirts could be worn under mantles. Leggings were worn by both men and women in cooler weather or to protect from the scratches of brambles and brush. Women’s leggings were made of deerskin and were tied at the knee, while men’s leggings were longer and tied at the waist to the breechcloth belt. Moccasins, called moccasinash in their native language, were worn on the feet in cold weather or rough terrain. Moccasinash were typically made from deerskin but elk and moose hides were used as well. Mantles, skirt edges and moccasins were often decorated with paint made from plant materials. Occasionally, porcupine quills were used as adornments.

The Wampanoag decorated their bodies to convey status, accomplishment, and identity. Men, women and children wore bracelets made from Wampum beads, as well as earrings, necklaces, garters, belts and breastplates made from other materials such as bone, copper, wood, shells, and stone. Face paint usually identified very important people in the Wampanoag Nation. Faces were painted with red or yellow ocher, black from charcoal and graphite, or white from clay. Tattooing was reported by Europeans, who saw it on the faces and bodies of 17th-century Wampanoag People. Cultural tattoos representing a spiritual or political significance featured iconographic images or symbols while those representing a family or tribe identity featured a decorative design of geometric elements or animal portraiture.

Wampanoag Nation Today

The Wampanoag Nation is a vibrant Native American community that continues to live in the way of the People of the First Light through oral traditions, ceremonies, the Wampanoag language, song and dance, social gatherings, hunting and fishing. Their culture honors centuries of Wampanoag history and the stories of their ancestors through a series of commemorative projects, exhibitions and events.  

Further Readings:

Wampanoag Museums & Landmarks

367 Main Street, Hyannis MA

Sachem Iyannough Memorial

This statue on the Village Green in downtown Hyannis, by noted Cape Cod sculptor David Lewis, commemorates Chief Sachem Iyannnough of the Mattachiest (Mattakesse) tribe of Cummaquid, who befriended early settlers in 1621, approximately 18 months after the Mayflower landed in Provincetown. It is thought that his name gave rise to the name of the village of Hyannis and the Wianno section of Osterville in the Town of Barnstable MA.

4042 Main Street, Barnstable MA

Sachem Iyannough Gravesite Trail

A roadside plaque along Rt 6A in Cummaquid marks the entrance to the public trail which leads to Iyannough’s grave in a clearing of land a quarter-mile into the woods. The Iyannough slate tablet grave marker was erected at this site in 1894 by the Cape Cod Historical Society along with smaller grave markers nearby that indicate the area surrounding the Iyannough gravesight was part of a larger Native American burial ground.

414 Main Street, Mashpee MA

Mashpee Wampanoag Museum

The Mashpee Wampanoag Museum contains displays of ancient artifacts and other Native American heirlooms that form a chronological commentary on life among the Wampanoag for thousands of years. Displays include a variety of tools, baskets, hunting and fishing implements, weapons and domestic utensils. The focal point in the exhibition is a large diorama depicting a typical scene from an early Wampanoag settlement. The museum building is one of the oldest remaining homesteads in Mashpee, built c. 1793 by Sherjashub Bourne, great grandson of the missionary Richard Bourne.

410 Meetinghouse Road, Mashpee MA

Old Indian Meeting House

Built in 1758, the meetinghouse is the oldest Native American church in the eastern United States and the oldest church on Cape Cod. It is a place of historic and spiritual significance to the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe. In 1833 it was the site of the famous Mashpee Revolt, when tribal members and their minister, William Apess (Pequot), protested state intrusions on their self-governance, and white settlers’ theft of wood from tribal lands. The church building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1998. 

35 Aquinnah Circle, Aquinnah MA

Aquinnah Cultural Center

The Aquinnah Cultural Center located at the Edwin DeVries Vanderhoop Homestead is a Wampanoag Museum overlooking the Atlantic Ocean on Martha’s Vineyard. The Center offers tours and hosts visiting artists, exhibitions and special events whose purpose is to preserve the culture and history of the Aquinnah Wampanoag. The museum building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2006.

67 Grove Street, Sandwich MA

Heritage Museums & Gardens 

This exhibit, located near the Heritage Museums & Gardens Parade Field, offers a  full-scale reproduction of a traditional Wampanoag wetu constructed entirely out of natural materials such as cedar saplings, bark, and cattail reeds. The exhibit also features a Wampanoag-style demonstration garden.

1 High Pole Hill Road, Provincetown MA

Pilgrim Monument and Provincetown Museum

The Pilgrim Monument and Provincetown Museum established a permanent exhibit, called “Our Story: The Complicated Relationship of the Indigenous Wampanoag and the Mayflower Pilgrims” to illustrate the early history of the Wampanoag Nation on Cape Cod, up to and including the arrival of the Mayflower in 1620. This exhibit, the first in the world to tell the story from the Wampanoag perspective, was curated in 2015 by SmokeSygnals, the leading Native American creative agency in the Northeast, led by Paula and Steven Peters, members of the Mashpee Wampanoag and renowned Wampanoag historians. 

October is National Dollhouse and Miniature Month

(Source: UVM Fleming Museum)


The joys of watching a child role play with a dollhouse, the value of creativity and conversations that sparks their imagination. The dollhouse will be a family heirloom that will be passed down from generation to generation……

Originating in the early 17th century Northern Europe, dollhouses, or “cabinet houses” as they were called at the time, consisted of cabinet display cases made up of individual rooms. They were not intended for use, but rather to display both pedagogy and wealth. These dollhouses were each unique, constructed on a custom basis by individual craftsmen. The cabinet houses were displayed within a glass front cabinet that could be likened to a china cabinet. The fronts could be opened and closed, but remained locked for the majority of their existence. The inside of the cabinet, divided into rooms, provided a colorful and exquisite manner to display miniature items of great wealth. During the same period wealthy women in Holland and Germany created miniature cabinet houses in a study of contemporary fashion and décor. 

This hand-crafted dollhouse (c. 1877) was made by Levi Nye, a Barnstable carriage maker, for his daughter Ella. The Victorian and Empire style furnishings are hand made and each room is filled with miniature household items. This treasure can be seen at the BHS Museum
The Petronella de la Court Cabinet Dollhouse (c. 1670) set the standard for all cabinet dollhouses to come. The case was made of olive wood. It is divided into eleven parts so the owner could take it with her on travels to show-off to her friends. The dollhouse is lavishly equipped and filled with rich trinkets. It contains 1,600 various objects, from 28 dolls to Dutch paintings, ivory bas-reliefs, sculptures, and finely made clocks. Even a globe with a brass stand and illustrated books with leather covers. Sometime around 1800, all the original silver was stolen

Following the cabinet houses, the dollhouse transitioned into a more useful teaching method called “Nuremberg kitchens” in the late 17th century. The name references the city of Nuremberg, the center of the German toy industry. These dollhouses were designed with the sole purpose of teaching a young girl how to run a household, often taught by their mother. Girls learned the important objects of the house by recreating situations within the dollhouse, practiced giving orders to the cooks and servant dolls, and learned the importance of being the lady of the household. Nuremberg kitchens were also often associated with the Christmas holidays. In many German families, they were brought out to be played with at Christmastime, when they served as part of the traditional holiday decorations and as a seasonal toy. It was popular to give little girls items for their toy kitchens as Christmas presents, on their birthdays and similar occasions.  

With only four rooms – two kitchens and two bedrooms – the Nuremberg Kitchen (c. 1673) was not designed to show family life. Rather, the house would be an enjoyable way for children and staff to learn the practical aspects of household management, from the preservation of food to the acquisition and storing of linen
The Tate Baby House (c.1760) was modeled on an 18th century English Dorset town house, named after the owner, Mrs. Walter Tate. The wooden dollhouse comes apart for ease of handling when traveling. It includes original wallpaper and hand-painted paneling, and handcrafted wood furnishings with various figures and accessories in each room

In the 18th century, we see the emergence of the “baby house,” or what we commonly think of as the Victorian dollhouse. The term “baby” in baby house is coined from the old English word meaning doll. Dollhouses of this period showed idealized interiors complete with detailed furnishings and accessories. The cabinets were built by hand with architectural details, filled with miniature household items and were solely intended for adults. The baby moniker referred to the scale of the houses rather than the demographic it was aimed at. These dollhouses were exact replicas of the house of the owner and were intended to show the wealth of the owner in a miniature form. Each room was designed and set up in the exact form of the real house. Unlike the cabinet house, which might have miniature furniture and full of expensive or rare objects, the Victorian dollhouse was full of furniture in tiny versions of the owner’s real rooms. Much like the cabinet houses, the baby houses were not intended for play. They were off-limits to children, not because of safety concerns for the child but to protect the dollhouse. Such Victorian dollhouses were trophy collections owned by the few matrons who were wealthy enough to afford them and, fully furnished, were worth the price of a modest full-size house’s construction. 

Changing definitions of childhood in the beginning of the 19th century shifted ideas about play. It is at this point that we see the dollhouse become an object of play and fantasy, but the dollhouses still remained as expensive custom items made by individual craftsmen. It was not until the emergence of the Industrial Revolution that dollhouses and miniatures were able to be mass produced and become more affordable for the public. The TynieToy Company of Providence, Rhode Island, made authentic replicas of American antique houses and furniture in a uniform scale beginning in about 1917. With the introduction of new materials in the 1940s, dollhouses became even cheaper to manufacture as well as more durable. After World War II, dollhouses were mass-produced in factories on a much larger scale with less detailed craftsmanship than before. Items within the house became more interactive. Doors could open and close, drawers opened, and washing machines could spin; the dollhouse became the ultimate interactive experience. By the 1950s, the typical dollhouse sold commercially was made of painted sheet metal filled with plastic furniture. Such houses cost little enough that the great majority of girls could own one. 

The time period between the 1960s and 1990s represent the so-called dollhouse manufacturing boom in the United States. Increased production and distribution also allowed for dollhouses to be made in other countries, like China. Within recent years, affordable Dollhouse Kits are offered to consumers in a large variety of styles and sizes, from historic houses to modern day suburban homes, apartments, and treehouses; the possibilities for new dollhouses are endless. 


The Beacon Hill Dollhouse, a three-story Victorian Dollhouse project kit from the Greenleaf line, is a replica of a Beacon Hill house native to Boston, MA (c. 1947)
This cottage dollhouse dubbed “Cloverlea” (c. 1991) was presented to Regina Cross Jones of Hyannis by a grandson. It is filled with furnishings, figurines, hand-stitched rugs and dolls, and hand sewn bedsheets and bath towels. The dollhouse swivels to reveal the front and back. In 2006 Cross Jones, wishing to share her long-time treasure and the joy it brought, donated the dollhouse to the Barnstable Historical Society Museum

America's National Pastime

(Source: capecodbaseball.org. & “Baseball on Cape Cod” by Dan Crowley)

Baseball has come a long way from its humble beginnings in the fields of 19th century America. More than a game, Baseball remains an inseparable part of the American heritage and an intrinsic part of our national psyche. For many of us, notions of team, fair play, and athletic excellence first occurred on a red clay diamond cut from a grassy field. Referred to as “America’s Pastime” since 1856, Baseball today is played by men and women of all ages and skill levels all around the world.  

Baseball on Cape Cod

As early as the 1860s, Cape Cod baseball teams representing various Cape Cod towns and villages were competing against one another. The teams had names like the Townies, Clouters, and Canalmen and the rosters consisted of actual Cape Cod residents. The earliest newspaper account is of an 1867 game in Sandwich between the hometown “Nichols Club” and the visiting Cummaquid team. Though not formalized as a league, the games provided entertainment for residents and summer visitors. 

In 1885, a Fourth of July baseball game was held matching teams from Barnstable and Sandwich. According to contemporary accounts, the 1885 contest may have been at least the twelfth such annual game. By the late 19th century, an annual championship baseball tournament was held each fall at the Barnstable County Fair, an event that continued well into the 20th century, with teams representing towns from Cape Cod and the larger region. Interest in baseball was growing, as was a movement to create a formal league of Cape Cod teams. 

Cape Cod Baseball League

The 1937 Barnstable team Cape League Champions (Barnstable Patriot)

The Cape Cod Baseball League was formed in 1923, consisting of four teams: Falmouth, Osterville, Hyannis, and Chatham. Teams were made up of players from local colleges and prep schools, along with some semi-pro players and other locals. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, the composition of the league varied from season to season. Towns did not opt to field teams in every season, and teams from other towns such as Bourne, Harwich, Orleans, Provincetown, and Wareham joined the league. Teams were not limited to league play, and often played teams from towns and cities in the larger region, as in 1929 when Falmouth played an exhibition game against the major league Boston Braves. 

Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, the composition of the league varied from season to season. Towns did not opt to field teams in every season, and teams from other towns such as Bourne, Harwich, Orleans, Provincetown, and Wareham joined the league. Teams were not limited to league play, and often played teams from towns and cities in the larger region, as in 1929 when Falmouth played an exhibition game against the major league Boston Braves. 

The Cape Cod Baseball League enjoyed widespread popularity throughout the 1930s, and even engendered competition in the form of the Barnstable County Twilight League and the Lower Cape Twilight League. However, as the cumulative effects of the Great Depression made it increasingly more difficult to secure funding for teams, the Cape League disbanded in 1940.

After World War II, the Cape League was revived in 1946. The league now excluded paid professional or semi-pro players, and attempted to limit players to those who were Cape Cod residents. The league was split into Upper Cape and Lower Cape divisions, and in addition to many of the town teams from the “old” Cape League, new teams now joined such as those representing the Massachusetts Maritime Academy, Otis Air Force Base, and the Cape Verdean Club of Harwich among others.

In 1963, the Cape Cod Baseball League was reorganized and became officially sanctioned by the NCAA as a premier collegiate summer baseball wooden bat league. The league would no longer be limited to Cape Cod residents, but would recruit college players and coaches from an increasingly wide radius. Today the rosters of all ten teams are stocked with the top college players from programs across the nation, many of whom are top MLB prospects and attract professional scouts. The Cape League boasts over one thousand former players who have gone on to play in the major leagues, including some players enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown NY.

The Cape Cod Baseball League regular season runs from mid-June through mid-August. Teams are geographically divided into the East Division and West Division. Each division consists of five teams which each play 44 regular season games, 6 games against each team from within their division, and 4 games against each team from the other division. During the latter half of the regular season, an all-star game is contested between the all stars from the East and West divisions, and features a pre-game home run  hitting contest. Following the regular season, the top four teams in each division qualify for the playoffs, which is an elimination tournament consisting of three rounds of best of three series to determine the league champion and winner of the Arnold Mycock trophy.

Swift & Co Weathervane

This piece of a hand-carved wooden weathervane is from one of the first slaughterhouses of Swift & Co., located on Bonehill Road in Cummaquid. Started by Gustavus Swift, Swift & Co grew to become one of the nations leading meatpacking businesses. On August 17, 1936, the slaughterhouse was struck by lightning and burned to the ground. This piece of the weathervane (and the name of the road “Bonehill”) is all that remains of the slaughterhouse. 

Want to read more about Gustavus? We found this article on his biography on yourdictionary.com. We can thank Gustavus for inventing the refrigerated railcar. Read more in the link below.



(Source: Smithsonian Institution Archives)


Venture into the broad scope of printed ephemera for the purposes of conveying information relevant to a diverse range of social activities in 19th and early 20th century postcardsIndividually, each of these little artifacts has a story to tell. Taken together, they weave a narrative of American culture from 1861 to the present day.


Postcards, as we are familiar with them today, have taken a considerable amount of time to develop. First restricted by size, color, and other regulations, postcard production blossomed in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Postcards were popular because they were a quick and easy way for individuals to communicate with each other. Today deltiology, or the collection of postcards, is a popular hobby.


On February 27, 1861, the U.S. Congress passed an act that allowed privately printed cards, weighing one ounce or under, to be sent in the mail. That same year John P. Charlton copyrighted the first postcard in America. By 1870 the postcard shot to popularity as a means of cheap, quick communication. Hymen L. Lipman began reissuing Charlton’s postcard under the name Lipman’s Postal Cards.

On June 8, 1872, the U.S. Congress passed legislation that approved government production of postal cards. The first government-produced postcard was issued on May 1, 1873. One side of the postcard was for a message and the other side was for the recipient’s address. By law, government postcards were the only postcards allowed to bear the term “Postal Card.” 


Only the U.S. Post Office was allowed to print postcards until 1898, when Congress passed the Private Mailing Card opening the postcard business to private publishers and printers. While private publishers were allowed to print postcards, they were more expensive to mail than the government-produced cards. Initially the government prohibited private companies from calling their cards postcards. Instead they were known as souvenir cards.

In December 1901, the Postmaster-General issued Post Office Order No. 1447, which allowed the words “Post Card” instead of the longer “Private Mailing Card” on the back of postcards. Private printers were also allowed to omit the line citing the 1898 Private Mailing Card Act. However, messages were still not allowed on the address side of postcards. By this time, the front of most postcards had images, which eliminated it as a space for messages. Because of the absence of message space on the address side of postcards, this post card period is known as the Undivided Back Period. 



It wasn’t until 1902 that a message could be written on the same side as the address. Subsequently, in 1907, the U.S. Postal Service introduced the divided back postcard which allowed messages to be written on the left and recipient’s address on the right. This, along with a craze to collect, sparked the height of postcard sending from the early 20th century through to the First World War. 


Postcard collection covers different periods in postcard history and shows changes in their design and style over the decades, earliest dating from 1880 to postcards from the 1900s. Early postcards were black and white. Colorization began in 1893. Well-known artists were commissioned to create illustrations for these early postcards. Writing was permitted on the front of the card over photographs or artwork. Starting in 1913 and well into the 1930s, postcards featuring a white border became commonplace in the United States. New printing processes allowed printers to produce postcards with a high rag content, which gave them a look of being printed on linen, rather than paper. The most notable printer of linen postcards was Curt Teich Co. of Chicago, which printed its first linen card in 1931, and whose postcards became popular around the world. 



Postcard themes in a collection showcase people, occupations, historic homes, town streets, businesses, and tourist attractions. The value of a vintage postcard is determined by several factors, including its age, rarity, and condition. Generally speaking, older and rare postcards tend to be more valuable than newer ones; cards in better condition will fetch a higher price than those damaged or faded. Another factor influencing a postcard’s value is the scene depicted on it. Some of the most valuable postcards include photos of ocean liners or railroads, as collectors are interested in making these rare images part of a collection. Photos from the early 1900s of homes, families, and other personal scenes are also popular, falling under the name Real Photo Postcards. 

The Golden Age of Postcards peaked in 1910. Since then, postcards have predominantly been reserved for holidays and are increasingly eclipsed by newer forms of digital communication. 


Unlike the first postcard design with a printed stamp, illustrated postcards by commercial publishers required the sender to buy and stick on a special one-cent stamp beginning in 1898. The postcard stamp rate was increased to two cents in 1917 and to three cents in 1932. 


Postcards were sent without an envelope, so anyone could read the message. To get around this, secretive Victorians developed the “Language of Stamps” to send coded messages. By angling the stamp in different directions, writers could send various hidden messages like ‘Have you forgotten me?’ or ‘With all my heart.’ The secret language of stamps code allowed a message to be sent within a very public form of correspondence.

Summer pastimes are still here today

Victorian life could be busy but Victorians liked to make good use of their leisure time by playing games, watching sports, going on day trips and holidays, attending events, or enjoying hobbies. The ways in which people could entertain themselves varied depending on whether they were rich or poor, male or female.

What follows is a list of activities to introduce you to yesteryear’s charm and delight but to also inform you that these pastimes are not far gone as we celebrate and entertain in many of the same ways.

For you are, as poet Henry David Thoreau said, “about to be rich, if not in money, in sunny hours and summer days.” 

Play a Game of Croquet

Croquet started sometime before 1850 and somewhere in Ireland, moved to England and eventually found it’s way to the US.   In the beginning croquet was more of a women’s game, but men being what they are found that they could tweak the game to make it more manly. Croquet was also a game where both women and men could play together and equally challenge each other for sport or for fun.

When looking for antique croquet sets, look at the croquet posts. Usually the older sets have more ornate croquet posts. Balls in general are made from wood. The mallets will also be made of wood. The mallet heads tend to have more detail than today’s mallets. Antique sets coming from England will usually be older and worth more.  Often people who sell antiques go to England to bring back the wooden croquet balls and mallets they find there.

Really nice mallets can sell for $80-$200. Post can actually sell for even more and are often used in Folk art. Don’t pay more than $5 for balls, if you intend to sel them.

Go for a Sunday Drive - Old King's Highway - Route 6A

The Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce provides a wonderful history of our historic scenic byway. Cape Cod’s Route 6A, also known as Old King’s Highway, is one of America’s most iconic byways and comprises the largest contiguous historic district in the United States. In 2021, Old King’s Highway achieved National Scenic Byway Status. This designation makes it one of only four in Massachusetts! 

Most people consider Old King’s Highway the section of east-west roadway on the northern side of Cape Cod between the towns of Bourne (just east of the Sagamore Bridge) and Orleans (ending at the Orleans Rotary). Route 6A also extends all the way to Provincetown, however, it does not exist as a standalone roadway in the towns of Eastham and Wellfleet and the village of South Truro, where it vanishes within US Route 6. Route 6A re-emerges in North Truro at Shore Road and extends all the way to Provincetown, where it ends at the US Route 6 junction at Herring Cove.

In all, Route 6A traverses about 62 spectacularly scenic miles from end to end. Click here for some great points of interest along Old Kings Highway, and check out the Cape Cod Travel Guide article “Cruisin’ Route 6A!” 

The Town of Barnstable has some GREAT antique maps of the historic scenic byway on their website. 

If Antique Cars are your thing, we highly recommend The Heritage Museum and Gardens up the road in Sandwich, MA. 


Attend a County Fair -- Barnstable County Fair

The Barnstable County Agricultural Society held its first fair, consisting primarily of livestock and handicraft exhibits, in October of 1844 at the County Court House in Barnstable Village. By the late 1800s and early 1900s, the County Fair had become the most popular annual event on Cape Cod. 

Read more about the history of the Barnstable County Fair and get your tickets here.

Enjoy Time on the Water - Freshwater or Oceans

Sandy Neck became the first area of whaling on Cape Cod to open up its grounds to the public for whale watching as well. The whaling industry, along with the fact that Sandy Neck marked the entrance to Barnstable Harbor necessitated the construction of a lighthouse at its eastern end referred to as Beach Point. 

Barnstable Beaches Map

Cycling your afternoon away

The penny-farthing, also known as a high wheelhigh wheeler or ordinary, was an early type of bicycle. It was popular in the 1870s and 1880s, with its large front wheel providing high speeds (owing to its travelling a large distance for every rotation of the legs) and comfort (the large wheel provides greater shock absorption). You can see one live at the Phinney/Jones house Thursday – Saturday 1-4pm.

It became obsolete in the late 1880s with the development of modern bicycles, which provided similar speed amplification via chain-driven gear trains and comfort through pneumatic tires, and were marketed in comparison to penny-farthings as “safety bicycles” because of the reduced danger of falling and the reduced height to fall from.

The name came from the British penny and farthing coins, the former being much larger than the latter, so that the side view resembles a larger penny leading a smaller farthing. Although the name “penny-farthing” is now the most common, it was probably not used until the machines were nearly outdated; the first recorded print reference is from 1891 in Bicycling News. For most of their reign, they were simply known as “bicycles”, and were the first machines to be so called (though they were not the first two-wheeled, pedaled vehicles).  In the late 1890s, the name “ordinary” began to be used, to distinguish them from the emerging safety bicycles; this term and “hi-wheel” (and variants) are preferred by many modern enthusiasts.

Victorian America Celebrates Easter

(Source: This Fabulous Century: 1870-1890)

Early Christians aligned their celebration of Christ’s resurrection with the Anglo-Saxon’s Spring Equinox, falling on the first full moon after the vernal equinox. It is believed that the term “Easter” originated from the Pagan fertility goddess “Eostre,” who’s fertility was celebrated at the time of the Spring Equinox. They viewed the time as the rebirth of fertility and life, which is why eggs and rabbits were the symbols chosen to represent Easter. 

In the postwar years after the Civil War, Easter emerged as a favored holiday. Youngsters took up those ancient Easter symbols, the egg and the rabbit. Gentlemen sent cards to ladies. And both sexes turned the holiday into a fashion show, as people of all shapes and tastes paraded their brightest spring outfits up and down the main streets of their towns.

Traditions outside of religious observation and worship have cropped up and have become favored. Easter eggs (both dyed chicken eggs and decorative gifts of milk glass Easter Eggs), Easter bonnets, new dresses, new neckties, fancy sit-down meals, greeting cards sent by mail or delivered in person all became part of the Easter season.


Easter Greeting Cards and Postcards

Easter greeting cards were exchanged, many with spiritual images on them like lambs and crosses. Brightly colored paper was used in the creation of these cards, and some contained images of bunnies and eggs.  Check our facebook page for a greater collection of postcards and share yours or let us know which one is your favorite.

Like your favorite!

Easter Eggs

One of the oldest American Easter customs is the Easter egg hunt or egg rolling. Dolley Madison introduced the Washington egg rolling, and when Congress forbade the use of the capitol grounds for it in the 1870s, President and Mrs. Rutherford B. Hayes moved it to the White House lawn in 1878. The Easter egg is one of those ancient pagan symbols of new life that was early taken over by the Christian church. The Easter bunny–the notorious fecundity of rabbits and hares makes them obvious symbols of life–is probably of German origin, and was quickly adopted in America.

Like today, children in the Victorian era loved Easter. Children would dye eggs using cranberries, beets, oranges, and lemon peels. During the 1800s children would participate in both egg rolling and egg hunts, and the winner would receive a special prize. Some Victorian egg hunts included cardboard eggs lined with fabric and contained little candies. Lemonade and cookies were served at these special events.

Samplers / Victorian Embroidery and Needlework / Tatting Lace

Our most recent donation is a beautiful little girls sampler from 1809

Ruth Done Knowles, Born 1798

Sampler Date 1809 in Eastham, MA


Samplers were typically learning exercises during the 18th and 19th centuries; samplers were stitched more to demonstrate knowledge than to preserve skill. The stitching of samplers was believed to be a sign of virtue, achievement and industry, and girls were taught the art from a young age. Many samplers would contain Family trees, while others commemorate events, such as weddings or births. Alphabet samplers were used to demonstrate a record of stitch capability and talent and often would capture a record of a life event, right of passage, or special life history of the needle artist.

Needlework was important for young girls learning home economic skills to manage a household, and the personal adornment of herself and her family. Alphabets allowed girls to practice the marking of linen (sheets, undergarments and other personal items were named so they came back to their right owners after wash day), while spot motifs and border patterns could be used to decorate both clothes and domestic furnishings.

Historically, needlework tended to flourish in female and feminine spaces — namely, the home and clothing. It gave women a voice when they had none. It is said that women would stitch their thoughts in the hems of their skirts as a way to express their silent opinions on trending topics in the world.

Today, it is enjoying a revival with Google reporting a 100% increase in searches for embroidery kits since the pandemic hit in 2020. Ever since the first textile was created, there have been stories woven into fabric. Whether it be literally or figuratively, textile design does not exist without a narrative. 

Special thanks to Marcia Brown-Smith for her time and help with researching the delicate and beautiful history of our recent sampler donation and sharing her history of the Needle Arts. 

Marcia Brown-Smith has been serving the needle art industry since 1979 providing finishing services for retailers throughout the United States and other countries as well as for private clients, students and designers. With an average of between 500-700 pieces completed each year, the opportunity to work on a wide variety of needle art, both canvas and linen, has generated the development of finishing techniques that easily offer professional results. Marcia has been special editor for a major needlework publication, has been a teacher on the national level for a variety of mainstream needlework venues since 1991, has lectured and exhibited for many needlework seminars, museums and guilds nationwide and ran a successful finishing business for 35 years. She is now creating her own needle art designs and teaching them nationally while continuing to provide finishing services to private clients and students.


Buy this book on Amazon: Distinctive     Presentations in Needle Art


Nabby Easterbrooks, Born 1794

Sampler Date 1805 in Sandwich, MA





May spotless innocence and truth my every action guide and guard my inexperienced youth from vanity and pride.





Victorian Embroidery

Source: RiverCity Screenprinting & Embroidery


Traditional Victorian ladies were raised to sew not just standard, function-meeting items like blouses, skirts, and trousers; they could also create a variety of petticoats, corsets, garters, even reticules and other types of handbags and luggage items. Hand-sewn and embroidered baby clothing was also quite popular; in fact, it is from the Victorian era that layettes became so popular. Household items such as doilies, pillows, curtains, other linens, and even pet accessories were also popular hand-sewn items. 


It was a skilled Victorian lady who could provide all of her home’s clothing and linen needs herself, though plenty paid friends to add Victorian embroidery and specialty crocheted and knitted embellishments. Some women made quite the profit from marketing their sewing and embroidering skills – the same 1873 Harper’s Bazaar article wrote at length about a widow who owned her city house outright and was able to independently support herself and her children, all on the income earned by plying a needle. (You Go Girl!)



While Victorian women taught their daughters, sisters, and other female relatives basic sewing skills to ensure they could practically supplement their household with in-house repairs, middle and upper class women in the market for marriage would set out to specifically learn the tricky talents of Victorian embroidery – the so-called “fancy work” that added beautiful decorations to clothing and linens. 


Fancy work was taught at home and even at school, and towards the end of the 1800s women’s colleges were even offering Victorian sewing and Victorian embroidery classes. Once married, these middle and upper class women would delegate the function-only work of basic sewing and repairs to maids, and utilize their own hands for fancier work. Lower class women too learned the skill of Victorian sewing and embroidery; however they learned it at the expense of shorting themselves on opportunities for learning reading, writing, and arithmetic. Furthermore, many lower class female students were required to learn and deploy Victorian sewing and embroidery skills as a way of paying for their room and board at school.

Miscellaneous sewing artifacts and sewing table

Tatting Lace

About 2000 years ago, fishermen used a large shuttle to weave heavy cord into fishing nets.  About 1000 years ago sailors knew many different kinds of knots to use on the sailing ships.  The Bolin Knot was used for the anchor; it was a slip stitch. Tatting may have developed from netting and decorative ropework as sailors and fishermen would put together motifs for girlfriends and wives at home. Decorative ropework employed on ships includes techniques (esp. coxcombing) that show striking similarity with tatting. A good description of this can be found in Knots, Splices and Fancywork.

All these cords were handed down to weavers who used a finer thread to make lace.  The shuttle was smaller to accommodate this finer thread and the lace they made was sewn onto satin and velvet.  Ladies wore beautiful garments with lace, lace making was a thriving business in Europe.

Tatting was one of these laces.  Children and handmaidens were taught to tat edgings that were quickly bought up by the weavers who would add the tatting edgings onto the garments and charge a large sum of money for the garment.

In England, this lace was called knotting. In France it was called frivolet.  In America it was called tatting.  In 1845 in Cork, Ireland the nuns had developed the art of lace making with crochet, knitting, and tatting. They saw the poor people eating grass so they brought out their beautiful laces, sold them, and gave the money to the poor. Irish immigrants came to America wearing tatting, and then they sold the tatting to make pin money.

One of the reasons people keep treasured artifacts from the past is because they hold a deeper meaning of something that matters. Ordinary everyday objects of life are just that — ordinary, without context beyond their purpose. The historic items that have the greatest attachment are usually the little things. Small handheld tools and instruments that people have used to construct or create something lasting. Tools like this Historical Treasure, a tatting shuttle, are reminiscent of more than what they were used to create. They are often symbolic of the people who used them.

Tatting Edgings

Tatting Shuttles

Tatting shuttles come in all sorts of different styles and material. Some are made of tortoise shell, pearl, ivory or wood. Elaborately designed shuttles could be quite expensive and sometimes were accompanied by exquisite carrying cases.

In later years, needlework skills were of utmost importance during the Victorian era. Leisure time recreation was a bold statement of economic status at that time, and the level of status was often determined by the skill set of one’s handiwork. If a woman had time to devote to making fancy lace pillows, table coverings and edgework, it meant she wasn’t bothered with the labors of housework, survival. By the 1930s through the 1950s it evolved into a common pastime or hobby. Tatting patterns were featured in the latest edition of leading women’s magazines.

Today many hand-crafted arts are in danger of becoming lost to obscurity. This does not seem to be the case with needlework such as crochet, knitting and tatting. Although the ancient technique is not practiced as often as the others, tatting and its various shuttles continue to be passed on to future generations.

Presidents' Day History

(Source: National Archives)




Though this day is commonly called Presidents’ Day, the observed federal holiday is officially called “Washington’s Birthday,” contrary to popular belief.


Historically, Americans began celebrating George Washington’s Birthday just months after his death, long before Congress declared it a federal holiday. It was not until 1879, under President Rutherford B. Hayes, that Washington’s Birthday became a legal holiday, to be observed on his birthday, February 22.


Washington’s Birthday was celebrated on February 22 until well into the 20th century. In 1968, Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act “to provide uniform annual observances of certain legal public holidays on Mondays.” By creating more 3-day weekends, Congress hoped to “bring substantial benefits to both the spiritual and economic life of the Nation.” As one of eleven permanent holidays established by Congress, Washington’s Birthday was moved from February 22 to the third Monday in February. Moreover, Congress has never declared a national holiday that is binding in all states; each state has the freedom to determine its own legal holidays. This is why there are some calendar discrepancies when it comes to this holiday’s date.


In a sense, calling the holiday “Presidents’ Day” helps us reflect on not just the first president, but also the founding of our nation, its values, and what Washington calls in his Farewell Address the “beloved Constitution and Union, as received from the Founders.” One of the great traditions followed for decades has been the reading of President George Washington’s 1796 Farewell Address by a U.S. Senator in legislative session, which remains an annual event to this day. Additionally, Abraham Lincoln’s birthday is February 12, so by calling the holiday “Presidents’ Day,” we can include another remarkable president in our celebrations as well.

US Presidents born in Massachusetts

US Presidents who called Massachusetts home

Bet You Didn't Know This...

Cape Cod and The Islands Presidential Trivia

Have you ever visited a real ice house? We have one in Cotuit Village

The Historical Society of Sansuit and Cotuit have an actual ice house that you can visit.

The ice house, opened in the summer of 2012, has a wonderful exhibit of ice harvesting tools and photographs. 

Rothwell Ice House in Cotuit

Baby its cold outside - What better to do than harvest some ice?

Ice Harvesting, early 1850s
By W. T. Woods - Derived from W. T. Woods' "Price list, Wm. T. Wood & Co. manufacturers of finest quality ice tools, Arlington, Mass", c.1894, Public Domain

The History of Ice Harvesting

Sourced online by our Docent, this article was written by Michelle Prior, Wright-Locke Farm

Before the advent of freon-based refrigeration in the early 1900s, ice was the only way to keep things cool and keep food from spoiling. Ice Harvesting – the process of extracting ice from freshwater sources – was a significant business throughout the 1800s.  The commercial ice industry can trace its roots to Boston, the first natural ice business began in Boston in 1805.  In its heyday, ice was the first agricultural product of the year in New England, harvested in the heart of winter, January & February.

Specialized tools were developed to harvest 12-20” thick ice, and the work was extremely labor intensive. Scrapers were used to clear snow from frozen lakes and ponds and the pond ice was scored into large grids (like a checkerboard) by ice plows. Large custom-made saws were used to cut ice blocks following the outlines of the scored grid. Splitting bars or spades separated the blocks from the larger grid. People working on the edge of the cut sections of ice then used long picks or poles to direct the ice blocks into channels cut into the pond – pushing them along like a floating assembly line. Ice blocks were then lifted into ice houses by conveyor belts powered by animals, machines or humans.  Gaffs were used to lift the blocks into place and the ice was tightly packed in rows and columns inside the Ice House.

Ice Preservation and Ice Use

Ice was preserved in houses which were specifically built for the purpose of storing harvested ice.  Ice houses were double walled and tightly insulated with straw or sawdust. Small ice houses were built by private landowners and commercial ice houses could store as much as 80,000 tons of ice.  The ice itself was sold to individuals and businesses and ice harvested in the heart of winter was preserved and sold throughout the year. Ice was often wrapped in blankets before being transported for sale.

Ice from New England was sold to customers in the southern United States, in the West Indies, South America, India, China and Europe. In the 1850s the ice box was patented and ice boxes began to appear in homes in greater numbers and families would receive weekly ice deliveries.  

Ice was used primarily for preserving foods and making ice cream– it was not consumed the way it is today, to chill beverages or be blended into smoothies. Ice harvesting from natural water sources began to decline with the invention of automated ice machines and the widespread expansion of refrigeration.  However, ice harvesting is still being done in New Hampshire and Maine and the public can participate in the annual President’s Day weekend harvest at the Thompson Ice House in South Bristol, Maine.


  • One individual block of ice would often weigh 300 pounds.
  • British records reflect that Queen Victoria purchased ice from Massachusetts in the 1840s.
  • In 1880 Boston produced ~8% of all the ice consumed in the United States.
  • By 1899, ice harvesting was the 9th largest industry in the United States worth nearly $220 million in today’s dollars.

2021 Holiday Season - John Stackhouse Lighthouse Memorial Ceremony

Shown from left to right: Honorary special guest and wife of John Stackhouse; Linda Stackhouse. Shown with Linda are key project coordinators; Vice President Richard French, Board Member Brook Smith and member; Peter Scarafile.
the lighthouse will be daily during the holiday season from dusk till 11pm
December 3rd lighting ceremony for the John Stackhouse Lighthouse Memorial

John Stackhouse and Peter Scarafile

In December, we celebrated the installation and first official lighting of the John Stackhouse Lighthouse Memorial. Special thanks go out to all the generous people who graciously donated to his memorial and participated in this event. The evening was a little brisk, but fun was had by all. Guests enjoyed hot cider and holiday snacks with warm conversations of loving memories. John served as a past member of our Board of Directors and served as past President of the Barnstable Historical Society.  Of the many things that John was passionate about were the giant lighted metal sculptures along 6A that were lit during the holiday season. To that end, John dreamed of having one in front of the BHS. With this installation we honor his contributions to not only the BHS, but our community.

Victorian Era Thanksgiving Traditions

Although the first Thanksgiving is considered to have been between the Plymouth colonists and the Wampanoag, Thanksgiving as a national holiday, and the traditions still practiced today, actually have a Victorian beginning. For more than two centuries, days of thanksgiving were celebrated by individual colonies and states. It wasn’t until the campaign efforts of Sarah Josepha Hale however, that convinced President Lincoln to declare Thanksgiving as a national holiday on October 3, 1863 with the first national celebrations on November 26, 1863. The hope was for Thanksgiving to be a time to give thanks and would help to “heal the wounds of the nation” from the devastation of the Civil War. 

Our Docent, found a great article providing more history about the traditions of Thanksgiving from our U.S. National Park Service. 


Vererans Day Rememberance - Thank you to all that have served

Printed media was a large part of wartime efforts. Government agencies held competitions for artists to submit their designs, allowing the government to increase the number of designs that it could choose from. It is said there were almost 200,000 different designs printed during the war depicting mostly positive rallying cries to support the war effort at home and for our troops abroad. 

We found this interesting and very informative article called the “Powers of Persuasion” from the National Archives. 


Expand your Holiday Repertoire with Four Vintage Cranberry Recipes (1919)

Cranberries are a Thanksgiving classic for good reason. The fruit is native to North America and was a staple in the Native American diet and lifestyle. Pilgrims were introduced to cranberries, likely at that very first Thanksgiving. Cranberries were harvested commercially for the first time in 1816 and were later sold in cans beginning around 1912. Ocean Spray cooperative began to take over the market in 1930 when they swapped from dry harvesting to wet and the rest is history.

Share your favorite cranberry recipe on our Facebook page

Cranberry Scoops

Did you know – that in the early 1900’s Barnstable County had more than 2408 acres of land under cranberry cultivation? Who knew there were that many acres dedicated to Cranberries – just in Barnstable County?! We are sure many of you are familiar with this prized antique Cape Cod cranberry harvesting tool. This is called a cranberry scoop and was used to increase the harvest production of the delicious red fruits. We found a great article written in the Cape Cod Cranberry Growers Association that provides an extensive history of the cranberry. 

Cape Cod Cranberry Gowers Association – History