For over 100 years Highland House held fast through battering storms and gales on a sandy point of Cape Cod Bay. Highland’s hosts offered a bit of friendly diversion to vacationers with grace and solitude and a million stars alight. How could you go wrong with “…15 bedrooms and a bath…” for only $8 a week room and board. People traveled by horse, by carriage, then train and automobile to find this lovely Hotel at Truro for time away from home and congenial company. The owners watched as literally thousands of other people joined them on their once lonely point looking out on Cape Cod Bay.
Today, it is operated by the Truro Historical Society. The huge main room shows no evidence of sagging. Built ‘hell for strong’ with no steel support or visible beams holding straight the ceiling and upper story. A grand inclusion to the Historical Register.
Now comes the good part. Its homey, here. Nothing stiff and formal. The rooms are filled with the practical appliances of a hotel; of tools, farm and fishing implements, shipwreck salvage, and household goods for turn of the century life.
I had never before seen a cheese press.
Nor a two-burner bake oven like this one with fancy blue doors.
Most of the bedrooms are available, furnished with beds and chairs and dolls and doilies and all manner of furnishings. Sometimes with stories and even portraits of the people who stayed here. No closets then. People brought their trunks and hung things in a corner set aside with a curtain.
Being a museum junkie, my very favorite item here was the amazing collection of hand hooked rugs. I think I counted ten of them. Many done before patterns were available. Just the tidy handwork of ‘waste not want not’, using scraps of wool.
I could have spent hours here. Much to appeal to men’s interests as well, life saving equipment, an ice saw, blacksmith tools, a set of old smoking pipes, one delightfully made with a bird claw holding the bowl. And stories, journals; an intriguing print of Grace Darling, one of the many heroic women lighthouse keepers who rowed out to rescue boaters in trouble. Ahhh. Such a find.
As I left, I looked up at the quaint lace covered windows and imagined an elegant lady waving me goodbye. Or was it a ghost?
If you can stand a slug of pictures you can click my link at: http://picasaweb.google.com/1579penn/62210HighlandHouseLiveSavingServ#
(It also has pictures of the light house and Life Saving Museum.)
From Highland House, we walked to Highland Light, the oldest lighthouse on the island. We passed through the oldest golf course on the island, Highland Links, an area that at one time was the vegetable garden for the hotel.
The light house, built of red brick, (now painted white), in 1797, was the most powerful light on the Atlantic coast. It was reconstructed in 1857, and moved back from off the point by 453 feet in 1996 when the local people began fund raising to save it from falling into the Atlantic. Lighthouses are all automatic, now. This one has stairs of lace, several old lights on display, a gift shop and tour. You have an unobstructed view from up top to Portugal. Well, you can’t actually see Portugal, but no land stands between.
In 300 years of seafaring history off Cape Cod, 3,000 known ships were hammered to pieces by tons of raging water tossing “toy” boats into the treacherous rocks and bars of Cape Cod Bay. A grisly toll of nearly one wreck per month for 300 years. Cape Codders organized the first life saving service, the Massachusetts Humane Society. Unpaid volunteers, they couldn’t provide adequate service, mostly just a shelter with water and food for anyone who happened to wash up through the frigid waters. Lighthouse keepers would attempt to row out and help if they saw a ship in trouble.
Congress stepped in and began funding private organizations like the Humane Society, recognizing the need for nationwide sea rescue on both coasts. In 1872, the first staffed life saving station was built on Cape Cod. Only one, Highland, remains to tell the story today.
A museum, nicely refurbished, now has the original paint colors, stoves, (one arrived and was installed while we were there). Work and funding will eventually supply beds, tables and a newly built, wheeled cart that rolled the little rescue boats down to the shore when an emergency was at hand. A good film shows how the rescue workers trained and went to sea in a storm. the stations were located five miles apart on the north east shore of the cape.
One hundred and seventy-five thousand lives were save by the rescue service. Even more were lost in these frigid waters. This rescue service eventually was taken over by the government as the U.S. Coast Guard. Rescues are now performed by air. The cape became less dangerous when the Cape Cod Canal was built to carry traffic from New York and Boston safely from the rich fishing and whaling ports of Cape Cod.
During July and August, two nights per week, the museum has demonstrations of rescues using their breeches buoy. A life ring, with canvas breeches attached, was suspended from a life line shot out by the small cannon above to the ship in trouble. Rigged above the water from ship to shore, men were reeled in, one at a time.
We were lucky to meet Richard C. Ryder whose grandfather worked at Monomoy Station as a surfman. Richard wrote a book called Seashore Sentinel.
He told us that the U.S. government would fund food for the horse, in stations that had one, to help haul the boat to the water, but would not buy the men their food or clothing needed for rescue. These men patrolled at night, walking the beech in winter 2 and 1/2 miles each way, often holding a shingle in front of their eyes to protect them from the blowing, swirling sands.