End-Of-The-Road Town

Thirteen Generations of Cape Living

by Deborah Griffin Scanlon | Photographs by Lee Geishecker and Stefanie Cavallo of VIEW photography

While sailing across the Atlantic aboard the Mayflower in the fall of 1620, young John Howland got restless and ventured above deck during a powerful storm as the rest of the Pilgrims huddled below. He was swept overboard, but managed to grab a topsail halyard and hang on until he was pulled back onto the ship with a boat hook—luckily, because he went on to have 10 children and thousands of descendants, including me.

My family has lived in Falmouth since the 1660s. The natural beauty of the town is certainly one of the reasons I’ve stayed, but the strong sense of community, independence and free thinking keep me here.

About 1660, my ancestors, Isaac Robinson and Jonathan Hatch, left Barnstable because they got in trouble with the General Court for sympathizing with the Quakers and protesting their persecution. They were among the 14 founders of Falmouth, where they showed tolerance to Quakers and established good relations with the Wampanoag tribe.

Even in its earliest days, non-conformity and acceptance were part of Falmouth’s fabric. Maybe it is because, as my husband says, this is an end-of-the road town, and at the end of the road is the ocean (well, the Bay and the Sound), so we all learn to get along.

So, what does it mean to be from Falmouth?

We savor our coastal location.

Falmouth’s proximity to the water has had a major impact on its evolution. Earlier inhabitants encountered and successfully fended off the British several times during the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. Falmouth was homeport to whaling ships, and a number were built here. Commercial fishermen were based here (a few still are), and ferries have been running to the islands since 1818.

Chapaquoit Beach

Being near the water is a major part of our free time. We swim (a few of us year-round), we gather scallops, oysters and clams for dinners throughout the year. We appreciate all 11 harbors—the town waiting list for moorings is years’ long. We enjoy boating, both sail and motor, and there are yacht clubs at most of our harbors that each have their own brand of competitive and fun racing.

Even when we’re not on the water, we’re outdoors frequently. Our 10.7-mile Shining Sea Bikeway, stretching from North Falmouth to Woods Hole, allows us to bicycle, walk and run pretty much year-round, while paths maintained by Falmouth’s 300 Committee offer access to 2,000 acres of open land.

We probably have some connection to the science community.

Spencer Baird brought marine science to Woods Hole in 1871 when he opened the US Commission of Fish and Fisheries (now the National Marine Fisheries Service). The Marine Biological Laboratory, founded in 1888, attracted scientists from around the world to the village in the summer. My grandmother, who lived on Eel Pond, rented rooms to some scientists who returned annually. “Roomers,” as she called them, included Sister Florence, a nun from Seton Hall College with a PhD from Columbia, who conducted research on tunicates (marine invertebrates). A warm and friendly woman,  I remember her enjoying a cocktail with my grandparents in their front room.

View of Woods Hole

In 1930, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution was established and by World War II, science became a permanent and defining industry of Falmouth. My parents, who grew up here, always said that life in Woods Hole and Falmouth in general was intellectually stimulating, allowing them to feel far more worldly and cosmopolitan than most small-town residents.

The scientific institutions, which have grown in number, size and prominence, have certainly made an impact on my life. As a young reporter in 1973, I was able to go sea for 17 days on the National Marine Fisheries Service’s research vessel, Albatross IV, taking part in a larval herring survey that took us into the Gulf of Maine in stormy December seas. Many years later, I worked at the MBL’s Ecosystems Center and several times I traveled to the research station on the North Slope of Alaska, 140 miles north of the Arctic Circle.

We pay attention.

Town issues are always thoughtfully considered: letters to editor in the “Falmouth Enterprise,” the community newspaper owned by the Hough family since 1929, can take up several pages. Town Meeting goes on for days.

We value our arts.

Libraries are full, vibrant and supported. In an era when it is lamented that hardly anyone reads anymore, these libraries continue to be renovated and expanded. On the arts and entertainment scene, the theaters, both winter and summer, have for years offered first-rate performances. A personal favorite of mine is the College Light Opera Company where I can still see, at least twice a summer, Gilbert and Sullivan operettas. There is great music, from folk to jazz to bluegrass to classical, and artwork and historical artifacts in large and small galleries and museums.

We know how to have a good time.

As for sports, the Cape Cod Baseball League attracts up-and-coming baseball players from colleges all over the country for a summer of working and playing ball. Notable alumni include Jacoby Ellsbury, Nomar Garciaparra, Jason Varitek and Chris Sale. An optional donation is all it costs to attend a game at Guv Fuller Field; spend a few bucks for a hot dog or popcorn from the concession stand and you have a classic summer night out.

Main Street Christmas parade

We take care of our own.

While Falmouth has eight villages, each with its own flavor and character, there is a strong, town-wide sense of community. When the Falmouth Service Center requests donations for Thanksgiving for those residents experiencing hard times, the line of cars with people dropping off turkeys and other food items is so long that it requires a police officer to direct traffic.

A recent proud moment in Falmouth sports came in December when the Falmouth High Clippers won the state championship in football. The team returned from Gillette Stadium in Foxboro to Falmouth, their buses passing by the Village Green just after the Christmas lights were turned on, to the cheers of the crowd. Two days later, riding down Main Street in two huge trucks, they were the highlight of Falmouth’s annual Christmas parade.


Each generation of my family has left Falmouth at some point for college, career and adventure, and most of us have come back. Recently, we welcomed the 13th generation to live on Cape Cod, Claire Elizabeth, a Hatch descendent who lives, appropriately enough, in Hatchville. Her ancestors would be proud.

Deborah Griffin Scanlon is executive director of the Woods Hole Historical Museum. A graduate of Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Public Communications, she has worked at the Falmouth Enterprise as a copy editor and reporter, and at the Marine Biological Laboratory’s Ecosystems Center as communications coordinator. She and her husband, Jack Scanlon, live in North Falmouth.

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