Falmouth History PageIn 1660, Quaker sympathizers settled in the area which was to become Falmouth. By 1686, there were enough settlers of all types in the area that it was incorporated as the town of Suckanessett. The name is preserved on the town seal. The town takes its name from Falmouth, England, the home port of Bartholomew Gosnold, believed to be the first European to arrive in the area.
By the 1800's Falmouth was a busy little port serving packet ships in the import-export trade, and whalers chasing the mighty sperm whale. It was a big-money business, this whaling. A pound of ambergis from a sperm whale could fetch $300 in the 1800s.
Commerce was slightly interrupted during the War of 1812. A pesky British brig, HMS Nimrod, undertook to cannonade the town in 1812. Some of the historic houses and buildings in Falmouth boast the odd shattered timber or other evidence of a cannonball hit from this bombardment. If they are all true, then Nimrod's shot lockers contained as much ammunition as an Iowa-class battleship.
There were other industries. Salt was worked from the time of the War of Independence, and at their peak the salt works of Falmouth produced 35,500 bushels of salt from seawater annually. There was a glass factory at the foot of Shore Street, near today's Surf Drive Beach.
Penzance Point in Woods Hole, now dotted with the summer homes of the very wealthy, was once home to the Pacific Guano Works. Ships would set out for remote islands in the Pacific Ocean, where they would mine the droppings of sea birds, which would be processed into fertilizer back in Woods Hole.
There were wool-carding mills in East Falmouth and Waquoit by the early 1800s, and sheep grazed the land in Falmouth Heights and Maravista.
Coastal schooners called regularly at Falmouth, taking lumber, salt, glass, whale oil, and onions to the trade centers of Boston and New York.
By the late 1800s, a better harbor was needed. In 1907, engineers cut the land barrier separating Vineyard Sound from Deacon's Pond, and Falmouth Inner Harbor was formed. Katherine Lee Bates, author of the lyrics to "America the Beautiful," was born in Falmouth, and lived here until she was 12 years old. There is a statue of her on the lawn of Falmouth Library, and the library has an extensive collection of her works and memorablia.
Look southwestward from anywhere on Falmouth's Vineyard Sound shorefront, and Nobska Point and Nobska Light will dominate the view. The light was established in 1828, and is on the National Register of Historic Places. As is the Village Green, a quaint grassy triangle surrounded by historic homes and a whitewashed church...the essence of a New England town.
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