In 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
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
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
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.