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Woods Hole, MA The Steamship Authority, Early Money, Ocean Exploration, Built on Bird Droppings

Updated on June 5, 2017
Looking towards Penzance Point
Looking towards Penzance Point

The Beginning of the Agriculture movement

Woods Hole is part of the Town of Falmouth, Massachusetts. Long before it was famous for discovering the “Titanic”, it was covered with bird droppings. Woods Hole is and was a good protected deep-water harbor. Whaling, shipping and fishing provide a good income for many people. In the late 1850’s the cargo ships were having a hard time trying to find cargo to bring back to New England from other ports. The industrial age was growing in America. Agriculture was becoming the top industry. The soil was becoming depleted of natural nutrients and something had to be done.

Sea captains noticed that certain island had trees and tundra that was extremely healthy. Most of these islands had large amounts of bird droppings. These droppings were high in nitrogen and phosphorus. They brought back samples to try as fertilizer and found it to be ten times richer than manure. "Guano" is the excretion from sea birds. Islands on the west coast of South America had large quantities of the hardened dry bird droppings. In 1852 ships from Cape Cod started bring ship loads of the bird droppings from the Pacific island to the East Coast of the United States. This new fertilizer was working and hence the beginning of a new industry.

In 1856, the Congress of the United States government passed The Guano Act. The act states, United States citizens could claim any uninhibited Guano island in the world that was not claimed. They could then mine the quano. Captain Prince Sears Crowell was the head of the Crowell family of Cape Cod. He used his clipper ships for delivery of the new fertilizer to the port of Woods Hole.

Bird droppings as fertilzer
Bird droppings as fertilzer
The Guano Company
The Guano Company

The Guano Company bring jobs

The Crowell, and the Shiverick families of Cape Cod and the Glidden and Williams families of Boston formed the Pacific Guano Company in 1859. They claimed the Howland Island at the equator in the Pacific Ocean. Because Woods Hole was a natural deep-water harbor and the location of their clipper ships, they purchased land on Long Neck at the west end of Woods Hole. The company grew to be the largest factory in Falmouth and to this day it still holds that title. Of course, the building is gone, but the record of size is history.

Two more islands in the Caribbean off the cost of Honduras were claimed by the Guano company. The company prospered for nearly thirty years and ended very mysteriously. The company was bankrupt and no one saw it coming. Rumor states the treasurer absconded all the cash and left town.

During these thirty years the town grew with the completion of the railroad lines and the addition of ferry boats. Tourism was a huge business and the very wealthy came to purchase land and build some gigantic summer homes. Jobs were available at the fertilizer plant, along with employment for, builders, landscapers, gardeners and dock workers. Woods Hole was the place to be if you were of the working class.

Home in Penzance Point
Home in Penzance Point
Stone Tower from Glidden House
Stone Tower from Glidden House

The Wealthy built mansions

The land that occupied the fertilizer factory on Long Neck was purchased by a developer. The land was divided into lots and renamed ‘Penzance Point’, after a peninsula on the English Channel. Old money and big names flocked to buy the land. Seward Prosser of the New York Bankers Trust Company, Francis Barton, a partner at J.P. Morgan, Joseph Lee, a partner with Lee, Higginson and company and Franklin A. Park of the Singer Sewing Machine Company were just a few starters.

‘Seven Winds’ is located at 123 Penzance Road. It is one of the 29 homeowners in this exclusive development. The first home was owner by Nobel prize winner, Albert Szent Gyorgvi. He would often play chess with Albert Einstein. The home is listed today for $13,900.00.

John M. Glidden was the treasurer of the Pacific Guano Company. He built a beautiful home at the corner of Church Street and Nobska Road. As the story goes, he stole all the Guano Company cash and left town in 1889. The house remained empty from 1889 until 1923 when it was purchased by Eugene Nins. Nins lived in St. Louis and chose to summer in Woods Hole. He was the president of Southwestern Bell Telephone. Several other mansions grew up along the old Glidden estate. Newcomb Carlton, president of Western Union Telegraph Company bought five acres and incorporated the old stone tower from the original house into his huge home.

Summer White House of President Woodrow Wilson
Summer White House of President Woodrow Wilson

Summer White House

Charles R. Crane of Chicago ran a successful plumbing fixture company. After the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 the company soared to new financial heights. Charles was a friend of President Woodrow Wilson who asked him to be Ambassador to Russia. During one of his visited to Cape Cod he found a portable house that he wanted his family to look at. He is quoted, “Come along with us to look at a $600.00 portable house. We wish to order one for the place at Woods Hole”. The family like the idea but added several and I mean several additions. He decided to purchase 19 acres in Woods Hole, Massachusetts at a location called Juniper Point. Not only was this his summer home but it was also the summer White House for President Wilson. In May of 1914 Charles quit the Ambassador position to run the family business

The Crane family became benefactors to the town of Woods Hole. The house remains on Juniper Point. Josephine Crane Bradley, rents the “Bradley Bungalow” or sometimes known as “The Airplane House,” for a mire 15K a week or 60K for a month. Not bad for a portable house.

Several of the 219 buildings of Ocean Research in Woods Hole
Several of the 219 buildings of Ocean Research in Woods Hole

Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution WHOI

While the Guano company was profiting and bring more and more people into Woods Hole, a new scientific community was also growing. In 1871 the United States Commission of Fish and Fisheries was established. The name is now National Marine Fisheries Service. The first director of the service was Spencer Fullerton Baird. Researchers came to study local marine plants and animals. In about 1875 the service acquired a 234-foot steamer called the ‘Albatross.’ This was America’s first research vessel designed and built for the sole purpose of marine education. Congress gave $148,000 for the construction.

In 1888 a second institution, Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) was established. For nearly 90 years this was a summer program. In 1970 the schools became year-round.

WHOI--Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution was started in 1930 with funding by Rockefeller Foundation. It is America’s largest independent, not-for-profit oceanographic institution. It includes 54 buildings and laboratories and spans 219 acres. It now studies all areas of marine plants, animals and oceanography.

Alvin You can find out where it is now!
Alvin You can find out where it is now!
Atlantis  Somewhere in the World
Atlantis Somewhere in the World

You can Tract the Alvin

The research vessel, Atlantis was built for the institution and used from 1931 to 1964. 80% of its budget was from Federal Grants and other contracts. The second Atlantis was delivered in 1997. This vessel has a human occupied submersible unit called the Alvin. This research vessel covers the world and is rarely seen in Woods Hole. You can check its current location by logging on… http://www.whoi.edu/main/ships/atlantis/tracker

The other marine research and education institutions located in Woods Hole include: Sea Education Association (SEA), National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), Atlantic Marine Geology brand of United States Geological Survey (USGS) along with a Coast Guard station.

Steamship Authority
Steamship Authority

Ferry to the Islands

With all these wonderful historical and educational buildings, Woods Hole is probably better known for the Steamship Authority. This is one of the locations tourists can climb aboard a ferry and sneak away to Martha’s Vineyard or Nantucket. The Woods Hole, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket Steamship Company was formed from the New Bedford, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket Steamship Company. It is the only ferries to carry automobiles to the islands. The trip takes about 45 minutes. The first vessel was The Eagle in 1818. There is also a another Eagle from 1987 to present. In 1960 the Massachusetts legislature created Woods Hole, Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket Steamship Authority. Vessels now sail from Hyannis as well as Woods Hole.

Many other sights to see in Woods Hole

Many other facts come to us from Woods Hole. The 1931 Newbery Honor novel, Jane’s Island was set in Woods Hole. The movie Jaws in 1975 had Matt Hooper as a marine biologist from WHOI. In August thousands of runners gather for the Falmouth Road Race. The race starts at the drawbridge in Woods Hole center. The drawbridge opened in 1938 and was rebuilt in 2008-9. It connects the outer Great harbor to the smaller Eel Pond. The Waterfront Park and the Valden Sundial were a gift from Charles Crane. The sundial has pillars on four sides with a bronze plaque to help visitors tell the time. The sundial is said to be actuate within 30 seconds.

Drawbridge Start of Falmouth Road Race
Drawbridge Start of Falmouth Road Race
Sundial at Waterfront Park
Sundial at Waterfront Park
Nobska Lighthouse
Nobska Lighthouse

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