Photos of Cotuit in the 1890s

Ezra George Perry was a real estate promoter and developer from Bourne; a self-described “Cape Cod Boy” who marketed the sublime pleasures of owning a Cape Cod summer estate in an illustrated guidebook, “A Trip Around Cape Cod.”

“At the end of the nineteenth century, Perry came back to Bourne, his hometown, where he began buying up pastureland around Phinney Harbor and developing it into lots to be sold to the urban rich for seaside summer estates,” writes John T. Cumbler in Cape Cod: An Environmental History of a Fragile Ecosystem.

Ezra George Perry

Perry’s book is the first time I’ve ever seen the full extent and scale of some of the old estates and seaside hotels and the different styles and grandeur of estates that were marketed by Perry as a more moral and natural alternative to the excesses of Newport. President Grover Cleveland turned his 110-acre estate, Grey Gables, into the Summer White House from 1893-96, which in turn brought the railroad, electricity, and telegraph to the region for the first time.

Ezra Perry’s colorful career and shameless hucksterism comes through his copywriting in A Trip Around Cape Cod. He spun a grand, compelling vision of the Cape that enticed more tycoons and scions and developers to follow and spur the development of grand estates and establishing a number of exclusive summer enclaves in Cotuit, Oyster Harbors, Wianno and Hyannis Port that began to fill in the economic void left by the decline of whaling, shipping, and the traditional Cape Cod arts of shipbuilding, shellfishing, and shipping and the related need for salt to preserve fish, wood to build saltworks, rope, sails, and the other components of the maritime culture that faded after the Civil War, done in by the railroad, petroleum and steam. In their place followed the grand hotels and guest houses and eventually the private clubs along the shores of Buzzards Bay and Nantucket Sound.

Gray Gables, 1890

The book is available for free online – Google Books is where I found a copy that can be downloaded as a PDF or read in a browser.

I took the liberty of making copies of the Cotuit photographs from A Trip Around Cape Cod. I’m sure Ezra Perry would appreciate the back links were he still flogging land on the Cape today.

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