Today, we think of Woods Hole as a village filled with waterside restaurants, shops, and some of the largest scientific establishments in the world. But imagine a Woods Hole with clipper ships lining the harbor and sheep grazing on meadows with very few trees.
The best place to discover the “old Woods Hole” is definitely the Woods Hole Historical Museum. You’ll find histories, pictures, and displays of the changes Woods Hole has undergone.
One of the most noticeable changes is the landscape – Woods Hole used to be one large meadow, without any trees, and sheep grazing on all the land. When I think of Woods Hole today, I immediately think of the large tall trees that shade almost every sidewalk, especially the old growth Copper Beaches that line the WHOI campus near the museum. But in the early phase of this villages development, these trees were cleared for building houses and ships, making meadows for sheep and cows to graze.
The current “Shining Sea Bikeway” was once the railroad track bringing goods and people in from Boston and beyond. The upscale dining car that carried gentlemen down to the Cape and islands to their summer cottages was called the “Dude.” Since Woods Hole was the end of the line, there was a huge wheel near the ferry terminal for turning the trains around. This space is used today for staging the cars that are loaded onto the ferry.
What we now call “Penzance Point” (a gated community of luxurious summer homes) was once a fertilizer factory, mixing bird guano with fish parts to create a rich nitrogen soil amendment that was shipped to the South in the mid 19th century. Quite different from the hedgerows and yachts you will find there today. How times change!
Learning about Woods Hole’s history is really fascinating and worth a trip to the Woods Hole Historical Museum to view some of the vintage photos and gain a better understand of this small fishing village’s past.