A Crown Jewel of Cape Cod

The original Fieldstone Hall, courtesy of Ocean Edge Resort & Golf Club

Nickerson State Park is among the crown jewels of Cape Cod. It is right up there with the National Seashore as far as most visited natural sites on the peninsula. The 1,900-acre park is frequented by thousands of visitors and locals alike every year. However the Nickerson name on the entrance sign is only a small part of the story of how the park came to be. It is a story the travels from Brewster, to Chicago, to New York, and back to Brewster. It’s a story of hard work, wealth, tragedy, and a legacy that is strong to this day.

When one visits Nickerson State Park on Route 6A in Brewster the first thing seen is the wooden sign denoting the entrance. The name on the sign reads ‘Roland C. Nickerson,’ he is the man whom the park is dedicated to. Still, the true force behind the tremendous legacy of the Nickerson name and the park itself was Roland’s father, Samuel Mayo Nickerson.

Samuel Nickerson was born in Chatham in 1830 yet would travel far and wide before returning to Cape Cod. By the age of 17 Samuel had found his way to Apalachicola, Florida, working with his brother, Sparrow, at his general store. He had varied success until he married Mathilda Pinkham Crosby in 1858. Her family had been involved in the wholesale liquor business. This connection led Samuel to Chicago where after establishing his own liquor company he would find his way into finance. Nickerson would become vice-president of Chicago’s First National Bank in 1863 and would become its president in 1867. His fortune at one point was estimated at $5 million according to newspaper articles from 1887 ($124 million in 2017).

Samuel and Mathilda’s son, Roland Crosby Nickerson, was born in 1859. He would live most of his life in Chicago as well, marrying Addie Daniels in 1886. The couple would share Samuel’s mansion and have three children.

In the late-1880’s Samuel purchased a large tract of land in Brewster overlooking Cape Cod Bay upon which he would build a summer home for Roland and his family. The three-story home would be erected in 1890 upon a forty-eight acre parcel of land and called Fieldstone Hall. Much of the remainder of the property would be used as a private game reserve for the Nickersons and their guests. Though they had reestablished their Cape Cod connection the Nickerson family would only summer there during the 1890’s. Roland and Addie would choose to move to New York.

A portrait of Samuel Nickerson, courtesy of Ocean Edge Resort & Golf Club

Samuel and Mathilda would split time between New York and Cape Cod beginning in 1900 upon his retirement as president of Chicago’s First National Bank. Roland and his family would follow suit, making Fieldstone Hall their primary residence. Though he was born into wealth and needed not worry about finding work Roland found himself drawn to civic affairs. He would serve on the Governor’s Council of Massachusetts beginning in 1904.

Roland’s health would begin to suffer though as he was diagnosed with heart disease in September 1905. This forced his resignation from the Governor’s Council shortly thereafter. His health took a turn for the worse when in May 1906 his beloved home, Fieldstone Hall, burned to the ground. Though he was pulled to safety his health never recovered and he died only two weeks later.

Roland’s widow, Addie, stayed strong and immediately began planning for a rebuilding of Fieldstone Hall along with Samuel, better than before. Samuel suggested the fireproof concrete and stucco as the materials for the larger mansion. It was finished in 1912 standing on the footprint of the original. Not very long after the new mansion was finished Samuel’s wife Mathilda passed away making it bittersweet. Samuel would pass away two years later in 1914.

The Nickerson family was dealt another tragic loss in 1918 when Addie and Roland’s son, Roland Jr., a naval lieutenant during World War I, died during the flu epidemic. In 1934, prompted by the losses of her husband and son, Addie Nickerson donated approximately 1,727-acres of land to the state. The area south of Route 6A, formerly the Nickerson private game reserve, would be rechristened Nickerson State Park. It was the first state park in Massachusetts.

A current photo of the Nickerson Mansion, built in 1912

Addie would pass away in 1938. Fieldstone Hall would remain in the Nickerson family until 1945 when it was sold to the LaSalette religious order that would use it as a seminary. In 1980 the property would be purchased by Corcoran Jennison. He would use the mansion as a main cog in the creation of the Ocean Edge Resort and Golf Club in 1986.

Today the Nickerson Mansion still stands and its grounds are open to the public. The interior has retained all of the charm of a turn of the 20th century manor. It includes luxurious guest rooms and a spectacular open-air dining area. The mansion and Ocean Edge are a fabulous connection of past and present Cape Cod and along with the state park a fitting tribute to one of the strongest family legacies the Cape has to offer.

By Christopher Setterlund

737 West Main Street
Hyannis, MA 02601
Contact Us | Advertise Terms of Use 
Employment and EEO | Privacy