A Historical Seaside Site in West Dennis

A photo of Bass River Lighthouse from the late 19th century, courtesy of Jeremy D’Entremont.

The peninsula of Cape Cod is full of historical sites. There are a rare few spots on the Cape that are historic twice over. Such is the case in West Dennis where a scenic seaside piece of property has a long lustrous story.

The Lighthouse Inn situated on Nantucket Sound just celebrated its eightieth anniversary this past June, opening in 1938. However the history associated with the site goes back almost another century. In order to aide in navigation for the increasing number of vessels traveling in the area during the mid-19th century Congress appropriated $4,000 in 1850 (approximately $119,000 in 2018) to go toward the building of a lighthouse near the mouth of Bass River. It would take five years though until the project was completed. On April 30, 1855 Bass River Lighthouse would be lit for the first time. It was different from the typical lighthouse as it consisted of a lantern mounted to the roof of a two-story home.

The construction of Stage Harbor Lighthouse in Chatham in 1880, only ten miles east, had begun to lessen the need for Bass River Light. The Cape Cod Canal would help ease vessel traffic along the south coast as well in 1914. This would spell the end of Bass River Light; it was dimmed on June 15, 1914 with the canal officially opening July 29th of the same year. The deactivated lighthouse property was sold and used as a summer home by Harry Noyes who expanded the home and added other buildings to the property. Upon his death in 1933 the home was left vacant for five years; it was when the property became occupied again that the second chapter of history began.

A photo of Lighthouse Inn in present day. Chris Setterlund photo.

In 1938 Massachusetts State Senator Everett Stone and his wife Gladys purchased the property for $22,000 (approximately $389,000 in 2018). Everett’s initial intention was to develop the property and resell it. However the paperwork was passed too late for any work to be done that year so in order to help pay the mortgage the Stones took in overnight guests. Ironically many of those guests asked to return to stay the following year which changed the Stones minds. Rather than reselling the land it was rechristened the Lighthouse Inn.

In addition to the lodging accommodations, with room for up to 140 people, the nine-acre property would include a restaurant inside the inn run by Everett and Gladys’s son Bob. The dining area of the inn would eventually be named the Waterfront Restaurant and become very popular for its cuisine like steak and lobster as well as its entertainment. From the 1950’s through the 1980’s Bob and his wife Mary of the Lighthouse Inn would provide some of the best entertainment on Cape Cod. Their daughter Barbara Stone Amidon participated in some of it when she was young.

“In the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s we had sing-alongs with various artists,” Amidon says, “dances including beachcomber balls where everyone came in costume, crazy hat parties where people made hats from old menus, placemats, and various other materials. There was ballroom dancing with a couple who taught at the old Belmont Hotel and who would come once a week or every other week to the Lighthouse. During the 60’s, we published a weekly newspaper for the guests, and the entertainment schedule included: Piano with Gladys, Sing with Betty and Gladys, Cape Cod Slides, Man with a Thousand Songs, Songs by the Inn-tertainers (waiters who would put on a show), and of course Bingo which I called for a number of years as a teenager, and my brothers took over after me.”

A postcard of Lighthouse Inn shortly after it opened in the 1940’s, courtesy of Lighthouse Inn.

Though the Stones and their five children would be active participants in the entertainment the ace in the hole would be noted pianist Ken Manzer. For decades the talented musician would be showcased at Lighthouse Inn, he would also move along when the Stones opened a pair of other ventures, Bishop’s Terrace in Harwich and Deacon’s Perch in Yarmouth Port.

In 1989 the Inn would go full circle. On August 7, 1989 Bass River Light, which had been deactivated for seventy-five years, was relit. Renamed West Dennis Light it is used as an active navigational aide during the summer. Though it has been rocked by hurricanes in the past due to its proximity, including Hurricane Bob in 1991 the Lighthouse Inn and the Stone Family are still going strong.

As previously mentioned today the iconic inn is celebrating its eightieth season. The establishment is still hugely popular with its sixty-one rooms and cottages routinely filled. It offers scenic views in addition to the Waterfront Restaurant, tennis, heated pool, and a private beach, just in case West Dennis Beach is too far to walk. There are also tours available of the privately-owned and operated lighthouse.

Although Bob and Mary have passed on the inn remains in the family. All five of their children, Betty Anne, Deborah, Barbara, Jonathan and Greg, have worked there at some point and today the property is managed by Greg and his wife Patricia. It is a piece of living history still thriving in its third generation of Stone Family management.

Visit The Lighthouse Inn on Lighthouse Inn Road in West Dennis and online at Lighthouse Inn.com

By Christopher Setterlund