A Legendary Resort Hotel on Cape That You’ve Never Heard Of

On a curve along Kendrick Avenue in Wellfleet, just beyond Mayo Beach, sits a plaque. It is nestled in the shadows of the Wellfleeter Condominiums and if one is not looking for it the plaque will be passed by without a thought. However this plaque is in memory of one of the original bastions of tourism on Cape Cod. It is a reminder of a legendary resort hotel long since vanished. It is a tribute to the Chequesset Inn.

The grand resort of the Outer Cape came about through the success of Captain Lorenzo Dow Baker. Baker had struck it rich by importing bananas from Jamaica during the 1870’s. Baker would create the Boston Fruit Company which became the United Fruit Company in 1899, it is well known today as Chiquita. During this rise to prominence Baker would build his summer estate ‘Belvernon’ on five-acres west of Commercial Street on what is now fittingly Baker Avenue. He would continue by purchasing the 400-foot long Mercantile Wharf located just west of Mayo Beach in 1885. Wellfleet had been predominantly known as a fishing village in the latter part of the 19th century and as the fishing industry winded down Baker wanted to increase the town’s appeal.

He would achieve this in spades with the construction of his ‘Hotel Over the Sea’ christened the Chequesset Inn in 1886. The sixty-two room, four-story resort would quickly turn Wellfleet into a summer resort town. Visitors would arrive mostly via the new spoke of the Old Colony Railroad which had been finished in 1870. These guests at the Chequesset Inn would be treated to high end luxury in more than one area. Some of the amenities included both sea and freshwater fishing, boating, tennis, billiards, and bowling. The meals included music played by a live orchestra and vegetables grown from the inn’s own gardens. Guests could be carriaged off to nearby ponds, or walk down Kendrick Avenue to soak up the sun at Mayo Beach.

By the turn of the 20th century Captain Baker had succeeded in making Wellfleet a desirable summer destination. Chequesset changed with the times, bringing in electric lights during the 1890’s and welcoming the new automobile crowd during the first decade of the 1900’s. He would also headquarter the Wellfleet Yacht Club at the inn. One of his last contributions of his life came in 1902 when Captain Baker created the Massachusetts Department of Fisheries Shellfish Laboratory and Quahog Hatchery also on Mercantile Wharf.

Baker would die in 1908 at Age 68 with his resort hotel running strong as a booming success. His family would take over the day to day operations of the resort. The cracks in Chequesset Inn were few, though one began to rear its head. There was no alcohol allowed at the resort, this became a selling point for new competing resorts like Chatham Bars Inn which opened in 1914.

As the inn made it into its fourth decade some physical cracks began to appear. The wharf was being damaged by the harsh New England winters. This problem was alleviated for a time when in 1928 lumber was purchased from the recently decommissioned Chatham Naval Station and used to shore up some of the weaknesses at Mercantile Wharf. However the repairs were not permanent. In February 1934 the sea would claim the Chequesset Inn. After a particularly frigid winter Wellfleet Harbor was packed with ice. It was during a strong winter storm that chunks of ice became free and destroyed parts of the wharf and caused the partial collapse of the inn. Luckily being a summer resort nobody was hurt in the collapse. The Chequesset Inn would never reopen and would be dismantled in September 1934 thus bringing the era of Wellfeet’s ‘grand hotel’ to an end.

Today it is mostly just memories which remain of the Chequesset Inn. It can seem at times as if it was only a figment of one’s imagination. However physical proof of the old Mercantile Wharf appears during particularly low tide when some of the old wharf pilings become visible. Proof of the former Chequesset Inn can also be found. After its demise some of the lumber was taken by parishioners to Orleans to help to create the Church of the Holy Spirit which still stands today. Otherwise the Chequesset Inn joins a rather large group of vanished Wellfleet history alongside Mayo Beach Lighthouse, Billingsgate Island, and the Marconi Wireless Station.

By Christopher Setterlund


More From CapeCod.com