A Living History: Capt. Linnell House

The Captain Linnell House as it appears today.

Located along a scenic stretch of road leading to Skaket Beach in Orleans is a beautiful mid-19th century home. It was a family home for a century before beginning its second chapter, that of the highest-rated restaurant on Cape Cod. It is the Captain Linnell House, a piece of living Cape Cod history.

The story of how the 9,000-square-foot property at 137 Skaket Beach Road became the top-rated restaurant on the Cape according to TripAdvisor began more than two centuries ago. Ebenezer Harding Linnell was born in Orleans in 1810 and would go on to become a legendary sea captain. His greatest feat at sea was as the captain of the Massachusetts-constructed clipper ship Eagle Wing during the 1850’s. In 1853 the Eagle Wing began a record-paced journey from Boston to San Francisco which took 105 days. Linnell would also set a speed record from London to Hong Kong taking 83 ½ days in 1855. In 1856 Linnell would take command of the clipper ship Flying Mist which he would captain for the remainder of his sailing career. In addition to being an accomplished captain Linnell was also an inventor. He created and patented an improvement on the top sail rig that was used for increased performance of clipper ships and was used by sixty-four vessels.

The property on Skaket Beach Road initially had a classic Cape Codder-style home as its centerpiece. In 1835 Captain Linnell married Rebecca Crosby and had the house built for her in 1840. Linnell’s world would be changed when he visited Marseilles, France in 1850. It was there that he laid eyes on a French-designed neo-classic villa. He returned home with the plans and commissioned an exact replica be built on the site of his current home. Linnell would include furnishings and fittings from Europe to complete the new home for himself, his wife, and three daughters. The home was finished in 1860 and sat on thirty-five acres of land along the Orleans coastline.

A pair of portraits in the lobby, Captain Ebenezer Linnell and his wife Rebecca Crosby.

Linnell did not have much time to enjoy his stately manor though. In 1864, on a voyage he reportedly told his wife was his last, the captain was killed in a tropical storm off of the coast of Brazil, pinned against the ship’s wheel.

The stately manor would enter a new chapter when it became a fine dining restaurant in the 1950’s. It was first opened by Gaston Norgeot as The Captain’s Club of Orleans at the Captain Linnell House. When it was purchased by Denis Statamos in 1970 he dropped the Captain’s Club and left the Captain Linnell House, allowing the history of the home to be front and center. However it would be another ownership group who would take the business side of the home to heights never before seen.

The allure of Cape Cod drew Bill and Shelly Conway to the peninsula in 1988. Bill an accomplished chef, and Shelly a restorer of estate gardens, needed a good school system for their first child. They had friends in Orleans with a summer home which allowed them the chance to visit the Cape before making the move. Looking for a place that had restaurant capabilities along with gardens to maintain led the Conways eventually to the Captain Linnell House. Though badly in need of restoration Bill and Shelly first stepped foot on the grounds at sunset and fell in love with the stately manor.

“It looked pretty good to us in that light,” Shelly Conway says.

The couple took the leap of faith, sold everything they had in Pennsylvania, and most of their friends and family behind. They would put their home restoration skills to work repairing, repainting, and returning the home to its former glory. The Conways wanted a place to hold weddings and in the back of the restaurant is a beautiful spot for just that. People come from all around to have their weddings at the Captain Linnell House and that is in large part due to Shelly’s meticulously manicured gardens as well as Bill’s culinary mastery.

A postcard of the Captain Linnell House in the 1950’s.

The hard work would pay off. In June 1988, only a few days after finishing the restoration of the Captain Linnell House, the first wedding would be held on the grounds. It was a labor of love as Bill and Shelly would not be paid for the first two years they owned the restaurant.

What is it that gives this establishment its well deserved reputation?

“The site and the food match,” Shelly says, “it’s classic American cuisine and we are very proud of that.”

Plans are for the Conways to sell the property to the Orleans Historical Society in three years who will then move their museum into the house. There is still plenty of time for people to enjoy the sights and tastes of the Captain Linnell House before it begins another chapter in its living history.

By Christopher Setterlund

More From CapeCod.com