Hidden Cape Cod: Holbrook Cottage in Hyannis Port

Holbrook Cottage from around the turn of the 20th century. Photo is courtesy of the Barnstable Historic Society.

The village of Hyannis Port in Barnstable is one of the most well known of all areas on Cape Cod. The name conjures up images of the Kennedy family and the Summer White House. Though it is small this village has some of the most iconic Cape locations such as Squaw Island, the Hyannisport Club, and of course the Kennedy Compound.

When winding through the village along Hyannis Avenue there is another structure that catches the eye and imagination. The unique salmon-colored tower overlooking the water, and the lavish home which sits next to it, always manages to draw attention and its fair share of photographers. It is stoic and mysterious and here is its story.

The story of the tower goes back well over a hundred years to the 19th century. It began as a water tower and artesian well providing water for the people of Hyannis Port. Overlooking East Beach it was also a landmark for sailors traversing Nantucket Sound. It became so well known as such that a plaque reading ‘Landmark’ was placed on the tower.

Looking toward the tower along East Beach in Hyannis Port also from around the turn of the 20th century.

The home which stands beside the Landmark tower has its own storied history. The prime parcel of land in Hyannis Port was developed as a summer estate for George B. Holbrook in 1905. Holbrook was born in September 1846 in the town of Swanzey in the southwest corner of New Hampshire. At the age of fifteen he joined the army and fought in the Civil War, rising to the rank of lieutenant. He would live as a resident of Springfield, Massachusetts eventually becoming the president of the American Writing Paper Co.

Holbrook would enlist another Springfield resident, George Wood Taylor, an architect, to devise the plans for his Hyannis Port estate. Taylor would go on to build several homes in the village. In September 1910 the estate would burn down in a fire while Holbrook and his son were back home in Springfield. His wife Ellen and their two daughters were there in Hyannis Port but escaped unharmed. The nine-bedroom cement home would be rebuilt by Taylor in time for the summer of 1911. The incredible home would be featured in the July 1, 1912 issue of the popular Country Life In America magazine. Holbrook would retire in 1913 and enjoy his stately home on the water until his death in 1922.

The beauty and inspiration surrounding the Holbrook Cottage, Landmark tower, and nearby East Beach would entice a world-renowned artists to call it home. Sam Barber, internationally known impressionist painter, came to the United States from Naples, Italy at Age 4 and studied art at Art Students League and National Academy of Design In New York. This would lead to him coming to study in Provincetown in 1966 to study at the Cape School of Art under Henry Hensche.

Looking across the water toward the house and tower from Eugenia Fortes Beach in Hyannis Port. Photo courtesy of Christopher Setterlund.

Barber and his wife, Janie, fell in love with Cape Cod and decided to make it their home. They made their home in Provincetown and later the village of Cummaquid before purchasing the Holbrook Cottage in 1988. The Landmark tower would become Barber’s summer studio and he would work on his paintings in the bright open scenery with classical music filling the air. He would go on to sell more than 2,200 paintings while being represented by the prestigious Wally Findlay Galleries in New York City for twenty-seven years.

Sam and Janie and their two sons would call the Holbrook Cottage home for twenty-two years. Once their sons were off to college they decided that it would be the right time to sell and find something smaller needing less upkeep. They moved to neighboring Centerville where they still reside today.

The Holbrook Cottage would be sold in 2012 to a person from Tewksbury, Massachusetts. Though it is a private residence it, and the pinkish tower with the green top, still attract admirers. Either passing by on Hyannis Avenue, or walking down below on the former East Beach, which was renamed Eugenia Fortes Beach in 2004 after the founder of the Cape Cod branch of the NAACP, most stop and stare even if just for a moment and the beautiful and unique home located on one of the most desirable spots on the entirety of Cape Cod.

By Christopher Setterlund

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